Saturday, December 03, 2016

From Farm Silos To Leaf Corrals

How much do our ancestors speak through our lawn care? One of my grandfathers was a farmer/carpenter. The other doubled as an urban chemistry professor and summertime country minister. What a surprise that I bring a country ethic to town living, and am drawn to physical work while preaching a mix of a professor's science and a farmer's common sense.

That yellow aluminum patio chair out next to the curb in the photo? A neighbor left it next to a dumpster, destined for the landfill. What a waste, said the farmer in me, who wishes to see everything reused or recycled. There's some good aluminum in that. And so it ended up on my curb for the next scrap guy who drove by.

And the leaf corral, filled to the brim with leaves, standing proudly in the front yard for the community to see, and maybe even emulate? The satisfaction of filling it goes deeper that adhering to what every farmer and organic gardener knows, that nutrients need to be cycled back into the ground, not wasted out in a noisy, fumey purging onto pavement where the leaves become a hazard and municipal burden. That column, a gathered harvest of sorts, stirs a feeling of rightness as rewarding as a silo filled with corn to feed the cattle through the winter. I see it and remember drives through the farm country of Wisconsin as a kid, the silos standing like exclamation points next to the barns.

After a long rain, the leaves have settled down, leaving room for more. A leaf corral's quick settling accommodates the leisurely pace with which nearby oak trees drop their leaves.

New Jersey seems culturally hardwired to blow/rake leaves out onto the street. Leaves, with such a mindset, are the enemy of tidiness, a curse from above, to be sent out of town like troublesome kids exported to a boarding school. A leaf corral, whether displayed or hidden behind shrubs, offers an alternative to the pavement, and allows not only a tidy yard but a tidy and safe street as well. The leaves in the photo, which had blown against the curb and started to clog the drain, got raked up and put in the leaf corral. Multiply that small gesture 10,000 times across the community and you end up with clean streets, lower taxes, and more nutrients for people's yards. But such win-win-win arguments are like leaves in the wind against the bedrock of NJ custom. No doubt my grandfather ran into similar depths of habit in his Sunday morning ministering.

You can see the different pace of decomposition among different species. Those are oak leaves on the upper left, a Norway maple from across the street on the lower left, and silver maple leaves already crumbling up and transitioning back into earth. If kept reasonably moist, they'll all become compost by next fall in the leaf corral, without any need to stir the contents.

A close look reveals that the center of the leaf corral is a column of critterproof hardware cloth where kitchen scraps go, to decompose odorlessly along with the leaves.

This 3' diameter leaf corral holds enough leaves to disguise and buffer the inner foodscrap composter. A 6' diameter leaf corral holds far more, in fact is sufficient for the entire front yard.

Who knows what my grandfathers, whom I never knew, would think of this front yard contraption. I like to think I'm carrying on their tradition in my own way, in a new place and for a new century.

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