There is no escaping the rapid approach of winter. Our trees, which inexplicably held so fast to their leaves during hurricane-force winds, have now sent chemical signals for them to shut down, activate ejection mechanisms and drop to the ground. In the wild they would decay, returning nutrients to the soil and ultimately back to the tree that dropped the leaves. This is sustainability.
Along comes the average homeowner. Seeing leaves pile up on lawns is disturbing. Out comes the rakes. Since it is usually damp and other members of the family either don't share the concern of a leaf-smothered lawn or have other things on their schedules, the job is a lonely, miserable one. This is insanity.
It makes more sense to emulate nature whenever you can. In this instance it means simply mulching up your leaves every few days. Worms and microbes start breaking them down immediately. It snows, and the warmth of the earth creates a zone that stimulates their decay during the winter. What is so neat about this are the results: The right kind of natural fertilizer for trees and grass and much less work for the homeowner. This is sensibility.
And it is easy to be sensible. All you have to do is continue to mow the lawn as you have all summer long. If you allowed the grass to get too long, you had to mow it slower and twice. Same thing with the leaves. Don't let them get so thick that it becomes impossible to mow them.
I am the first to admit that this is not a chore easily accomplished with a non-motorized mower. You have to push harder and you have to mow more frequently. You may have to rent or borrow a neighbor's powered machine. There is usually someone willing to come and mow your lawn for money too.
Many worry the leaves will create "tracks" or patterns on the lawn. This is not a problem. If you want, mow over them and they will disappear. However, they won't hurt anything because the leaves have been ripped open by the mower. I love leaving a mowing pattern on the lawn, and when leaves are included, it's like having rich icing on a cake, so be creative and have fun out there.
It's a great idea to let lie the leaves that fall and remain under trees. We really shouldn't have grass growing under trees, and this is one way to define an area to be grass free. Rake up extra leaves into this area. Make sure not to have leaves up against trunks -- you don't want them to decay.
Speaking of extra leaves, if you don't collect some now, you won't have leaves for the compost pile and for mulching next summer. Also, save those you find in the spring, if any. You can't rely on the wind, obviously, so collect as many bags as you think you may use next summer.
I know that there are sales on fertilizers and lime. This is not because pre-winter is a good time to fertilize in Alaska. It's because this stuff is bulky, space consuming, paid-for inventory. Putting it down now is not economic. I feel the same way about liming. Besides, the leaves and grass that you leave down are all your lawn really needs.
Reach Jeff Lowenfels, co-author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide To The Soil Food Web," at www.teamingwithmicrobes.com/home or 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays on KBYR 700 AM or www.kbyr.com.
HOSES AND WATER: IT IS TIME TO DRAIN AND STORE HOSES. SIMILARLY, CHECK YOUR OUTDOOR FAUCETS. TURN THEM OFF FROM THE INSIDE IF NECESSARY. MAKE SURE TO DETACH ANYTHING ATTACHED TO THE OUTDOOR FAUCET.
SPRING FLOWERING BULBS: IF YOU CAN WORK THE GROUND, YOU CAN PLANT THEM. MULCH IS NECESSARY TO KEEP IT THAWED SO ROOTS CAN ESTABLISH THEMSELVES BEFORE IT FREEZES.
CLEAN UP GARDENS: TOOLS AND ALL THE STUFF THAT ACCUMULATES IN AND NEAR GARDENS NEED TO BE PUT AWAY.
HARVEST AND SHARE: YOU PLANTED IT. IT GREW. NOW DON'T LET IT GO TO WASTE. BEANS, ALASKA FOOD BANK, A PLACE OF WORSHIP OR JUST A NEIGHBOR. DON'T LET THE MOOSE EAT IT WHEN PEOPLE NEED IT.