Home & Garden

Dirty business: Kennewick resident's clean, green garden starts in soil

It's autumn and temperatures are falling.

Leaves also are piling up in drifts against the fence, blanketing the lawn with a layer of soggy brown.

Some look at fallen leaves as a nuisance and head for the garden shed for a rake and garbage bags. But gardeners like John Harder of Kennewick consider them a valuable commodity -- first as potential mulch and later as compost.

To someone like Harder, leaves are much too valuable to set at the curb to be hauled away.

That's why he set out a sign on Canal Drive in Kennewick at the beginning of October asking for donations of chopped leaves, bagged please.

Harder intends to tuck them around tender perennials to shield them from winter freezes. He's also going to layer them on his vegetable garden, where they'll molder away over the winter adding rich organic matter to the soil.

Many people add leaves to their compost piles, where they decompose slowly over several months. Harder used to also but found he had to make a big batch of it every year to have enough for both his flower beds and garden.

When he discovered a book, Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis and published by Timber Press, he changed his approach.

Instead of composting the leaves over several months, he's going to use them as mulch immediately.

"I think using the leaves as mulch might do me a better job than compost and does not require the composting process," he said. "This way I can use the raw stock immediately and over time the chopped leaves will do the composting on their own."

The advantage of using an organic mulch like leaves is that over time it breaks down, enriching the soil.

As Harder explains it: "As the microbes in the soil digest the leaves, they provide food for other microbes. Eventually the leaves become something the worms like and the plants like the worms' leftovers. It's a full circle."

Harder likes using organic products and practices for his landscaping and gardens.

"To prove it works all I have to do is dig. My soil is teeming with earthworms, a sure sign of a healthy garden," he said.

Harder's looking forward to a generous supply of leaves this year.

But the best of all possible outcomes, he said, "will be when people start hoarding their leaves and I get none at all."

* Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com.