Sunday, January 27, 2008

Leaf Litter

Composting is nature's way of recycling. Leaf litter is Mother Nature's end result of her attempt at composting. Humans don't even need to do anything for nature to compost. Just look at the ground the next time you walk through the woods. What do you see? What does the ground you walk on feel like? Does a forest smell different than a farm field or your backyard?

While walking through a forest with both deciduous and evergreen trees, you should see the ground covered with leaves, pine needles, maybe some fallen and rotting logs, and lots and lots of leaf litter. Leaf litter is a collection of the detritus which falls from trees and other plant material onto the ground. Detritus includes: leaves, bark, twigs, sticks, pine needles-you name it. Leaf litter is a great addition to garden beds and nature's ultimate success at recycling.
Leaf litter and compost are nearly the same thing; the difference being what is included in the finished product. Leaf litter will contain only the organic matter from the trees and plants in the forest, whereas compost will contain organic matter from not only the trees and plants in the forest (if you have it available), but also organic matter from our homes and gardens.

Why is leaf litter a great addition to your gardens you ask? Because in addition to the organic matter it adds to the soil, it also adds millions and billions of organisms which process the leaf litter and develop communities between the soil and leaf litter. These communities then help maintain soil fertility and structure. Our goal as gardeners should be to have great soil, not just great plants.( According to this same website, leaf litter "rivals coral reefs as one of the most biodiverse places on earth."

The ground will feel like it has some give to it. It will not be hard packed clay like we have in our backyards. The softness underfoot is due to the leaf litter on the ground. As all of the leaf litter decays it becomes spongy and soft providing cushioning for a very comfortable walk through the forest.

A forest will usually smell earthy. The earthy smell of course comes from the earth. Essentially the communities within the leaf litter are working with the soil to improve the ground. Since leaf litter is usually not disturbed the earth smell can be more pronounced in a forest than in other places, such as farm fields.

We too can compost just like Mother Nature. For me composting is a way of life in the garden. I, like Mother Nature, kind of take a hands off approach to composting. I have three bins each measuring 4'x4'. I toss in lots of detritus like: leaves, pine needles, plant debris, leftover food scraps, vegetable peelings, rabbit litter, coffee grounds (a super amendment), tea bags and just about anything organic and let it sit, just like leaf litter in a forest. I am a passive composter I guess you could say. If I turned the compost the debris would decompose a little faster, but I usually have some compost available for use at all times due to the large amounts of detritus I compost. Communities of all sorts of organisms almost immediately begin breaking down the detritus into fine black organic material, something I call 'Black Gold'. Gardeners can't get enough of it.

The above three pictures are of Skeeter's new compost bin. The first picture is of the woodpile with which she used logs from to build her compost bin. The second picture is of the finished compost bin. The third picture shows an up close picture of the compost bin full of detritus just waiting to compost into black gold, or maybe some leaf litter judging by the amount of forest detritus she has put in the compost bin. She and the Saint will soon have lots of compost and leaf litter to add to their beautiful gardens.

If you have a picture of a compost bin you would like to see on here, just send it to me at I will compile them and do a posting on the variety of compost bins and how compost helps the particular owner of the compost bin. Even if you don't have a compost bin and maybe just have a pile of detritus-that could work too!

in the garden....composting the Mother Nature way.


  1. I like this garden idea --leave those leaves for a special compost. Now we're talking my kind of work, lol. Really, I did notice the plants that had leaves all around them did seem to fair better in the spring. I never realized they were serving a natural purpose. I simply thought of them as an insulation from the cold weather like a house and insulation keeping us warm, kwim? It is warmer today but you wouldn't know it with that cool wind. Can't complain --lots to do today -see you later!

  2. Wow, seeing the compost bin pictures in your blog Tina, I dont think it looks so Redneck after all! Just as you said, Rustic...

    Saint and I were burning some more junk (tree trunks, large limbs, etc) yesterday and we came up with a question for you... Can we put ash from the burn pit and fireplace in the compost area? Will it provide anything valuable to the contents?

    Also another question we have…
    We need to cut down a dying tree. It has poison ivy on it. It is a huge long root about the size of your arm! How do we safely cut the tree down without getting a rash from the stuff? If you cut the root at the base of the tree, will it kill the ivy or does the ivy take nutrient from the trunk of the tree on the way up? We have poison ivy on a bunch of trees but we don’t mess with it because they are in the woods where we don’t often go. We have never had a rash as of yet so we must not be highly allergic to the stuff. But we do not want to get it by cutting down the tree…. So HELP…

  3. The compost bin looks great Skeeter.

    You asked Tina and she may have a different idea but I used to put ashes right in the garden. There are a few plants that if you put them around them they will have brighter color and even change the color. They are great for azaleas and hydrangeas.

    Dawn good luck with the appraiser tomorrow. Let us know.

  4. Good afternoon all! Anonymous and Nina it was really great seeing you all today (and the little sidekick too!)

    Skeeter, I put ashes in my compost bin. But I really try to spread them around and make sure I have green stuff to offset the amount of ashes I have. Ashes really don't add much in the way of nutrients to the soil or anything else, but they are organic and help with the structure of the soil (in my opinion). So, if you have, oh say a bucketful or so, go ahead and put them in but spread them evening all over your compost bin area. Make sure they are composted well prior to putting on plants.

    On to the poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans). The best way to ensure you do not get a rash is to leave it alone! If that is not an option, wear lots of protective clothing. A vine as large as yours can be very dangerous (keep in mind I AM allergic so it might not be so dangerous for you and the Saint but my answer will err on the side of absurd safety). If you cut the base of the vine, the vine should surely die. Poison ivy can get so large it appears as though it is a tree, but it does not live off from the tree. Just make sure you cut all parts of the vine at the base, one little piece could let the snake rear its head. DO NOT BURN the vine. The poison can be transmitted in the smoke and can affect everyone around you.

    Put the vine in a far, far away location or cart to dump or somewhere others will not be exposed to it if you can even get it off the tree. The sap is still poisonous even after the plant is cut.

    If you use a chain saw to cut it, I would for sure wear a respirator or mask or something to protect my lungs in case some particles get airborne. They probaby won't if you are not burning it but with a chainsaw they may. Cutting it with loppers would probaby be best-WEAR PROTECTIVE clothing. Wash all clothing and tools and shoes after messing with it in hot, hot water a couple of times. Dip the loppers in bleach water (I'd go about 50/50) for about 5-10 minutes. Do not have prolonged exposure to any parts of the plant, even without leaves the oil in the plant (urushiol)is still present and highly toxic. People who have never been allegic to it before can still develop an allergy. It is not a pleasant allergic reaction as allergic reactions go.

    Good afternoon Mom!

  5. Skeeter, I love your compost bin. I love rustic things. Hey, we're Tennesseans. Really it serves 2 things--a compost bin & it just looks like a neat wood pile. Mine is just a big gray tub on legs. It really is not all that good. It was expensive too. Plus you have to give it a few cranks every day.
    I agree about the poison ivy. I cut down that stuff in N.C. as big {back then} as my arm. Like Tina says, wear plenty of protection. I too must not be sensitive to it that much either but why ask for trouble.
    Another nice day here. I looked at my yard & started to vision how it would look this summer. Oh Boy, talk about gettin' itchy. Maybe in a few days I can get at it.

  6. Wow, the ivy sounds scary! I am not sure if I ever got it as a child or not but I do recall a body with Calamine (spelling?) lotion on it. Maybe mosquitoes and not the ivy… If the tree falls, it will fall over the driveway so it does need to come down. I think we will try to cut the ivy at the root and see if it kills it completely. Then wait a while to cut the tree down. A tree with small ivy on it fell a while back and I cut up the tree with the chain saw being really careful to not mess with the ivy with the saw. I was able to remove it with a fork type hoe. It more or less fell off the tree so maybe this stuff will also in time. Although, the ivy on this tree is huge!

    Thanks for all the advice everyone! It will be helpful and hopefully, keep us itch free!

    Lola my middle name is Cheapskate so anything that will work for free, is my friend! The free wood we had from taking down a tree a while back will serve as a good bin and save money from having to buy one!

    I will put the ash on the compost then. We have a lot from the fire pit in the yard but only a bucket at a time from the fireplace in the living room. I will be sure to spread everything evenly when composting... I will get the Saint to turn the stuff for me often. Hey today I actually put a paper towel in my small tub (old ice cream) that I keep near the sink for kitchen scraps! I am thinking more and more each day of what can go on the pile!

  7. It was so nice to finally meet a fellow blogger. Thank you for such wonderful conversation and of course the seeds to plant. I will check out those books too --so many ideas --I'm sure I will be buzzing about in circles when I get done looking at all those pretty garden pictures. Now, if only I had Tina's energy we'd have a really cool yard. Nina my sidekick says thank you. We had a wonderful time:) Catch you all later --boys have a meeting tonight.

  8. Hey Dawn do you guys get the Sunday paper? If so I am sure you read the Antiques by Ralph and Terry Kovel. If not well I am here to tell you. The main part this week was about toasters. The most coveted one by collectors is one with the Blue Willow pattern, according to the article.

  9. Hey Dawn do you guys get the Sunday paper? If so I am sure you read the Antiques by Ralph and Terry Kovel. If not well I am here to tell you. The main part this week was about toasters. The most coveted one by collectors is one with the Blue Willow pattern, according to the article.

  10. Oh crap folks, sorry about that. Why does that do that once in a while?

  11. Dawn, I was was not yesterdays paper but last Sunday. I had it on my desk all week and just read it with yesterdays. I'll save it for you if you want it. In the same Kovel article is a question about a company in South Paris.

  12. Yes, It was great to meet Tina and Anonymous today and also sidekick. So much to talk about that there wasn't enough time!

    Skeeter we have an abundant supply of poison ivy in our yard. Every summer I have a couple of "break outs" regardless of how careful I am!

    Jean your lucky that you did a double post. I did one yesterday that never went through, this is my second try on this one, so we'll see if it goes.

  13. Yah, what it that? Tried earlier and it said she was unavailable.
    Mom I am interested in the article, bet the company was Paris sled company? Makers of the hi-flier?
    What I was saying earlier was that there is a herb only found growing with poison ivy, break its stem and the liquid counteracts the ivy! Nice of mother nature.
    I had no idea the poison ivy grew sooo big. I react to it, got it while camping and squatting in the shrubs! NA! Only on my lower back, if you don't scratch it won't spread (I'm sure you all know that)

  14. I'll save it. Yes it was the sled co. A lady asked about a desk she had from the Paris Mamufacturing Co. It now is called Paricon, Inc and now only makes sleds, tobogans and snow toys. It does still own the rights to the well-known Flexible Flyer trademark. The desk the lady was asking about was made there back in the 1800's. All according to the Kovels.

  15. hi everyone! just got back from picking up six adoreable little golden mix puppies. what was i thinking?!!! guess i wasn't. so much for the vegetable garden and garden, but that will wait for later. we are fostering them for a few weeks (hopefully short!) they are sweet but too many going all directions at once and like a pack of wolves when it comes to food!
    if they are anything like my bj, they will be good and easy to train and quick to please. hopefully we will sleep through the night!

    Hey Lola,
    One post behind or not is not a big deal at all. we all can follow-truly.

    I really like skeeter's compost bin and i too don't think it looks rednecky. rustic and neat. love it. i think it fits into your yard skeeter with all the trees around.

    i forgot to say i think it is burt's poison ivy block or something? anyone know? you might try that too just in case. i have never bought it though i really should because poison ivy loves gardens.

    skeeter, you might also consider hiring professionals who know what they are dealing with when cutting the tree down skeeter. i'd hate it if something happened to you all but probably not as much as you two would.:)

    hi nina and anonymous, it was great having lunch with you all today and thanks for the lunch nina! you know what? you all let me get out of there without taking pictures! but that is ok. the rest of the guys on here will just have to come and get together with us when they are in town or able. but i wouldn't have posted it anyway unless you said it was ok. i meant to tell you two the front page deli is directly across from the roxy. we like to go there every now and then and always have dinner at the front page prior to the show. it is nice evening out. even my mother has gone when she came and visited this past summer.

    dawn with peaches, do you by chance have a blue willow pattern? is that why mom is talking about it? if so you need to sell it and get lots of money to help pay off the electrician:) just kidding. jsut sell it and gets lots of money to go buy something more useful than china-like a big rock wall around your new house or something frivolous like that. must be nice to have a heating guy for a husband in maine-where it cold all the time!

    i know that plant that is supposed to counteract poison ivy rashes. it grows in the same locations as poison ivy and is called impatiens balsamina, commonly known down here as jewelweed, up there you all know it well as touch me nots. it grows everywhere down here that is moist. i never knew it is supposed to counteract poison ivy until i went kayaking with liz this summer. the leader of the crew told me he knew it counteracted poison ivy because kayakers get it alot and there is always jewelweed close by. it grows so beautifully in the mountains down here. that is where we were, in north carolina actually. i also grow it in my garden as a wildflowers. this is one plant the hummer can't get enough of and it grows great-self seeds readily but is easy to pull. needs moisture. i will post about it-when the time comes. if i posted about everything all at once gee i would never ever get off here and you all would be overwhelmed i am sure. so much in the gardening world.

    i was going to do a tip day from a friend in my garden club tomorrow. i have the post already but i have not heard back from her, so we'll see in the morning. esther, where are you? i have plenty of posts ready but if you all have something you would like to add feel free to email. lola, i received your information about the tuberose and may post that tomorrow. okay if i add about the garden club your sister? is in in nina who was given a tuberose as well?

    enough for tonight. gotta catch some shuteyes before those baby goldens start whining. i tell you i am ABSOLUTELY counting on the fact that they will be super duper puppies because they grow up to be such super duper dogs-i love goldens and wanted to see what bj looked like as a puppy. i will probably do a post on them. they are destroying my garlic. not just chewing it up but pulling it out of the soft ground!

    lola, spring is right around the corner and i so hope it does not come too early to us up here so we don't get another freeze. the freeze wasn't the problem last year, it was the early spring. ciao and goodnight.

  16. 6 PUPPIES, 6 PUPPIES, 6 PUPPIES!!!!Oh my goodness your have courage. What is the matter with other people? Would'nt you think you could find some people to take just one? Or did they wanna keep them together? WOW!! Well, have fun.

    The Burts products are a Maine product but if my memory servers me right it was sold to an out of state person or company a year or 2 ago. Pamela gave me a big variety package of Burts stuff for Christmas one year plus I have bought a couple of the products before and I did not like any of them. However they are in all the stores now so everyone must not feel that way. They are usually higher priced than other brands. I think it was the summer you were in Italy and the kids were here that Brian got a really bad case of posion ivy. As we all know he and Stevie spent most of their waking hours in the wood and their tree fort but that was the only time anyone got it and it was the worts case I have ever seen.

    Now I need help with computer lingo. What does ciao mean? I think you wrote it another time also but I forgot to ask about it.

  17. Good morning mom,
    six puppies-what the h#$% was i thinking? they are so destructive, but pretty smart too. i am sincerely hoping these early days will be the worst. once we get used to each other it should get better. the rescue bought a big crate so they stay in there and whine when they want to go out (every four hours or so at night and every two hours during the day). they are very good about that, not like linky. i have never been around puppies except link. i worked very hard to train him and he turned out ok. these puppies will be better. their personalities are very different. i am training them to go up and down the stairs out back. they come a few stairs down but then stop. one fell off into the leaves (he was ok!). then when we come in i am trying to get them to climb. they are growing fast and a little too big to carry one at a time up and down. about 2-3 can come up now when they want to come in. they are so sweet and getting used to the crate. i truly truly think as they get older (by the minute they change) they will be more manageable. i take it day by day.

    i did not know burts was made in maine! that was what i was thinking of for the poison ivy! they are expensive but get good reviews. brian has always been allergic to poison ivy. so is jimmy and me. it is bad. it took me about two years to finally really see it in the garden and now no matter where i go i can spot it.

    ciao is Italian! funny how you mention Italy in the same comment with a question about it. it is a word i have kept and used ever since i lived in Italy. if memory serves me correctly, it means goodbye and maybe something else. a word kind of like aloha in Hawaiian. i use it all the time. i find it friendlier than goodbye or bye probably because no one knows what it means. it is not a computer acronym so you are not missing anything. anonymous, am i correct on ciao? i know i got the spelling right. it is pronounces chow. at least i do.


  18. Hi Jean, Ciao means hello or goodbye in Italian. It's usually a conversation starter or end --like ciao --see you later --or like ciao --hello when you see a friend. Wow, 6 puppies --I know the Jimster is probably one happy boy -how did you get him to go to school with that many cute puppies? Have a great day!