Something about the leaves…
…another completely unnecessary garden reverie…
When I was a kid, my friend down the street had a weeping willow in his front yard. It played hob with the plumbing, in the end, and I still associate that great tree — a weird, huge thing in the Northwest — with the televised ads for Hank Williams’ greatest hits. My friend’s mom, see, was from Louisiana, and it is from her pot I learned to love gumbo. (Jimmie Dean’s sausage, the hot ones, that was her secret.) We played “Star Trek” around that tree — I was Spock, though I’d never seen the show in those days, for we had not television in my house — and, for a couple of falls, we raked the leaves into a giant pile for a high jump pit and pretended we were Olympians. I do not remember the landings kindly, and this was back in the days when the Fosberry Flop competed with the scissors kick for technique, and I had neither of them mastered.
It all came to an end one day when Bob, the law professor’s son, caught an ankle on his run-up…I think he was pole vaulting, even, and broke it. He went on to MIT and ended up an actuary, last I heard. When I went back home last, the new owners had chopped the willow down, and put in a vegetable garden.
Out at the farm just this month we’ve been working on a bigger pile of leaves, mostly oak though there’s some ginko in there from Mamaw’s house, too. We convinced one of the young men around town who run lawn services that the farm would be a good place to dump the leaves he carted away, and he’s been kind enough to supply us beyond my wildest dreams, though I’m still hauling bags of leaves donated by our friends, as well.
This is an attempt at soil amendment, though it’s clear I don’t really know what I’m doing, and we desperately need to come up with a regular supply of manure to go with it. Our chickens are not up to the task of fertilizing 10,000 square feet of garden. We need ruminants.
Anyhow, the trailers of leaves come and then we haul them out over the natural gas pipeline right-of-way to the garden on the four-wheeler and spread them over the ground. It takes a while, maybe ten loads an hour, but most of the bottom of the garden — where the blackberries are newly staked up — is covered as I type this, playing hookie. We mostly means my father-in-law, because he lives out there and has more time to putter than I do. But most days I can get an hour or two in, before picking up Maggie at school or drifting back to town to attend to some other thing. Write, maybe. Something.
See, the problem with the soil here in eastern Kentucky is that it’s clay, not dissimilar from what we had back home in Seattle. So it needs work. We know the leaves compost well, but this year we’re going to try — on half the garden, anyhow, so as not to ruin the whole thing — to let nature take its course. I realize leaves by themselves are not enough, but as winter wears on we hope to add more layers of, well, manure and whatever else comes to hand. We’ll plow it under when it’s dry, come spring. And see what comes of it. The other half we’ll put winter wheat in, as we always do, though it’s late to do so. Yeah, well, it’s been bright and sunny for weeks, so it doesn’t feel late. We’ll take our chances. Still, I should probably re-read one of the organic gardening books we collect but never have time to attend to.