Around the Farm: Breaking out the rake

Most people who come to my house love all the trees. I do too. The yard is full of maples, oaks and black locusts. They are like old friends and I’m proud many of them have stood for so long.

Practically speaking, they also shade the house from the harsh summer sun and shelter it from the strong winds that blow frequently down the hill. In the spring the maples produce sap for making maple syrup, and the black locusts are just about the hottest burning firewood around. There is a never-ending supply of sticks and branches for kindling and the acorns dropped by the oaks provide food for the critters.

But then there’s the fall. Suddenly all the practicality and natural beauty pale in comparison to the daunting task ahead. It’s all about the leaves now. It only occurred to me recently that’s probably why it’s called ‘the fall,’ because everything literally does. The house has been surrounded by a golden brown ocean for almost a month.

Leaves curl and dry in the sun, making the job slightly easier.

Leaves curl and dry in the sun, making the job slightly easier.

Part of me always wants to just leave them alone and not out of laziness either. I love the color and the smell when they sun beats down on them, the sound they make when I walk through them, that satisfying crunch. But I also like my grass too. Having mowed it faithfully all summer I would hate to see it smother and die. So at some point in time the leaves gotta go.

Usually I mulch and bag them with the mower or use my big bushel chipper/shredder vac to do it, depositing them at the perimeter of the yard where the woods start to keep the undergrowth down. Or I pile them up for summer mulching to spread in my garden beds. It’s a pretty good system. But this year I decided to mostly rake the leaves up. By hand, using the old-school tarp system.

Lesson one: Never rake uphill. Fortunately most of the yard is on a downward slant making that part easier. A few other key points: Make sure your rake isn’t broken (check), use more than one tarp (check), and wear some nice thick gloves (and check).

I’m sure people driving by who saw me raking a yard of this size thought I was nuts. I probably am. But I wanted to collect and spread a lot of leaves behind the barn as mulch to keep the pesky weeds and brushy stuff at bay. I can’t get back there with the mower.

Stockpiling  leaves behind the barn to keep weeds away.

Stockpiling leaves behind the barn to keep weeds away.

I also thought doing more of the raking by hand would be good exercise and be in line with my efforts toward greener living. And what the heck, the weather has been really nice for November…

There are lots of leaves here. Front, back and side yards with big old tress sporting big old leaves. But with some elbow grease and several hours’ effort I put them quite literally in their place. I wasn’t going for perfection, just mostly gone.

Putting the plants in this garden bed to sleep for the winter with some extra protection.

Putting the plants in this garden bed to sleep for the winter with some extra protection.

I leave the leaves in areas where grass doesn’t grow and I also scoop them into the garden beds to help protect the plants. These piles I’ll clean up in the spring when everything starts emerging. For now they have a cozy blanket to cover them in case we have a year with little snow (I won’t hold my breath for that) and I have a little less work to do.

Hannah doing her part to pick up a wayward stick or two.

Hannah doing her part to pick up a wayward stick or two.

Yes, maybe I could have spent my time better. But there is something to be said for doing things the old-fashioned way. I didn’t use any gas or electricity, but I didn’t break my back or shoulders either. I took my time and simply worked. Eventually it was all done. I moved an ocean with my own two hands.

And a rake. Using a few tarps. I guess I should give credit where it’s due.

Thankfully the trees are mostly done now shedding their crunchy brown coats. If I feel inclined again to clean up any more I will go over the yard with my mower, chopping them up or bagging them for mulch. But the way things stand now if I don’t touch them again the yard will be fine. It’s good to let some of the leaves remain anyway, as their decomposition helps build up and feed the soil. So there you have it, a perfectly good excuse to never have an entirely tidy leaf-free yard.

A grove of locusts, maples and a lone elm tree stand next to the house, probably once intended as a wood lot.

A grove of locusts, maples and a lone elm tree stands next to the house, probably once intended as a wood lot.