bY aLEX sYLVESTER, sADEH’S LAND MANAGER.
Yup, it’s that time of year when (most of) the trees, in a colourful farewell to the season, decide they have had enough of their leaves and release them to the mercy of the wind and gravity.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
The leaves have had quite a journey since the spring. As soon as their protective buds opened and revealed the glorious sunshine, they became mini sugar-production factories, supplying energy for the trees as they woke from winter slumber, and munch for innumerable critters. They were blown about, rained on, hailed on, covered in bird droppings, chewed inside and out by leaf miners and fungi. But they didn’t complain; these beautifully adapted solar cells soldiered on, just as they have these last few hundred million years. From dawn until dusk they tracked the sun’s path across the sky and got on with their job of drawing carbon dioxide out of the air, combining it with the oxygen in water and making sugars. The incredible alchemy of photosynthesis!
Thank you, leaves.
And the magic of leaves doesn’t end there. It may be called leaf litter, but the leaves accumulating on the woodland floor are anything but waste. Have you ever walked through a woodland and felt like you are almost bouncing off the soil? This spongy structure, the envy of all good gardeners, is the result of years and decades of mulching by the trees, protecting and building the soil, storing carbon and nourishing a complex biodiverse ecosystem. And interlinked by the Wood Wide Web, that network of fungi which enables the trees to talk with each other. Sometimes I wish I could shrink myself to the size of a tardigrade to be able to properly explore this mysterious world beneath the leaves.
But Oy vey, do these nuisance leaves get a bad rap in the autumn! They blow into our homes, they make the pavements slippery, block gutters and drains and smother our lovely lawns. If only trees were made of plastic!
At Sadeh we love the leaves. We sweep them up from outside the house, rake them off the gravel, pull them off the drain covers, shove them into bins and then wheel them to their retirement home. To the leaf sanctuary – where old leaves go to die – a state-of-the-art post and mesh structure upgraded by volunteer Jonny. Here they remain undisturbed, except for the occasional root around by the Sadeh chickens, while fungi magically break them down into black leaf mould. After one year we have an amazing soil conditioner that will enhance the nutrient and water retention capacity in flower beds. And by two years the leaf mould is so fine to be perfect as a medium for sowing seeds.
So please feel free to join us on our quest to Love the Leaves this autumn. Blessed be the leaves.