Last year, we brought home 15 truckloads of leaves to use as mulch for our garden, bedding for our hens, and organic "fuel" for the compost heaps ... and we didn't pay a cent for any of it. In fact, we were paid to gather up—and haul away—these leaves!
The single yard from which all this foliage came sprawls across two acres of Lake Erie shoreline and is crowded with huge, ancient maples. the owner—who lives on the property only in the summer—can't cope with the mountains of leaves that accumulate on the lawn every fall ... so she pays us $60 to rake up and dispose of the rich, compostable waste.
We start by raking the leaves into large piles, which we quickly cover with fallen branches so that the wind can't blow them away. Afterwards—and this is one of the nice things about this job—we take all winter (and part of the spring) to haul the leaves home.
In order to keep the number of round trips (and thus our expenses) to a minimum, we found it best to pack the rakings loose—not bagged—into the bed of our Datsun pickup. We tried bagging the leaves at first, but quickly found that it took far too much time for us to sack 'em up. (When we saw how many bags we were going to need in order to haul away all our rakin's, we knew bagging wasn't practical!)
So we finally just heaped the leaves into the truck as high as possible, then packed them down firmly by stamping on them. (We'd placed a large wooden box—built to fit the truck's bed exactly—in the Datsun, thereby raising its sides almost two feet and increasing our loading capacity tremendously.)
I might mention that we found wet leaves (which, of course, are heavier than dry ones) easier to fit tightly into the pickup.
We tied a canvas tarp snugly over the entire load to prevent the foliage from blowing away during the ride home. And, once there, we spread a good portion of our cache on the garden and atop the compost heaps. We also put several thick layers on the henhouse floor (sending our chickens into a frenzy of scratching). The ducks and geese got regular wheelbarrow loads too.
We originally thought that the dry leaves would make excellent bedding for our goats, but the caprine inhabitants of our homestead (being goats) refused to accept that idea, and gobbled the leaves up nearly as quickly as we spread them out! So we went back to giving them the usual straw bedding, but filled their mangers with crisp, dry foliage once a day.
Of course, even after we'd let the animals have their fill of leaves there were still mounds and mounds of the material left over to use for mulching the fruit trees and berry plantings. (We saved one good-sized pile specifically for springtime potato planting.) And for the rest of the year, neither our garden nor our compost piles ever wanted for cellulose!
I'm sure that if we hadn't been paid to rake these leaves, we'd have tried to find a closer-to-home source of mulch and bedding, because we did end up doing an awful lot of driving. Still, the $60 we received for our efforts more than paid for whatever gasoline the Datsun consumed. And, on top of that, we got a year's worth of mulch, fertilizer, and bedding out of the deal!
I feel certain that when we repeat the job this year it'll be as pleasurable—and productive—as last year. Maybe more so!
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