Got leaves? Don't just rake them away

Watch Joel in the Garden on KMTR NewsSource16 at 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Thursdays

EUGENE, Ore. Fall leaves are always pretty until they're blanketing your backyard.

But rather than blowing them away or tossing them into bags, you could be using them to boost your garden.

Once the leaves change, you may think of November as a time to put your paws up and relax.

Not so, says the Eugene Backyard Farmer owner Bill Bezuk. He says between cover crops and mulch, gardeners can find plenty to do. "The great thing about living in Oregon is you can garden year round. A lot of people are thinking about putting in their cold crops. Your broccoli, cauliflower, kale, things of that nature," Bezuk said.

My garlic and onion bulbs are in the ground. Now I'm covering them with a layer of newspaper, followed by a few inches of straw to keep away the weeds and crab grass. "The problem with straw, of course, is you can't guarantee it's going to be seed free and make sure whatever does plop up is going to be managed," Bezuk said.

"So, by laying down newspaper, you'll be able to keep some weeds underneath from sprouting. And the newspaper itself will compost into your soil and give you that extra burst of carbon."

Once you rake up some of those fall leaves, you can create your own natural weed barrier. It's good for your soil.

Maple leaves, which you'll find plenty of around Eugene, make great compost. "A lot of people in their backyard just scoop up the leaves in one big pile and just put them back into their garden and churn them up," Bezuk said.

To do that, you can run over the leaves with a mower, as they can take about a year to break down.

But Bezuk prefers to let the chickens do his dirty work. "It's great entertainment for them," Bezuk said. "They're like a bunch of kids in a leaf pile, they're looking for all of the bugs that might be in there. They scrape and scratch all of the leaves down and then it just goes into your garden all that much more easily."

A few easy methods to consider before you let those leaves blow away: To help your leaf compost pile break down, you can add something with nitrogen, such as manure, grass clippings or bone meal. You can also try covering your pile with plastic, which will keep it warm without getting too wet or too dry.

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