Leaf Piracy

First layer- newspaper

When the leaves fall my thoughts, and the thoughts of permaculture-inclined folk everywhere, turn to sheet mulch. Time to feed the gardens or start new beds with all the free, organic goodness falling from the trees. My heart-felt thanks to all my neighbours who so painstakingly rake their lawns, bag the leaves and stack them in inviting piles in the back alleys- you are an integral part of my food security plans.

As tempting as it is to just stay quiet about the wonders of sheet mulch- frankly, it’s easy pickings right now for leaves if you’re willing to put up with the confused stares of your neighbours (for the leaf pirates in our family that’s the whole attraction) – I really want people to have the experience of how easy it can be to grow yourself some good, rich dirt and a few veggies. Your food security is my food security after all.

But apocalyptic fears aside, we at the Sustainable Living Arts School just enjoy a good learning party. Truthfully everything we teach is pretty basic. It ain’t rocket science. But I like to learn by doing and I like to have a good time while I’m doing it. So we threw a “Start next year’s garden now” party a couple of weekends ago out in Kitsilano (isn’t that rad?) and Dan Gibbs, our teacher initiated us into the mysteries.

Laying down a sheet-mulch can be as easy as a thick wad of wet newspaper or cardboard right down over the grass- yep no digging, followed up by a foot or two of leaves. Or you can strive for a perfect balance of carbon (think dry, brown organic material) and nitrogen (think green and smelly stuff) that will get the composting in place action happening fast. I’ve done enough now to say confidently your lawn will be transformed into a rich, happy growing bed by spring regardless. Use what you’ve got. You should see Robin’s garden up in Robert’s Creek- she started with a thin layer of grit on the mountainside and without bringing in any outside soil has some pretty wild and abundant growth going on.

Second layer- manure

Dan had ordered some manure like substance from Lawn Boy and he’d made up a nice and stinky weed tea which we sprayed over the leaves, inoculating them with goodness. Robin (headmistress of the Sustainable Living Arts School) send me a list of the NPK (nutrient value) for various weeds. Did you know that fermented morning glory (bindweed to the uninitiated) has more nitrogen than manure? So stop cursing it and start harvesting it! Weed tea recipe: fill bucket with weeds, then fill again with water. Leave it until it’s stinky- one week? two weeks? Then you can dilute it and use it as a fertilizer for your plants. We sprayed it on full strength over the leaves.

Fun with gizmos

Dan had saved some seed husks from the garden he grew and loved on the island a while back. This is part of his biodynamic magical spin on the process. Harry would have enjoyed that story and loved sprinkling the magic dust over the garden. (He was kind of bummed I didn’t take him along; afterwards I realized kids could have easily been accommodated. We only had one very small person along for this day.)

I met Dan Gibbs, our teacher for the day, at a practical Permaculture weekend at Robin’s place on the Sunshine Coast. This means we bonded over the course of a beautiful autumn day hanging out in the gardens and homes of Robin and her merry band of subsistence farmers/ economic and social radicals. Which I guess means Dan feels like an old school mate in the best sense of the world. He ‘s someone I enjoyed learning with immediately, and who is always teaching me something without me knowing it’s happening.

Dan is the man!

Last month when we were talking about weeds (yep still thinking obsessively about weeds) as succession plants he said something like “and of course this land is in succession back to temperate rainforest- it’s what it wants to be”. I’ve used that term “succession plants” a lot in the last few months as I reflect back on Oliver’s work with ruderal ecologies and his brilliant project for the World Urban Forum a few years ago. I think it’s time to go deeper with forest gardening. Perhaps I can tempt Gregoire back for a city-focused forest gardening workshop this spring.



  1. Some guy tried to steal my leaves in Virginia last week, and I smacked him upszide the head. “Those my leaves,” I says, “get your own god damned leaves.”

    Nice to read your blog, bavaeyes are reading!

  2. While I don’t generally condone violence in the name of the sustainable living arts, sometimes you gotta fight for your right to mulch.

    Glad to have you along for the ride!

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