Most of our leaves have come off their summer perches. They are finished impressing all of the "Leaf Peepers" in our area, and can now come down to begin their next step in the evolution of things organic. Life is a progression. Nothing is wasted, and no stage is without it's benefits. The leaves have gone from bright green leaf buds to wonderful large summer leaves, green and plump. Then they shed their chlorophyll and take on their glorious autumn colors.
Mustard is what I call the next (and present) color stage. The trees seem to be spread with mustard. The leaves come down in the wind and rain, and the raker's come out into the garden. They come armed with rakes and tarps. The experienced and wary ones also come with gloves. Not because their hands are cold, but because a rake and leaves usually combine to create some of the most painful blisters on the palms of our tender hands. Of course, if you start with callused hands, the gloves can stay inside until it's cold outside!
When we lived in the Connecticut suburbs, raking leaves was an annual chore that HAD to be attended to. The leaves were dealt with in three different ways. First they were raked into the tarp and carried into the woods that resided on our back property line. They remained there in a huge pile. This huge pile by spring had diminished greatly. Every year I added to it. It gradually turned into leaf "mold", which is broken down leaves. It is pretty acid and has somewhat less place in the garden. The blueberries loved it! I also mixed it into the vegetable garden to encourage worms and looser soil. I also used it to add to the compost pile when the mix was too green. I must admit the kids loved playing in it as well when it was newly replenished.
Then when there weren't too many leaves left on the lawn, I would just let them stay there, ready to be chopped up by the last few mowing's. The lawn mower would cut them up and mix them with the grass. I would mow in such a way that I got rows which I could finally push onto the tarp and dump into the compost bin. It would heat up nicely and be all ready to go into the garden come spring!
The last of the leaves, too far from the compost bin, and leaf pile went into the street, right by the curb. A few times every fall "snofalaphagus" (as the kids called it) would come by and suck the leaves up into the town truck, carting them off for the town compost. In the spring we were welcome to go and get as much as we wanted for our gardens. I had my own compost, so I never took advantage of that.
Now, however, we live in the country. The only leaves that get raked are those that accumulate in the driveway. They can be quite lethal when wet and slippery! The gardens just accumulate leaves and I leave them there to mulch the plants. In the spring I remove them after they've protected the garden all winter.
If you have a lawn, it is important to rake the leaves up. Leaves will mat down and suffocate the grass below. It will stop your lawn from breathing, making it quite vulnerable to different kinds of mold and disease, to say nothing of the insects that will take refuge there!
So, grab the gloves, rake and tarp. Invite the children to either help (OK, so maybe the word is "bribe") or play in the leaf piles. Some of the happiest memories of childhood are made there. The weather is delightful; working in a sweatshirt and jeans just feels wonderful in the fall; breathing in the cool air is so invigorating. It's all the stuff of joy. Even the occasional blister is worth it. Autumn! It's wonderful!