Farm Life: Leaves

Gorgeous leaves before the fall

Leaves are wonderful appendages to trees.  In spring, they begin the cycle of life in the forest as they bud out in bright shades of green that will last only a few days before maturing to the deep greens of summer, drawing in the sun’s energy.  Leaves shade us from the sun’s zenith and cool the woods at night.  Then as the days shorten, they release the golden rays of summer in the fall display of color.  

So what happens to all those wonderful leaves after the leaf-peepers have driven back into the cities to complain about winter, go to the movies, and worship at the church of the NFL?  First they follow the season’s name and fall.  As with all objects with mass, they follow the laws of physics equalizing their gravitational force in proportion to the mass of the earth.  Thus, they move greatly toward the earth, while pulling it minutely toward them.  Come December, only the oak leaves cling to their branches, while the maple, hickory, dogwood, black gum, and locust leaves cling to the ground.

But, the ground in the mountains is not even, so the downward pull continues with each windy day of winter.  When a gale blows through, the forest floor appears to move under your feet as leave rush this way and that, tacking downhill on their open sails.  Ultimately down is the hollow, the stream bed, or the man-made ditches of country roads.

But this is not the end of leaves downward course.  Behind the winds of an Alberta Clipper cold front is the rain.  Rain also adheres to the laws of physics and flows downward.  Soon, those leaves draw in their sails and float on the rushing streams where the water collects.  This is all a natural process, except we build narrow passages called culverts, believing that the water will flow under the road.

Culvert plugged with leaves

No, the water does not flow once the leave congregate at the entrance to the culvert.  The leaves pile up, quickly blocking the 10″, 12″ 18″, 24″ of the culvert.  For not only do leaves fall into ditches, but sticks break in these cold winter winds.  A couple of sticks can easily block the culvert, piling up the leaves, which stop the silt from moving ever down toward the oceans.

Once the culvert is blocked, all the thousands of other leaves moving down the hill and down the ditch and toward the culvert follow another law of physics and continue to spill over the plug and across the road.  This is more simply known as a washout, or gully washer.  Such a mess can take numerous truck loads of hauling to clear out.

Leaves ready for the compost pile

However, living on these roads for a few years, we have learned that the same culverts plug up each spring as the snows melt and the thunderstorms wash away the grey months.  Each year, we assemble the pitchfork, rake, and shovel, to drive the rounds.  Each risk point requires a different strategy for cleaning.

All those truck loads of leaves coalesce behind our garage in a growing compost pile.  Every force of destruction can also be a force for life.  These leaves will decay in a year or two.  Old compost piles become the soil which loosens the clay and add nutrients into our garden beds.  Nothing wasted.  Resources merely need to be transported to the right location.  This is work for the “doers”, not the “coaster”, as discussed in Fix It jobs (3/1/11).

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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2 Responses to Farm Life: Leaves

  1. The Vicar says:

    One man’s yard waste is another man’s compost. Thanks for the vivid description of the seasons through the life cycle of the leaf.
    Question: After thousands of years (perhaps millions according the the geode shop in Ashland, NC) of composting leaves, why does the soil still consist mostly of clay? Shouldn’t there be a nice layer of topsoil by this time? I will accept the answer, “That’s the way God wanted it to be”, however if you have another alternative that is fine as well.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      The Vicar raises an interesting questions, the answer for which, as with most scientific speculations, depends more on your premises than verifiable data.

      Should we take a young earth perspective, the Appalachian mountains, as well as most geological structures are a result of global flood activity about 4000 years ago. Massive, rapid upheavals of land masses occurred the “waters flowed from the deep”. These instant mountains then quickly eroded with the movement of the flood waters, depositing the layers of mineral and organic mater which make up the layers of shale (mud), coal (leaves, sticks, and animals), sandstone (quartz, etc), and limestone (shells). As the leaves that come down every year, they break down into a fraction of an inch of organic mater and blow/wash away easily. They have mostly migrated down to the valleys, bays, and ocean floors.

      If you take an old earth perspective, these mountains are mealy the foundation of mountains which were the result of the squished up ocean floor from the subduction zone between the North American and North African plates. As the plates moved away from each other parallel mountain ranges were left here and on the northwestern coast of African. Millions of years of rain, freezing and thawing have broken up the layers, with all that mineral and organic mater flowing down to create the mid-Atlantic region (i.e. the flat lands from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the edge of the continental shelf.) So that’s where all the extra leaves went.

      A more recent event occurred in this region over the past 200 years, namely all those Irish and German immigrants whom the British pushed up into the mountains. They cut most of the forests either for building the cities of the East Coast before and after the Civil War, and to smelt iron. Oak makes good charcoal. That left much of the forest floor exposed to the drying effect of sun light, and vulnerable to ground fires, which burnt the layer of peat that had developed down to the limestone caps which make up most of these mountains. The shale lies below the limestone.

      Maybe the politicians of the day did not understand global warming/climate change.

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