Reflections on falling leaves and apples, too

By Lynette L. Walther | Oct 06, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Announcing fall, colorful leaves like these yellow ash leaves are too good to waste by hauling them to the landfill. Make the most of these leaves, and this season, too.

It is fall outside my window. I don’t need to consult a calendar to know it is so. The ash trees out front have turned a brilliant yellow — almost overnight — announcing fall is here, bam!

The handsome horse chestnut trees gave up their summer display weeks ago, those big green umbels of leaves abruptly turning brown and curling up. I suppose all that flashy springtime display of pink-tinged spikes of blooms and the production of those chestnuts to feed the squirrels and chipmunks over the winter were just too much to allow for fall leaf color.

The Norway maple outside my window soldiers on, now with unsightly black splotches of fungus on its still-green, oversized leaves. These gluttonous trees will be the last to drop their leaves in the fall, and are the first to leaf out in the spring, fulfilling their apparent desire to dominate all living plants and trees. Prodigious amounts of seeds add more assurance of that. These evil trees — yes, I find them evil — grow so rapidly that their wood is brittle. They often snap in the fall storms, something the parent of the offending tree next to my tiny residence did several years ago for two years in a row. First time it sent half of its branches across a flower bed with an earthshaking thud, and the next year flung its crown across and into our newly replaced roof and through the top of our vehicle. We had the rest of that monster cut down, lest it sprout out and grow again.

Now its offspring threatens even more destruction towering overhead. Hopefully it will have the grace to merely recline itself on our neighbor’s lawn and not through our roof, should it decide to topple this fall. Standing or not, this Norway maple, and others nearby, will drop prodigious amounts of leaves eventually. If there is one good thing to be said about those huge Norway maple leaves, it is that they contain more nitrogen than do ordinary maple leaves, and perhaps because of this they tend to compost more readily than do other maple or other hardwood leaves. This makes them decent additions to the compost pile. But that is where my praise of Norway maples begins and ends.

It is fall inside, too, as a buttery-cinnamony fragrant apple crisp cools on the counter. My stunning, red-flesh heirloom Winekist apples, combined with other apples, give it a cheerful pink tint. This was my first real crop of these apples, three or four dozen of them at the most and small in size, probably because of the dry summer. But their tiny size was more than compensated for by their brilliant color. Remember those sugary-sweet spiced apples that came in glass jars and often made an appearance at holiday dinners? Winekist are the same, almost unrealistic candy-apple red color inside.

In recent weeks I have been slicing these and other apples to dry. The joke around our house is that “we brake for apples.” Seriously, as we drove around and on a recent trip north to Canada’s Cape Breton, if I spotted one, I’d yell “apple tree!” And we’d come to a screeching halt to sample some long-forgotten, and, yes, often wormy, apples growing by the roadside. Makes one wonder if Johnny Appleseed had traveled that route as well.

But actually apples seeds are the ultimate “pig in a poke.” No two apple seeds are the same. Let that fact sink in for a minute or two. That means that the seeds in that apple you are eating now are all different. It is for that reason that if you want to grow another just like the one in your hand, or Winekist like those I grow, you will need to take a bit of graft wood from that apple's tree (even the wood of a Winekist tree is pink, as are the springtime blossoms) in order to get the same apple. My tree came from FEDCO, and come spring you should be able to get one from there, too.

Apple leaves will be going into the compost as well. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves and other yard debris account for more than 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste — a whopping 33 million tons a year. Without enough oxygen to decompose, this organic matter releases the greenhouse gas methane, said Joe Lamp’l, author of “The Green Gardener’s Guide.”

The National Wildlife Federation’s website notes that: solid-waste landfills are the largest U.S. source of manmade methane — and that’s aside from the carbon dioxide generated by gas-powered blowers and trucks used in leaf disposal. For gardeners, turning leaves into solid waste is wasteful. Burning fall leaves is even worse for the environment.

But using fallen leaves to create compost or a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down offers another benefit as well. Removing leaves eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring. Butterflies and moths often spend the winter in chrysalises on the ground. Here are some ways to make good use of all those fallen leaves:

1. Shred for mulch

2. Mow into lawn

3. Use to insulate tender shrubs/roses

4. Add to compost

5. Leave en situ for butterflies and other beneficial insects

Or build a brush shelter. Along with branches, sticks and stems, leaves can be used to make brush piles that shelter native wildlife. Ladybugs and lacewings like to nest in the dry, sheltered crowns of native grasses, said Cheryl Long, a senior editor at “Organic Gardening,” while pollinating bees prefer hollow plant stems.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” So, let’s make this the season to mark the start of a new direction for our gardens.

Brilliant red flesh distinguishes the heirloom Winekist apples the author is drying to enjoy in the months to come. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Comments (2)
Posted by: Lynette Walther | Oct 06, 2017 15:29

Thank you!


Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 06, 2017 14:21

Excellent, soul warming article.  "As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” So, let’s make this the season to mark the start of a new direction for our gardens"......and for us. We always have the choice in direction and there is no better time than now to make it.     Image result for chnanging direction

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