Get your leaves yet?


In rural areas where lots of people hunt, the common greeting in fall is “Get your deer yet?” “Getting your deer” means preparing for winter, laying in supplies. In the suburbs we don’t hunt (often I wish we did, because we have way too many deer and rabbits), but we still prepare for the coming year. One of the ways I do that is by gathering the leaves that fall on my lawn. I started “getting my leaves” today.

I’ve written about the “Leave the Leaves” program that governments are instituting in many parts of the country–encouraging homeowners to recycle their own leaves rather than leaving them at the curb for recycling. I wish we had a program like that in this area, and I keep all my leaves. The ones that fall on the front lawn get chopped up by the mulching mower–they serve as lawn fertilizer, the only kind I ever use. The ones that fall on the back lawn go into the compost.

In the fall, I rake all the leaves from the back lawn onto a narrow strip on the side of my property, pile them up, and add them to my compost pile as I need them throughout the year. By late August, I will have used them all up to make two or three loads of compost, and I’ll have to go scavenge the first fallen leaves from a roadside strip a block away from my house. But that’s a long time from now. Right now, I’m enjoying autumn’s bounty. Those leaves will make compost, which in turn will allow me to grow vegetables next year without any chemical additives.

Get your leaves yet?


A mast year


We’re having a mast year here in Bergen County, New Jersey, and, I suspect, in the wider area as well. “Mast” comes from a German word that means “forest food,” and a mast year, a phenomenon that happens every few years, is a year in which nut-bearing trees (in our area, oaks, hickories, and beeches) produce unusually large numbers of nuts. Notice it the next time you’re out walking–in some place there are so many fallen acorns that they blanket the ground entirely.


Masting results from chemical signalling among all the trees in the area (yes, plants send out chemical signals, both through the air and through their roots). It happens because, in most years, animals eat all the acorns and other nuts, so none remain to reproduce the trees. So every few years, the trees act together to produce such a large crop of nuts that the animals can’t possibly eat them all. Consequently, some will remain to germinate next spring. Next season, look for lots of seedling oak trees and a larger-than-normal chipmunk population. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Thanks to everyone who turned out for the Arboretum walk yesterday. It was a gorgeous day.


Native plant walk on Sunday, Oct. 27

Birch leaves turning yellow; grape leaves

Please join me this Sunday, Oct. 27, at 1:00 p.m., at the Thielke Arboretum on Doremus Avenue in Glen Rock. I’ll be leading a walk through the woods to identify the many native plants found in this lovely example of a northern swamp forest. We’ll talk about the components of a forest, types of native forests, and the plants to be found in the arboretum in different seasons. The walk is short and easy for all. The rain date is Nov. 3.

This walk is sponsored by the Bergen-Passaic chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey. For more information, contact the chapter at or the main group at