Nearly every winter, I call around to the tree companies, or scour the neighborhood looking for the tree trucks, trying to get a load of free wood chips. Eventually I source them, the guys come in their big truck, and they drop 20 cubic yards of fresh wood chips in our driveway. Then Tom and I spend the next month with the wheelbarrow and shovel, moving all those chips around to the pathways in between our raised beds, and around the perennial plantings that border the gardens. It's always a slog, because it takes so darn long. Blisters abound. We can't park in our driveway for weeks. Often gates are blocked. Honestly, it's always wonderful for the garden (and yeah, ok, for our waistlines), but hard on the middle-aged humans who tend it.
It's necessary though, if I want to keep weeds from germinating all over the place. I've written here before that we don't have a lot of weeds, and we really don't. By that I mean, not much comes in with the wind or the birds. Oh, a stray purslane here (likely brought in on nursery stock), or a wayward willowherb there, but nothing very troublesome. Most of our 'weeds' are simply seeds from our trees. The Catalpa and the Pepper trees are notorious for sprouting all over the place. And the squirrels plant oak trees everywhere.
And, this year, I brought in organic straw from a local farm to mulch the summer veg, which was great, but there were a LOT of wheat seeds left in it. And now wheat is sprouting up everywhere, all the places I DON'T want it. Like on the paths. Usually a thick layer of fresh wood chips, every winter, keeps everything manageable.
But - this year I decided to do something different.
I told you how I've been picking up coffee chaff from the roasters in Emeryville (Highwire Coffee), and they also have tons of burlap and jute bags to give away. So, I brought home about 100 bags and lined every pathway with them (they are completely biodegradable). Then I put out an all-points bulletin in my neighborhood: I wanted leaves. Some folks would call me after their mow-and-blow service came, and I'd go pick up several bags. Some neighbors would fill up their green waste cans, then wheel the can over and I'd dump them in the yard. Some folks needed help raking and sweeping leaves, so I did that too. It took a couple weeks, but I've finally got every square inch of this garden covered. Well, not the raised beds part. Those get green manures, or cover crops, and compost every spring. But the rest of the garden is covered in a nice thick layer of leaves - sycamore, tulip poplar, valley oak, tallow, red maple, liquidambar - I've got a cornucopia of different leaves on every path. Springy and soft, these leaves will slowly break down through the winter, feeding the soil life underground, and providing lots of nutrients to my garden.
Time will tell how well this leaf layer suppresses weeds, though - I'm already seeing a few stray wheat sprouts come up, sigh.