I suppose the main garden chore in October is taking care of the leaves.
Some people leave them where they are, expecting nature to decompose them and return them to the soil. This will happen, but it takes so long for leaves to break down that it could suffocate the lawn in the meantime. Besides, it just looks untidy and after a while, it doesn't smell very nice either.
Others rake them up and put them in enormous piles. If there is room to store these piles, by all means, do it. The piles themselves won't be ready to use as compost for about two to three years, depending on the rate of decomposition, but it will happen eventually.
Years ago, you couldn't walk down the street without smelling the aroma of burning leaves in the air. You could identify the leaf-burner by the small trails of smoke that circled over the pile. If the leaves weren't completely dried out, there always was a lot of smoke. Burning leaves has its own distinct smell that few people can't identify. These days, most communities frown on open burning, even leaves, and instead offer leaf pickup for residents.
But why send all that goodness up in smoke? Leaf mulch - or ''leaf mold'' as some would say - is one of the most beneficial sources of compost there is, and it literally falls from the sky every year, whether we want it to or not. So why not use it to our advantage and help make our soil - not just in our gardens, but in our lawns as well - as healthy as we can.
In my yard, the husband is the leaf composter. He is entertained by the fact that he can chop up the leaves into tiny pieces by rolling over them again and again, and in all different directions, with his lawn tractor. After all the leaf chopping is completed, we pick them up and cover our gardens for the winter, including the vegetables and all the flowers. By spring, those little pieces have broken down and have become worm food.
Earthworms rise to the surface of the soil when spring sunshine begins to heat up and pull the leaf bits below where they are eaten and then cast off as a fantastic soil amendment for the garden. You can't ask for a better recycling system.
Nutritionally, leaf mulch is not as beneficial to feeding your garden as compost, but what it lacks in nutrients, it more than makes up for in changing heavy clay soil to soft, workable loam.
Leaf mulch, once decomposed, helps the soil retain water. Heavy clay soil particles are so small and sticky that they are practically impermeable. When the soil is heavy with clay, water runs off the surface and can't penetrate through to the plants' roots.
If you don't have time to do all the chopping and spreading this time of year, there is another way to make leaf mold you can use in your garden next year. Put the leaves in a large plastic bag. If the leaves are dry, moisten them a little with the hose. Tie the bag closed and then cut three or four long slits in the side of the bag. Set it in a corner of the garden out of the way and leave it alone.
Remember that the larger your leaves, the longer it will take them to break down. If you want to use the leaf mold compost in the spring, you will have to do the chopping before you fill the bags. Otherwise, it could take up to a year for the larger leaves to turn into compost.
Once you have the soft, crumbly result that is composted leaf mold, it isn't just beneficial to the garden, but can be spread over the lawn to help modify that soil as well.
I admit there are times we have tossed leaves on our garden without chopping or composting them at all. When we planted in the spring, the majority of the leaves were still intact, although soggy and limp. We worked them into the soil as we planted. If you choose to do this, don't expect to be able to use a rototiller on your vegetable garden or you will be constantly stopping to untangle wet leaves from the tines.
You can, however, do this in your flower beds, since those likely won't be rototilled, and simply cover the leaves with your favorite mulch when you begin your garden chores in the spring.
Whatever you decide, don't throw away this valuable soil resource.