I've just never understood the whole bag-up-your-leaves-and have-someone-cart-them-off thing. It's always baffled me. Here in coastal South Carolina in the springtime we are blessed with an abundance of live oak leaves - which just makes amazing mulch for live oaks, azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias and all of those other acid-loving plants we grow so well down here. So - at first, I just started raking/blowing my own leaves, and mulching with them - in the privacy of my own garden. Then I started eyeing other peoples bags of leaves, sitting along the roadside, and I started making comparisons between their leaves and their yards (and asking myself questions like 'Does it look like they use chemicals?' and 'Hmmm...is it just live oak leaves, or are the leaves perhaps mixed with grass clippings...or mixed with other types of leaves?'). And then I started pondering the bags of leaves at the end of the Convent's drive, near the lab, wondering if leaves from a convent might somehow be better than non-convent obtained leaves...which lead to the natural question: were leaves obtained from a cemetery somehow more blessed than other leaves, or simply creepier? I know what you are thinking: these are BIG, BIG issues to ponder. And the hour is late.
But then I stopped along Ft Johnson road one day on the way into work, and after looking both ways (to make sure no cars would see me), I loaded up my cars with bags of leaves from a home that looked like they were only bagging up live oak leaves, and a home that looked like it didn't use alot of chemicals. The adrenalin! I was now no longer satisfied with the leaves that I could gather from the six lives oaks in my own yard, but now that I'd had a taste of bagged leaves - well, the world was my oyster, so to speak, and there was no turning back. But I was still a bit uncomfortable with being seen on the road into work filling my car up with leaves. That is, until I learned that the Director of our laboratory did the same thing every morning - and then I came to realize that he had a similar set of criteria, and that we were in LEAF COMPETITION. Full blown leaf competition, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I felt leaf envy when I parked next to his truck some mornings, the bed of his truck overflowing with perfectly filled bags of live oak leaves. The nerve! Now, that was an odd concept, leaf envy - and our Director generally got in earlier (okay, alot earlier) than I did - so my only hope was that there were more leaves on the road (more than he could fill the back of his truck with) or I simply had to take a side road, into one of the neighborhoods, and get their leaves (boy, now this was all getting really complicated). But then I thought: I have graduate students. I could use them (some might say abuse, but I'd have to disagree). I could say 'hey, let's go for a drive and talk about your project' and then we could take a detour into one of the neighborhoods and they could help me collect bags of leaves, because we all know that two people putting bags of leaves into a car is far less weird than one person. This worked for quite awhile. In fact, one former student sort of got into the act, and we started having genuine discussions on the carbon:nitrogen ratio of different leaf:grass ratios, as well as different types of leaves and their carbon:nitrogen ratios - and without a single bit of data we concocted ranges and theories and well - we collected a whole lot of leaves during these discussions. Memories of graduate school, you betcha.
I still collect bags of leaves, as often as I can during the spring. Sometimes with a person from my lab, sometimes alone. Recently, a neighbor asked me if I needed help taking the bags of leaves sitting along my drive down to the end of the road, so that the city would pick them up. I had to laugh: he was talking about my weeks haul, bags of leaves that had been selected with care -- but I didn't go into it with him, but just said thanks, but no thanks. I didn't say how it had always puzzled me that people bag up organic carbon/material from their yards to discard, and then run out to purchase organic carbon/material to add to their yards. Personally, I like to keep my garden's organic carbon where it is (more or less), and I'm increasingly less shy about snagging the organic carbon/materials discarded by others. So if you ever wonder why my car smells like oak leaves, well, now you know.