It’s Autumn and the colours around us are fabulous. Trees are shedding in abundance now so there is also the hard work of clearing up!! Would you like to know some leafy facts that may help make the chore of raking up those leaves more enjoyable and worthwhile?
Leaves contain three pigments, chlorophyll (green) carotenes (yellow) and anthocyanins (reds and pinks) The yellows, oranges and reds of autumn leaf colour are always present in leaves; they are just masked by the green pigment called chlorophyll throughout spring and summer. Plants use chlorophyll along with sunlight to get their nutrients. It is essential in photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to absorb energy from light.
As the days become shorter, production of chlorophyll slows and stops and the green colour fades revealing the autumn colours that we love.
As days shorten and temperatures cool, hormones within trees begin to change, the most notable one being auxin. It’s production in leaves starts to decrease, eventually causing the leaf to break away. The benefit of shedding leaves is that trees can preserve the moisture in their branches and trunk instead of drying out and dying. A tree without leaves is in a state of dormancy and needs less energy to remain alive. *
Historically at Willows Forest School we have shown our children how to make leaf mould by raking leaves up and placing them in black bin liners with holes in to leave for a year to break down into compost. However, in order to play our part in moving away from using plastic, we intend to create leaf-composting bins from pallets or wire netting. To make these you would use posts to support the wire netting or secure pallets together to form a square bin. Ideally with a piece of netting or a loose pallet across the front to contain the leaves but also allow access.
As a gardener, Karen has worked in a variety of jobs and has had experience of successfully creating leaf mould by piling up leaves in bins created by either pallets or wire netting. Two or three bins are usual and you rotate the contents from one to the other to continue breaking down while you fill up the newly emptied bin with fresh leaf litter. To speed the process up it is a good idea to cover the pile with old carpet to keep the bins warm and in darkness and occasionally turn the pile to aerate it. Wonderful crumbly compost can be yours in a year or less. Some leaves break down quicker than others, oak, birch, and beech being the best.
Once the leaves are nicely composted down, you can use the compost to mulch your garden in spring or autumn. It is wonderful for helping trees and shrubs to establish roots when planting, giving them the valuable nutrients they need for strong growth. It is also fabulous to use in planting containers due to its water retaining ability.
Our children use leaves in so many crafts at Willows Forest School :
v Practising their fine motor skills, they thread them together using a piece of willow to thread a length of wool or string through making pretty leaf bunting
v They press leaves into air-drying clay to make pretty imprints.
v We teach them tree identification, playing matching games such as hiding leaves and giving them a leaf to run off and find it’s match making a pair.
v They make beautiful Mandalas on the ground arranging the leaves by size and colour in concentric circles making fantastic patterns. A Mandala is a circular pattern that is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the universe.
v The children love collecting leaves to make crowns either weaving them in and out of a willow circle or using a circle of sticky card to stick leaves and other natural woodland material on for a wonderful woodland crown.
v On our Sutton Green site, Mandy, one of our Level 3 Leaders set up an experiment to watch a leaf photosynthesize. Putting a leaf in a container with water in and setting it in the sun to watch the leaf producing bubbles as it ‘breathed’ The children were so excited to see the bubbles.
v Paint leaves with blackberry paint and make leafy prints is one of our fun and messy activities that the children love.
v We have even made our own green paint by pounding garlic leaves in a bowl and mixing up turmeric for a lovely bright yellow!
v One of our little forest schooler’s favourite activities is the Japanese Art of Hapa Zome. The children use a mallet to beat a leaf onto a folded piece of fabric, which pounds the natural pigment into the cloth creating a beautiful print. This is a very popular craft with the children and the excitement and wonder in their faces as they unfold the cloth to reveal the print is magical.
v Of course we also encourage the children to gather leaves for our hedgehog homes and there is always a staff member willing to be buried and hidden in a pile of leaves ….. shhhhh where is she?
v For Remembrance Day our children make poppy patterns with red leaves and maybe a conker, a stone or a piece of charcoal for the centre.
* Reference from The Woodland Trust