North of the Border
Mulch and Other Thoughts

by Pat Mestern

Of course my neighbours think I'm crazy, but with snow flurries in the air, I fired up the lawn mower and concentrated on fertilizing my lawn, and that of my elder neighbour. I was working with the piles of leaves that have fallen from maple, apple, pear and beech trees. We don't rake leaves around our place. As they fall we use what is needed to lay a layer of mulch in the vegetable garden. We use leaves to mulch around tender plants (tree peonies, heather, roses & etc) before running the lawn mower over the remaining carpet - several times. We never purchase lawn and garden fertilizer. Leaves do the trick for us. By bagging leaves and putting at curbside for take-away, you are throwing a quite a few "fertilizer" dollars into your local landfill. Cutting with a lawn mower in the late autumn/early winter and letting nature take its course with the resultant leaf mulch will ensure that your lawn comes up green and a little healthier in the spring. Mower cut mulched leaves break down nicely during the winter so that there is very little residue to rake in the spring.

There is one exception to cutting leaves with a lawn mower. In our part of Canada, salt and sand are used extensively on highways and byways. When big road plows come through, slush and snow containing salt and sand is thrown unto boulevards. To combat the effects of this lethal "cocktail" we leave a thick layer of leaves on the boulevard to act as a winter mat. This leaf mat collects the "cocktail" all winter. As soon as possible in early spring, we rake carefully roll-rake from sidewalk to roadside. Because it is so thick the leaf cover rolls up, salt and sand included, just like a mat. After it is deposited at curbside, town crews are kind enough to take it away. If such service is not available in your community, there are several uses for the mat, that is now easily handled. It can be laid against a fence - or anywhere that you are trying to control weeds. It should not be put on your garden as it is full of salt and sand. When I know the dressing soil won't be used for several years, I have put mats in a large open compost and let nature take its course.

Want a tip about a free winter wrap for trees? Automotive body repair shops up our way get bumpers wrapped in white insulative packaging that looks a lot like sheets of pliable plastic paper. I have no idea what the official name is for this material. These sheets make excellent insulative wrap for tender trees. I wrap the trunks of wisteria and kiwi. My mission figs are blanketed with the material and it works. Check your nearest automotive body repair shop to see if they receive this material - and what they do with it. I scoop it FREE because it is slated for a landfill site.

A reader asked about preserving newspaper clippings. Do I have the solution for him. This little tip was given to me by my grandmother. I have clippings from her collection dating to 1907 that are in excellent shape. They haven't browned, brittled or disintegrated. The estimated life span for newspaper clippings preserved in this way is 200 years. Dissolve one milk of magnesia tablet in one quart of club soda. Let sit overnight. Pour this mixture into a pan large enough to hold the flattened clipping. Soak the clipping for one hour, remove carefully to a mat of paper towels. Pat dry and leave on the mat until completely dry. If you don't use paper towels, use a tea towel as a mat.

What about empty margarine tubs, someone asked who suffers a rain of tubs every time she opened her cupboard door. How about using them to store nuts, bolts, screws, nails & etc in basement or garage. Put a sticky label on each to indicate what tub holds which item. Stack them alphabetically. Store dried fruits and vegetables in them. They are excellent containers for freezer use and hold two servings of stew, chili, soup & etc. I use them to store crayons, small toys, doll's clothing, rubber stamps . . . Children view them as "treasure" because them never know what is under the lid of a margarine tub in their toy chest. Store office supplies in tubs. Label each to indicate, stamps, paper clips, elastics . . . Use as flower pots. Punch holes in the bottom and use lids as saucers. Tubs are good for mixing paints and cleaning paint brushes. They make good containers for garden seeds, craft supplies and found collectibles. One fellow I know keeps small semi-precious stones in margarine tubs. Another makes art objects of tubs with paint, buttons, feathers, artificial stones and costume jewelry. He used to give them to residents in nursing homes, and to church groups that held rummage sales. His tubs are getting so sophisticated now that he sells them at craft shows. Some of his early models are selling for a good price on the "secondary market". Imagination can be a great asset, can't it.

Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at

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