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Monday, November 22, 2010

Don't bag fall leaves!


"Just pick up the damn bags!"

It was a quick, flippant answer that struck a responsive chord with many London folk — especially those with clear plastic bags, filled with fallen autumn leaves and sitting forgotten at the curb, passed over by city crews doing the fall leaves pick-up. It seems those leaves were ignored because they were in the wrong bags.

Plastic leaf bags are so passé; Paper bags are in. But not just any paper bag. No, the paper bags you fill with leaves, and place at the curb, must be certified compostable and bear the appropriate logo from either the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ). No label, no pick-up.

How much does it cost London to pick-up leaves?
The problem had grown into quite the local dust-up when London mayor-elect Joe Fontana stepped boldly into the fray. Fontana called News Talk 1290 Today with Andy Oudman and sliced through the Gordian knot of confusing green rhetoric. Fontana, shooting from the hip — some might argue lip — said, "Just pick up the damn bags!"

Free Press columnist Ian Gillespie found the “just get ‘er done” response refreshing. I wasn't immediately enamored with Fontana's response but I have slowly climbed on-board. Gillespie was right. And so was Fontana.

With the problem at hand "solved" by our mayor-elect, I say, "Let's clear up the whole messy, costly, leaf pick-up program and kill it for 2011. The Free Press reports that the city enjoys an annual savings of about $200,000 simply by banning plastic bags for leaf pick-up. This makes me wonder how much the city could save by scrapping the needless pick-up altogether.

Fontana promises to be a "Get Tough" mayor. He ran for office vowing to freeze property taxes over four years — a financial get tough platform. Maybe one place to apply his new, bold approach might be here, and tackle the whole leaf pick-up problem head-on.

The truly get tough answer might be, "They're leaves. Run your lawn mower over 'em and get on with life. The city is out of the leaf pick-up business. We can't afford the luxury anymore."

I can hear the outcry now. "The leaves will kill my lawn." "Leaves harbour mould and plant diseases." "Rotting, wet leaves offer sanctuary to breeding mosquitoes."

Relax. It doesn't have to be that way according to many researchers who have studied fall leaves. Steve Bender, the Grumpy Gardener, says:

"Stop Being So %^&*@#+ Stupid! Do you bag your leaves? . . . Are you, in other words, a certified cretin?

Leaves are a great source of organic matter. And they're free! Why throw away good, free stuff in favor of peat moss, composted cow manure, and shredded bark from the garden center that costs money? Hello? Is there anybody home?"

He see fall leaves as free organic matter! Did you hear that? Free! Grumpy writes:

"Hydroponics aside, you can't grow good plants without good soil. And no matter if your soil is mucky clay or worthless sand, the best way to improve is to add lots and lots of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil drainage and aeration, increases storage of moisture and nutrients, and makes things cozy and comfy for earthworms and microbes that stir and digest the soil and make its nutrients available to plants. Organic matter is brown gold."

Grumpy is not alone. The Website of The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold. The tell homeowners:

 "Keep your leaves on your lawn. . . . Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and help to slow down weed germination in the spring. Organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality."
The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold.

Personally, I've never understood the whole autumn leaves problem. My dad was a farmer born more than a hundred years ago in the early years of the twentieth century. He always saw fallen leaves as a valuable commodity. Something to be composed, or used to insulate plants from the harshest cold and fiercest wind of winter. Leaves represented the goodness of the soil; He recycled them back into the earth.

My grandparents on my mother's side were both born in the 1870s in small farming communities. They agreed with my dad. Despite living for most of their lives off the farm and in the city they never showed any sign of being caught up in the off-the-land fear of leaves that seemed to grip the city slickers.

A The Free Press photographer, now retired, had a farm west of the London. He told me that he wished there were a way to convince the city to dump the leaves collected from city homes at his farm. He saw them as a fine addition to the soil and he'd just plow them into the earth. Unfortunately, his farm was too far out of town for the city to have any interest in his idea.

A few years ago The Free Press ran a Business Monday feature on a company selling and installing special replacement blades for electric and gas rotary mowers. They installed two special blades with a total of six sharp cutting edges which made quick work of mulching lawn clippings, including leaves.

The company's product was obviously accepted by Londoners as the shop in North London was backed up with hundreds of lawn mowers waiting to be upgraded.

Sadly, it seems that the multi-blade, mulching invention, as good as it was, was better than the inventor's business acumen; The business folded and the mulching blade invention disappeared with last year's leaves.
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And Joe, if you should happen by, do a quick google about the Net and check out all the cities that are getting on the mulch 'em bandwagon.

e.g. Seattle Public Utilities: Mulching lawn mower guide

. . . and they are even into mulching in Merry Old England.

e.g. Warwickshire County Council: Mulch Mowing

e.g. . . . and a sister paper of The London Free Press,
The Chatham Daily News, says:
"Use a mulching mower and feed your lawn and keep shredded grass and leaves out of the landfill."
So go get 'em Joe. Tell those damn voters,
 "Just leave the damn leaves!"

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