DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane D. Brown
When we were kids on our family farm, we’d all line up with our rakes and pull back the leaves in a long roll on the big lawn. We’d rake the red maple and yellow oak and the huge Empress Paulownia leaves into a great big pile on the edge of the grass. Then we’d run and jump into the pile over and over until we were sneezing with bits of leaves sticking on our heads and clothes. Our father helped us cart the pile to the big compost bin where we’d dig for fishing worms in the spring.
As I walked to get the paper this morning, instead of the friendly scratch of rakes, I was assaulted by the hum of a hundred dentist drills – leaf blowers on all sides. The clouds of dust had my eyes watering in a minute, without the fun of jumping in a pile of colorful leaves.
I wish the leaf blower had never been invented. It certainly would be better for our ears and lungs, as well as the planet. According to a recent NYTimes op-ed, Let’s Kill the Leaf Blower, the “hydro-carbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a 3-ton Ford F-150 Raptor pickup truck.” Some leaf blowers produce more noise than a jet plane taking off. And the stuff stirred up by blowers can include nasties like animal feces, pesticides, chemicals, and allergens such as pollen and mold.
I’ve learned recently that it would be better for birds and other creatures that live in our yards if we don’t even rake! Or at least we should rake gently and keep most leaves in place to help insects, bees, birds, turtles, frogs and other wildlife thrive.
There’s a predictable refrain every fall, with people like me calling for change. This year rather than blowing our leaves to the curb, let’s pledge to rake them around the base of trees and shrubs and into our perennial garden borders. Make a compost pile and then use the mulch next spring. You’ve heard it all before and yet leaf-blowing persists. Let’s do better this year.
By leaving our leaves we will be supporting biodiversity and doing our bit to fight the devastating effects of climate change. Leaves will decompose over the winter creating healthier trees and soil. Leaves provide habitat for many pollinators and more than 90% of caterpillars – the kinds of insects we need to nurture our birds and save our food supply. Leaving our leaves reduces air, water and noise pollution.
Leaving your leaves also protects against flooding by absorbing rainwater better than grass or hard surfaces. Leaves blown to the street block drainage and cause large nutrient loads to enter our streams creating dangerous algal blooms.
This fall, Durham has partnered with the New Hope Audubon Society to promote the “Leave Your Leaves” initiative as part of their Keep Durham Beautiful plan. The Triangle Community Foundation donated funds for educational materials including a website where you can learn more about this important program and pledge to leave your leaves.
Chapel Hill has included “Leave your Leaves” in their climate action plan. This year the Town is focused on educating the public. The New Hope Audubon Society hopes that next year the Town also will reduce loose leaf pickup. Currently, Chapel Hill is picking up 4,000-6,000 TONS of leaves that we blow to our curbs each year! That is a lot of fuel and transportation of leaves to other places when those leaves could benefit our trees and help our wildlife if left where they fall.
Of course, the real culprit is our love affair with grassy lawns. The amount of time and fuel Americans spend tending to lawns is crazy. And the chemicals we use to keep them green are lethal to more than the weeds.
At our house we have planted large beds of ferns, Lenten roses and ground covers. We spread compost in the spring rather than chemical fertilizers. We still have a patch of lawn out back –can’t quite let that go – but we’re careful to set the mower higher than usual to save insects such as lightning bugs that gently rise out of the grass in summer twilight.
In a suburban neighborhood, it’s hard to do all the things we know we should. But we can do much better. Let’s cut back on leaf-blowing. If you have to do it, trade in your two-cycle blower for an electric or four-cycle model. Better yet, use a rake or broom to tidy up hard surfaces. And don’t, don’t, don’t move leaves to the curb. Thank you!