Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Fall's Free Gift To Gardeners
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Leaves...Leaves...Leaves! Falling from the trees by absolute truckloads...blowing in the wind from all corners of the neighborhood... accumulating in enormous piles...taxing the endurance of even as hardy a breed as gardeners. Coveted and lusted after by all those who know their true value; burned - wasted - into utterly useless ash, clouds of dangerous and pungent smoke and cinders. Lost forever: an immensely valuable soil-building ingredient!
Fallen leaves, in the eyes of many, are a nuisance; in the eyes of some, tolerated; in the eyes of a few informed gardeners, highly-prized. But every fall it's the same old thing: mountains of leaves from thousands of trees. What to do with all those leaves?
Don't Burn Those Leaves! Every year tons upon tons of absolutely priceless — if not precious — organic matter goes up in smoke in either curbside pyres or community incinerators. Precious organic matter that might have served to enrich our soils, making them infinitely more healthy and productive. The problem is a pressing one because, faced with a choice between paying someone to haul them away or burn them, many homeowners may elect to set the pile on fire.
Why should you be concerned? For openers, burning leaves, especially in an uncontrolled environment like your back yard or at the curb, greatly increases the risk of grass, forest or house fires.
Additionally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leaf burning leads to air pollution and serious health problems. Burning leaves in the open produces particulate matter and hydrocarbons laced with a number of toxic, irritant, and cancer-causing compounds, including carbon monoxide.
Particulates in smoke, if inhaled, penetrate the deepest recesses of the lungs and can remain there for years. Their presence increases your chances of upper respiratory infections, often reduces the body's ability to use inhaled air and can trigger an asthma attack in susceptible individuals.
Hydrocarbons result from relatively cool-burning of damp leaves with inadequate air circulation (conditions common to most home leaf fires). Many of these hydrocarbons in the thick, aromatic smoke of burning leaves result in irritation — sometimes severe — of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. According to the EPA, a substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in leaf smoke consist of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are known carcinogens.
Carbon Monoxide is the invisible gas in the smoke of inefficient combustion. When breathed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream, combines with red blood cells and markedly reduces the amount of oxygen carried to the body. Those at considerable risk are the unborn, newborn children, smokers, senior citizens and people with chronic heart or lung disorders.
All in all, the implications of homeowner leaf-burning run deep and long: higher incidences of health problems leading to higher health costs, and greatly increased risk of damage to life and property if the fire gets out of control (a light gust of wind at the wrong moment can spread flaming leaves and embers all over the neighborhood).
An Alternative: Leaves, pine needles, fall yard trimmings and small twigs can quickly and easily be converted into rich, dark humus via the process of composting. There's no fire, no smoke, no hacking, coughing, burning eyes...and when the resulting compost is returned to the soil of your garden, it makes for better, healthier and more beautiful flowers, shrubs and vegetables. Earthworms and beneficial insects thrive; the need for pesticides and other garden chemicals is reduced (perhaps eliminated altogether) and a composter's garden is inevitably the envy of the community!
Is it a complicated or difficult process? No! Does it cost a lot of money? No! Does it take a lot of time? No! Will it benefit your family, home, community, world? A resounding Yes!
Composting is one of the most personally satisfying forms of recycling. Besides leaves and other yard wastes, kitchen scraps (except large bones, fat or grease) and a moderate amount of paper (napkins, paper towels, some corrugated cardboard and reasonable amounts of shredded or ripped-up newspaper - black or colored ink) can be reduced to the kind of "black gold" that your garden needs.
Where can you learn more about this almost magical recycling process? Search out the most beautiful garden in town. I can just about guarantee that they are composters anxious to share their "secret" with others. Call the Cooperative Extension Service in your county and ask for some free literature and assistance, or request the name of one of the growing numbers of Master Composters being trained by your state's university system. There's an entire chapter on composting in Keys to the Garden Gate. Your complimentary copy is waiting for you.
Above all, make a commitment to "give a little back" to the earth. You'll feel good about helping "Mother" heal the wounds brought about by centuries of abuse.
(Some information taken from United States Environmental Protection Agency publication 452/F-92-007 "Residential Leaf Burning, An Unhealthy Solution to Leaf Disposal")
For the official EPA story, visit: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/burn/burnpg.html
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