Why waste a perfectly good pile of leaves?

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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We can be even greener. We recycle, we bike, we take public transportation, and then we dump our leaves into the street requiring them to be scooped and hauled away with heavy machinery and trucks? Meanwhile, our yards and gardens could use the fertilizer that leaves offer.

Yard waste is the second-largest component of our trash stream (behind paper), according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and makes up roughly 20 percent of most communities' haul. Plus, loading and trucking those leaves to the landfill requires a lot of fuel.

Instead of raking our leaves into the street for the village to pick up, you can:

1) Use leaves as fertilizer: Add the leaves to your garden bed and then till the leaves under when you put your garden to bed for the winter. You might use your lawnmower to cut them up and blow them into your flower beds. The leaves will break down throughout the winter months and the worms will take care of any leftover leaves in early spring. Dead leaves are rich in minerals that can help your garden and landscaping grow. Leaves of one large shade tree can be worth as much as $50 of plant food and humus, according to CompostGuide.com.

2) Use leaves as mulch: Leaves can serve the same purpose as wood chips — they can suppress weed growth and hold in moisture. Leaves break down over time and again add valuable nutrients to the garden soil. The soil underneath the leaves is always moist and full of happy earthworms in the spring. The plants growing in these beds also outperform those with regular chipped mulch.

3) Use leaves for compost: Leaves are also a useful ingredient when making compost. Make a pile close to your compost bin and you will have a nice supply of "browns" when you decide to start a new compost heap.

You can save energy and landfill space while enriching your garden by putting your leaves around your plants and composting them.

Hannah and Jim O'Connor
Oak Park

Reader Comments

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john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 6:43 PM

Thanks for the info. I am not going to build a compost heap unless someone pays for my labor. Composting is not amongst my hobbies. I already asked and my wife is unwilling to pay me enough to make the green compost effort worthwhile.

Carolyn Cullen  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 9:46 AM

The original item is great advice. Just to correct a point in Mr. Murtagh's comment-the Village is green, yes, but does NOT profit from the leaves. They pay to have them hauled away and composted, so doing it yourself saves the Village money as well as using a valuable resource locally. There is a story at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-11-07/news/0611070138_1_leaves-leaf-collection-programs-pickup-truckand you can get more info from PublicWorks@oak-park.us

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 5:02 PM

Oak Park is green. In the wee hours of the night, a large truck with a wooden shovel like contraption push leaves into a pile. Later, village trucks pick up the leaves. The leaves are sold to farmer's that use the OP leaves as winter fertilizer for their fields.Farmers get clean, low cost, environmentally friendly fertilizer, the village makes money, and OP gets a green star for conservation. OP has been doing this for years. The village truck collected near my house last night.

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