Rake in health benefits and better air with old-fashioned lawn care

EARTH MATTERS AT HOME

December 04, 1991|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

It really is autumn now, and the leaves are falling from the trees. And falling . . . and falling . . . and falling.

You could just let the leaves lie -- especially if your garden is a meadow, or a vegetable garden fallow in winter, or a woodland. The leaves will rot, renewing the soil in the natural cycle.

If you have your average American yard, though, mostly lawn, the leaves will settle into an impenetrable papier-mache ground cover, suffocating the grass below.

If you love your lawn, and it is covered with more than just a scattering of small leaves, the leaves will have to go.

You have two choices: a leaf blower or a rake. Let's compare them.

* A leaf blower costs more than $100.

* A rake costs less than $20.

* A leaf blower burns gasoline or electricity.

* A rake burns human energy.

* A leaf blower is not particularly effective at moving heavy leaf sludge.

* A rake, if it is a sturdy metal one, can handle heavy material with ease.

* A leaf blower scatters leaf debris, potentially spreading plant diseases, such as apple scab and brown rot, from one part of the yard to another.

* A rake can gather leaves from a small area separately, allowing you to isolate diseased leaves.

* A leaf blower blasts a dust cloud of dirt, grit, mulch and garden chemicals into the air, the smaller particles of which can hang suspended for hours, getting into peoples' eyes and lungs.

* A rake doesn't create a cloud.

* A leaf blower operator needs protective goggles, ear muffs and a dust mask.

* A rake operator needs no protective gear.

* An average leaf blower operates at 95-105 decibels, a noise level that may raise your blood pressure and contribute to heart disease and will cause you permanent hearing loss if you are exposed to it regularly.

* A rake's quiet scritching is near the bottom of the noise charts.

* Noise ordinances forbid the use of leaf blowers in a number of American cities and towns.

* You may use your rake anywhere.

* According to the California Air Resource Board, one hour of leaf blowing emits as much smog-forming hydrocarbon as a new car on a 1,500-mile drive.

* A rake emits no hydrocarbons.

Gee, so far I would have to say that the rake is looking pretty good. Why do people use leaf blowers then?

One reason: They are fast. A practiced leaf blower operator can clear a yard in half the time it takes with a rake.

Is speed worth putting up with all the other drawbacks? Apparently so. Organic Gardening magazine reports that more than 1.5 million leaf blowers were sold last year.

Apparently our time is so precious to us that we will pay a lot of money, subject ourselves to ear-splitting noise and pollute the air to get those leaves off our lawns faster. None of that enjoy-a-brisk-fall-morning, chat-with-the-neighbors-over-the-fence stuff. It's throw on your SWAT team uniform and seek and destroy.

Are you in that much of a hurry? Then stop reading my column and use the extra time to rake your leaves. Or how about this time-saving tip: According to the research genius who answered the phone at my public library system's free answer line, you will burn about 335 calories an hour raking leaves. So instead of doing StairMaster, rake leaves.

Put away the Rambo approach to gardening and try this kinder, gentler, more time-consuming approach. You may find it surprisingly pleasant.

Next week I'll give you the kinder approach to disposing of the leaves you will have so gently raked. So in the meantime, save them, if you can.

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