The old rake isn't noisy enough

October 27, 2001|By Rob Kasper

WHEN THE leaves fall, I rake them. This, I recently discovered, is outmoded behavior.

Raking is out; leaf manipulation is in.

The classic autumnal scene of a guy in a sweater, quietly building piles of oak and maple leaves on his lawn, is passe, so "yesterday."

In its place is the Technicolor image of a guy wearing thick protective ear gear, operating powerful, loud, leaf-manipulating equipment. These machines blow leaves, vacuum leaves and pulverize leaves, turning them, and sometimes their branches, into compact mulch.

Lately, I have been casting longing looks at leaf-manipulation equipment, eyeing it in stores and on the Internet.

As a rowhouse guy who cuts his patch of backyard grass with a push mower, I am often the last to learn the latest in power-packed solutions to Saturday chores. I just learned, for instance, that when the leaves drop, so does the popularity of the power mower, long regarded as the "big noise" of the household. Its dominant role is being challenged by machines like the LeafCycler.

The LeafCycler is a bad boy that looks something like a snowblower with a long, vacuum-hose nose. It takes a no-holds-barred approach to leaf and lawn debris. It claims to blow leaves away at speeds approaching 150 mph. How leaf speed is measured, I am not sure. Maybe they put leaves on a race track, then say "Gentlemen, start your blowers."

This machine also vacuums leaves into a "mulching chamber." The "mulching chamber," like the principal's office, is a place you don't want to visit. In this chamber, "leaf reduction" happens. This was not a process I wanted to know a lot about. But I did seize upon a number related to the process - a leaf reduction ratio of 8-to-1. That meant that on their initial visit to the mulching chamber, eight bags of leaves get reduced to one bag of mulch. If they make a second trip to the chamber, they get even harsher treatment, reduced 15 to one. A second trip to the principal's office came to mind.

The primo feature of this machine, the one that I envisioned drawing crowds of small boys and male neighbors to my back yard, is the chipper. The chipper takes the battle against trees to another level, demolishing not just leaves but branches. "Ten feet of branch in less than 60 seconds," the brochure promised. That made my tongue hang out. It also reminded me of a scene from the movie Fargo.

Reluctantly, I had to admit that at $600, this was probably more machine than I needed to subdue the leaves dropped by three small trees in my tiny back yard. I reached the same conclusion after lusting in my heart for the $150 Flowtron Leaf Eater, a stationary leaf-devouring device sporting a "bushel size hopper" and an "inner lip" to prevent debris from escaping its clutches.

The more I examine my leaf-manipulating needs, the more I begin to see myself ending up in the vacuum-mulch mode. Vacuum mulchers look like something an assault team might carry. You sling them over your shoulder. You point the business end at the offending leaves, and it sucks them up, mulches them and spits the mulch into a bag on your back. Every so often you have to empty the bag, dumping the mulched leaves into your garden or, if your neighbor is not looking, into his trash cans. The models I have examined, made by Ryobi and Black & Decker, cost around $100.

Veteran vacuum mulchers have told me that if I buy a machine powered by electricity, I have to get used to working with a long extension cord. If I use a gas-powered model, I have to get used to dealing with its additional noise and weight.

The big question is: How can I justify spending $100 on a leaf-manipulation machine when the old-fashioned method of using a rake is free?

I tell myself I am doing it for the good of the garden. In previous years, I have dumped bags of leaves on the garden, hoping they would decompose and enrich the soil. But the winds have blown them away. If I had one of these machines, I could reduce the leaves to mulch and in that pulverized state they would be less likely to take flight; more likely to help replenish the garden soil.

But the real reason I want one of these machines is that while leaf raking is work, leaf manipulating looks like fun.

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