by Terry Ettinger
If you dread the annual fall leaf-raking marathon, I have good news for you: Raking and collecting leaves every autumn is a tradition without scientific basis. Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials.
Based upon research at several universities, the organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality. At Michigan State, researchers set a rotary mower to cut at a height of 3 inches and then mowed an 18-inch-deep layer of leaves into test plots. That’s the equivalent of 450 pounds of leaves per 1,000 square feet. The tests resulted in improved soil and healthy lawns with few remnant leaves visible the following spring.
You can achieve similar results if you set your mower to cut at the same height as in the Michigan State study, and mow at least once a week during peak leaf fall when your lawn reaches a height of 4 inches. Leaves shred most efficiently when slightly damp, so mow after a light dew. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil.
Under trees or in other shady spots where a lawn won’t grow, you can create planting beds from fallen leaves as a source of soil-building organic matter. Shredded leaves applied as mulch protect tree roots from heat and cold and retain soil moisture during dry spells. Some gardeners believe that excess leaves can harbor insects or disease, but I have experienced no such problems in my garden.
After we bought our property, I created planting beds where the leaves would naturally collect on our densely shaded and sparse front lawn. It’s been 15 years since I’ve raked a single leaf dropped by these trees. Instead, the leaves settle among the hellebores, epimediums, Japanese forest grass, hostas, and spring-flowering bulbs, where they decompose over time, just like on the forest floor.
To treat leaves as trash is both environmentally foolish and financially ruinous. Currently, many municipalities encourage residents to rake leaves to the curb for collection, but before they are collected, heavy rains often wash the leaves into catch basins. There, they decompose and release phosphorus and nitrogen into streams and rivers that flow through the community. These excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms during the summer, which result in lower oxygen levels, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic species to survive.
Municipalities, both large and small, spend thousands, even millions, of dollars each year to collect, transport, and process autumn leaves, tying up resources that could be used elsewhere in our communities. If we all keep our leaves on our properties, we will improve our gardens, save money, and enhance the environment we all share.
A little effort can supply an organic source of nutrients for your plants. Here are two ways to use your leaves.
Pile composting for mixed borders
• Rake the leaves into loose piles or in wire bins about 4 feet square within your borders.
• Mix in a few shovelfuls of soil, and add 20 to 30 gallons of water to aid decomposition.
• Pull the piles or bins apart in the spring, and spread the decayed leaves throughout the border (photo, right).
• Cover the decayed leaves with a 1-inch-deep layer of fresh mulch.
Sheet composting for annual beds
• Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawn mower.
• Sprinkle the leaves with a 1-pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden.
• Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay.
• Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.
“Orwellian” describes the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free society. It connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the “unperson” — a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments. Often, this includes the circumstances depicted in his novels, particularly Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell’s ideas about personal freedom and state authority developed when he was a British colonial administrator in Burma. He was fascinated by the effect of colonialism on the individual person, requiring acceptance of the idea that the colonialist oppressor exists only for the good of the oppressed person and people.
There has also been a great deal of discourse on the possibility that Orwell galvanized his ideas of oppression during his experience, and his subsequent writings in the English press, in Spain. Orwell was a member of the POUM militia and suffered suppression and escaped arrest by the Comintern faction working within the Republican Government. Following his escape he made a strong case for defending the Spanish revolution from the Communists there, and the mis-information in the press at home. During this period he formed strong ideas about the reportage of events, and their context in his own ideas of imperialism and democracy.
In 1940 he engaged himself in the practise of supporting mis-information for a revolutionary purpose with The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. A counter-point to his previous work, immediately after his return from Spain, Homage to Catalonia. Homage was elementary in Orwell’s definition of the process of truth-power connection and its relevance to ideas of freedom versus authority, whereas Lion & Unicorn was a formative piece of ‘propaganda’. The narrative of the two is one that informed Orwell’s later works such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.
The primary duty of the regulatory agencies responsible for ensuring public health in our Orwellian world apparently is to guarantee that we are laced with toxic contaminants and additives. Whether it is physical or mental health, it has become clear that federal agencies, and even our local municipalities, are coordinating an overall health agenda that favors corporate interests, while corrupting the promotion of true health and well-being.
Here are three primary examples that highlight the lengths to which our “protectors” will go to convince us to listen to their upside-down worldview, instead of reason and logic:
Alternative Products: The FDA sent warning letters to many E-cigarette companies in an attempt to control an alternative market to Big Tobacco. It is a pattern of the FDA to attack the free market of products that provide a healthier option than what has been officially approved. Big Tobacco has a firm foothold in the FDA, so it is no wonder why they would rather keep people smoking their toxic product. If we believe the FDA is actually there to protect us, let us not forget that this is the agency that ignored evidence that CT scans are killing 14,000 Americans per year, just to name one of their oversights.
Vitamins and Supplements: For a case study in Orwellian language, the link to the Codex Alimentarius FAQs that highlights this section is a must-read. The real agenda is not safety, but using safety as a way to gain control over products that have been proven to be safe in a free market. The complications that have arisen from nutritional supplements are the tiniest fraction of the illnesses and deaths from medications that are approved to the market in the “official” way. This is a concerted effort to protect Big Pharma, not the consumer.
Natural Foods: People across the world are waking up en masse to the dangers of agribusiness. Coupled with a disastrous global economy, people see the health and fiscal sense it makes to begin growing their own food. And, again, whenever freedom asserts itself, there is the tyranny of regulations to clamp down. Just recently, county code enforcement officers ticketed a farmer for growing too many vegetables. His real crime? Giving it away to a local farmers market. If that is not Orwellian, I don’t know what is. This is combined with raids on raw food producers, as well as proposed legislation that could even ban home gardens. After all, those home gardens might be growing marijuana.
It appears that private corporate interests are being supported by our public consumer safety agencies. Everything chemical, engineered, and produced by mass industry is championed, while all that is good and wholesome is maligned. Their agenda is akin to a declaration of war upon the natural world, where all human activity will be micromanaged by scientists and bureaucrats. It is time that we say no.
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 7:00AM BST 14 Sep 2010
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology looked at microscopic fungi in the soil that helps plants grow.
The study of nine farms in England, published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, found that organic farms have a much more diverse range of fungi living in the soil than on conventional farms.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) has a symbiotic relationship with most plants, allowing the roots to absorb nutrients better and fighting off disease.
Dr Christopher van der Gast, of the CEH, said the use of herbicides and pesticides, as well as constant tilling of the soil breaks down the fungi on intensive farms.
But on organic farms , that do not use chemicals, there is a more diverse range of microbes living in the soil. This helps the crops to grow without the expense of artificial fertilisers.
Dr van der Gast said the findings could help farmers around the world to understand how to make plants grow better in the long term, without destroying the nutrients of the soil with intensive farming.
“For most people it is about what you can see above ground. But the below ground biodiversity of the organisms in are also key. it is a missing factor that most people do not think about,” he said.
“Our research demonstrates that the way humans manage the landscape can play a key role in determining the distribution of microbial communities at both the local and regional scales.”
Co-author Dr Gary Bending,from the University of Warwick, said the findings could help boost food security.
“The work provides us with new understanding which we can use to promote these fungi in agricultural systems. This in turn could improve crop production. With the proportion of the earth’s surface which is managed by humans increasing rapidly, this understanding is essential if we are to predict and manage microbial functioning in the environment to meet many of the major challenges faced by human society, such as food supply and the mitigation of climate change. Addressing these challenges, whilst maintaining environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, requires an understanding of microbial diversity.”
::Farmers are increasingly using compost on fields around Britain as more councils collect food scraps from homes.
Research on behalf of the Association for Organics Recycling found the use of compost increased by 10 per cent last year.
Farmers said the increase was because of the rising cost of artificial fertiliser and the increasing quality and amount of compost coming from local authorities that now collect food and garden waste.