The Passive Activist #4

We Americans are living with an unprecedented absence of leadership. In the Deep South, we have lived with this void for most of our history, so we’re a little more used to it than the rest of the nation— but that doesn’t make it OK. In the face of Congressional deadlock, soaring national debt, secular/religious strife, rogue policy actions by state legislatures, mistrust of the police, declines in public education funding, exorbitant college costs, internet predators and trolls, crumbling labor unions, global warming, and Ryan Secrest’s ever-present face, the Passive Activist series offers ideas for how ordinary people can create and implement positive change in our own lives. Movements are made up of people.

#4. Don’t bag your leaves.

Every fall, when I drive through my neighborhood, I see piles of black garbage bags lining the curbs for the city to take to the landfill. Yet, it makes no sense to put something that will decompose inside of something that won’t. Try composting or “grasscycling” your leaves. Either of those are easier, frankly, than bagging them.

The Rodale Book of Composting explains why it’s so easy:

Leaves and yard waste — tree trimmings, grass clippings and so forth — are easy to keep separate from other household garbage and relatively simple to compost, and so they represent the most common community composting option. (67)

Unless you’re an absolutely filthy person who throws your garbage out your door and into your yard, the leaves are lying on the ground in a relatively small space, waiting to be re-used, with no sifting and no separating.

But maybe you don’t like to rake. Okay. If you want to add some fun to it, I typically rake mine into a big pile first, and let my kids jump in them for a few days, which provides hours of screen-free entertainment and breaks down the leaves into mulch. One caveat: make sure you get the sticks out first.

If you do compost or want to start, both green and brown materials are important to have. Green materials are your kitchen scraps, pulled weeds, etc. The worms, grubs and rolie-polies eat those things. By contrast, the book The Urban Homestead tells us:

“Brown” or carbonaceous materials is dead stuff like dried leaves, wood chips, sawdust and shredded newspaper. [ . . . ] Brown layers in your compost pile serve to absorb moisture and allow oxygen to reach the interior of the pile since they are generally more loosely packed than the “green” stuff. Without them the green materials go mucky and stinky. (48)

Or, instead of raking your leaves, you can run over them when you cut your grass with a mulching lawnmower, and let them fertilize the yard. This is called “grasscycling.” About this practice, the Lawn Institute website reminds us that

grass clippings are 90% water. The remaining 10% is very degradable, unlike [ . . . ] many other landfill components such as plastics, metals, glass, construction debris, etc.

Then, in the spring, when you rake out the thatch, it can go into the compost as brown material. (Also in the spring, you can sift your compost and put it out with a fertilizer spreader, instead of chemicals, effectively completing the cycle.)

Every fall, I rake a good portion of the leaves from a popcorn tree, a small oak, and two pecan trees into my flower beds — after the kids have had their fun — then leave a smaller portion where they are for grasscycling. I have never fertilized my lawn in the eight years that I’ve lived in my current house, and my lawn is just as green as my neighbors who use chemicals on theirs.

What’s funny is: this way is actually cheaper and easier than bagging. In addition to keeping my leaves out of the landfill, I don’t spend money on fertilizer or trash bags, to get the same results.

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