Extreme Mulching

Parks Department vacuuming leaves
photo by SVSeekins

Last year the Parks department hauled away the big leaf pile from in front of my house. They vacuumed all the leaves off Richard’s boulevard, too.

I was happy about it, but Richard had wanted to keep his leaves.

Instead of grass, Richard has planted his boulevard with drought-tolerant decoratives.

leaf pile along Richmond Rd
photo by SVSeekins

A thick layer of mulch protects against drought in summer, as well as insulating from the cold in winter. Leaves make great mulch, so Richard had intentionally raked his leaves onto the boulevard garden.

I suppose that because most of the perennials had died back for the season, and because Richard had raked the leaves so thickly onto the boulevard, the garden bed was obscured. The vacuum guys must ‘ve thought it was just another curbside pick up.

This year Richard was in his yard when the Parks truck came by. They were thrilled to hear he was making good use of his leaves. Then they asked, “Would you like some more?”

leaf mulch - from above
photo by Judy Atkinson

Richard was in heaven! For mulch, leaves are great, but chopped up leaves are superb.

Better still is a big truck delivering them – – free!

It was a win-win.

  • The vacuum guys saved themselves a trip across town to unload.
  • Richard got free mulch – – 2 big truckloads of it!

A couple of years ago, Richard had a dirt-mart deliver a couple of truckloads of mulch (about the same amount). It cost $800.

I’m told the Parks Department accepts requests for leaves, and are happy to schedule a drop off when they’re vacuuming in the neighbourhood.

A shared task makes lighter work
photo by Judy Atkinson

Of course, there’s still the chore of moving it all from the driveway & into the beds. That’s a whole lot of wheel barrel trips.

Indeed, a big task is less daunting when shared with friends. It was fun to pitch in. It was also excellent exercise. 🙂

As long as I’ve known Richard as a gardener, he’s never been shy about mulching the beds.  It always looks a little thick to me.

mulching the boulevard
photo by Judy Atkinson

Over a couple months, the heavy rains will compact all that mulch down. The spring bulbs will be shooting through it. I’m really looking forward to seeing that.

But for now, I’m thinking of calling Parks for myself.

Is that crazy?

© copyright 2012 SVSeekins

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Rake Wrangling

standard rake
photo by SVSeekins

On our farm there wasn’t much call for leaf raking, so I grew up thinking a rake was just a rake. Then I got together with C & his wonderful world of tools.  Who knew that all rakes are not created equal?

gravel screenings add traction on our south mountain path
photo by SVSeekins

I recognized the classic rake.  That’s the one a comic character steps on & is thwacked in the head by its handle.  We had one of those back home (and yes, I’d stepped on it by mistake).

It turns out this kind of rake is designed for shifting sand & gravel.  I now use it on the pathways that lead up our ‘mountain’.

landscapers rake
photo by SVSeekins

The oddest rake in C’s repertoire is also used for leveling ground but in a different way.  It specializes in more delicately shifting wider swaths of soil.  He used it on the freshly tilled front yard, making sure that the ground sloped away from the house, before he seeded the lawn.

Inevitably the season turns to autumn & as tidy urbanites we turn our attention to removing the leaves that clutter our tidy lawn.

The apple leaf is flat and small.  Once off the tree, the leaves take up very little space.  They fit nicely in the bed of the surrounding shrub border (as mulch).

bamboo rake
photo by SVSeekins

The bamboo rake can handle this task, but not much more.  It’s nice that this rake is mostly biodegradable. but it just doesn’t stand up to heavy use.  It’s not so nice heading back to the store to purchase yet another replacement.

metal rake
photo by SVSeekins

If there’s a good rain before I get out to rake things up, the delicate apple leaves mush deeply into the grass.  That’s when I prefer a metal rake.  It’s stronger & moves the wet clumps of leaves nicely.  The tines are narrow & the dry small leaves sometimes slip through, so it’s not a total replacement for the bamboo rake.

adjustable metal rake - at wide setting
photo by SVSeekins
adjustable metal rake - at narrow setting
photo by SVSeekins

There’s a similar rake that has an adjustable head. (+ telescoping handle).  In the wide position, this rake is good for moving the wet clumps caught in the grass.  In the narrow position, it’s good for getting into tighter spots, or moving those small dry apple leaves.   What’s not as handy is the extra weight.  That said, I’m glad to have it around.

gary oak acorns
photo by SVSeekins

The garry oak tree supplies a much tougher job. First to come off the oaks are the acorns.  They’re small but have a bit of weight to them.  When they fall from the full height of the tree, they pick up some good velocity & strike the ground hard – – practically planting themselves in the lawn.

metal rake with flattened tines
photo by SVSeekins

Like the mushy apple leaf issue, these little nuts are a bit of a challenge to remove.  The rake that works well for this is also a metal rake, but one with tines that have some width to them.  They’re strong enough to reach down into the grass, and are close enough together to catch the acorns & pull them along.

The second challenge with the garry oak is the leaf durability.  Compared to apple leaves, which break down over 1 winter – – garry oak leaves take 3 to break down!  For that reason, I prefer to compost them before they end up in the garden beds.

gary oak leaves
photo by SVSeekins

We rake the leaves into piles… shift each pile onto a big tarp… and haul them over to our composting area.

The third challenge is the shear volumes.  The much larger, curled, garry oak leaves that come off our trees could fill up a pickup truck – – each week. (Leaves typically fall for 8 weeks)

composting leaves in stucco-wire enclosures
photo by SVSeekins

There are 6 garry oak trees around our yard – – and many more in the adjacent yards.   That’s a lot of leaves.  And a whole lot of raking.

The rake we use for clearing up acorns is also my pick for raking oak leaves.  The issue turns out to be the hardiness of the rake.  In the past we used the $10 version sold everywhere.  We’d easily went through 4-5 rakes in one season.  Aghhh!  I was pissed about repeatedly spending $50 a year on a crappy product.

sturdy rake details
photo by SVSeekins

Then we found a version with sturdier components & design.  Even the handy butterfly nut & bolt that attaches the handle to the rake allowed for replacing a broken handle.   It cost $30, and is heavier than the cheaper rake. but I figured it was worth the extra effort to try a sturdier rake.   We bought one for each of us.

It definitely paid off.  It’s been 5 years, & the rakes are still up to the task.  We haven’t even needed to swap out a broken handle!

Just reducing the frustrations of replacing busted rakes is worth the heavier weight and higher price tag.

Paying $60 up front (for 2 sturdy rakes) was cost effective too.  If we’d continued using the cheaper rakes:
$50  x 5 years = $250 on the crappy rakes!

I’ve learned three lessons.

  1. I’m convinced quality tools are worth spending a little extra money on.
  2. I get a kick out of the variety in C’s wonderful world of tools.
  3. And I’m slowly learning how much nicer it is to use a tool specialized for the task at hand.  🙂

© copyright 2012 SVSeekins

Nature Improves Urban Life

In the downtown core of BC’s capital city, I’m glad there are some spots where pedestrians enjoy some separation from the vehicle traffic as they all go about their busy schedules.

the Atrium rain garden - separating pedestrians from vehicle traffic
photo by SVSeekins

But in this spot, on the northeast corner of Yates & Blanshard streets, it’s more than just a pretty boulevard.  Here nature is working hard as a public utility: a rain garden.

A rain garden is basically a ditch.

Most cities have been done with ditches for ages, favouring underground storm drain systems to pipe rainwater away quickly.  Although that sounds pretty civilized, it means:

  • water drains so fast that there’s no time for it to soak in and nourish boulevard trees & landscaping, much less refill the natural water table
  • street pollution washes into the storm system and then dumps directly into streams or the ocean
  • in heavy rains, the storm drain system can’t handle the rush of runoff, so streets flood anyway
the Atrium rain gardens - parking & street drains into ditch
photo by SVSeekins

The rain garden acts as a bit of a pond containing the flow for a small rain event (about 2.5 cm rainfall).  That’s the amount that washes the oils & chemicals off the street.

The trees, plants, and soils in the ditch are not only nourished, but they also break down the pollutants before the water infiltrates more deeply into the earth beneath.

It sounds kinda crazy that plants can break down pollution, doesn’t it?  Science swears it’s true.

the Atrium rain gardens - ditch grate
photo by SVSeekins

In a heavier rainstorm, the runoff gathers in the rain garden, and the excess water flows more slowly away in that handy storm drain system.

It sounds like a win-win situation to me.

The rain irrigates the garden naturally.

Pollutants are treated by an effective process.

There’s less flooding now & the storm drain system won’t need expensive pipe enlargements to handle the increased rains we’re getting over the past few years.

the Atrium rain gardens - nature assisting urban life
photo by SVSeekins

I especially appreciate that the gardens provide some natural beauty to an otherwise glass, steel & concrete desert.

Now the curiosity rises in my mind: which trees & plants thrive in one of these ditches?  They’d need to be happy with both very wet feet in winter and very dry in summer….   ideas?

© copyright 2012 SVSeekins

P.S.  Check here for more on rain gardens:

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