Sunday, September 12, 2010

Opportunity is spelled L E A V E S

Due to budget shortfalls, our mayor the Honorable Tommy Battle is taking the hard road and doing the right thing. He is cutting the budget. He is doing so in at least one instance by providing property owners the opportunity to participate in good stewardship using sustainable practices. As I understand the issue, the city will pick up bagged leaves but will no longer spend time vacuuming leaves from the curbs. Loose leaves at the curb may create hazards for others by blowing into the street creating slick spots or blocking storm drains.

The opportunity is for each of us to learn just how valuable those leaves we are arguing over actually are. Leaves are one of Nature’s perfect fertilizers. How silly of us to spend countless hours raking and vacuuming and shredding leaves and then giving them away. What a waste of energy, not just fossil fuels, but man power, and money, yes money. The best practices of cosmetic horticulture call for several pounds of synthetically produced fertilizer to be applied each year to our lawns, trees and shrubs. Leaves can be a major component of compost, the end result of decomposition of natural products. The leaves when shredded do not blow around and can be used as mulch under shrubs and in beds instead of other materials. At the very least, leaves can minimize the amount of other mulching materials and synthetic fertilizers that need to be brought on to the property.

Entrepreneurs have a tremendous opportunity here. If our lawn maintenance companies will simply see the value of the product they are hauling away. Knowledgeable lawn maintenance company owners should understand that it is a best management practice to use nature’s perfect fertilizer on the property from which it came and remind the consumer of the principals of good stewardship. The one thing we often forget about our service economy is we buy and sell time. Time in crew hours, time saved from a chore etc. To save money the city government has decided to no longer participate in a time consuming practice. It really is that simple.

I submit that in most circumstances for less than the cost of one year’s cosmetic lawn or tree and shrub care on a given property the property owner can build a very nice composting unit or storage bin to hold all of the leaves from their own property. Many of us are paying someone to fertilize for us, instead, pay your maintenance company to use your finely shredded leaves as both mulch and fertilizer. If you are providing your own labor to clean your properties, the savings are still substantial.

The key is shredding your leaves before you store them. Storage of the leaves is easily accomplished. Wire fencing can be set out to create a bin. The bin can be round or square, made of the finest woods or even brick to hide the fact that you are actually doing the right thing and in this particular practice you are not being a shallow, consumptive, neighbor who still thinks that cosmetic horticulture is a wise use of funds.

For entrepreneurs, these leaves create additional income opportunities. Building or providing leaf storage units to customers is one income possibility. Another opportunity is the selling of time in the process of turning the leaves to aerate them to help them break down more completely. Re-shredding the leaves to a smaller size allows the leaves to be reused on the property as lawn fertilizer. This can be as a supplement to the current regime although the turf (and trees and shrubs) should require less synthetic fertilizer as this practice begins to build the soil over time. It has been acknowledged that in many cases the addition of organic materials for lawn fertilizer can over time reduce the need for many fungicides used in treating turf diseases. This money saving cultural practice is possible because organisms in the soil food web are able to keep the pathogens in check.

There are numerous opportunities that are waiting for the right individual or company to seize upon. Someone with a large grinding / shredding machine could take all of the cities leaves and shred them very finely and create a tremendous income stream through the sale of mulch, composts, and vermicomposts. Sales of these value added products regularly are pegged at $35 - $50 per cubic yard at retail. These products are that valuable and the proper utilization of the resource just makes sense.

Good Stewardship is a good business decision both for the business owner and the consumer.

Lee McBride
Landscape Management Consultants

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