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#LeavetheLeaves - Do nothing and help the climate

With signs of the climate emergency now in constant view - you may be asking yourself: "What can I do to make a difference?  Choices in consumption are obvious examples - with a view towards the fossil fuels involved, ie. what we eat (fertilizers, pesticides, mass farming), how we get from one place to another (ie. gas fuel) and the energy we use to power our homes.   Another opportunity is right outside the front door.

The suburban lawn was something we invented in the 1950's as tracts of homes sprouted up by the thousands.  Someone thought it would be appropriate if homeowners had lush, green grass in their yards - and the rest is history.  Billions of dollars are spent each year on lawn maintenance - and importantly for us in San Mateo, CA - millions of gallons of water are also used to keep them alive.  Lawns are the largest crop in the U.S. and produce nothing, other than an outdated aesthetic - yet the majority of residential water usage is sent into the air through sprinklers - the majority of which runs onto the sidewalk and into the gutter.

The reason lawns in San Mateo are so poorly able to retain water comes from the composition of the soil, which contains a significant amount of clay.  Clay based soils frequently become as hard as concrete - making them impenetrable to moisture.  As I look out the window this morning to our first good rainfall in almost a year - the gutters along the street look like rushing rivers.  This gets back to lawn care.  As "Gardeners" (we should let Gardeners actually be gardeners - not janitors - but more on that below) blow lawn debris off of lawns and into green bins, the soil is stripped of a crucial source of organic matter that feeds the "soil food web".  

When I go into the garden this morning and pick up a wet leaf, I'm likely to find a worm hanging out under it.  Bacteria thrive on wet leaves - and the worms feed on bacteria.  As conditions on the surface begin to dry, the worms will burrow into the soil, making tunnels that allow water & air to penetrate more deeply.  They'll also leave behind castings (ie. worm poop) that is rich in nutrients to help feed the roots of nearby plants.  A manicured lawn removes this process entirely - requiring artificial fertilizers to keep the lawns green.  Since plants can't nearly consume the amount of chemical fertilizer - most of it washes into our water system.

Put simply: we need to move away from the manicured, grass lawn as an acceptable landscaping practice.

Yes - #growfoodnotlawns  

Grow blueberries, pomegranates, plums, apples.  Grow zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers, too.  Or "rewild" your landscape with native plants (definitely spread some poppy seeds around).  

This can seem like a lot of work - and it can be depending on your level of ambition.  But this is where the "Gardeners" come in.  Gardeners can add compost & wood chips.  They can prune, plant, weed - saving your lower back (mine's horrible).  Importantly, they can begin (a few already do) to provide products & services that are difficult to find - like nutrient rich compost & compost tea brewing.  Compost is a huge opportunity as there just aren't many choices - and the good stuff is expensive (sorry Lyngso).  The Recology compost isn't fun to work with and isn't recommended if you're growing any type of food.  

New business opportunities abound in the post-lawn era - and the local government can help by harnessing the resources available.  The County of San Mateo's Office of Sustainability is a great place to start.  

A #leafblowerban starting Jan. 1, 2024 would signal the move to a more sustainable landscape in San Mateo and coincides with the states ban on the sale of gas powered blowers.  Gas.  Electric.  They all do the same soil-stripping damage.  Ban them all.

Then you can do nothing.  That's right...nothing.  

Leave your leaves be.  

Let them feed your soil.

Make an aesthetic change that will help us address the climate crisis.

Wet leaves (San Mateo, CA 11/08/22)



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