Are you ready for a simple math exercise? If not, just scan the pictures below – you’ll probably get the drift.
According to Arkansas Birds – Their Distribution and Abundance (James & Neal, pg 41, Table 3-5), there are, on average, 272 trees per acre in NW Arkansas upland forested areas. The same reference indicates that of these 272 trees, over 65% are a species of oak, so for the purposes of this exercise only, and for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that they are all oak trees.
Now, we have 330 total acres here. Aerial photography shows that of the 330 acres, approximately 50%, or 165 acres are wooded. Multiply 165 wooded acres by 272 trees per acre, and you arrive at a grand total of 44,880 trees. That’s a lot of trees!
According to this response from Google Answers, there are approximately 200,000 leaves per oak tree (Google – the ultimate authority on everything). By multiplying 200,000 leaves times the previously derived 44,880 trees, we find that each and every year, approximately 8,976,000,000 leaves are produced on our land. Based upon the casual accuracy of these calculations, let’s just say around 9 billion leaves per year!
Now, if you’ve followed this blog recently, you will know that I have been ecstatic with joy over the beautiful fall colors we have been experiencing this year. Witness the following posts to appear in the recent past:
People will sometimes ask me, “Hal, even though the colors are great, there must be something about autumn that you don’t like. What’s the worst thing about the Fall season, in your opinion?”
To which I reply “The thing I dislike about Fall the most is just that – the FALL, as in the leaves falling from the trees” (O.K. – nobody really asks me that, but you knew that all along).
Who is going to rake up those 9 billion leaves each year? Fortunately, all of those leaves don’t need to be raked each season, just a small percentage of them. Why do I bother to rake any of them at all? For two reasons: neatness, and fire containment.
The Neatness Angle
The neatness aspect pertains to the fact that we have two large dogs that are, for all intents and purposes, an integral part of our family. They come and go, in and out of the house, just as we humans do. But in a messier fashion. Our first year here, I attempted to rake the leaves around the yard, so that the dogs would stop tracking them into the house.
I used a wide leaf rake made out of plastic, that I had purchased in the garden department of my nearest super-duper discount center. The idea was to rake up the leaves as they fell, and to transport them a distance from the house. But the sheer quantity of leaves around the house quickly made it apparent that I could not perform this task manually.
My natural inclination, being a technophile, is to turn to technology as a solution to my problems, and here was a situation where equipment was readily available to help. I figured what I needed was a good “leaf vacuum cleaner” to neaten the lawn.
Here is a machine that I purchased to vacuum and shred the leaves that fall around the house. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but experience with the machine soon proved me wrong. First of all, I thought I would save some money by buying a NON self-propelled model. Big mistake! By the time the collection bag was half-full, the machine weighed so much that you could not push it. When the bag needed to be emptied (frequently), the engine had to be stopped, the bag removed (with much difficulty), the bag of shredded leaves had to toted to a preselected spot and dumped, returned to the location of the shredding machine, and re-installed onto the machine (not a simple procedure). The engine would then have to be restarted with a rope starter. By the time I had finished around one tree, I was exhausted for the balance of the day! I soon abandoned any fantasy that I had about using this machine to solve my leaf removal problem.
This machine has a feature which allows it to suck up leaves with an attached hose, as shown above. Although the machine failed to meet my expectations for all my leaf cleanup needs, at least I can still use it around planters and flower beds using the hose feature, so it has not been a total waste of money, but I certainly would not have parted with the cash for this minor task that I put it through. Oh well, that’s how you learn.
The following season was a complete disaster, as far as the mess situation was concerned. I decided to affix mulching blades to my lawnmower, and simply shred the leaves in place, allowing nature to take care of decomposing the leaves over time. Nature will decompose the shredded leaves over a period of time, but not over one winter, as I soon learned. The shredded leaves accumulated on the ground where they fell, and the cold rains of fall, followed by the blankets of snow in the winter quickly matted the leaf litter into a muddy, leafy mess where my lawn has once existed. So now, the dogs tracked in not only leaves, but mud as well! Good going, Hal!
The following season I tried a slightly different strategy. Instead of merely mulching the leaf litter, I bought a leaf collection system for the lawnmower, as shown above. Now, the leaf litter would be removed from the lawn completely, thus allowing a healthy carpet of grass to exist as ground cover all year long, and the dogs would be free to come and go without tracking in a huge mess.
Not only has this procedure been successful in minimizing the amount of leaf litter and mud that comes into the house, it has been a blessing for my physical well-being also. You can see in the photograph above how the collection container empties. The mower does not have to be shut down, and I do not even have to get off the machine. All I have to do is drive the mower to my predetermined dumping spot, slow down, and then pull a release cord affixed to the container. The container flips up, thereby allowing the shredded leaf litter to fall to the ground using the force of gravity.
Whereas with the leaf vacuum machine, I could clean up around one tree per day before running out of energy, with the method I’m using now, I can clean up the entire yard in less than one morning, and have energy to spare for the rest of the day. Quite an improvement, indeed.
Eventually, I end up with a huge pile of leaves in my designated dumping spot, which we can compost for the garden or use as mulch over the winter. In any event, the leaf litter does not get tracked into the house very much anymore.
The system works well, and I am happy once again.
The Fire Containment Angle
Regular readers of this blog may recall that up until his arrest, we had been plagued by several fires on our property started by an arsonist.
The first time I ran across fire on the property, I found the fire burning through leaf litter on the forest floor, as seen in the photograph above. Quickly returning to the house to phone the authorities, I then grabbed the black leaf rake (that was previously pictured), and returned to the scene of the fire. With the flames rapidly spreading through the dried leaves, a rake is an important tool used to contain a fire in an emergency. But as I soon learned, a plastic rake just doesn’t fit the job at hand. Within minutes, the rake, being made of plastic, had melted, rendering it useless in my hands.
Always trying to learn from my mistakes, I armed myself with a proper steel-tined leaf rake (as pictured above), in preparation for any fire that might come in the future. Little did I know at the time, that day would come all too soon. And the steel-tined rake stood up to the heat of the fire this time. The only downside to the type of rake I had was it’s size. While it’s large size was beneficial in raking up leaves on the fire line, it was difficult to lug into the woods, where the fire was burning. It would get snagged in the briers and underbrush of the woods, impeding access to the fire area at times.
Recently, I found these adjustable steel-tined rakes at the local farm store. They seem to be tailor-made for raking leaves ahead of an advancing fire, although I have not had the opportunity (thankfully) to test them yet. As you can see, with the simple flick of a lever, they go from the fully closed position to the fanned out working position. They are built entirely from metal parts, so the heat of the flames should not cause these rakes to melt or burn. Now that the neighborhood arsonist has been apprehended, I hope to not have to use these rakes, but time will tell.