Grab Bag

Let’s All Go Hollywood

Something nice happened in Los Angeles and 20 other communities in California during the ’90s -Baxter4 they quieted down.  Stars like Peter Graves and Meredith Baxter lobbied politicians to prohibit those gawd-awful leaf blowers.  This year Palo Alto joined the quiet movement with a ban that went into effect in June and the Washington Post recently described how it works there: two warnings are issued, then a ticket.  The town’s enforcement officer told the Post: "I’ve had one gardener who’s been cited seven timGraveses and it’s $100 a ticket.  He just won’t stop."  But with the issuance of over 5,000 warning letters to residents and their landscapers, it’s now a quieter city.

But noise isn’t the only pollutant caused by leaf blowers.  To quote the Post: "The fumes from the gas engines foul the air and the machines kick up particulates containing mold, pesticides, dried animal waste and plain old dust."  And as noted by a spokesman for the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, the machine is an "absurdly inefficient contraption as a replacement for leaf rake and patio broom."

And while I’m pleased as punch that Hollywood stars are living cleaner, quieter lives, what about the rest of us?  Well, industry has invested heavily in needed improvements and claims their equipment is 75 percent cleaner than in the early ’90s, with "great strides in sound levels."  The Post article doesn’t say, but I just hope the whole fleet of blowers is cleaner because apparently most people are still buying the loud ones, which they refer to as "standard units."  I don’t suppose "Ear-Piercing, Smoke-Blowing, and Smelly" make such great ad copy.

So readers, are these things really necessary or are they absurdly inefficient?  I’ve never used one myself, but I bet they’re good at clearing leaves among perennials and shrubs.  Other than that, I just don’t get it.  But I do know that for me, using a leaf blower would be right up there with spraying with pesticides as the least enjoyable of garden chores.  Downright odious.

Posted by on November 18, 2006 at 12:02 pm, in the category Grab Bag.
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17 Responses to “Let’s All Go Hollywood”

  1. I loathe them.

    Almost everyone in this neighborhood contracts for lawn service. The contracts are at a fixed price per property, so the service needs to minimize the time spent at each yard. So they use power tools.

    These are not large properties. They’re 50 feet wide at the street by 100 feet deep. I can rake up my front yard in a half-hour.

    The lawnmowers go through first. Then the leafblowers. Mind you, they’re not collecting the grass clippings. They’re just blowing them around.

    Yes, all the dust, grit, pollen … whatever has finally settled and gotten washed into the low areas is kicked up again, blown all over the neighborhood, and back onto the properties.

    That would be my definition of “absurdly inefficient.”

  2. Reading Dirt says:

    It’s one thing when an underpaid employee has to clean a parking lot — there a leaf blower does a faster job than a broom, and wastes fewer resources than spraying the lot with a hose.

    It’s another thing when Joe Suburbia clears his 4×6 front lawn of a half-dozen leaves with his turbo-charged MegaBlast4000 and stays there a while to make sure all the dust is off the individual grass blades, while he enjoys the jet-like roar that helps him feel more like an alpha male.

    I suspect the reason that they’re so noisy is the same reason vacuum cleaners are noisy — not because they have to be (you can buy quiet ones, but they come from Europe and cost the earth), but because people think that the quiet ones are weak and the noisy ones are more powerful. Or so says the nice lady at the vacuum cleaner clinic who showed us the very nice $700 quiet model.

    I may still go back and buy it after Christmas.

  3. Are blowers really necessary? Of course they aren’t. Do Meredith Baxter and Peter Graves want their 1000ft2 of stone decking around the pool and house as clean as the kitchen floor? Of course they do. Can Hollywood stars and their rich associates afford to pay peasants an hourly wage to sweep and hose their decks? Of course they can. Can you or most of upper middle class America who uses landscape services afford an hourly broom rate? Chances are slim.

    A Blower is not a rake and should not be used as one. I can certainly agree with that, but after that I part ways with the poor rich people whose peace is being disturbed.

    This very subject was my post on the day I discovered Garden Rant. Are you baiting me for links Susan?

    http://tropicalembellishments.blogspot.com/2006/07/garden-rant.html

    The thing that is missing here is a link to the manufacturers of the quieter, cleaner machines where a compromise should occur between the help and the disturbed. Of course the nations borders are still wide open and there could be a resurgence in the sales of brooms.

  4. Sandy says:

    I don’t use a blower in my home garden(and it is a large garden) but I am the sole groundskeeper of a five acre resort and I use it there. Mostly just to keep the driveways clear of leaves and needles. The resort is situated in a forest of fir, cedar and way too many maple trees. The next blower they purchase will be as earth friendly as possible though. I do not use chemicals in the garden and stay as organic as possible. It just would not be realistic to sweep the drives. I try to keep it to only once a week.

  5. chuck b. says:

    I *hate* leaf blowers with a white hot passion.

    Funny, but leaf blowers have been a political hot potato in Palo Alto since the 80s. I thought they’d done away with them by now. Guess not.

  6. Mine is electric, the action is reversed, and there’s a large bag, so it’s like a vacuum cleaner. We use it to suck the leaves from around the pots, porch, foundation and patio, and in the process they’re chopped up for composting in the vegetable garden.

    It’s pretty noisy, but the sound might be better than metal rake tines on concrete when done by hand.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. firefly says:

    Actually, a discussion of the pros and cons of leaf composting would be very appreciated by me. Every year we bag up leaves for city pickup, which seems like a waste, but the only advice I can find on leaf composting recommends shredding them first, and that seems like an equally wasteful option. We have a small yard, a push mower and rakes, and we’re getting rid of the weed whacker in favor of grass shears. I can’t justify a power tool to shred 10 bags of leaves once a year.

    Can anybody point to guidelines, or give advice, on composting maple leaves without shredding? I don’t mind if it takes more than one bin or has to go on more than a year if I can get some use out of the foolish things.

  8. Pam J. says:

    Firefly: First, I applaud your rejection of noisy machines. Second, I have 2 ideas for you, neither tested, but if you have only 10 bags of leaves a yr I think they would work. Idea 1: rake leaves as they fall. Dump them into a composting bin that you can climb into. After each dumping, hop on top of the pile and jog or stomp around. Stop when you’re tired or when the leaves are smushed together really well. Add a little water if they’re dry. At the end of your leaf season you should have a lot of decomposing leaves in a relatively small space. In a yr or 2 you can use the leaves as mulch. Idea 2: gather dry leaves in a bag. Roll up the bag repeatedly or stomp on it until leaves are broken into smaller pieces. Add them to the composting bin. Stomp if necessary or if you want the exercise. Add water, wait, use as mulch. And if you’re more ambitious you could also add grass clippings or other organic (green) stuff and produce true compost.

  9. I HATE HATE HATE leaf blowers!

    I watch one neighbor use one to blow and blow and blow at a single leaf stuck in a shurb — I screamed, “Just pick it out with your hand!” Surprise – he never heard me.

    And why do they always just blow everything – dirt, lawn clippings, twigs, trash, leaves, etc. into the street. What is up with that? Because it is just off your property it now turns instantly invisible? Do they not know that whatever is in the street is in the rivers and bay?

    I curse whoever invented these and also those who mass-market them.

    Oh, did I mention how I HATE leaf blowers!

  10. Here is a link for a quieter, more efficient (but still gas-powered) model:
    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://i.n.com.com/i/ne/p/2006/222leafblower269x235.jpg&imgrefurl=http://news.com.com/2300-11392-6041915.html&h=235&w=269&sz=54&hl=en&start=1&tbnid=8z4Y5n5yFzKBmM:&tbnh=99&tbnw=113&prev=/images%3Fq%3DSTIHL%2BBR%2B500%2Bleaf%2Bblower%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26sa%3DN

    For an even quieter, and more environmentally friendly alternative, we use a Ryobi 155VP cordless lawn kit — sweeper and trimmer all in one. It comes with a charger and removable battery. Fully charged, the battery will only run for around a half-hour, so you’d want to have a few extra charged batteries on hand. The “sweeper” end of it, although not as powerful as a standard gas-powered leaf blower, is excellent for cleaning up lawn trimmings from paved surfaces. Here’s the link for the Ryobi cordless sweeper/trimmer:
    http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&hl=en&lr=&q=Ryobi+155VP&btnG=Search

  11. P.S.
    If you want to get the Ryobi 155VP, you may need to buy it used. Ryobi discontinued production of the cordless sweeper, perhaps because most consumers opted for the conventional gas-powered blowers over the years. There does seem to be a high demand for the cordless sweeper on eBay, though.

  12. sjsinOttawa says:

    I hate leave blowers.

    Normally I rake my leaves into my garden beds and by June the worms have worked them all into the soil. But this year, all the maples in the area have tar spot so the leaves must go. I’ll rake them off the lawn, but can anyone figure out a way to get them out of the garden beds without (a) using a leaf vacuum or (b) cutting back all the plants so that I can rake? (Don’t want to cut back the perennials because the stalks prevent the wind from scouring off all the snow. Need the snow for insulation.)

  13. firefly says:

    Pam J, thank you! Now I have a chance to do my impersonation of Lucy Ricardo in the grape vat with Ethel Mertz :-)

    I’m looking forward to leaf mulch!

    sjsinOttawa, have you looked for what’s called a ‘shrub rake’? It’s a very short-handled, long-tined rake you can use with one hand for tree leaves while you lift perennial and shrub branches out of the way. Works great and it doesn’t tear up the plants.

  14. Boy, stuff goes fast on eBay. Yesterday, there was one Ryobi 155VP cordless blower left. It was nice and cheap too — the “buy it now” price was $9.99. We should’ve bought it, because today it’s gone. We already have two silent electric lawn mowers and plenty of spare rechargeable batteries, but we need an additional cordless blower, so that two of us can do the routine yard maintenance at once. I’ve already spent way too many hours of my life with a broom in my hands.

  15. April Hughes says:

    Do I have a leaf blower? You bet your fanny I do. An electric one.

    I have a bad back, my DH has a bad back, and if Peter Graves lived next door to me he’d be SOL. If I was still allowed to burn leaves…there wouldn’t be a problem.

    We use the dang thing twice a year, for maybe 2 hours at a time. We don’t have, and can’t afford, a “lawn service”

    Some people should just go live in a cave in Utah…I hear it’s way quiet and mold free out there.

    April

  16. Mark Von Stefen says:

    It’s November here in New Jersey and the leaf blowers are screaming all over my neighborhood. There’s something about the pitch that grates on my nerves. After having to listen to their aweful whine for several hours non-stop I want to go and rip that machine out of a users hands and bash them over the head with it.

  17. Betsy Bowen says:

    In our Connecticut town, if the ground is free of snow, there is at least one leaf blower howling near or far. From early morning until after dusk, bird song, leaves rustling, and silence have been replaced with this infernal roar. I have had arguments with every single one of my neighbors. Their lust for spotless driveways has ruined many outdoor breakfasts and Sunday brunches. Has anyone noticed that the tube is held like a fearsome monster penis?

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