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Mulching instead of raking

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Jack P
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2002-11-11          44875


Well it is that time of year again and once more I am tempted to simply mow / mulch the leaves instead of raking them. Somehow I am struck by the wisdom of: "If it sounds too good to be true..." Does anyone have any real data on the pluses or minuses of mulching leaves into the lawn?

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Mulching instead of raking

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DennisCTB
Join Date: Nov 1998
Posts: 2652 NorthWest NJ
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2002-11-11          44877


Chopping them is my main way of getting rid of them, I have a side discharge deck, and only about 30% of my lawn gets a heavy leaf drop.

I chop them up by pushing them into the center and then spread them out by starting in the center and working my way out.

If needed I get out my back pack blower to redistribute denser mulch areas.

Seems to do no harm, it is not as instantly nice looking as if you pick them up, but after a few cuttings looks great!

DennisCTB ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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DRankin
Join Date: Jan 2000
Posts: 5111 Northern Nevada
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2002-11-11          44887


I used a mulching mower on leaves for years with no ill effect on the lawn. ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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dsg
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 528 Franklin, Maine
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2002-11-11          44888


If you lived close to me I would give you $2.00 for every 55 Gal. bag full of mulched leaves. I put them on my loam pile and mix them in. With a little lime and about a years time makes the loam rich.

David ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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Jim on Timberridge
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 172 La Crosse WI
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2002-11-11          44895


I think this topic was discussed last spring or so. I related that when I'm ready to attack the leaves, I wait until the ground and leaves are dry. Then use a "Landscape Rake" to stir up them up and dig them out of depressions, bare spots, etc. Then simply mow. Most tree leaves will dissipate quickly after they've been chopped up, even slightly. Need to avoid windrowing the debris, which will kill grass -- use the mower to disperse the chop. After 2-3 weeks into the growing season, the chop will have disappeared. Better than collecting, bagging, etc.
jim ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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DennisCTB
Join Date: Nov 1998
Posts: 2652 NorthWest NJ
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2002-11-11          44896


Jim,

Do you mean the "estate rake" on a tractor or by hand with a leaf rake?

I saw some talk of the estate rake last year, and they have them at Northern Tool, but I was not convinced that it could do the thatching for seeding that I needed to justify it.

DennisCTB
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Jim on Timberridge
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 172 La Crosse WI
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2002-11-11          44897


dennis:
yes. The estate rake is a pull-behind attachment that works on the same principle as a hay rake. I bought mine thru my JD dealer, but I've seen them at Northern. There are two sizes: the smaller works a swath 4-5'wide, while the larger has a 6-7' path. I described my experiences with them earlier this spring in a posting series concerning what to do with leaves.
Summarizing, I like them very much. They are adjustable for down-pressure on the rake tines. At the light setting, they are able to pick up oak leaves and grass clippings and windrow them. At a heavy setting they do a fairly good job of scratching the ground surface for seeding. But this also is more difficult to control - the unit tends to dog-walk sideways, which reduces the effective width and is hard on the tines (bends them). I traded for the larger unit because I'm working 6 acres and the smaller one took too long. Pulling with a Honda ES Foreman ATV. They're well built, but the company making them need a little upgrading with marketing, literature, operating instructions, all of which are really bad.
jim ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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TomG
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 5406 Upper Ottawa Valley
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2002-11-12          44904


Driving a riding mower in reverse over leaves chops them up a bit and windrows the rest. However, we stopped doing that because the chopped version is more difficult to pick up. Now we just rake leaves and needles onto a large tarp (for some reason my wife likes to rake or I'd take a look at the estate rake). I drag the tarp with the tractor to our bush where I excavated a compost pit.

The pit is about 6' x' 15' x 2' I doz it back and mound it up with leaves in the fall and pull soil over the top. Around planting time next spring I turn the compost by dozing it with a box blade, spread it and pull more soil on top. Like DSG I add lime and also use a bit of high nitrogen fertilizer. The pit is still in the spring but it's mostly down to ground level by fall when I doz it back, take out any compost I need before adding more leaves. Soil from any other digging I do also goes on the mound. Usually we empty the kitchen scraps composter into the pit as well. I think the process is going to be nearly self-sustaining, but I may have to add more soil than I dig elsewhere occasionally or the pit may keep getting deeper.

I think that lime speeds the composting action and so does high nitrogen fertilizer unless the compost pile also contains green fertilizer such as clippings. Composting takes both carbon and nitrogen sources and dried leaves alone aren't adequate as a nitrogen source. What ever we're doing it's working. We go from a 4' or 5' layer of mixed soil and leaves when it's turned in the spring to about 2' of black earth in the fall.

....

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TomG
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 5406 Upper Ottawa Valley
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2002-11-12          44909


As an afterthought I'll add that spontaneous combustion is a risk in composting. The size and moisture content of a pile should be considered. I haven't heard if commercial accelerates add to a risk of combustion or not, but it's something to be aware of. In my operation I do add soil to the leaves periodically and go back and forth with the tractor so I get a mix of soil and leaves rather than a thick layer of leaves above ground level.

I remember seeing several large piles of saw dust and chips smoldering away is a large urban park and reported it. The parks people already knew about it and the impression I got was that it wasn't uncommon for the piles to start smoldering before they disposed of them.
....

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JonB
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2002-11-12          44940


TomG, my compost piles (8x4x4) get pretty warm. I turn it and keep it moist. I've seen steam rise off in the summer, but never had anything approaching smoke (spontaneous combustion). What would get it that hot? Is it added fertilizer? My pile is leaves, branches, kitchen scraps, and just about any organic growth from the property. Thanks. JonB ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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TomG
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 5406 Upper Ottawa Valley
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2002-11-13          44955


Jon: I'm reasoning here that anything that speeds composting really means increased bacterial action and that likely means more heat. The first two years I used my pit I didn't add fertilizer or commercial accelerant as I had to my smaller city pits because I wasn't sure how the larger one would act. The first two years, leaves added in the fall weren't completely composted by next fall but I didn't notice any signs of heat. I used a bit of 7-7-7 on the surface this spring after mounding and composting was complete this fall. So I think the fertilizer speeds things a bit.

The piles I saw smoldering in the park were 15' - 20' high. There is a sizable oak forest in the park and the forestry folks must have been managing the forest. Seems like they culled some trees, buzzed up the trunks, chipped the smaller stuff and put the chips and sawdust in several piles with log sections off to the side. I don't think they were composting it. I hadn't seen it before, but it was definitely significant amounts of wood smoke coming out of the piles. I can't remember if there was much rain that summer or not.

My leaf composting isn't anything like the wood chip piles but the park experience caused me to think about what I'm doing with my compost pit in the bush. I have a vague recollection that ensilage in silos has to be managed or there's some potential for fires, but that would go back to my city kid days on the farm so I may not have it right.
....

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Mulching instead of raking

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dsg
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 528 Franklin, Maine
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2002-11-13          44969


Tom, the pile was Smoldering because of the sawdust. It's like hay or grass clippings, Dense keeps the heat in. My Loam pile is mostly loam and a few stumps about 350 yards. It's not a compost pile that I can turn every so often.

David
....

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Mulching instead of raking

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JonB
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2002-11-15          45004


Tom, you made good sense so I wanted to find out more. (If my compost pile catches fire, it would set off a grove of Eucalyptus and take my house and neighbors house with it.) I found news articles and some info sites on sawdust piles spontaneously combusting, and some on woodchips and even more on hay. The best discussion relating to compost piles is linked below, from the University of Minnesota. The part on spontaneous combustion says this:

Questions sometimes arise about spontaneous combustion in compost piles. Spontaneous combustion is the occurrence of fire without the application of an external heat source and can be caused by chemical, biological, or physical processes. Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26-46% moisture if the temperature exceeds 200 degrees F. These high temperatures only occur with restricted air flow and piles exceeding a height of seven feet. Spontaneous combustion happens to stored hay or silage and only in rare cases to compost. No documented cases of spontaneous combustion have been reported for compost piles smaller than seven feet. Most reported fires occurring in compost piles are the result of external sources such as matches or the addition of hot ashes. In short, a well maintained compost pile with temperatures less than 150 degrees F will not spontaneously combust. If a compost pile gets too hot--more than 160 degrees F--you can cool it down by 1) reducing the size of the pile; 2) adding water to 55% moisture; or 3) mixing in coarse, bulky material such as wood chips. Compost piles work best at temperatures between 130-150 degrees F.

-so it's not a worry if we take care of the compost pile. Thanks again. ....


Link:   Spontaneous Combustion of Composting Piles

 
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Mulching instead of raking

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TomG
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 5406 Upper Ottawa Valley
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2002-11-15          45011


Jon: Thanks for your comment. The web link is very good, and now I can put numbers to what I was speculating about. I guess the conclusion is that there's little worry as long as a person doesn't get carried away and start beavering away with their composting works.

It's curious the web site didn't mention lime. I always heard that it a combination of lime, nitrogen, soil and water that works best. I'll probably keep using lime because that's what I've always heard and I figure that since I'm using soil that basically from a pine forest, it's probably already acidic to start with.
....

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Mr Ed
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2002-11-20          45211


I just did my leaves taking a different approach this year. I have a JD4100 that has the mulching attachment for the 60 inch deck. I put a lawn sweeper behind the tractor. This set up made quick work of my leaves and gave my lawn a final cutting. I have some big trees such as Sycamores that drop some big leaves. For heavy concentrations, I went over the leaves first with the mower off and pickec up a lot with the lawn sweep. I then went over it with the mower on. It chopped up what was left and the lawn sweep picked up most of it.

My lawn looks great. I am very pleased with the results. ....

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MOWED
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2002-12-07          45849


I'm a commercial cutter and mulch the leaves to dust every year. You have to be careful with the higher acidity of leaves like Oaks but for the most part you will enjoy a healthier lawn if you mulch them in.
My mowers are set up with double blades with the Atomic or Gator type blade on the top and a high lift to the bottom. I use a discharge cover plate or mulch plate to gringd them up. If they are too thick I make a couple of passes and very seldom have to pick any debris up. I can reduce 100 bushels to less than 5. Good Luck ....

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Mulching instead of raking

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lbrown59
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 931 First Organized Permanent Settlement In The Northwest Territory.
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2004-10-07          97869


I never do either for leaves or grass clippings.
I'ts worked fine here for 38 years! ....

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