Up in smoke

If you read my postings the last few weeks, you know that I’m doing a webinar on Wednesday on searching academic databases for information of interest and use to gardeners.  While researching one of the suggested topics (should we mow leaves into the lawn or bag and dump them?) I found a 2012 article* entitled “Biomass yield from an urban landscape” in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy.  My blood ran cold when I read this part of the abstract:

“It was estimated that the City of Woodward could generate about 3750 Mg of biomass dry matter in a normal rainfall year and about 6100 Mg in a high rainfall year if every homeowner collected their lawn thatch and clippings, and tree leaves, twigs, and limbs for bioenergy production.”

My first thought was that is a botanical version of The Matrix.  My second thought was how misguided such a proposal would be.  Rather than using the organic material in our landscapes and gardens to replenish soil nutrients naturally, or greencycle it, we’d gather every shred and give it away to be burnt for energy production. Then we’d spend money on fertilizers (organic or otherwise, it doesn’t matter), many if not all of which require energy to manufacture, package, and/or distribute.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

I can tell you who wins with this approach, and it sure isn’t us or our gardens.

(*Springer, T.L. 2012. Biomass yield from an urban landscape. Biomass and Bioenergy 37: 82-87.)

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

8 thoughts on “Up in smoke”

  1. There was a documentary last year about solutions to the world’s energy problems and the planet’s future in general called “Surviving Progress” Basically it exposed all the ideas and so-called green innovation as falling short because not one solution is ever aimed at people changing their behavior and consumption habits. The schemes looked at simply want a so-called greener way of obsessive consumption which is what keeps global economies alive and progressing. As usual these ideas don’t address bad behaviors, they simply excuse them and attempt at offering a fix-it-pill to address symptoms while keeping hands off on the flawed actions. That’s why things like Biofuels are said to be an answer. I don’t think so because growing biofuels means destruction is allowed to grow as opposed to being halted or reversed. The proposal you are addressing up there is yet another bad flawed concept. In my own personal land management practices I have never thrown anything away. Up in the background where I once lived above Palm Springs they actually had multiple containerized bins for dumping organic matter like grass, leaves, brush etc, etc, etc. I actually got some neighbours together and showed them what I did. Not only will the biological material degrade slowly back into the ground, but also allow a form of mulch which will slow rain water down and allow percolation into the soil for which everyone up there is dependent on their wells as a source for water. In large urban areas the case is the same, but folks are lazy and throwing away and so-called experts excusing this behavior by coming up with birdbrain schemes that facilitate and reward it are nothing more than eye candy. No such scheme is going to compensate for the ongoing increases in energy consumption. YARD RECYCLE people, it’s not that tough.

  2. This is old news, but how about, instead of burning “yardwaste” (or “yardvaluables” might be a better term) to create power, communities used
    invasive species to create power. As Stockholm did. Using rabbits. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t sit well with everyone. http://www.thelocal.se/22610/20091012/

  3. I never understood why people have the need to bag up leaves and clippings and throw them in the garbage. Not only do they replenish the soil (especially if the leaves are run over with a mulching lawnmower – easy to do) but I think fallen leaves look beautiful. It’s like nature’s carpet.

  4. Until last year, we had a city-wide leaf pick up via big vacuum truck — everyone just raked them into piles next to the road. It then went to a huge city compost pile for free use. This program was cut for budget reasons so now the regular trash guys are picking up plastic bags of leaves. (That is, when I don’t get them first.)

    Apparently the vacuum trucks are very prone to failure and costly to maintain, but otherwise I felt was was a good solution. Still, compared to filling up the landfill with plastic bags or, as we do here, incinerating it, using the biomass to generate energy would be an improvement.

    Me? I don’t rake leaves. It sure doesn’t keep my grass (er, weeds) from growing even though a no-mow leafy lawn would be just fine with me.

  5. I do like the idea of using invasives for this purpose as sometimes the vegetation may contain their seeds. Tamarisk in the south would be a prime candidate, but I’m afraid it would be too labor intensive unless they had 1000s of unpaid volunteers. That realistically is never going to happen. REcycling and putting back into the ground is the best couse. I have done this for three decades and had success with the health of my landscapes. Build up the microbiological activity in the soil and you will not only find how quickly such composting disappears, but you’ll need to contact Tree Trimming Services like I have to dump several free loads a year to keep feeding your urban landscape. I’d still like more info though on machines which suck up leaves and grind and mulch them on the spot. Leaves truly don’t have that long of a shelf life anyway unless they’re pine or something similar.

  6. I’m just upset I didn’t think of it first! The guy got a peer-reviewed publication (Impact Factor = 3.5, no less!) by having his wife and kid collect their lawn clippings for a year!

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