Green Committee Newsletter - October 2019

Leaves - love 'em and leave 'em

By Judy Ryan 

Before I get to the part about loving or leaving - and no, I’ve not morphed into an advice columnist - I want to remind all of us that this has been a bad season for ticks. Where do ticks live? In leaves, among other places. So as leaf blowers rev up for the fall season, it stands to reason that they are blowing not only carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, pollen, mold, and feces, but also ticks. Oh yes, and leaves.

What if we didn’t blow our leaves? Or even rake them much? Piermont is one of the communities encouraging its citizens to adopt a “love ‘em or leave ‘em” policy, an initiative by Westchester County to reduce organic waste and improve the health of lawns and gardens. With the help of a New York Times column by John Schwartz and Kendra Pierre-Louis (November 21, 2018), I’ve been educating myself about this initiative. (You too can check out lele.org.)

In the woods which surround us here in Upper Nyack, leaves stay in place. We are the only species to have considered getting rid of them. A brief search of the internet tells me that in medieval times areas artificially cleared of trees and shrubs created spaces where guards could make sure that unwanted visitors (animal or human) were not approaching. On Village Commons, animals grazed, creating lawns, although not the manicured ones which became popular during the Renaissance among the wealthy classes in France and England. On the website planetnatural.com I learned that those early lawns were probably planted with chamomile and thyme. In 17th century England, the closely shorn grass lawns surrounding grand estates were groomed by hired labor. By then those green carpets were an important mark of status, to which the middle class aspired.

So here we are, heirs of a tradition manifested on the grounds of Downtown Abbey. Looking out at what passes for our lawn, I wonder if my husband and I should get over ourselves. There will be no lawn parties or croquet tournaments on our property. Our yard, I mean. We’ve totally given up pesticides, so weeds abound, but I’m imagining a large bed of thyme instead. Imagining the scent, and the soft squishy feeling on my feet, I’m momentarily distracted from the truth of who we are, and what we’re likely to do (or not).

This is what I’m learning from Schwartz and Pierre-Louis: leaves not only nourish our lawns, but offer habitat to pollinators such as butterflies and moths. Caterpillars provide protein for birds. And leaves can supply enough nutrients for the lawn to allow us to give up fertilizer. So how about just leaving them? If grass becomes covered with too thick a layer of leaves, it can be smothered. But leaving some is an excellent idea. Mulching mowers can break down a mass of leaves into bits. A regular mower can do the same, if you mow regularly as the leaves come down. However you do it, leave some! It turns out that our fetish for clean, manicured lawns is not good for animals or plants. I love to walk in the woods where the crunch of leaves is a satisfying sound. And I’m much more relaxed when I look outside my window and know that the trees are doing what they do best: feeding the plants, birds and butterflies I love. We have less to do if we don’t interfere with their work.

Finally, don’t forget to leave some leaves on your garden beds. The best way to achieve that is to rake, not blow. Blowing can pick up topsoil as well as the nasty stuff mentioned above. Save your ears and lungs, or your landscaper’s ears and lungs. Rake a little, leave a lot. Go apple-picking, walk in the woods, ride your bike.

And while you’re at it, come visit River Hook, Upper Nyack’s own nature preserve, with entrances at 626 N. Broadway and 611 N. Midland Ave. The preserve is now open to pedestrians (and their leashed dogs) from dawn to dusk. 

The Green Committee is an advisory and advocacy group made up of Upper Nyack residents working toward the environmental health and resiliency of our village in the face of climate change.  Issues of concern include air and noise pollution; tree planting designed to survive extreme weather; water conservation, sewers and drainage; green landscaping; more use of renewable energy sources; and education of the public in these areas and others of concern to residents.  
For more information, please contact Judy Ryan at jlryan4181@aol.com or 845 358-4322.

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Village Board of Trustees.