Fall Leaf Swap and Other Options for Leaves

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Tompkins Weekly 10-21-13
By Adam Michaelides

Hope you are enjoying the brilliant colors of autumn! Over the coming weeks, leaves will continue to fall. Many homeowners will start raking in November when most leaves are down. Though you probably already know what you will do with your leaves, this article provides some options that will hopefully save you time and money.

Last year the City of Ithaca started requiring a yard waste tag for each can, bag or bundle to cover collection costs. All yard waste must be placed in trash cans with lids removed or in biodegradable paper lawn and leaf bags. Currently, the cost is $1.50 per tag. Some City residents have dozens of bags of leaves. Master Composter John Milich, who owns a mid-size lot in the City with some trees, rakes up over 50 bags each fall. (That adds up to $75 plus the cost of the bags!)

Tompkins County residents, including those who live in the City of Ithaca, may transport bags or cans of yard waste to the Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste Center at 122 Commercial Ave. This is a free service for County residents. A permit is required on the vehicle, which can be purchased at the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management office for $10, and is good for three years.

Area residents can also bring leaves for free to Tompkins County Cooperative Extension at 615 Willow Ave during the second annual “Leaf Swap.” Starting on Veterans Day (Nov 11), we will accept clean bagged leaves only – no branches, debris or other yard waste. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving (Nov 23), a Leaf Swap and Compost Giveaway event will be held from 10am – Noon. Area residents who WANT more leaves can come and take them. A limited amount of screened compost will also be available for those who bring their own container (up to 5-gallons).

Master Composters will tell you that the number one mistake people make with home composting is they don’t include enough (or any!) “brown” materials like dead leaves, straw, shredded paper, woodchips or sawdust. When you pile food scraps on top of food scraps, you are bound to get a slow, stinky, wet mess! Good compost requires a balance of moisture and air, and also a balance of nitrogen (i.e. food scraps) and carbon (i.e. leaves). It doesn’t work very well to dump in lots of leaves in the fall and then only food scraps the rest of the year. Instead, we recommend alternating two-inch layers of food scraps with leaves all year round. To do this, you will need between 6 and 10 bags of leaves per year. Collecting and stockpiling leaves now when they are readily available will save you time and effort later.

As a recap, there are many options of what to do with fall leaves. In the City of Ithaca, you can put them on the curb for a price. County residents and City residents may transport leaves to the Recycling Center or the Leaf Swap. Residents who compost at home can save leaves and use them year round. Other creative options include dumping leaves in the woods or mulching the garden with them. Extra leaves can be given to a neighbor, friend, relative or coworker who can use them, or put on Craig’s List or Freecycle. We encourage leaf swapping however it happens!

Leaves, brush and branches though called yard “waste” really are not a waste. Leaves provide the needed carbon and air spaces in the compost. Ultimately, this material breaks down into finished compost; the crumbly, black “gold” that works wonders in the garden. Compost provides slow-release nutrients to growing plants, improves the structure of clay or sandy soils, adds beneficial life and increases the ability of the soil to hold water. With compost, less store-bought soil amendments or chemical fertilizers are needed. Making compost out of “wastes” will end up improving your garden and save you money.

For more information about the City of Ithaca yard waste regulations, please contact Streets and Facilities at 272-1718 or email <rayb@cityofithaca.org>. For more information about the Tompkins County yard waste drop off, please visit www.recycletompkins.org or call 272-6632. For more information about the Leaf Swap or general composting help, call the “Rotline” (compost hotline) at 272-2292×124 or email <acm1@cornell.edu>. Best to you this fall leaf season!

Adam Michaelides is the Program Manager for the Compost Education Program at Tompkins County Cooperative Extension and a trained Master Composter from the class of 2000.

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