A couple of weeks ago, I took care of one of my least favorite chores in the garden, shredding the leaves. I live in a neighborhood with a sizable large tree population. My own property has a mature green ash, a crabapple, and a few small amur and caddo maples. But I also end up with leaves from surrounding American and Siberian elms, silver maples, many other green ashes, etc. They spend the winter covering a few of my beds and then in April, I finally get out, rake them up, and shred them before adding them to my composter.

In the past, I used to just rake ’em and bag ’em, ending up with somewhere between twelve to twenty bags. I couldn’t add twenty bags of leaves to my compost at once (no room!), so I had to store most of the bags – which meant in a month or two, I had slightly soggy, torn bags of leaves that I would then add to the composter as room became available. Then I saw an electric leaf shredder in one of my favorite gardening supply catalogs that promised to reduce eleven bags of leaves to one. WOW. I really needed that. It was electric, took up little space when in use, and could be stored in an even smaller space.Here is a typical photo that accompanies ads for these types of shredders.

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Look how happy she is! Look at the neat barrel of shredded leaves beneath the shredder! (Notice the stray professional stunt leaves left on the yard in the background.) After neatly shredding up her load of leaves, she can whip off those safety glasses and gloves, store the machine, and treat herself to a nice cool drink on the patio. Then maybe she’ll head out for a nice dinner….

Now, here is a photo of me using my shredder.

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Here’s the scoop. These things do a semi-decent job of shredding, but they are LOUD and messy! Underneath that motorcycle helmet(!), I’m wearing ear plugs, safety glasses, and a dust mask. The helmet and visor protect my face from any pieces of debris the shredder chooses to kick back up at me. I also have an assistant (similarly outfitted) scooping up tubs of leaves and handing them to me to dump into the shredder. Before scooping, he sifts through the leaf piles to remove as many twigs, spruce cones, mulch pieces, etc., as possible. Even the smallest twigs are enough to quickly reduce the shredding strings to mere nubs. We’ve learned to place a large tarp under the shredder to catch the large pile of leaf shreds that accumulate quickly, escaping in the tiny space between the bottom of the shredder and the plastic bag meant to catch the shred. Once done, colorful leaf dust coats just about everything within a few foot radius.

After we’ve stored the machine and tarps, we head in, removing all our outermost clothing as close to the door as possible (honestly, if we weren’t worried about shocking the neighbors, we’d undress on the deck!). Our clothes, shoes, and any uncovered hair (as well as the dust masks) are coated in dust. The first time I used the shredder, I took off my long sleeve jacket, gloves, long pants, wellies, and helmet, and headed off to get ready for a shower. I was stunned to find that I actually had leaf shreds and dust beneath my undergarments!!

So consider yourself warned. I do still use the machine but only once a year and I have to really be in the mood to get the leaf shredding job done. The eleven-bags-to-one claim is pretty idealistic but I’d say my results are more like three-bags-to-one. And the shredded leaves compost more quickly as well.


First photo courtesy of flowtron.com

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