Sow There! Cleaning out the gutters, an unwelcome season, 11-1-19

The time to crunch leaves is when they are crunchy, not when they are a soggy mess. And yet, I hoped my students last fall would think smashing slimy leaves was an enjoyable garden task. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

November 1, 2019 at 3:14 am

Autumn has a certain smell. I’d need to create a new word to describe it succinctly. Bits of dying or recently dead plants are churned in the air. Wind mixes up the dust and the you can smell the grass that is covered with morning dew. What ends up at your nostrils is the general smell of decay, in a good way.

Somewhere in that scent soup, an olfactory genius might track down the stench from the gunk stuck in the rain gutters.

If you’re looking for a job this weekend, cleaning out the rain gutters is a good bet. The worst time to clean out the gutters is when there is a river flowing over your windowsill and you need to don a Gorton’s Fisherman’s yellow jacket and climb up a slippery ladder.

Gloves are key for the rain gutter ordeal, because you never know what you’ll find in that thin, folded metal — rodent remnants, walnuts or small plastic balls tossed by the neighborhood children, for example. I’m sure the organic material is suitable for compost, but I’ve actually never added the gunk to my pile.

This is a gross job, and that is precisely why many of us avoid the task until spring.

The equivalent of rain gutter goo is the hairball that accumulates in the sink. Every so often, I’ll notice the sink is draining slowly. I know hair is down there  and will dig around in the drain with the tweezers until I find something I can grab. What comes up often looks like a partially decayed gerbil covered in gray slime. The smell is atrocious, but I’m lucky to have a delayed gag reflex.

Cleaning out rain gutters can be nearly as frightening as the sink.

Somewhere in my shed, I have a plastic scooper with a rectangular edge that is made specifically for rain gutter cleaning. Of course, I can never find the tool when it is needed, and end up using gloved hands or a gardening trowel. Then there’s the bucket problem. It’s tough to balance on the ladder, dig around with the trowel, fight the urge to gag and aim accurately at the bucket.

I’m thinking our city is fairly forward-thinking. I appreciate that we have a leaf pickup service during the fall. Couldn’t the city simply add a rain gutter cleaning service, timed just a few weeks before the first rain? Or better yet, we could create a ChicoCorps, with young people paid to provide community services, including rain gutter cleaning, compost turning and perhaps a timely fall rose pruning.

More to do

If you’re avoiding a really big task, like cleaning out the shed or rain gutter detail, now is a good time to put fallen leaves to good use.

A gal named Kim created a video that gives some tips on how to compost leaves in black plastic bags, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtAhA0SArmQ. I found the video last year and thought my students would have a great time crunching the leaves.

However, the fires raged through Northern California, and many good plans were delayed. By the time our class made it to the leaf detail in January, it had rained and the leaves were no longer crunchy. The students thought handling the soggy leaves was gross.

They were right, and I hope I haven’t ruined them for future tasks like cleaning out rain gutters.

We did manage to mash up about a quarter of a bag, which sat near the greenhouse until it was thrown away months later when I wasn’t looking.

In the video, Kim advises filling black plastic bags when the leaves are dry. Crunch the leaves, either with your hands or by rolling on the bag like a bean bag chair.

Poke holes in the bag with a stick and then soak the leaves with the hose. Set the bag in a sunny spot to create compost over time. When it’s time to spread the decayed leaves, they’ll be contained within the bag.

Of course, you can also rake leaves onto your compost pile, and turn the pile a few times over the winter. You can also simply let the leaves lay on the ground and deal with them next spring, about the time you get around to cleaning out the rain gutters.

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