Wednesday, April 9, 2008

So, just what is the etiquette for picking up bags of leaves on the side of the road?


I'd been noticing lots and lots of full lawn & leaf bags set by the curb in neighborhoods all over town. Now, I have a yard full of trees - but they have never produced as many leaves as I need for the vegetable garden, flower beds, and compost bin. These bagged treasures were going to be wasted, so I felt it my duty to schedule a little leaf run. Early on the designated day, I ran into one of my daughters and then a sister-in-law, both of whom inquired about my morning plans. I could hardly contain my excitement about the upcoming leaf run. Much to my surprise, they each asked, "Do they know you're coming?" To be perfectly truthful, at that time I had no idea which households I would relieve of their "garbage". I'm a bit of an impulse stop and loader. But, what a coincidence their question was! Or was it? They got me thinking, "What is the etiquette to picking up other people's discarded bags of leaves?" Do you call ahead? Do you call from the curb? Or do you just snatch and dash? My husband's funny about stopping so I can load someone else's "trash" into the back of the car. He once drove right past 4 or 5 bags of mulch just laying in the middle of a country road! By the time I dropped him off at home and returned, someone else had picked it up. Even though I don't hide the fact that I "steal" other people's garbage, I must admit that I don't really want anyone to see me doing it. Leaf runs are always scheduled for the quiet times - never on a week-end and never after school is out. As long as I'm confessing, I also never pick up bags from a busy street. Is this leaf fetish unique to me - or do some of you share it? I'll look forward to hearing from you!

23 comments:

Vanillalotus said...

Ha, that's so funny. I probably would do the same thing if I had a yard that I could use the leaves in. I have thought about if I did have a yard I could take all those bags people leave out. Really I don't know the etiquette for it and can't imagine people would be mad about someone taking their leaves. If anything they should be relieved that they are just gone.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I send one of my boys to knock on the door. If they answer I ask, if they are not home I grab. Neighbors have begun leaving me their bags of leaves behind my garden fence.

chey said...

I really enjoyed your post! You are doing something that I always wanted to do!

I've often wanted to pick up bags of leaves from the roadside, but have never done it due to my limited space. I think it's wonderful that you're able to use them!

Mary Beth said...

Aunt Debb - If only I still had little ones to run and ask! And I'll bet asking might lead to people calling asking about "leaf pickup" service. It may be worth the extra steps - and the puzzled looks on some homeowners faces?

Chey and Vanillalotus - I'm sorry you don't have the gardening space that yearns for copious amounts of organic matter - I'm hoping to loose my shyness about my leaf addiction.

Nancy J. Bond said...

As it has been set out for "garbage" pickup, I can't see the harm. I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask if you see someone around. :) Or go into stealth mode, dress in black, and make your rounds by moonlight! Hee.

Benjamin Vogt said...

This winter someone discraded two rectangle thingies of straw on a lot next door to them--their halloween and turkey day display having run its course. I really wanted to take these. My wife and I made a plan to get them after nightfall, but chickened out. What wonderful cover they would've been for my sensitive plants! And they're still on the lot this spring!

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

There is a very interesting documentary called The Gleaners and I about a provision in Napoleonic Law that lets French people into farms and orchards to glean after the harvest. The concept has been extended to urban gleaning; that is, anything set out on the curb is considered no longer the property of the person who set it out, but open to be gleaned by anyone passing by.

Texas law is not so clear. I used to pick up bags, too, but they're a mixed bag. The only lawn and leaf bags I set out are full of weeds or other nasties...the good stuff goes in the compost.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Love it! I say stash & dash. I have so many leaves, it takes days to shred them all, but if I lived in the city . . . .~~Dee

Blue Fox said...

I guess I just lucked out last fall - I have two friends with huge trees, so I raked leaves for them and got about 50 bags total, as well as about 20 bags of grass clippings and I also raked on our gravel road and got 2 huge pick up loads. I plan on trying to beat that this year! I also thought of putting an ad in the paper - you rake 'em, we'll take 'em!

Melanie said...

I'd just pick up and go, not bother to ask. Luckily I have tons and tons of leaves here.

By the way, the correct term is "leaf rustling". As a rustler, you can take what ever you want without any qualms.

Jan said...

I don't pick up bags of leaves because I have too many of my own. After using as much pine straw as I could, I have put out bags of it and was glad when people stopped and picked it up. So, I say go for it since it helps your garden and the environment.

Jan Always Growing

Mary Beth said...

Well, BENJAMIN, I hope my "leaf rustling" has inspired you to drag that hay over to your garden! I like it between the rows in the vegetable beds. It breaks down nicely through the growing season, ready to be incorporated before your next planting. Maybe you could use NANCY BONDS' suggestion of a "stealth operation". I'll be getting my dark clothing ready . . (Schedule it for your next cloudy night?)

MSS - how right you are about mixed bags! I've gotten pretty good at guessing which bags are all leaves and which have real trash in them - in the last bags I ended up with a BUNCH of pothos ivy - just like some I spent hours and hours removing last spring!

Thanks for all the new phrases! DEE/DIRT RAMBLINGS is all for the "stash and dash" method. (That one is my favorite, Dee). And MELANIE, as a Texan, I love the term "leaf rustling". I'll soon be directing a Master Gardener class in amending some beds and will definitely encourage them to do a bit of "leaf rustlin'". (Can't you picture a black hat and bandana covering my face?)

BLUE FOX - You're doing alot more work for your leaves than I ever do! Wow!

JAN - My goal is to someday have an overabundance. I'm green with envy!

No Rain said...

Interesting question. I'm sure all regions are different, depending on local issues and practices. Some areas (at least here in Arizona) still don't have garbage bin pick up, so folks put their garbage out in big black plastic bags. I guess as long as you know it's just leaves and plant debris, then I see no harm, but I think I'd ask. I'd hate to get a bag home and find the contents of someone's actual household garbage, and folks do mix it up! Also, there is a local ordinance regarding taking garbage because of identity theft issues, something rampant here.
Aiyana

Meems said...

I can just picture you making sure you get out early and wanting to be brave but only being so brave. I'd be the same way exactly.

I've never actually taken bags from someone's trash although I admit to contemplating it in the past- but my neighbor does it all the time. Nowadays, I'd probably be a little hesitant about what else might be mixed in that I'd end up having to fight with later.

I DID however used to beg my mom for bags of her oak leaves when SHE was finished raking them from under her huge live oaks.

These days I have enough of my own not to have to 'rustle up' extras. Thankfully.
Meems @Hoe&Shovel

Lets Plant said...

I like the name Leaf Rustler., Very catchy, I don't see any harm in hauling off someone else's garbage. The common law is if it is by the road it is free game!!

Trudi said...

Mary Beth, I haven't seen here anybody doing this sort of leaf collecting! But, I have seen people gathering dry grass from the roadside which has been cut by the shire. People used to burn the leaves on the roadside, I don't think that is still done. You are right it would be a shame not to use all this organic enrichment on your garden beds.

Cinj said...

Well, if they actually WANTED their leaves they wouldn't be down by the road waiting for leaf pick up, would they? I say grab and go. Where does it say who's picking the leaves up anyway? As long as they're picked up and it's a free service I don't know that anyone would really care one way or another.

The Garden Faerie said...

Ah yes, curbside shopping. I know it well. I have been curbside shopping for leaves for several years--I even have certain houses picked out with the best leaves! ;-) I've found it's important to "frisk" the bag first to make sure its contents are leaves (softer, squishy edges) than branches (prickly edges). I also do a little lift too see how heavy the bag is--sometimes people throw in all sorts of non-leaf items like stones and other trash, which I don't want. I get bags in fall (our leaves decompose over the winter in MI), spreading them on my beds and saving some for spring-summer to add to the compost bin. I have never asked permission to take these bags in that once they are placed on the easement (city property) as trash to be taken away, the owner has relinquished rights to said leaves! If I see someone outside at the time, I will ask, but I do not knock if I don't. Plus, as a somewhat rotund short middle-aged woman, I don't think I look threatening or untoward! ;-)
~ Monica

MELISSA MANNON said...

very funny. Please feel free to stop by my house. I"ll invite you in for tea and give you a big bag of leaves when you depart. I've got more leaves than I can handle.

Rees Cowden said...

My simpathy to your husband.....
only kidding. I applaud your efforts and the fact that you put your gardening above the probable ridicule of your gardening challanged neighbors. I'm sending an orange vest.
Rees Cowden
No Brown Thumbs

Connie said...

When I can talk my husband into it, we jump in the truck and make a leaf run by driving down the alleyways in our small town. We usually knock on the door first and ask if it is okay to take their bagged leaves. No one has ever said no.

Mary Beth said...

Oh AIYANA, I never considered identity theft ordinances! That would make "leaf rustling" even tougher. Luckily in our town all household trash goes in a roll-off can and all yard waste is place by the road for the brush crews!

LETS PLANT - Yes, I too like the term "leaf rustler". It shares a bit of the excited feeling.

MEEMS - Yes, you do sometimes find surprises in the "leaf" bags. Recently, I came across 2 iron hanging baskets - I knew those bags were too heavy to just be leaves but I had called ahead about them and the homeowner (my friend) was standing there chatting while I loaded them up. I just couldn't "reject" her lawn trash.

TRUDI & CINJ - Thanks for your support of my little pasttime!

MONICA - I am getting pretty good at judging the contents by how the bags feel, too. (It's a real talent, I think!) I'm glad to hear from a cohort in crime.

CONNIE - How I wish I could get my husband to be my "leaf run" driver - Considered yourself blessed to have such a helpful guy!

REES - I would consider that orange vest - but my shyness re: this little obsession drives me to only rustle leaves on quiet roads.

MELISSA - Tea AND leaves? I'll be there!

bill/prairie point said...

I used to do this all the time when I lived in the city. Where I lived pretty much anything left at the curb would be gone in a matter of hours, so I did not feel any shame in picking up the leaves.

The problem though is that you can't be all that sure of what you are getting along with the leaves.