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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flowtron Electric Leaf Eater

Flowtron Electric Leaf Eater pretty much (or pretty mulch) lived up to its billing: it shredded mountains of leaves, wet and dry, quickly and conveniently.

The worst thing about it was the noise, which is like an electric lawnmower or, shudder, a leaf blower – though a lot more efficient than the former at mulching leaves, and a more earth-friendly use of energy than the latter.

Now that I have this neat little gadget, though, I can assure our neighbours that it won't be running 2.5 hours at a time (albeit at intervals) again. Instead, I'll haul it out for brief sessions. It's lightweight enough to do that easily. When not in use, the hopper swings down between the legs of the stand.

Oh, but during that 2.5 hours, Sarah and I shredded a heck of a lot of leaves... from my yard, front and back, from Sarah's front yard, and from the front and back yard of our neighbour in between.

We produced 14 garbage cans full of coarsely chopped leaves, and added them to our garden beds, right over the undigested leaves already there.

I'm skeptical about Flowtron's claims of a 30-to-1 reduction. Perhaps if we'd compressed the chopped leaves, which we didn't, into trash bags. Still, that's a heck of a lot of mulch.

Ours are 99.9% Norway maple leaves, which we usually pile on the garden anyway. In spring, however, these full-sized leaves stratify into an ice-packed felt which can be smothering. Now, with the leaves finely chopped, water will be able to percolate through, and the worms will have bite-sized pieces to pull into the soil. We probably accelerated our composting cycle by a year or two.

The Leaf Eater offers a range of settings selected by a slider that controls the flow in the hopper, from pine needles (finest/slowest) to wet leaves, grass and thatch (coarsest/fastest). As we'd had rain a day or so ago, we principally used the wet leaves setting. We made frequent use of the on/off switch during shredding, too, turning off the motor whenever possible.

They recommend you use safety glasses, gloves and shoes. I'd also suggest wearing long pants and sleeves, even if using in summer, as small bits do occasionally fly out the vents and top. The Leaf Eater can be placed over a garbage can, as we did, and also has its own stand and an integrated bungee cord for attaching a garbage bag. When using a bag, the hopper can tilt on its stand for easier access.

We found that feeding continuous small batches worked best, to let gravity do its work. I imagined being a miser, and feeling those dollar bills run through my fingers. Mine, all mine!

Sometimes it helped to swirl the leaves at the widest part of the hopper top (like water going down a drain). We kept a yard bag nearby for twigs and branches. One review I read said that it didn't respond well to twigs, but we found that the occasional one did slip in without serious consequences.

Never reach your hands inside while the machine is running. An occasional shake helped loosen leaf jams. The wetter the leaves, the more they tended to clog.

Inside the hopper, you can see why it's important to keep your hands away. The cutting is done by rotating double weed-whipper cords. (The kit comes with three dozen replacements.) Before clearing any stubborn blockages, which we experienced only when the garbage bin was nearly full, we always turned the Leaf Eater OFF as well as unplugging it from the extension cord (we used a grounded cord rated for outdoor use.)

The holes above are shown at the largest setting, but it was surprising how finely the leaves were cut. To cut leaves more finely, which must be almost to a powder, they recommend you process them twice: once at coarse and once at a finer shred. I was quite satisfied with the coarse setting myself. In the image below, the larger leaves are mostly those left in the hopper at the end of the process. Deeper in the bin, the leaves are cut quite small.

Dustiness seems to be one criticism I've read about. In fact, some writers recommend the use of a dust mask. In our case, this is an instance where the rain probably worked in our favour, keeping dust to a minimum. In drier weather, a mask might be welcome.

One minor criticism is that the base of the stand did come apart as we moved the bin away on a few occasions. However, this might be simply due to improper assembly.

It was certainly work. I retired to the tub with a book after our 2.5 hour stint. However, Sarah and I were impressed with how much (or how mulch) we achieved.

In short, I'm pretty darned pleased. My sister and I spent a companionable afternoon in the garden, punctuated by cups of tea and conversation (when the Leaf Eater was napping). And we both have the satisfaction of having fed our gardens, and the worms who frequent them, with beaucoup, beaucoup delicious organic matter.

And that's what matters most to us.