Wood chips and pruning debris

Having used a chipper in the past, I have since retired it. Here’s why:

I don’t need it. Orcharding like many other endeavors, requires a  cost-benefit analyses.

1.The unit we could afford, for one, took an awfully long time to run material through (along with all the stink and exhaust we breathed). Sure, running softwood boughs through is a joy, but try apple or poplar with all those funky angles. I love long hours with outdoor tasks, this I would not number among them.

2. This one isn’t for everyone, but central to our mission: Environmental impact. Yes, it takes longer to trim things down by hand or remove them (ie prunings), but we find it is worth it. Trying hard to model our system on nature, we let natural decomposition run its course. There is also a disturbing trend I am noticing, even in thoughtfully managed landscapes and farms- the need to rush things to decomposition. The earth has a system for breaking things down, yes even big things. How many hundred foot ginko and monkey puzzle trees do you see lying in a pile? So do we really have to worry about a branch half an inch thick? It is also important to have different levels of matter out there to decay at different times. This way if you cannot add material each year with your regime, different caliper wood will become available to microbes in different years as they take different amounts of time fully decay. Also, different physical specimens attract different creatures, from fungi to ants. Additionally, nitrogen will not be tied up as dramatically at a given time since decomposition is spread out, which will reduce need for supplemental nitrogen additions.  Diseased tissue needs to be dealt with, but there are other ways. This leads to the next point:

3. Although not necessarily the case with many commercial operations, chipping, like lawn mowing and sidewalk edging is really about tidiness. I have used chipped mulch and alternatively coarse brush on berries, and man does the chipping look nice. There is nothing wrong with this distinctly human reaction, and we still have a bit of it here, but most of us can get around this tool if we want to.

4. Another engine equals another expenditure, routine maintenance, and emotional stamina (when it doesn’t start). Add fuel and oil and health and safety issues. And oh are they loud.

So what do we do? When we prune, all wood larger than an inch gets cut and stacked for the wood stove. Smaller dimensions get pulled into windrows some distance from same species live trees. This often winds up as kindling, but this pile a few years later will be a beautiful crumbly mass. Much of the smaller stuff is actually trimmed and dropped in the dripline while contemplating the next pruning cut. What? You have time for that? To answer, the day I do not is the day I have too many trees to take care of in a wholesome manner. Again, this is my deal, and will only make sense to those who have a kinship with such silly ideas. And I enjoy doing it this way. When this is completed, I apply wood ash, and other debris including hay, bramble prunings, you name it to try and smother any erupting pathogen spores and the like. It also keeps the wood moist to improve decomposition. This last point will attract more folks to this method, you can dress up the area by covering the rats nest with a tidy carpet of hay or leaves. (We reserve the nicer piles for the nursery area ). We have a thousand or so trees, and as many bushes of various ages and so far, so good.

6. In the interest of full disclosure, we do occasionally bring in wood chip for a project when we have been neglectful, and we do often work with bulk deliveries to client’s farms. This is most often the case when putting in a larger orchard or berry farm. Most small scale farms do not however need to do this, but may opt to.

So, not the answer, but an answer for those who think in that direction.