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Chipping wood makes for strange obsession

 
gardener
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Hello everyone and just a thought on woodchips.

I am working to s goal of having my gardens being completely self sufficient, needing no purchased inputs with the possible exception of mushroom sawdust spawn.

I am well on my way to being nutrient self sufficient by relying on woodchips and fungal spawn.  I do rent a chipper (far more economical than buying one).  Mostly I chip up brush from an overgrown hedgerow, but the best chips come from hard-to-find oak trunks.  

So with a somewhat macabre interest in oak trunks (I am not about to cut down a mature oak tree), I find myself compulsively looking for/seeing fallen trees or dead trees hung up on other trees.  Just yesterday my neighbor helped me get some 2x10’s (he has an awesome truck and is an awesome, helpful guy) and I saw a pair of dead, leaning trees and I mentioned that I was now wanting to harvest those learners.  My neighbor was a little perplexed and then realized I was just semi-joking.

But seriously, if I had a logging trailer and a skidding winch (a tractor attachment), I probably would go harvesting dead trees that no-one else wants/cares about.  The beauty is that a trunk yields up a lot more chips for the effort as that one trunk can be put into the chipper and the chipper does the work.  Smaller debris makes me bend down a lot and my back pays in the end.

Anyhow this is just one unexpected way my chipping needs have unexpectedly affected me.  Has gardening given anyone else a similarly strange feeling obsession?

Eric
 
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I have been observed rescuing and saving co-worker's discarded banana peels at work.  There is something about a bit of potassium for the compost that sparks my interest.
 
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Genevieve Higgs wrote:I have been observed rescuing and saving co-worker's discarded banana peels at work.  There is something about a bit of potassium for the compost that sparks my interest.


I’m obsessed with banana peels. My friends save them for me. I cut them up into little pieces, dry, and mix them into my coffee grounds to sprinkle over my woodchips.
 
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Hi Eric

As you know, it is early March in southern Illinois.    I have worked in my garden 2 hours last night and another 4 hours today.  Now, what was that question about gardening obsessions?
 
Eric Hanson
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Hello John!

How can you work in the garden after so much rain! I know the feeling though.

BTW, where bouts are you from?  I live near Carbondale.  Feel free to PM me if you don’t want your exact location public.  I was just wondering if we are anyways close to being neighbors.

Good hearing from you.

Eric
 
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We are in the desert, currently on a piece of land without many rocks.  There are a few fist sized ones, but you have to dig for them.  So we collect rocks.  I'm working on rock mulching all of the shrubs and trees here.  My husband collected a bunch of large rocks (he moved all those by hand, and car) and made a rock garden lizard habitat.   It's still in progress; needs more rocks.  It's hard to tell in the photo, but those in the rock garden are quite large.  I can't even shift them!

So we are looking for rocks wherever we go.  "You want that rock?"

On another note, how far is good for rock mulch to extend from a plant's base?  Is there an optimal minimal distance?

pomegranate.jpg
Pomegranate with rock mulch - is this enough?
Pomegranate with rock mulch - is this enough?
rock-garden.jpg
rock garden reptile habitat
rock garden reptile habitat
 
Eric Hanson
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Kim,

I am realizing just how lucky I am to live in the Midwest.  I simply don’t know anything about a rock mulch, but the idea is ingenious.  Were I to guess, I would say that you want a rock mulch reaching out just past the drip line.

Have you noticed if the ground is more moist under the rock mulch?

Your interest in rocks sounds like my interest in dead trees!

Eric
 
Kim Goodwin
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Eric Hanson wrote:

Have you noticed if the ground is more moist under the rock mulch?

Your interest in rocks sounds like my interest in dead trees!

Eric



I grew up in the PNW, and understand the tree/bark/branches/leaf mulch obsession.  :-) We had it back there.  Boy, we used a lot of woodchips.  That made gardening really work.  Aaaahh.  The lushness.  I do miss that, but the desert has a different ease - wild or wild-like plants don't easily take over the planting beds.  That is surprisingly nice.  Weeding an annual bed is so easy here.

It's been a huge paradigm shift here in the desert.  I have a totally new appreciation of rocks.   As for is there more moisture underneath the rocks - yes.  I learned about the role of rocks at our first desert locale (near Palm Springs, a place so dry it was hard for me to fathom it initially.  "Soil" was sand.).  My husband and I were digging in the sand for an area to use as a garden, and we would come across fist-sized to coconut sized rocks with a few larger ones.  In bone dry soil, under almost all of the rocks would be roots.  Elsewhere, it was rare to encounter a root (except in your septic drain lines...heh.).  If there was an assortment of rocks all clumped together, there were roots weaving in and out of it.

The roots were from eucalyptus, a pine and chinaberry.  Those were the only trees on our property -  they had survived three years without watering as the house had sat vacant.  We were in an area that gets 4-6" of rain a year.  So I took that as a big learning lesson, that rocks in the soil are valuable in the desert.  They must trap bits of moisture. At least, that's what I took from it.

I wish I took pictures of this now! I'm sure many people have realized this, but coming from the PNW, this was a really new concept.  It made me realize that in the desert, we didn't need to get all the rocks out of the soil.  I always pulled them out in Oregon, so they wouldn't get stuck in the tines of my fork.  Although now that I think about it - I often found Himalayan blackberry roots under rocks there.  hmm.  I guess plants everywhere probably know about this little trick.

The rock mulch thing is kind of fun, too.  You can make patterns, shapes and put different colors of rocks together.  The pictures are of the rocks dry, but when they are damp they are lovely colors, pinks, red, teal, blue-grey.  Pretty.

 
Eric Hanson
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Kim,

Very nice observation!  Rocks as good things.  Goes against everything I have been told.

Eric
 
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Kim Goodwin wrote:

On another note, how far is good for rock mulch to extend from a plant's base?  Is there an optimal minimal distance?



Maybe better to not have the rocks up against the trunk of the pomegranate. At least in wetter climates that can promote rot on the bark that the tree has to really fight against!  Weakens the trees.

10-20% past the drip line is fine.  But you can go out as far as you have rocks for.

The temperature differential of the rocks and air at night causes condensation and waters the ground under the rocks.  You may build the 'mulch' up higher on the north side of the tree.  it will do even more condensation for the trees roots.

Peace
 
John F Dean
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Hi Eric,

I have a high tunnel and a raised bed garden.  I am located about 60 miles NE of Carbondale.
 
Eric Hanson
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John,

Nice little setup!

Always nice to hear from someone local.  Also, I am always fascinated that only people from Southern Illinois know what Southern Illinois is (and that it is proper to capitalize the S in Southern).

Eric
 
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I think it's easy to get carried away with something you really care about.  Gardening feeds my soul, gives me peace and keeps me sane.  I was spreading wood chips around my fruit trees this weekend, and my children felt the need to tell me it was raining.  I grew up in Western Washington State, these Californians don't have a clue what rain is.  It was just a little sprinkle, I was barely wet.
 
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Hahaha I know the feeling.

Where I live the obsession come from the desire for free hardwood for firewood. I am constantly looking at downed and hung trees like, "is that oak?, Nope, just pine" or "look at that huge madrone that snapped off"! This last snow was the wettest I can remember and brought down trees like you wouldn't believe. An oak top came down across my road from a guy's property that doesn't live here (2nd home, I think) and if I didn't just get elbow surgery I would have cut it up, restrung the fence and left him a bill for my time! Hahaha just kidding about that part. But yep, yesterday my neighbor was doing exactly that. Stupid elbow...
 
Eric Hanson
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Dan,

My obsession has been tamed just a little bit.  My wood chipping was so productive this spring that I literally have more chips than I know what to do with.  Of my 3 beds, I have already filled bed#3 for inoculation, and I am topping off/planting potatoes in bed #1.  I am simply placing potatoes on the bed surface and then covering about 12” of chips.  I still have more than 80% of the chips I started with.  I will top off bed #2 after planting, but after that point I think I just let the remaining chips sit and age for a year or two or however long it takes before I need more.

I could still chip up more but I no longer see the point.  I will wait until I need more.

Eric
 
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If you are interested in material to chip call up your local tree trimming/removal services.  Getting rid of garbage tree refuse is quite a large amount of work and expense for most of them.  Many of them already chip the wood and then dump it at the landfill.  Tree trimming companies are a great source of the various hardwoods, though you are likely to get mixtures of hardwood and softwoods.  Sometimes you can pick up entire logs from tree trimming companies for not a lot of money, though I can't imagine any tree trimmers getting rid of an oak trunk at a low price.

Another potential source for wood in general would be hauling off slash piles from logging operations, though in most places that would be evergreen softwoods.

When I bought my mill my best friend underbid a poplar hybrid removal job and did not have the resources to remove the logs from the site and still make a profit.  I hired a self loader log truck and loaded 7 log truck loads of poplar and Siberian elm out to my farm.  By the time it was all said and done I paid $750 for 7 log truck loads of wood on that deal.  My buddy Mark still made a good profit and all were happy...





It took me a full year to mill through all of that wood, it was a great material to practice and learn on...  

You could check around your area and see if there are any private self loaders operating and see what they will charge you per hour and then go looking for some trees to get.  Call your local tree trimming and removal services and see if you might be able to reduce their costs on a job by supplying a self loader and hauling off the logs for free or something.  Just sit an pencil it all out 10 ways from Sunday to make sure you know where you stand and what you are getting into.
 
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Another person with chipper fever!!! Since I got mine, chipping is one of my favorite garden tasks. I only have enough waste to do it every few weeks, but it is almost therapeutic (very meditative and strangely satisfying. No need to make Fargo jokes just yet though). I used to go around every other month or so and pick up waste wherever I could to chip more (particularly sugar cane after pressing for juice) and then run that through the chipper, to make it into fluff instead of squashed canes, but now I have to wait for all these people to start working again. It's a shame, because I could definitely use more mulch-- we haven't had a good rain since January.
 
Eric Hanson
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Tereza,

I hear you about needing the mulch to protect from drought.  I am fortunate in that I have not had a drought in many years, but when I did have a series of droughts soon after moving in, I invested in drip irrigation.  Not a bad way to invest, but not as good woodchips.

Now that I have woodchips, my plants never act like they are in a drought, even if it’s been a while without rain.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Roy,

That is an impressive load of wood!

Eric
 
Roy Long
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Eric Hanson wrote:Roy,

That is an impressive load of wood!

Eric




LOL.....  That picture is just the first two loads, I had a small mountain of wood by the time we got all seven loads piled up.  I ended up with three large piles.  Then I bought another three log truck loads of fir from a logging operation going on a mile down the road, they let me cherry pick the log deck and just charged me what the mill was paying per board foot.  Nice being able to cherry pick the deck and get the logs with little to no taper for the basic board foot cost.
 
Eric Hanson
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Roy,

Nice deal!

Personally I would be looking for fairly straight logs just under 12” in diameter.

When I chipped up my wood, I had a bunch of smallish wood that produced a modest amount of wood, a bunch of sticks that produced almost nothing, and a few long, large diameter logs that gave me a huge volume of chips.

I strangely look at fallen trees by the side of the road and think—hmmm, how many chips would that make?!

Eric
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