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Best way to clear a small lot (0.62 acres)

 
pollinator
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Location: Huntsville Alabama (North Alabama), Zone 7B
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Seeking advice or issues to be aware of.  Never done or seen anything like this being done so I have an imagination but no experience.

The residential lot next me is available and I am able to buy. It is 0.62 acres and was cleared 19 years ago and a foundation dug and then nothing else.  So it is very overgrown with all kinds of vines, trees, brush and poison ivy/oak/summac.
I need to completely clear the land so I can fill in the foundation and then I want to plant fruit trees.  This is next to a subdivision but not part of it so there is no restrictions.

The options I see is Forestry Mulchers which are skid steers with a large chipper on the front end and it will take all the brush and trees down to mulch.  I may be able to plant the fruit trees around the existing roots.
I may have to follow up with a backhoe to fill in the foundation.

There are a couple of large boulders and many smaller and I am thinking it would be nice to use them as snake and lizard habitats to control the insects, mice, squirrels and chipmunks.

There is also a well that I will need to protect.


 
pollinator
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Here is my experience.  Take it for the free advise as offered.

Forestry mulchers are expensive to rent.  Contrcators are also not cheap, but you will find it cheaper in the long run to pay them to run their equipment.  A cheaper, DIY option is to rent a walk behind brush cutter and a good sized chipper.  Sunbelt and other equipment rental places will have both items.  A billy goat or DR brush mower will take out the underbrush and vines allowing you to get to the larger trunks.  A good chipper will do either a 6 inch or 12 inche tree trunk depending on the horsepower.  Anything larger than 12 inches should be firewood anyway.

Paying a contractor with a forestry attachment on a skid steer: I had a quote about 4 years ago for $3k for about an acre and half. This was Texas gulf coast area with mostly yaupon underbrush with a few stands of 3 inch pines.  It was worth it to me at the time to pay him.  I had already sunk a grand and a week's vacation fighting with rental equipment; and family commitments.  

It sounds like you are starting over with no older mature trees to save.  If you can get a good quote, I think you will be happy paying someone with a mulcher to come through and be done with it.
 
Jack Edmondson
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Forgot to add, the quote from the only place that rented forestry mulcher equipment was $10k per week, 1 week minimum, and a 4 month waiting list to get it.  Pick up and delivery was extra and no.  I could not pick it up using my own equipment trailer.  Needless to say, business must have been very good for them.  Hopefully, prices have come down in the past few years.  But I decided I would pass and that I was in the wrong business.  
 
Dennis Bangham
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Jack Edmondson wrote:Forgot to add, the quote from the only place that rented forestry mulcher equipment was $10k per week, 1 week minimum, and a 4 month waiting list to get it.  Pick up and delivery was extra and no.  I could not pick it up using my own equipment trailer.  Needless to say, business must have been very good for them.  Hopefully, prices have come down in the past few years.  But I decided I would pass and that I was in the wrong business.  



For this I would hire a person to do it.  Don't need to find out the hard way what happens when one of these hits a limestone boulder.

There seems to be several in my area and some advertise residential.  At least I should be able to get several offers and check availability.  

Will have to check with the city to see if there is an ordnance to worry about.  i don't think there will be and I need to merge this land to my land since it was originally one larger parcel.  Keep the taxes low.
 
Jack Edmondson
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On combining tax parcels, something to think about.  If you keep them separate, the orchard should be taxed a much lover rate (ag value).  If you combine them you will pay the maximum assessment (residential) for all the square footage.  In my neck of the woods, that gets very expensive on acreage.  It also helps the resale of both properties should you ever choose to sell one or the other.  Check with the assesor's office on tax rates before you file to combine.

 
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Dennis,

Have you considered something like a DR brush mower or similar device?  .62 acres is not exactly a huge amount of land and it might be something that you could do by yourself with the proper equipment.  

On another thought, have you considered leaving a small portion, perhaps along the edges as a hedge?  I have a hedge along two border lines and it yields up to me an enormous amount of woodchips as I trim back every couple of years.

Hope this is helpful,

Eric
 
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In SC, you need a minimum of 5 acres to get an agricultural tax rate on real property.  Plus, owner occupied real property is taxed at only two thirds the rate of owner unoccupied real property.  So, combining two adjacent properties allowed me to get the owner occupied tax rate on both.  At only three acres, I can not get an agricultural tax rate.
 
Dennis Bangham
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There are quite a few trees up to 5 to 6 inches in diameter and since it is very uneven growth it is very hard to walk through since it has sticker vines and bushes.  I should be able to afford the clearing crews since it looks to be one guy with a big machine.  
I am looking at this as being part of my retirement activities in the next 6 to 10 years and by then I want to be able to just piddle around and prune, trim, harvest, compost and feed the neighbors.
There is an old large JD450 trackhoe/frontend loader on the property that has to be removed.  That I expect to be the hard part.
 
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I cleared about that much space by hand over a period of years, a few weeks at a time and it slow going. My tools at the time were only a small chainsaw and a Sthil weed whacker alternately fitted with the string trimmer head and large round saw type brush blade. About half the time was spent between refueling the devices, restringing the line trimmer, sharpening the brush blades. The Sthil “bump style” line trimmer heads are pretty reliable, but the moment you hit a piece of fence or rock it breaks at the opening requiring restringing. The brush blades I have multiples of so I can swap it out instead of sharpening each time it needs it. With the line trimmers it is important to have a good full harness that makes them easier to balance and less stressful on your back.

One advantage of doing it that manual way is you really are in close and see almost every plant and become intimately familiar with every rock, stump and old piece of metal. The disadvantage is you become intimately familiar with every rock, stump and old piece of metal on your property. A session would go something like this, well a wagon containing all the tools, gas and implements to where you are working. You might start with the line trimmer to get you close into the heavy brush and saplings, running it until the gas runs out. At this point you rake your spoils into a pile, sit down in the folding chair you lugged along and swap out the line trimmer head for brush blade that you sharpened the evening before. After gassing you get in and get some real destruction going with the blade. A good sharp brush blade can cut saplings and vines right at the soil level, avoid what we cal “f sticks” named for the exclamation expressed when you trip over it. The blade can handle sapling up to a few inches, but don’t stay sharp long when cutting down small trees. Vines and such succumb more readily to its persuasion, so perhaps you work around the larger saplings and save them for the chain saw.

At this point you have a lot of brush laying around so you have a session of brush dragging to pile it up where it will live and get shredded/munched and/or burned. I’m a fan of piling and leaving. If there are materials like poison sumac or poison ivy there are additional considerations like assuring they are killed or avoiding toxic smoke or burned. Laying down in an out of the way spot and covering to solarize to death by covering is a preferred method. Having helpers dragging brush (and sharpening blades, restringing the line trimmer, etc.) and be a force multiplier, but great care needs to be taken when anyone is around so you do not injure them. Never had a blade fly off the Sthil, and found it fairly safe for the user, the working end being so far away, but it is easy to swing it around quickly and due to noise and ear protection a person or pet can sneak up within the danger zone w/o you being aware of it. One hazard it flying chips or pebbles that could take an eye out, so safety glasses are a must in addition to ear protection. Chain saw safety is a whole long discussion unto itself.

Chain saw work allows you to get at those larger trees after the ground has been cleared so you can safely work around them. Timber felling is one of the most dangerous professions, even with the right equipment. A small tree can kill or injure just as badly as a large tree. Once had a dead branch conk me on the head pretty good just because I grabbed the tree to balance myself on uneven terrain. Working with a spotter and a phone is important, but adds to the effort unless you have free help available.

You mention the desire to create habitats and doing it manually could allow you to build on what nature already has intended for the land. Willing to bet among all that “poison ivy/oak/summac” there are interesting beneficial plants that could be encouraged. Part of the problem is on an overgrown lot it can be difficult to know what you have until you start clearing it.  You seem set on clearing it, so perhaps that isn’t much of a consideration and not much info on the specifics of what trees are there and how old they are (all less than twenty?).  I might consider doing a careful survey/cruise of the trees (getting advice if needed) and if going the mulched on skid steer route I would be tempted to have enough done to clear for the plantings and foundation work and flag areas and trees I find interesting to preserve, even if just along the edges.

As to combining the adjacent lot with yours is an important consideration worthy of careful research. Could be more valuable long term kept as a empty building lot, but yearly tax implications could favor combining long term, but would possibly forestall ever selling separately in the future (other have good advice on this).

Owning a two wheel walk-behind tractor with a brush mower has meant I do a lot less of the back Breaking work as the tractor handles all the little stuff. Someone mentioned the DR walk behinds. They are less expensive than my BCS, but I have the ability to add all sorts of implements to the very capable brush mower attachment. Once the lot is cleared you will need to keep it mowed to some degree, so a walk behind would be useful.
 
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You have gotten some great advise.

We bought a lot that sounds a lot like your.  It sat unattended for many years.

We rented the DR Field and Brush Mower and it was a life saver.  

There were some trees that had to be cut down and we hire some guys to come with a mulcher to take care of that wood.
 
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Pictures would help ...not that I am so good at posting them.  When it comes to equipment I have not used before, I find it is far less expensive to hire someone with the equipment rather than to rent the equipment and learn how to use it ....especially if I see little likelihood of me needing to use the equipment again.  So, in this I am on the same page as jack.  
 
Eric Hanson
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James,

I mentioned the DR brush mower as an example, but you have the Cadillac if 2-wheel tractors with that BCS.  There was a time when I was clearing deadfall in my woods.  I used a JD subcompact tractor with a 4’ brush mower, but even though that machine cleared brush very well, I would have appreciated the nimbleness and maneuverability of a 2 wheel tractor.  I did some serious looking at a BCS, but it was just a little too expensive considering I already had a 4 wheel tractor.

But you are certainly correct about the BCS, they are highly versatile machines!

Eric
 
Dennis Bangham
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Here are some pictures of the tractor and land.
20200607_151551.jpg
JD450
JD450
20200607_151559.jpg
jungle
jungle
20200607_151605.jpg
another view
another view
 
Eric Hanson
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Dennis,

That land is about how dense my woods was when I was clearing deadfall.  In my case I would never have touched those larger trees, but our circumstances are different.  I have a bit over 9 acres while you have a bit over 1/2 acre.  It’s your land so by all means do what you think best.  I would think that land is easily cleared with a little bit of sweat equity.  But if that is not for you then hiring out sounds like a perfectly reasonable option.

Eric
 
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I'd consider strategically retaining the largest trees so I wouldn't have to start over with the weed succession cycle. The shade and leaf drop of large trees will reduce most weeds establishing here, and probably be beneficial for you and the other life you hope to steward in the Alabama heat.
 
Dennis Bangham
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I can get all the wood chips I can handle. We are in a very wooded area of town and the oak trees are all turning 60 years old and many are being taken out.  I am nearby so I can get mountains of chips delivered.  I intend to put down several 10 to 12 inch layers in the next few years, in hopes of controlling the weeds and unwanted trees.  I want to make this a fruit tree grove and grow Jujube, Pawpaw, Asian Persimmon and Asian Pear.  I have all of these growing in my current yard.
 
Dennis Bangham
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I did a closer survey of the trees on the lot after discovering a Red Mulberry.  I found maybe 3 more rred mulberry and at least two American Persimmons.  I will look at how/when to pollard these so I can graft some better varieties. I found some wild Cherry but am not sure if they are worth keeping since they are at a 45 degree angle.
 
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I had the same high lift that you have there.  I had a JD450 straight which means no letter as in JD450D, circa 1960's, I think. I didn't have the backhoe, just the loader I was surprised at how nice yours looks.
I'd try to get it started and will make some suggestions that helped me. Originally mine had two batteries that were each about double the size of a car battery. But it will crank with one car/truck battery. If you're buying one get the biggest size with the biggest cranking power. When mine sat for a while it wouldn't start with the battery power available the first time I tried to start it. And it always started the second day with an all night charge. I think the rings were loose and after getting some oil did a better job the second day. Have some ether with you. Mine had a little hole in the air filter which was right in front of you as you sat in the machine. Perfect for a spray can with a tube attached to the nozzle. Don't use a lot, it won't take much.
My favorite firewood was the Wild Black Cherry. Good luck!!
 
Dennis Bangham
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The Tractor was bought by someone else.  It has sat for 14 years but the owner of the land got it running again and let it sit for another year and then he passed.
Another guy bought it from the estate and actually got it running again but only moved it 3 feet.  I am hoping for more movement like 40 feet to the road.
 
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maybe get him to use it to clear the land as a storage charge
 
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I'm with John I'd get that machine going and put it to use. might hire a heavy equip mechanic to diagnose it. I'm sure Alabama isa lot like Tennessee if you put that thing on craigslist you put a real quick $2000 in your pocket.
 
bruce Fine
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just a decent used bucket for a machine like that will set you back at least $300, hydraulic cylinders $$$.
if you get it running you can cut the trees with chainsaw and use it to move all the wood and pull all the stumps. rent a flap burner for a weekend and burn all the stumps
 
Dennis Bangham
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bruce Fine wrote: pull all the stumps. rent a flap burner for a weekend and burn all the stumps


Bruce, what is a flap burner?
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