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Tool for in place wood mulching

 
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Just finished along weekend helping my parents clear brush out from some long neglected grapes. We tried doing the permaculture mulch in place by cutting the branches small enough to lay on the ground.
The problem is that while the videos you see show how fast it is to cut up a branch, when you do it for a couple of hours, pruning shears are hard on the hands. I used loping shears for the larger, and that became really hard, and even hand shears for the small stuff got pretty tough after a while.
Anyone have suggestions for cutting up woody mulch?
 
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My favourite solution is a forestry mulcher. I am not aware of any tidily lawnmower-sized ones, but I would love one myself.

You could look into small wood chippers, but most permies consider those a waste. The small ones are invariably less efficient and durable than the durable, proper duty ones you don't want to break the bank on.

You could lay longer pieces. You could literally identify the longest pieces you could lay on the ground and just lay them down. If housing unwelcome guests is a concern, I would then mound up other mulch, leaves, compost, whatever, and accelerate the decomposition that way by keeping it ideally moist and top-dressing with compost extracts and fungal slurry.

It's also possible to use a smaller electric trimmer or small electric chainsaw. Other than getting a better machine of whatever sort to do the work your hands won't withstand, I don't see a method that's not biological, from longer pieces.

Keep us posted, and good luck.

-CK
 
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An old lawnmower with sharp blade might be helpful on the smaller parts.  Just go slow and wear safety glasses.

Years ago when my brother bought an old house that had been vacant a few years we played on an old riding mower taking turns driving around the yard cutting the grass and hundreds of saplings that were everywhere.  We started in the middle and just kept going wider and wider chopping down everything about an 1 1/2" diameter or smaller.  There were even a few areas with vines that got mulched up as well.  It makes a lot of noise but it can be done.
 
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Not sure if this is the type of solution you have in mind, but a cheap electric chipper might work. I got one from Harbor Freight a few years ago (on sale and used a coupon) and use it for small chop and drop jobs (anywhere within reach of a heavy duty extension cord). I also use it from time to time at my parents property (during fire season) when there are some brush piles to clean up and tidy.

https://www.harborfreight.com/14-amp-1-12-in-capacity-corded-electric-chipper-shredder-69293.html

It does a decent job and the blades can be replaced/sharpened if and when needed.

Good luck!
 
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I have been wanting one of those small electric chippers.  My guys say it's a waist of money because we have my father in laws gas chipper. I hate that thing. It's so loud, and shoots the chips out about 10 feet.  Do you know anyone you could you barrow a chipper from?  I know you can rent stuff like that around here, and it isn't too expensive, might be an option, especially if it's a one time deal.  Some times you can get old lawnmower cheap, I guess you could buy one to munch up your small branches.  Good luck to you, keep us posted.
 
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It's not mulching but I think the simplest answer is to just pile that brush up, let it dry out, and torch it. Fire is a tool which costs nothing except prudence. You'll keep all the minerals from the wood and leaves and the soil will love you for it.
 
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I has a neighbor once take an old lawn mower, cit a 4 inch hole in the deck, and mount a Pipe with a floor flange over the hole.  He fed small vines and branches through the pipe.   I suspect it was about 2 ft long.  It worked for him.  I personally would not allow a child near it.
 
Chris Kott
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Joe Banks wrote:It's not mulching but I think the simplest answer is to just pile that brush up, let it dry out, and torch it. Fire is a tool which costs nothing except prudence. You'll keep all the minerals from the wood and leaves and the soil will love you for it.



I think that if I were to use fire, I would do so with a retort or pit process that would enable me to control/cut off airflow to quench it, to make proper biochar.

I would make it, hopefully compost with it, and then mulch with it.

-CK
 
Jen Fulkerson
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You could make a hugelkultur, then it wouldn't need to be broken up.
 
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After buying a very noisy chipper that takes too long to load, my favorite mulching device is a heavy gravel shovel. Sharpen the edge with a metal file until is super sharp. Pile up the branches all together "in place". Now hold onto the shovel handle with both hands and chop vertically. For my acre, that pile will reduce in FAR less time than it takes to haul out the heavy machinery, maintain it, store it again, then load the mulch into the wheelbarrow and move it around. Chopping branches with a sharp-edged-shovel is actually very satisfying.
 
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The Hugelkultur method is an excellent technique for using large limbs and brush. The organic matter that I don't compost I chop up and fill my large (5 gallon and larger) container planter's about two thirds full then atop them off with a compost/soil mixture. The containers hold water a lot longer and feeds any perennials throughout the seasonn.Over--wintered plants benefit from this, too. Mini- Hugelkultur's...kind of.
 
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I usually use clippers to make the pieces small enough to fit in a garbage can sideways, then stash them.
These same sized pieces fit well in the bottom of a raised bed, a burn barrel, or charcoal kiln.

I wonder if a using a machete, cleaver or hatchet would offer a quicker way to process small diameter wood to length.

I would want a stump or other solid cutting block of the appropriate height, making this less of a mobile solution.



I use to use a giant paper cutter to process thick cardboard.
It would certainly work on smaller branches.
I stopped using it after nearly cutting through a gloved thumb...
With a huge, sharp ,heavy, leveraging blade like that, a lot of attention and/or mechanical safeguards are needed..

I can picture a muscle powered, gear shaped ⚙ flywheel interacting with the edges of a hopper to chop an inch or two off of the ends of a branch.


I have a carbide grinding disk on an angle grinder that  eats through wood.
I use it to carve, smooth share edges and debark.
Securing the small pieces in order to cut on them would be more steps.
Secure the tool and feed it the wood and now we have a very unsafe chipper/shredder.


Real talk, I've been thinking about getting a mulching mower, just to make leaf collection more efficient.
I would start with a mower,  if you have one already.
 
Lina Joana
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Thanks for all the suggestions! For the most part, we are just dragging off the branches and piling them below the garden. Maybe it will make the deer go around and provide bird nesting sites. My dad does have a heavy duty mower, I just don’t much like gas powered tools, so was looking for something human powered but with some mechanical help.... maybe just a really good pair of fiskar shears or something. So many people talk about mulching nurse crops in place, I was hoping there were some special tricks, but it probably does come down to patience.
 
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Electric secateurs sounds like what you need
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Electric secateurs sounds like what you need



What a good idea! I have so much clean-up to do after our ice-storm (the Oregon one) that is not getting done because I’m focusing on garden readiness. One of these would help me on both counts.

I am finding so many of these for sale (looking online) at a wide range of price points. I am feeling at a loss - too ignorant to even begin narrowing down the choices. Any guidance on which models are worth buying (durability, ease of use, not too heavy for old hands)? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

 
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I have also used a hatchet, axe, and machete against a stump to chop small limbs into kindling-size pieces. It is quite fast.
I find that breaking down larger branching sections with lopping shears first, makes that chopping easier to manage. That said, a lot can just be cut up with the loppers, without bending over so much.

As you mention, patience is another approach.
You could just do a short session of cutting per day/week, to not injure yourself.
Loppers use more of your body's larger muscles and are less likely than hand shears to produce a repetitive-motion injury such as carpal tunnel.
As the brush dries out you could break it down just by walking over it, utilizing your full body weight, and your largest muscles in your legs!
 
Paul Eusey
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Another option is a different kind of lopper... I bought a “Fiskars EZ Reach Stik Tree Pruner” for my mom (has some poison oak on her property and this is very easy for her to use and keep a little distance from it). I’ve used it a few times and it’s very comfortable and easy to use. You slide the handle or pull the little ball at the back to make the lopper cut, so it’s a completely different motion than traditional loppers. Having something like that might give you enough variety to avoid fatigue. It was very easy to break down brush with it.

Here is a dirty lens youtube review I found.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ikjf7bTpcM

And here is a link. (They are not heirloom quality and will wear out and break. But you should be able to keep them working for many years and repurpose or recycle parts when they eventually break).

Home Depot sells them, so does Target and others and they average in the low $40s.

https://www.target.com/p/fiskars-5-39-pruning-stik-tree-pruner/-/A-52830269

Good Luck!
 
L Anderson
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Wow thanks. I have a number of Fiskar’s tools an I am a fan. I’m going to look into that lopper for tree trimming. Less ladder work.

I do still like the idea of an electric pruner for this reason: because of the storm, I have a ton of stuff on the ground. Everywhere. I want to trim off all the little stuff sticking out from the windfall branches (I’ll put that stuff in the ‘long term compost’).  My partner will then use the smoothed branches to build a fence.

In the old days we would have burned it all. Burning days are over (for me). No more putting carbon into the air, not to mention the particulate matter. So, I am motivated to make all that windfall/ice fall stuff attractive for fence building.
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