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Does Paul hate wood chippers? If so, why?

 
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With apologies to those who can't get enough wood chips for mulch and ground building, they can make good fuel also.  

Around Anchorage, Alaska the borough or construction companies will cut the birch trees down and chip at least the smaller stuff.  They will leave the stuff in huge piles (8 or 10 feet high) and eventually haul them away.  A cord of firewood isn't cheap.  They always claim it's well seasoned and it usually isn't.  I had a buddy who noticed this and looked at the huge old wood stove he heats his house with.  He figured out that a banana box would fit in his wood stove, so he got a whole bunch of old banana boxes from the grocery stores. He and I took a couple of hours and loaded up his van and trailer with boxes full of wood chips (it was amazing how easy and fast it was to fill them).  We piled them up under a shelter at his house and let them dry out for the rest of the summer.  The next winter i was out of state, but he told me that he would go out in the morning and bring a box of chips in and toss it into his wood stove, on top of the coals from the last box.  In the evening, he might do it again if needed.  He said it was much easier than logs and kept the house toasty.  

Some lawyer might question the legality of harvesting wood chips that are destined for the dump.  Sometimes forgiveness is easier to get than permission (note: there are situations where this is a very bad attitude, use common sense).
 
pollinator
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I find wood chips to be very useful on my farm.  They make excellent animal bedding and provide lots of carbon when bedding+manure is composted. I burn them in my Sedore wood stove. I use them to mulch garden paths and around my vegetables after Ive top dressed with compost.  
To me chipping waste wood adds value and so a wood chipper is a valuable piece of equipment.
 
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I have 2 chippers and they get extremely infrequent use, and as both a cause and effect, require maintenance to be made ready for use each time.

Anytime we want wood chips, we can get a local tree service to drop off 10 cubic yards of chips within the week, with a phone call.

I've heard it said that if you borrow/rent a tool 3 times that you should consider owning one yourself... I think a corollary to this would be:
BEFORE you go out and buy a tool, you should borrow/rent one first... OR hire someone else to do the job...
Rental shops have commercial sized chippers for rent and you can accomplish more in an afternoon than a whole weekend with the homeowner sized machines. They are serviced and ready to go, and if there's a breakdown, it's their problem to make things right.
They also have a place to store it for the 364 days you aren't using it.
 
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:

Anytime we want wood chips, we can get a local tree service to drop off 10 cubic yards of chips within the week, with a phone call.

Don't I wish! Wood chips are becoming a popular commodity so I find it's boom or bust with more bust the last few years around here.

We do own a large one that goes on a PTO of the tractor so it hasn't needed too much maintenance compared to its usefulness. We are at a high risk for fire, so keeping the ground litter down, and building healthy soil by running the chips through our duck pen help to reduce the risk. If we've got punky wood or straight branches too small for firewood, I agree with Paul and am happy to build a hugel bed with them, although most of mine are on the small size and I try to bury the wood below grade as that seems to work better here. If we didn't generate so much that needed chipping, stockpiling and renting would be an option, but the time we spend maintaining ours is less than the time and effort of picking up and returning a rental and the fatigue of trying to jam too much into a single day.
 
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It seems it's much easier to get a tree service to drop off chips if you are in a city than a rural area.  Tree services here that do large areas just leave the chips right where they are.  I've found it impossible to get any delivered.
 
pollinator
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Lina Joana wrote:https://getchipdrop.com.  In many areas, you can get as many as you can spread from road crews and arborists.
Personally, if I had to make them myself there is just no way. Mulch is great, but hauling the wood, chipping it, and then hauling the chips takes so much manpower (before you even consider the gas) that I would say that if you can’t find someone to dump a pile, it is worth it to find alternatives.



I got a load of chips through ChipDrop, but it took three months and, once it came, it was so full of long twigs and tangled vines I couldn't physically rake or shovel the mulch to move it where it needed to go. It's sitting in my front yard now, just rotting down, and at some point I know I'll be able to make use of it. I'm sure my neighbors aren't very happy with the pile, but I'm 66 and under 5' and just don't have the strength to deal with it.

I met a woman through Freecycle when I posted asking for sheet mulch materials. She's given me literally three truckloads of paper and cardboard, which I'm using to smother poison ivy. She also loaned/gave me, guess what? An Earthquake wood chipper/shredder with an 11.5 HP Briggs and Stratton gas engine! So I'm both excited about it, but also (especially after reading the postings here) unsure I'm going to be able to use it. It'll take, supposedly, up to 3" branches, but I can't crank a gasoline powered lawnmower so I'm not sure I'll be able to crank this one either. Somebody said that I could use it to feed the very rough wood chips/limbs I got through ChipDrop through it and make a more manageable pile for myself, and there's room to do that. I'd just need to set aside a day I can work through the pile and probably hire a teenager to crank it and help me dump chips into it.

The woman is moving away from Athens and said, if she never returns, the chipper is mine. But I wouldn't dare sell it because she may want it back. For now it's sitting in our shed.

 
pollinator
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Our only commercial tree service near my KY place stockpiles his wood chips on his own acres and will sell them to you - if he happens to be around.  He might also deliver if you want to pay more.  But it sometimes takes weeks for him to respond to phone or email messaging.

And meanwhile, there are a lot of junk trees that pop up on the edges or in the brambles that just need removed and then disposed.  That can be A LOT of branches.  I did pile them for use in my rocket cook stove, but Oy!

I don't have a way to bury them unless it's by hand.  If it's on the overgrown downslope, I do just line them up perpendicular to the slope, and maybe bury them with loose stuff.

But otherwise, I was beginning to have prime copperhead nesting right near the house.

So I bought the only electric chipper I could find - had to order it through Lowes.  Sun Joe 14 amp.  It takes 1.25 inch material.  I've used the chips to help establish my berry beds.  And it's portable enough to stow in the car and use in WV as well.
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Jay Angler wrote:Don't I wish! Wood chips are becoming a popular commodity so I find it's boom or bust with more bust the last few years around here.



To be fair, this is the company we hire for trimming and removals (usually every other year or so) so we have a long standing relationship.
I think that gives us an edge over just anyone calling for some chips... and we are a mile from their shop.
They are only arborists, year-round, and not in the mulch or firewood business.
 
steward
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Trace Oswald wrote:It seems it's much easier to get a tree service to drop off chips if you are in a city than a rural area.  Tree services here that do large areas just leave the chips right where they are.  I've found it impossible to get any delivered.



My Chipdrop request has gone unanswered for months. I keep renewing it in hopes, but still nothing. I believe it's because of my super rural location. I even answered a Jackson, TN craigslist ad for a tree surgery company, offering to pay $500 a month to have a location to dump their chips. I replied to the ad, and even told the guy I'm not interested in the $500 a month, he can keep it. I just want the chips. He said I was too far away.
 
Jay Angler
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@Diane Kistner: Yes, the commercial chippers are much rougher a chop than home ones. Ours has a "chip' shoot for larger diameter stuff (~3") or a "shredder" shoot for thin stuff less than 1" and what comes out the shredder is generally much smaller. I'm small too, and the only two stroke engine I can reliably start is my ancient 18" lawnmower. There are tricks - like putting the chipper in the sun for an hour before trying to start it, making sure it's well maintained and making sure the gas is fresh, but we've got a couple that I simply don't bother trying because they give our engine guru enough grief.

For moving chips, I put a garbage can on its side against the pile and use a garden fork to loosen and push the chips into the can. I find a shovel doesn't work well at all for me. I then use a dolly to move the chips to where I want them and dump the can there.

I have a friend that had too much cardboard to deal with and he put it through his home-sized chipper and ended up with a pile of lovely mulch. There are people who are worried about the chemicals that may be in cardboard, but there are others who feel the benefits outweigh the risks and that if you've got lots of healthy micro-organisms in your soil, they'll take care of some of the nasty stuff.
 
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Jeff Marchand wrote:I find wood chips to be very useful on my farm.  They make excellent animal bedding and provide lots of carbon when bedding+manure is composted. I burn them in my Sedore wood stove. I use them to mulch garden paths and around my vegetables after Ive top dressed with compost.  
To me chipping waste wood adds value and so a wood chipper is a valuable piece of equipment.



I’m of the same mindset. I have plenty of wood on my property, I chip it, I burn it, I bury it, I even sell it. I love my wood chipper, probably the best 5k I spent.
 
pollinator
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IMO, wood chips are a great fit for SUBURBAN permies, who may not have access to large amounts of manure, power equipment, or straw-bales.  You can always get free or close to free chips in suburbia (here on the East Coast), without renting or buying a chipper.  I priced manure or strawbales with delivery to my location, and they were well out of my budget (I have a lot of land for suburbia, which presents its own challenges!).  I let mine sit at least for a few months, while they absorb tons of water and break down a bit (I should be using mushroom or N sources with them, but haven't bothered with that yet).
 
Jay Angler
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Josh Garbo wrote:

I let mine sit at least for a few months, while they absorb tons of water and break down a bit (I should be using mushroom or N sources with them, but haven't bothered with that yet).

We add Nitrogen to our piles which saves a lot of water also - I make my husband pee in a bottle that's got 50% of the volume filled with water and when it's full he pours it on the chips. Urine is sterile and there's so much carbon on the pile that there's never any smell either. He was negative until he realized how much less water was being flushed down the toilet. That said, we're ALR (BC speak for designated agricultural land) so there are things we can get away with that are trickier in the city. It's on my list to make a bucket version for myself, but female plumbing is trickier and my knees are on the older side.
I find that in our ecosystem, and with the pile under trees, the mushrooms move in on their own. They do like the pile.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:It's on my list to make a bucket version for myself, but female plumbing is trickier and my knees are on the older side.



The cabinet can be constructed for any seat height.

 
Diane Kistner
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Jay Angler wrote:There are tricks - like putting the chipper in the sun for an hour before trying to start it, making sure it's well maintained and making sure the gas is fresh...

For moving chips, I put a garbage can on its side against the pile and use a garden fork to loosen and push the chips into the can. I find a shovel doesn't work well at all for me. I then use a dolly to move the chips to where I want them and dump the can there.



Good tip on the chipper in the sun. Your mentioning chipping the cardboard makes me wonder if you could also shred paper in a chipper. Seriously, I was given FOUR TRUCKLOADS of 8.5" x 11" papers by someone who responded to my Freecycle request for sheet mulching materials. I've just been layering it down on the ground to smother poison ivy, then laying debris on top of it, but maybe in future chipping/shredding sessions I could dump papers in there, too. I'm assuming white paper with black ink would not be toxic. Correct me if I'm wrong!

 
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I grabbed a used 8hp chipper/shredder off Craigslist for only $100 and it did OK for a couple days, but the blades are kind of dull, the carb leaks fuel, the on/off switch failed, and now the pull start is acting up lol. I'm thinking about just selling it for parts rather than fix it, at this point.

I say that because it takes a looong time of chipping, a lot of branches, fair amount of gas, and a ton of noise to get a decent pile from a small chipper.

I thought it would be great to make my own mulch but eh not so much...maybe if I had a lot more wood to chip, and an awesome chipper I would feel different?

No luck here either w/ chipdrop.com - 4 months of no chips so I gave up and did not renew my request.

Instead, I found a tree service 20 min. away that lets you come by 24/7 and take as many chips as you want so I just go there when needed w/ my truck and trailer.
 
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How interesting to see this old thread brought back to life.  New insights and a ripening of the discussion.

Wood chippers are a tool.  Nothing more.  And as with most tools, there is an appropriate time and place for them, and an inappropriate time and place.  

Wood chippers and the wood chips that they produce are great for some people and some situations, and not so for others.  As with just about any topic related to permaculture, the best response is, "Well . . . it depends."  Context is everything.

I love what Joel Salatan uses his wood chips for (composting all the blood and guts that they produce as they butcher hundreds of chickens and other animals), turning a nasty waste product (rabbit, chicken, turkey, pig and cattle entrails) into fertilizer for their fields.  He tells a story of someone leaving a gate open and his cattle got out onto a train track where they were hit by a freight train.  He lost something like a dozen or so cattle that night.  They picked them up with a loader and put them on a trailer, then hauled them back and buried them in his wood chip composting set-up. Basically, its nothing more than a big stack of chips that he buries dead animals in.  After 6 months, other than a few of the larger bones/skulls, you couldn't find any evidence of all those thousands of pounds of dead animals.  

You wouldn't be able to do that with whole logs and large branches.  

So there is a time and a place for using wood chips.  For my suburban operation, they have been the greatest thing since sliced comfrey and the miracle ingredient that has transformed by hard clay soil into the amazing, crumbly, black, rich-as-blood garden soil I have today.

Here's Joel's wood-chip composting operation:
 
Ruth Meyers
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Jay Angler wrote:. I'm small too, and the only two stroke engine I can reliably start is my ancient 18" lawnmower. There are tricks - like putting the chipper in the sun for an hour before trying to start it, making sure it's well maintained and making sure the gas is fresh, but we've got a couple that I simply don't bother trying because they give our engine guru enough grief.



Yah.  Both good techniques.  My mower repair man recommended non-ethanol gasoline too, which is hard to find.  I can buy it in WV to cart to KY.  (I'm trying to keep my reliable Simplicity self-propelled model alive, as they are no longer made.  Wah!)

I like your idea of chipping cardboard too.  I'll have to try that.
 
Jay Angler
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Marco Banks quoted Joel Salatin:

I love what Joel Salatan uses his wood chips for (composting all the blood and guts that they produce as they butcher hundreds of chickens and other animals), turning a nasty waste product (rabbit, chicken, turkey, pig and cattle entrails) into fertilizer for their fields.

Joseph Jenkins says the same thing in his Humanure Handbook. I'm really hoping that by the time I pass on, this will be considered the environmentally sound way of dealing with the "mostly water and micro-organisms" I leave behind. I understand there are already jurisdictions looking at responsible ways to accomplish this. Just yesterday we had a hen die of natural causes and I wrapped her in a brown paper bag and buried her in a pile of wood chips that had already been through the duck overnight shelter. I expect there will be little left in two weeks.
 
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I don't like machines I think that it would be better to raise mushrooms on the logs to feed deer or livestock rather than chipping them you can also make Terraces by pinning the Fallen wood to the hillside so that sediment will be trapped behind the wood creating flat areas that can be gardened and planted with trees like some forestry companies do in order to prevent erosion
 
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S Carreg wrote:

Matu Collins wrote:

For that matter, how about a people powered sawmill...



That would be one of these. It's damn hard work! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saw_pit



It’s the “pits”

I heard that where the phrase actually came from.
 
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Matu Collins wrote:For that matter, how about a people powered sawmill...



Sure, I made the beams in my house without a sawmill. I did use a saw, but not in a pit. I also used an axe; not a broad axe, but a regular pole axe, and in about 1-1/2 hours could make an 8 x 8 inch beam, 12 feet long. It was not as bad as I thought, and netted me the hand hewn beams that I was looking for. In short, they look like hand hewn beams because they are!

Hand-Hewn-Beams.jpg
Hand Hewn Beams
Hand Hewn Beams
 
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So, I have gotten some free wood chips delivered and it is made of some pretty big chunks. I would like much smaller mulch that can break down quicker, stop more light getting to the soil, etc.

I am considering purchasing a cheaper model of a wood chipper to put the cheapo mulch through in hopes to get it smaller and easier to work with.

Does anyone have any experience with this or know how to make this happen or if it is worthwhile?

Before we go back into the "no wood chipping" discussion... I live in a residential home that has 0.12 of an acre and have only the mulching in my paths that I want to cover. My goal is to cover my entire back yard with wood chips, to remove weeds from the property, and to focus on adding plants and trees that I want in my yard.

Thanks!
 
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I looked into buying new and used wood chippers. The ones that work are super expensive. I had one big project at my house and ended up renting a chipper. I still think that was the right way to go just to get rid of my huge pile of dougfir and use the chips (I also made some hugelmounds). If you are looking for chips to use that’s a different story. ‘Chipdrop’ isn’t available by my and I have contacted 30 different arborists near me multiple times and none are going to drop chips at my place. What I have found is that I can get “hogfuel” from a “trucking company” that does bark for nice-looking mulch. It looks and smells like aged arborist chips with a good mix of powder, shredded wood and chips. I paid $340 for 30 yards. This is much cheaper and easier than my other options. Not sure what will be best for you.
 
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Jonathan, I have a $200 used wood chipper and if I threw a wood chunk the size of a goose egg into it, I doubt it would handle it very well.  So if your chunks are much bigger than that, you may need a pretty beefy chipper to even do what you want to do.  

How many of the chips are too big?  Can you just sort them out or rake off the big ones and use them for something else?  Or sift it through a piece of lattice or concrete remesh to separate the bigguns?  
 
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Johnathan

If I had your amount of land, i would pass on the chipper.
 
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@Johnathan - If you were to sieve the chips to pull out the bigger stuff, you could scrounge parts for a simple biochar system. I suspect a bit of biochar in your soil would help hold good microbes?
 
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Everyone’s needs vary, but I have a very hard time justifying a chipper.

I just don’t trust small chippers and I can’t afford the size of chipper I need.

I find renting is far more affordable and reasonable for my needs—and I don’t have to fix them when they inevitably break.

Eric
 
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As a minimalist, I’d try avoid buying things that require maintenance and repair costs, not to mention the initial purchase cost. A wood chipper requires all of these, so the outcome would have to be significantly better than the alternatives to using wood waste.

However Australia’s soil is ancient and near-barren. I find our native trees ugly as they look half-dead even when they’re healthy, and anything that can retain moisture or add organic matter to create loam is a boon for this climate. Digging arborist-grade wood chips into that soil seems like probably the best way to improve it, at least at the beginning.
 
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Lina Joana wrote:https://getchipdrop.com.  In many areas, you can get as many as you can spread from road crews and arborists.
Personally, if I had to make them myself there is just no way. Mulch is great, but hauling the wood, chipping it, and then hauling the chips takes so much manpower (before you even consider the gas) that I would say that if you can’t find someone to dump a pile, it is worth it to find alternatives.



Thanks for the tip on GetChipDrop. I've signed up and will see how it goes. Usually I've had to load and haul chips myself with a little trailer. A couple of times, while bicycling, I've come across a wood chipping crew at work, given them my address, and they've brought the chips to my home. Another time the crew had tree trunks they were able to sell in the truck bed, so they couldn't dump at my home.
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Jonathan Fudge wrote:So, I have gotten some free wood chips delivered and it is made of some pretty big chunks. I would like much smaller mulch that can break down quicker, stop more light getting to the soil, etc.

I am considering purchasing a cheaper model of a wood chipper to put the cheapo mulch through in hopes to get it smaller and easier to work with.

Does anyone have any experience with this or know how to make this happen or if it is worthwhile?

Before we go back into the "no wood chipping" discussion... I live in a residential home that has 0.12 of an acre and have only the mulching in my paths that I want to cover. My goal is to cover my entire back yard with wood chips, to remove weeds from the property, and to focus on adding plants and trees that I want in my yard.

Thanks!



Jonathan, We have a Troy-Bilt chipper/shredder (Tomahawk? Super Tomahawk? model) It has flails in a drum that do the "shredding". It has a top feed for twigs and leaves and a side feed for "chipping"sticks, chips also enter into the drum, ALL exits the bottom. There are various screens with different sized holes for the exit, and the material stays in the drum to get more shredding until it becomes small enough to pass the screens. We have taken coarse wood chips and reground them for use as a finer mulch. It takes some time to do, since you have to be careful not to overfeed the machine. A half-full grain scoop at a time, a full scoop risks choking the machine... stalling, unclogging, restart... takes up more time than gentle feeding. We haven't done this in a long time...

Screening might be faster, depending on how fine you need and how coarse the chips are to begin with (yield, clogging). If you just need long twigs that slipped through the chipper removed, a manure fork can be fast, or a garden rake.

For our paths, we use DEEP wood chip, 8" deep. Soil is removed to make beds deeper, and replaced with woodchip. (Side note: the seed bank goes with the soil, and the chipped paths have fewer weeds, if any).
When I place the wood chips I rake them to level out the path, and this inevitably collects the larger and twiggy bits. On a new path, I work from one end and rake out each wheelbarrow load of chips as I go, and rake the coarse stuff forward and then bury it under my next load of chips. When I'm topping up paths, I do the same thing and either haul off the coarse stuff to the compost, OR I dig a small pit IN the path and bury the coarse bits in-situ and smooth it over...DONE!

I also add wood chips to our compost, and then I screen the finished stuff. My screen has both 1/4" and 1/2" screens, first makes fine compost (no chunks), next pulls out the <1/2" woodchip and leaf-mold, all the larger stuff plus stones and litter exit out the end and get re-composted.
That middle fraction of woodchip/leaf-mold makes lovely mulch for around plants and has a portion of the finer compost along with it.
 
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Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but I do recall in one of the podcasts, Paul talks about cutting twigs into 12" or shorter segments and mulching with that. Possibly it is that he doesn't "Hate" woodchippers, but merely sees them as frivolous and wasteful, when there are so many other ways that "chippable" wood can be used.

I have recently started implementing the twig mulch idea, and I'm pretty pleased with it so far, it seems logical to me that the twigs will eventually break down, but not as quickly as chips, thus sequestering carbon longer than chips, while still building soil.

Attached are a few pics of some mulching I did around my butternut trees, it took me about 30 mins with a bypass pruner to cut up a 3'x3'x6' Long, loosely stacked pile of branches.
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Dylan Urbanovich wrote:Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but I do recall in one of the podcasts, Paul talks about cutting twigs into 12" or shorter segments and mulching with that. Possibly it is that he doesn't "Hate" woodchippers, but merely sees them as frivolous and wasteful, when there are so many other ways that "chippable" wood can be used.

I have recently started implementing the twig mulch idea, and I'm pretty pleased with it so far, it seems logical to me that the twigs will eventually break down, but not as quickly as chips, thus sequestering carbon longer than chips, while still building soil.

Attached are a few pics of some mulching I did around my butternut trees, it took me about 30 mins with a bypass pruner to cut up a 3'x3'x6' Long, loosely stacked pile of branches.



A lot of people that use wood chips use them in gardens.  It isn't very practical to plant annuals into piles of sticks, and in the case of my annual gardens, I prefer them to break down into soil more quickly.  I agree that sticks work well around trees, but in that case, you can leave them much longer if you like.  You can just take off the side shoots so they lie flat.
 
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If you are very patient, getting a 7-9 year old child a whittling knife and a bunch of twigs can get you a sizeable pile of small wood shavings

My girls are slowly working through all the spare branches in our yard, turning them into spears and creating plenty of nice "browns" for my compost pile.

They are somewhat of a  pest though - they've been eating through all my strawberries and serviceberries, and keep nibbling at the lettuce. I might have to invest in a good electric fence
 
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