• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

When Does Sustainable Become Unsustainable?

 
Alison Thomas
pollinator
Posts: 933
Location: France
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Ok I need mulch NOW.  There are lots of tree/bush prunings in a pile and we were going to turn them into mulch through the shredder.  The shredder is electric and rubbish - it uses up loads of wattage and takes ages, keeps jamming and generally does a crap job.  So we decided to keep the pile going until we had a decent amount, then hire a BIG shredder/chipper.  But that has to come from 40 miles away and costs a fair few bucks.  So when do we call it quits?  I guess we can hugelkultur the pile but it doesn't sort my mulch problem.

But then that's just one of those types of things.  Sometimes effort in does not equate to effort out and then it's hard to justify my aim to hubby.  It's hard to know when to walk away.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
25
books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It's to bad you couldn't form a co-op of sorts with others who would want to use a chipper.

I know what you mean though, sometimes these things can be so frustrating.

 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Most sustainability programs fail not because they use unsustainable resources, but because people don't do them. If this is reducing your footprint on the earth then it is a good idea. You might also consider seeking others in your area to get a good solid backyard chipper to share with, or having the chipper crew come out and do multiple properties with one trip, less travel means less gas wasted in travel means more stays in the ground. Also ride your bicycle more if you have a car.
 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would be interested in knowing exactly why you NEED chips now.Using chippers is one of those public secrets that permies agree to not critique so I aplaud your query into such things.IMO chippers speed up decomposition and this is a "my generation"time not a "7 generation"time in history.On the flip side is that burning to reduce brush like natives here in virtualy all of NA did on a regular basis is illegal.So I guess you could say that to a certain extent,you are marginalized into taking on the brush removal task yourself regardless of caloric efficiency.A sustainable project that requires unsustainable practices is IMO unsustainable and not worthy of the word.I try to not idealize unsustainable practices while often marginalized into them.I dont believe in the ECO linear progression where unsustainable practices now somehow lead to sustainable practices later.Would a chipper lead to large scale burning?only if you place that as a focus and most people dont so unsustainable practices usually become an end in themselves and our energy is spent rationalizing .
 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Is this reducing your footprint on the earth?Once again,IMO no.I would say that a permi who uses all manner of gizmos and industrial products from chippers to rototillers probaly uses more energy than someone who sits in an apartment all day and watches tv.Count the calories!Decentralized industrial culture is even LESS efficient than industrial culture.With that in mind,yes pruchasing and sharing these things as a group is going to be more efficient than as an idividual.The energy savings are in scale which is why this civilization has evolved the way it has.
 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well we won't be on gas forever. eventually we might be on woodgas or more powerful electricity and then such a chipper would replace the modern equivalent. Prescribed burning has advantages and disadvantages, if HIF has a system that works (and mulching with wood chips probably gets her buku mushrooms, I hope she inoculated at some point) then it might actually be more sustainable than brush burning would be (and certainly more legal in many places. Just because they did it in the past does not mean it is the best thing they could have done. Just like in Europe the early human settlers killed and ate all of the truly large mammals and if not for the distractions of war and private control of hunting grounds we wouldn't really be justified in expecting anything larger than a rabbit to escape that pressure; that doesn't make war something we should look to to sustain our environment.

I feel like there is great danger in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, that is how you get stagnation, and stagnation is unsustainable.
 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
yes I can see it now.A wood gas chipper.The operator get only noise for their time and the chipper eats the chips.The point is to count calories and if you do you will most likely see that a chipper uses far more than it returns.Therefore you are operating at a greater caloric loss than before.I personaly have over 1k species of usefull plants and my soil is somewhat droughty in the summer and I use small debri piles and have never used a chipper in 13yrs of planting.Sure things take a bit longer but somebodys got to provide a sustainable example!which shows that a chipper is a want not a need despite all the rationalising.Im not aiming at perfection here,just trying to keep you from going even more into the caloric red.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
i would say weigh the pros and cons of buying a good quality back yard chipper..and what it will benefit your property.

sounds as if you need it..we have a good quality one and it works quite well, but we've had it such a long time they are probably no longer producing them..and they are probably improved on now.

we need a lot of mulch here as well and wood chips does end up being the mulch of choice around here, simply cause there is a large supply and we don't have a large supply of say animal bedding and manure..or straw/hay..which we have to beg for and i haven't been able to obtain now for several years.

generally most of our mulch is wood chips and weeds, with occasionally boughten organic composted cow manure..

also our wildlife leaves it's gifts of manure all over which we are grateful for

i wish mulch was an easier to come by product ..but in some areas it just is not
 
Robert Ray
gardener
Posts: 1350
Location: Cascades of Oregon
12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I see alot of people during the day and one of those people just happens to have a lawn service/maintenace business.
  He is aware of my green leanings and supplies me with leaf mulch, pine needles, chips. It saves him from having to transport them to the landfill. He knows if the property that it comes from is sprayed or fertilized with products I don't use or want.
Even though availability is not a consistent or ready to order, when he has a suitable load he gives me a call and  if I can use it he drops the load on my property. Saves him time and money and even if he asked for payment (which he doesn't even though I offered) it saves me time and money to take it off his hands and get the product. Not sure of where you are but even small communities usually have some tree service or maintenace services that need to get rid of material.

Even the indigenous left a carbon footprint from burning.  www.geologytimes.com/tags/stalagmites.asp
 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
when the sustainable becomes unsustainable, who will bring us chocolate?


I can't make enough mulch here either.   The only thing my soil test showed was lacking was organic matter.   I would use stones but only gravel here.

 
                          
Posts: 41
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The term "perfect is the enemy of good" comes to mind.  Ideals are fine, but you've got to live in the real world too.  No matter how you're gardening, remember you're still sitting in front of a computer monitor and typing into the internet.  How sustainable is that?  You have to take it one step at a time.

 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I couldnt agree more that using my cell to interact is LESS sustainable than real people.I also agree that chipping is less sustainable than debri piles.Chippers are a pretty recent invention and for the last 10k yrs they havnt existed and yet people lived fine.The quest for perfection is the chipper ideal.Debri piles are good enough in my opinion.In fact my local extention office is promoting debri piles for wildlife habitat.When does sustainable become less so?When another machine is added to the equation.There is a reason americans spend 50 cal.for every one consumed and my nose always leads me back to the industrial machinery.
 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I do not think that the native Americans did use 1 per 1. Did they never harness a river to move a load down stream (or a draft animal)? How about heating or cooking with fire? Most of that 50 goes into making stuff, and delivering stuff.

A chipper once a year is a relatively minor cost. Moving it 45 miles to and from is probably 9 gallons of gas. so long as I'm making up figures lets say it's a 250 horse power chipper and they will use it for half an hour to hog through her brush that's 125 horsepower hours that's 8x10[sup]7[/sup] calories and a gallon of gas is 2.9x10[sup]7[/sup] calories (but two thirds of the energy is lost to heat so if they are a little slow it will take nine more gallons of gas so we are up to 18 gallons of gas once a year. She probably saves that once a month just not driving to the market to buy the veggies she is growing right now. If everything were electric it would all be about 60% more efficient, if anyone wants to look it up what kind of apparatus would you need to collect 364.1 MW h in a year? How about if she split the chipper travel with 8 other people? That's 10 gallons of gas worth, or 202.3 MW h of electricity. How much wood would it take to make the woodgas to replace that 10 gallons? I have no idea.

250 hp seemed like a bit much, but I figured that I should try and go with big numbers for the sake of fairness.

I really love math, it's sad.
 
Alison Thomas
pollinator
Posts: 933
Location: France
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You guys make me smile - Emerson White, that calculation is just cool.

I'm feeling now as though I don't have to chip it.  It's just that we have lots of bare earth in the spring in the veggie patch (and in the field) that I'd like to mulch for the benefit of the crops later when it's SO dry.  Although it's SO dry here at the moment - we have only had 4 hours of rain almos 8 weeks - it's concentrating my mind. 

Here in France they just burn all the brash wood and that seemed a waste.
 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The biggest hang up people have about debri piles is how they look.Not very orderly!They also can harbor slugs which can be a problem if near vegis.Permaculture is about letting nature do the work and while the amout of calories consumed(burning vs chipping) may be similar,the amount invested by the user is greater with chipping.So I guess I think that yea,natives did have a large carbon footprint but nature did most of the work.
 
Robert Ray
gardener
Posts: 1350
Location: Cascades of Oregon
12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I always have a debris pile somewhere. No slugs on my side of the Cascades, there is a huge population of California Quail that just love to have their babies under them so I always have to wait till winter to burn them.
I guess I should just plan on where to create my next raised beds and place the piles to form the base in the future.
Until then the little golf ball sized babies of the first hatch are racing around the driveway and back under the brush.
 
Fred Morgan
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Though I have a pretty good size chipper / shreder, I really don't use it much. I tend to just make piles or just bury the stuff in a row that I end up covering eventually.

One trick I have learned over the years is to compost in the paths between the beds. Keeps the mud down and the compaction. When I renew a bed, I shift to the left one path. This buries all the compost under a layer of dirt, and it can take its sweet time finishing the process, and I end up with double dug beds after a while.

I think one of the secrets is to try to figure out how to not work so hard - there is always something else you can be doing of more value.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
25
books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Fred Morgan wrote:
I think one of the secrets is to try to figure out how to not work so hard - there is always something else you can be doing of more value.


Boy, ain't that the truth Fred!
 
                              
Posts: 11
Location: Denmark
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mt.goat wrote:
The biggest hang up people have about debri piles is how they look.Not very orderly!They also can harbor slugs which can be a problem if near vegis.Permaculture is about letting nature do the work and while the amout of calories consumed(burning vs chipping) may be similar,the amount invested by the user is greater with chipping.So I guess I think that yea,natives did have a large carbon footprint but nature did most of the work.


Maybe slightly OT, but a "kvashegn" (branch fence?), which have some resemblance to the hugelkultur heinfrance wrote about, is a great way of making that pile look a lot better, and you get a useful fence at the same time. Looks like this: http://www.biopix.dk/Temp/Kvashegn%2000001.JPG . You can put big weeds (like thistles and nettles) in as well to speed up the decomposing, but having a fence and providing a lovely place for wildlife is as important objectives with this idea.
You can put some stones at the bottom for the benefit of those critters that like it cold and damp. The whole thing is full of life; birds, insects, hedgehogs...
 
Alison Thomas
pollinator
Posts: 933
Location: France
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Brilliant idea SagaInColours.  Doesn't quite sort the mulch issue but a lovely way to use up all the branches and stuff we have around.  We're going to have one to edge our property from our neighbour's (dog!!!).  Stakes going in today I think.  Thankyou.
 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since this thread is about sustainability,I have kept my opinions limited to that.Personaly,I often engage in unsustainable practices(dont we all)with no guilt.People are not going to stop wasting resources until they have to and using fossil fuels ect..to achieve your goals will mean less for others to waste on even stupider stuff.IMO-Use it up to set yourself up for its not being there!
 
Fred Morgan
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mt.goat wrote:
Since this thread is about sustainability,I have kept my opinions limited to that.Personaly,I often engage in unsustainable practices(dont we all)with no guilt.People are not going to stop wasting resources until they have to and using fossil fuels ect..to achieve your goals will mean less for others to waste on even stupider stuff.IMO-Use it up to set yourself up for its not being there!


This is a good point - I have a backhoe and a bulldozer and I think nothing about using them to put in roads and build ponds. Doing it by hand would probably be more damaging to the environment when you factor in the food that people have to eat to do that much work.

What I try to do is think about it and try to do a job once. For example, if I am putting in a road, make sure it is built in such a way that I am not back doing the same thing next year.

Since we deliver furniture, etc. to people, I can consider all the chicken droppings and fertilizer I collect free of transportation costs - since we had to go there anyway. And I am currently planting for producing my own biofuels anyway. Just in the last year I cut our use of fossil fuels by 2/3, which I am very proud of - I am hoping soon to go down another 50%. Progress being made is the key.

A lot of what we are doing is learning to work with nature - and that is so different in every place. Growing veggies in the tropics is a good example. I haven't been able to figure out how to grow either zuchinni or summer squash here - yet. They grow all right, but the bugs are horrendous.  (netting is next) In the USA, growing zukes is so easy as to cause all your neighbors to run at the sight of you during harvest season.

Learning to step lightly, and sustainably is a journey - as long as you are on the journey, there is no reason to feel bad.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
well yesterday after a rain I was able to go out and pull enough weeds in about a half hour to mulch 2' circle about 8" deep around 8 baby fruit trees I had just planted..so I guess if one looks hard enough and works hard enough one can find enough mulch..but man it is hard work.

mulch is very difficult to come by here..but when you have a rain and the weeds grow on steroids, you can get a headstart.

i have a couple of new hugel beds I build this spring and they are doing wonderfully, but you still have to mulch the top of them..after they are finished..

hugel beds have the wood, bark, sticks and other green and brown material buried under a thin layer of soil..but the thin layer of soil needs a mulch on top of it as well.

i own a wood chipper but i'm less likley to want to mulch a hugel bed with more wood chips..it really callls for a mroe "green" type of mulch on top of it.
 
                                        
Posts: 32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
One also has to look at the site and circumstances, I believe.  Sometimes chipping makes sense, even though it is energy intensive. 
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20497
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I like the fence:




As for a chipper, I cannot remember ever using one except at somebody else's project.  For me, I've always done one of these:

A)  Cut up the branches with loppers or pruners.  Once they are a little shorter, smaller, they lie down flat for mulch like uses.

B)  Set the wood aside for wood projects.

C)  Set the wood aside for home heating

D)  hugelkultur

E)  a brush pile for snake/butterfly/wildlife habitat - usually far away

I cannot imagine ever using a chipper.  They are really loud, stinky and they just seem contrary to the flow that I like.

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
i was trying to explain this type of fence to someone on another thread, so i'll remember that you posted this photo here..

these type of fences are really nice..and don't cost a thing..a lot of people would be well to use them.

when we got the chipper was when my son was taking down 2 acres of woods for his house and his drive/garage/drainfield..we used the wood but the tops were chipped and all the chips went on our garden for mulch at the time...which included the green leaves, and smaller branches only..the larger stuff was all firewood.

yeah, they are really noisy..don't use a lot of gas though, at least ours didn't..in a couple weeks we only filled it up a couple times with maybe a pint of gas each time..so that wasn't too bad.
 
              
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Brenda Groth wrote:
i was trying to explain this type of fence to someone on another thread, so i'll remember that you posted this photo here.....


found another photo of the fence. here are both of them at 2 different locations
http://www.biopix.dk/Photo.asp?PhotoId=28614&Photo=Kvashegn
http://www.biopix.dk/Photo.asp?PhotoId=28613&Photo=Kvashegn

http://www.biopix.dk/Temp/Kvashegn%2000001.JPG
http://www.biopix.dk/Temp/Kvashegn%2000002.JPG
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I find a certain amount of broad-leafed tree trimmings cover a lot more territory if they are cut with shears, as Paul describes, and laid out a couple square feet of leaf surface at a time. Less effort than a shovel & rake, and better control of the distance between mulch and stem, as well as the option of placing greener material nearer the soil surface and browner material more in the full sun.

The past year's worth of my mulch (with the exception of the extensive "concrete mulch" that I make full use of) has come from neighbors who left prunings on the sidewalk, and didn't place them in the green toter before I happened along. Two trips of what I could carry in my hands. Woodchips would have been a real hassle, requiring me to plead with my neighbor to move his car out of the driveway for a few hours.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Allison, maybe you can just use those for hugelkulture and realize that you are going into the fall/winter months and mulch will be arriving from other parts of your or your neighbors properties in abundance with fall leaves and garden clean up..

gather everyone's waste that you know doesn't use crappy chemicals..and bring it to your property for mulch..

lop the seedheads off of your garden perennials, etc..and then useing clippers cut up the stuff into manageable sizes and use it as mulch in your garden.

leaves leaves leaves..if you don't have them in your yard..take a rake and some bags to the woods or gather from your neighbor's lawns..(scavange bags out by the roadsides)
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9454
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
163
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
paul wheaton wrote:


I cannot imagine ever using a chipper.  They are really loud, stinky and they just seem contrary to the flow that I like.




We used a chipper (rented) the first year we lived on our place, but soon realized it was all those things you mention, plus expensive.  So now we make "snake piles" from our brush, and the larger pieces I'm now using in hugelkultur.  The neighbors all burn their brushpiles, often enough good wood to heat a home for years. 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!