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Posts: 117
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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I'm debating with myself if a wood chipper is a tool I should buy or just rent.  Home depot rents a chipper out for a week at $380 approx and a brand new chipper costs about $500-$700.  The thing is I'll probably end up only using it once or twice a year and then it'll sit for the rest of the year.  So what is the permie recommendation here?  Should I just turn my branches into a hugel and forget about the chipper or is this a really useful tool that everyone needs?  For some background I have an acre here with some tall tree's.  They drop a few branches every winter due to ice storms and wind.  The oak branches I have been cutting up and putting mushroom dowels in.  The rest of it I'm not sure what to do with.  I buried some of them in my garden but this past winter was really bad and the branches have piled up. 
 
pollinator
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I had to make the same decision last year and with living on a suburban lot, I don't have the space to simply dig a hole "somewhere" and bury unwanted organics. Buying a shredder/chipper made a lot of sense. I also thought I'd only use it a couple times a year chipping the odd large branch that fell from one of my maples but as it turns out, I fire it up at least half a dozen times a year to mulch garden/yard waste.
 
pollinator
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I think it works just fine to make piles of branches and allow them to decompose naturally.  If placed in low berms on contour, they help control run off.  Unless you specifically want chips for some purpose such as to make attractive mulch, I don't think a chipper is necessary.
 
pollinator
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They are pretty invaluable for making Back To Eden style gardens.  I love mine.
 
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I used to have a little 5hp chipper that seemed like a cool idea, but I really didn't use it very much because it was such a pain, so I traded it.

But, after cutting down about 50-60 Hemlock trees I had quite a mess to clear up.  I bit the bullet and got a used Vermeer chipper that could take up to 6" diameter.   I love it.   I don't chip anything that big, but it takes everything I put into it.   Turns it into nice chips that I can put in the garden, or fill-in low spots or make hugels.   Lots of uses.

I find it very important to my lifestyle.
 
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Chris, I've had my chipper shredder for 25+ years and do actually use it a dozen or so times a year to process yard waste.  I also use it to reshred free mulch from the city that is very "rough", and to shred fall leaves.  I've certainly have saved money owning vs renting.   What I would say is that I still rent the 12-16" capable Vermeer chippers to handle the big stuff.

Kevin
 
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I would not buy it.

It eats up space and resources for most of the year. You don't need a chipper probably - you need a solution for excess wood or you need wood chips.

Buying heavy, seldom used equipment with a bunch of likeminded folks is a possibility if you can solve the good stewardship and maintenance issues in the group. I put a bunch of examples of such groups on this site a while ago.

If not, rent it. F.e. from a tree surgeon/garden maintenance firms when they hit their slow season.
 
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Everyones need and use will differ, so take this with a grain of salt.  I have a small chipper/shredder (5hp motor and takes three inch material) that I bought off Craigslist.  I've used it twice.  It will go back up on Craigslist come spring time when folks start getting back out in yards that aren't four feet deep in snow.  If I truly needed a chipper I would rent a commercial style in order to make short work out of it.  As it is, I typically just pile all my limbs etc in a HUGE pile with the tractor down in the edge of the woods and out of sight and let nature take its course.  I'm starting to get some good stuff out of my oldest piles (10-12 YO) to go into the garden.
 
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I spent 800 on a new one. After 2 hours I sent it to an auction house. Got 300 for it. Live and learn.

I'd say rent one of similar size to what you'd buy. You may come to same conclusion I had- they are slow. Very slow. At least mine was.
 
pollinator
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I got one too, but thankfully it was given to me because I never use it. It really is junk. It produces such a small chip, and takes such a small branch, that feeding it manually means it takes forever. In the same amount of time I could produce a garbage bag sized pile of chips, I could have moved the whole brush pile.

I think chippers have their use, but they must produce a bigger chip and be self-fed in my opinion. I might get one some day, but for now renting is a smarter answer for me in the short term.

My suggestion would be to spend less money and invest in a cement mixer. You can get some at Home Depot or Harbor Freight for less than $200. I have a bigger one, but I use mine 10 times more often to mix mulch, garden soil, compost, feed rations for my sheep, then I ever do in mixing cement. But it has worked well for that too.

Chipper: Junk
Cement Mixer: Never be without
 
Todd Parr
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It really is funny how different people's needs are.  I can tell you this Travis, I use my wood chipper about a thousand times more often than I would use a cement mixer   My wood chipper will take branches up to 6 inches, but I try to mostly use smaller ones to keep the ratio of leaves and green bark high.  I want the really small chips because they break down into good soil much faster.  When I get a truckload of big chips from the city area, I run them thru my chipper to get the smaller chips.  The ones from the city are from very large trees chipped up and so are almost completely carbon, and in big chunks that take a long time to break down.  I want the opposite.  The chips that cone thru my chipper are small, easy to spread, break down well, and are soft to work in with your hands.
 
master steward
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I would like to strongly suggest that you never use a chipper.  Stinky, loud and an energy pig.   Just running the thing seems to be a violation of all the things we desire from permaculture

Here is a list of 12 things you can do instead:

http://www.makeitmissoula.com/2012/01/how-to-recycle-wood/

more:

https://permies.com/t/61382/permaculture-upcycling/ungarbage/Repurpose-Real-Christmas-Tree

And here is one that isn't on that list:   make a chinampa

And another thread:

https://permies.com/t/15706/Managing-flow-wood-brainstorm

We've been using wood bits for all sorts of projects.  Junk pole fences, curtain rods, furniture, beautiful garden gates ....


Apple wood is great for smoking meat.



So, an severely abbreviated list:

109:   use hand clippers to make mulch.  It is super fast and the mulch is of higher quality.

110:  set some aside for fuel.  rocket mass heater, wood stove, outdoor firepit or BBQ, outdoor kitchen, indoor wood cook stove, indoor rocket cook stove

111:  hugelkultur - bigger pieces of wood work better

112:  put twigs and branches on muddy paths

113:  twigs and branches make better chicken bedding than wood chips

114:  a brushpile is home to butterflies, beneficial insects and all sorts of things that eat slugs

115:  branches in a compost pile helps to keep it aerated

116: garden trellises

117: junk pole fence

118: garden fences and gates

119: make chairs, furniture, name tags, coasters, bird houses, benches, planter box, tool handles, coat racks and so much, much more.

120:  garden stakes

121:  tomato cages

122:  throw branches and logs in ponds to reduce algae problems and create better fish habitat

123: marshmallow/hotdog sticks

124:  chinampa

125:  mushroom logs

126: smoking meat

127: deer deterrent

128: wattle fencing

129:  if the sticks are bigger than you want, let the goats and hogs have them for a week - they will get smaller quickly.

130:  lumber

131:  build a wofati

132: build all sorts of structures from poles and logs


I suspect I could double the size of this list. 


But the most important part of all this is:   it pains me greatly that anybody ever uses a chipper.   I cannot think of a single instance where I would be even remotely tempted to use a chipper. 








 
Todd Parr
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paul wheaton wrote:I would like to strongly suggest that you never use a chipper.  Stinky, loud and an energy pig.   Just running the thing seems to be a violation of all the things we desire from permaculture. 


Couldn't the same be said of nearly any gas/diesel powered machinery? 
 
Travis Johnson
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No, because the ends justify the means.

What Paul is trying to say (and I should not be speaking for him I know), is that converting good wood that can be used for a host of other purposes via a loud, noisy, machine is a waste.

I own a bulldozer, Paul owns an Excavator, and while the two machines are different, his Excavator converts wood into livable structures in a very controlled, handy method called a WOFATI. And while Paul does not build swales, one day I used my bulldozer to make a half mile of swales until I got hungry and stopped for lunch. Such is the ability of tracked, bladed machine with a six way blade! In this way, the two machines are using very little fuel for a greater purpose.
 
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I've got a tiller that I haven't started in 10 years, but if I had a chipper, I'd use it at least twice a year when I trim a particularly large African Sumac tree that grows aggressively all year.  I wish I could trade my tiller for a chipper.  Any takers?  Heck, I'll even throw in my lawn mower (giving me an excuse to get rid of that last patch of grass that remains).  Anyone?

If you bought a chipper, do you have convenient storage for it?  If you'll always be stumbling over it when it's not in use, then it'll be a pain to keep around.  Like that stupid treadmill I've got in the garage.  My dear wife will not let me get rid of it, but it's always in the way.  OK -- I'll sweeten the deal further: I'll trade my rototiller (low milage), my lawnmower (3HP, well maintained) and a nice treadmill  . . . all for a well maintained chipper.

One thing I've heard again and again from people who've bought a chipper: if its underpowered, it'll be an exercise in frustration.  Like any power tool, if you go cheap and don't get the power you'll need for the job, you'll regret the purchase.   Get something with at least  10+ foot lbs of torque.  14 or 15 would be even better.

For our situation wood chips have been the most important ingredient in fueling the soil food web and keeping things looking appropriate for suburban standards (particularly in the front yard).  For folks in the country, there is a lot more latitude to pile up branches and let them slowly decompose or keep slash piles around much longer.  So, like all things permaculture, it just depends upon your particular setting and your intentions.  Wood chips save us a tremendous amount of time and energy (in weeding, soil building, and retaining moisture where its needed).  But if you're able to chop and drop your branches using loppers, saws and other hand tools, you may be able to live without one while still getting many of the same benefits as chipped wood.  But I use chips by the ton—a big job requires a correspondingly large tool.

Let us know what you decide.
 
wayne fajkus
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The only regret I had when I let mine go is reading a post on here.  Someone mentioned using it to grind down corn stalks and feeding that to sheep or goats. That was pretty brilliant imo.
 
Chris Holcombe
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Wow!  Paul that was an awesome response.  Much appreciated.  Here's a picture of some of the stick/log piles.  I'm going to look over your suggestions and try to implement as many as I possibly can
IMG_0028.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_0028.JPG]
stick piles
 
Todd Parr
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Travis Johnson wrote:No, because the ends justify the means.

What Paul is trying to say (and I should not be speaking for him I know), is that converting good wood that can be used for a host of other purposes via a loud, noisy, machine is a waste.

I own a bulldozer, Paul owns an Excavator, and while the two machines are different, his Excavator converts wood into livable structures in a very controlled, handy method called a WOFATI. And while Paul does not build swales, one day I used my bulldozer to make a half mile of swales until I got hungry and stopped for lunch. Such is the ability of tracked, bladed machine with a six way blade! In this way, the two machines are using very little fuel for a greater purpose.



Could you elaborate on this?  In my mind, if the ends justify the means when it comes to using heavy machinery, then the same logic would apply to me using a wood chipper.  A wood chipper uses much less fuel, isn't as loud, and isn't as smelly as most large equipment I have been around.

The "good wood" you are talking about that is used for Back To Eden gardening are trimmings that are the size of my thumb and smaller.  There may be some good use for them besides wood chips, but what I need are wood chips, not a junk pole fence.  Small wood like that is not really useful for many of the things on Paul's list, and most of my trimmings are cut from trees that I coppice for exactly the purpose of making chips.  I could probably make wood chips with a hand clipper as Paul stated, but it would be every bit as efficient as you using a shovel for your swales.  I can run my chipper for hours on a couple gallons of gas.  I wouldn't really call that inefficient, esp as opposed to the hours it would take to make a truckload of wood chips by hand.

Marco made many of the other good points about wood chips more clear than I did.
 
Travis Johnson
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wayne fajkus wrote:The only regret I had when I let mine go is reading a post on here.  Someone mentioned using it to grind down corn stalks and feeding that to sheep or goats. That was pretty brilliant imo.


That was me Wayne, I did that when I was first starting out in sheep, but to be honest with you, a hand lawn mower with a 4 inch hole cut into the top of it would do the same thing for a lot less money. I described how to fabricate one up on here once, but am not sure where it is. In fact anyone with a hand lawn mower can replicate what a small 5 hp chipper would do by doing the same thing, its why I think chippers would be a waste. You can get a running hand lawn mower off the dump for free and get the same production as a small chipper/shredder...maybe better.
 
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I'm getting a free Troy built 15013 chipper,in return for clearing out a garage.
I have struggled to get woodchips for my suburban grow lot, even paying for them isn't getting the response I need.
But where I live,the steep uninhabited hillsides are strewn with wood. In addition to dead fall ,there are invasive honeysuckles.
I don't know that I will chip everything.
I am already building beds filled with trimmings, and I have a large tlud for making charcoal.
The tlud would probably burn better on woodchips,but that seems counter productive.
Woodchips become a growing medium before twigs do.
My chickens like leaves and wood chips but I don't see how twigs could serve as bedding.
My berry bushes and grape vines love the wood chips and logs I feed them.
I will try them as the wick in my large (55 gallon) Sub-Irrigated Planters.
Having used hand tools to cut up branches,I don't find the process as fast or the product as good as machine produced woodchips.
 
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I want to reply because I kinda see both sides of it and a couple folks made some points about what works in each situation. I understand Chris' take because PDX was absolutely slammed this year, we did as well up in SEA, but not like that. We had some trees come down as well and we're working through it. Looks like they have like minded neighbors who won't fuss too much about brush thatches attracting rodents and complaining about why they don't have a green 1/2" lawn that you aren't allowed to walk on. We inherited a mess here, well we bought it really so I guess we knew what we were getting into. 30 years of no maintenance meant ivy to the sky, downed trees, three or four past ice storms, etc. The first tool I got was a machete and axe followed by a line trimmer followed by a chainsaw. We hugeled EVERYTHING, palisades, rick berms, around every plant (like Chris has in the picture, love it!) and still the pile was as tall as a car and longer than a freight truck. I separated, cedar and locust for building/ landscaping, maple for hugle and firewood, etc.... after a couple of months the burn ban kicked in and that was that for burning, stacked a cord and ran out of room to keep it. ahhh.......then a neighbor, frustrated with the labor of the chipper, sold us their 8 hp. OMG, that was the break through!

Now I have a system, the wood gets separated for cooking, campfire, building, crafts, barter and wood chips. The fruitwood is cut into smoking wood and set aside, same with some cedar, alder and maple for salmon season. The hazelnut is a mix between hurdles, cooking and chipping. I run the branches into the chipper until it can't handle it and then stack it. That stack then becomes, fencing, hugle, or fire wood. The woodchips mulch, cover and smother the ivy or are steamed, bagged and inoculated for mushrooms, some are separated by wood type and bagged for bbq gifts. Like was mentioned I can get chip drop to dump 16 yards of mulch for free and I can take off the chipper bag and use the chipper and broadcast mulch in no time. We've had 30 years of depleted soil and the wood chips have helped immensely with erosion, fungal activity, and moisture rentention during the summer.

Like all things, it's a balance.
 
paul wheaton
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I would very much like to see folks come up with 20 more things folks can do with sticks, branches, logs, etc.

 
Travis Johnson
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1. Build a bough lean-too. My wife and daughters did this one time, right in the middle of winter, set up some poles, used wire to twist the poles together, then set fir boughs over the pole frames to make a lean too. Then we made a fire, got water from a stream and made hot chocolate. It showed my daughters in the dead of winter you can enjoy your forest.

2. I used trees cut off at 50 inches above the ground as fence posts without having to dig a single fence post hole, and it was super strong.

3. I used saplings, sometimes split, sometimes not, as chinking in my log siding.

4. Not really a WOFATI because it was not covered in dirt, but as a kid we had a camp built out of saplings 2 inches in diameter with 4 bunks that we used to sleep in. The roof was covered in fir boughs.

5. Shingles. We have a shingle sawmill, but you can make shakes quite quickly by hand with a froe and drawknife. (By the way, shingles are sawn by machines, shakes are hand made) And shakes and shingles can be made from any sort of wood. And I have a lambing barn made from shingles ON THE INSIDE WALLS!

6. Banking. Now people use plastic, but the old houses in new England are made of stone and the wind blows through them. To stop this, as a kid we cut fir boughs and placed them around the parimeter of the old stone basement. They stopped the wind onto themselves, but really stopped the wind when snow was on them. It was an annual fall thing we did.

7. Put up small saplings and scrub trees on lakes where ice always is thin. This is always done in Maine , but this year a lake failed to do that and a snowmobiler was killed going through the ice.

8. Wreaths. There is a whole business in Maine that does nothing but make wreaths with boughs and small saplings. We just gave away tons of cedar, pine and hemlock boughs to some friends from church for hoola hoops hoisted in the air decorated as giant wreaths for their daughters winter wedding.

9. Timber frame pegs.

10. Forked saplings make great boot jacks for adults and kids alike

11. Erosion control. Place a few sharpened saplings in the ground and then place logs in front of them to catch and hold the dirt while diverting water

12. Beds. Bough beds keep a person off the ground that sucks their body heat from them. This insulating effect is not just more comfortable, but very warming.

13. Clothes drying rack by the woodstove, or in an enclosed porch where the wind can dry your clothing...for free.

14. Flooring. I had a woodworking shop (removed when I expanded my house) that had a floor made of log rounds. They were cut 6 inches thick and spaced all around the floor, then sand was put on the floor and swept between the rounds. Compacted, it made for a very nice resilient floor.

15. We have a sawmill so we have tons of slabs. These are the outside parts of a log that are only flat on one side. because they are often thick, they can support a lot of weight. I just built my daughters a 7 foot by 24 foot "fort" in the barn with these. With the flat side down, it looks like a board ceiling from underneath. Its bumpy and rough on top, but the kids do not care.

16. Slabs on my farm are never wasted. I have been burning hemlock all year from sawlogs that built my barn. (The sawdust is used for chicken bedding)

17. Fire starters. Small dry branches, chopped on a chopping block with an axe, or cut on a cut off saw, and stuffed into yucky egg cartons make fast and quick fire starters for the wood stove.

18. Corduroy roads. Paul mentioned putting chips on muddy paths, but this is just a bigger off shoot of that. In really wet areas where I log, I place junk logs crossways to my path of travel. Like ties on a railroad track, they spread the weight of my equipment so I don't have to slog through the mud. Pressed into the mud, they do not get oxygen and thus take a long time to rot...decades and not years. It can really reduce the cost of building roads in wet areas.

19. Certain types of bark can make tannin, which can tan hides (hence the name)

20. Black spruce boughs can make a type of beer called Spruce Beer

(It has taken me about 15 minutes to think of these, but since I can think of quite a few more, and I accept Paul's challenge, I'll just keep going.


21. We are working on a table that has a dug out stump for "legs"

22. Dug out stump off-shoots are often used as "knees" on wooden ships and boats

23. Balsam fir sap is absolutely clear. In world war two it was used in the optics of planes for bomb sights. Today we use epoxy, but fir sap is a natural epoxy.

24. Injuries to spruce can produce a type of gum. Boiled and steamed, it goes clear, has a wintergreen taste, and never stops being chewy

25. White ash saplings, coupled with leather or rawhide strings can make a workable pair of snowshoes

26. A hollowed out log can serve as a canoe

27. Sharpened sticks placed into a concealed hole can seriously injure predators.

28. Bent saplings can make a quick, fast set of arched truses for a greenhouse

30. We all know paper birch bark makes great writing paper

31. From Spruce needles you can get spruce oil which has a variety of uses

32. When I used to have dogs I was forever putting cedar boughs and twigs in their kennel as fleas and ticks dislike cedar and it repels them

33. Even the most crooked white oak and hacmatack poles makes excellent wharf poles since they do not rot even in brackish water.

34. Growing up we had a willow tree in our yard and when we did wrong we had to grab a "switch" and take a few strokes to the bottom. If we chose a thick one...for it dd not cut into the skin as well, my father chose a"more appropriate "switch". I must have been slower in learning then my sister and brother as I felt the collision of willow cane to skin more then them.

35. Beech has no taste, and thus can be used in anything that touches the mouth, like tongue depressors and the like.

36. Tooth picks! (White birch)

37. Burn hardwood ashes can be converted into Potash and my Great Grandfather (several times removed) once had a potash factory which he sold to Europe for great profit.

38. Any log can be converted to charcoal by stacking in a big pit, covered with soil, a few air holes added and then lit on fire.

39. Around here you find lots of "camp wood" for sale for the tourists going to cap sites throughout Maine. It can be dry, split logs or just bundles of wood tied with string.

40. My father uses apple, but another guy I know uses willow, but both are water witching sticks to find the best place to sink a well.



 
Todd Parr
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I don't know if anyone would debate that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of uses for wood.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am kind of having to deal with this issue now.

For the past year I have been clearing 30 acres of my forest and putting it into a field. I got half the wood cut off perhaps, so I have another year to go. That is all well and good, but what do I do with the slash? The paper mills will take anything down to 4 inches, but there is a pile of 4" diameter limbs and tops still left, not to mention the blow downs that can't be used.

Part of me does want to mulch it. I can rent one that goes on an excavator, and get the 30 acres done for $15,000, but really what does this accomplish? I am not be smug here, it is just that it looks better I agree, and there is merit in that, but $15,000 is a lot of money. And it is just more diesel fuel, time and expense. A salesman stopped in here this week and wanted me to buy some of his forestry mulchers, and while they looked cutting edge, so were their prices, that is not going to happen. I have started doodling up my own forestry mower design to go on my own bulldozer, but again, what does it accomplish? Honestly nature can do some of this on its own.

I did notice a few weeks ago, when we got 72 inches of snow in 10 days time, the weight of that snow really crushed the slash down, and that was while it was still wet from being cut this past year. After a summer of drying time I am wondering if I just crushed it down. I have a friend that has a sheep foot roller and while it would be impossible to drive over every square foot with my bulldozer tracks, a 10 foot roller would cover 30 acres quickly. If done during November when the ground is frozen, and the wood has dried, it should pulverize it nicely. In that way I can get the wood broken down quickly. Here in Maine anything 2 inches in diameter or less, 2 feet off the ground or less, decomposes in two years time. It would be a lot less costly to do that then mulch everything.

Fortunately I have time here. As most know, I am trying to increase my sheep flock by 350 sheep, and was not sure how much feed I would need, but after carefully assessing my breeding program and putting breeding dates to market times, I actually will have about twice the tonnage I need, so this field will not be required for a few years. And that really is what this thread is about. Paul and I are proposing there are some very good uses for wood, not to mention just letting it rot in place. Using a chipper just reduces the overall volume quickly and is more about aesthetics and convenience. Comparing swale building to a shovel versus a bulldozer is out of context because that is about efficiency. A swale looks like a swale no matter if it is formed  by hand or with a machine, BUT addressing water issues is important, and the greater the network of swales, the greater the results of the permicultural farm. A person is just not going to get a half mile of swales built in a 4 hours like a bulldozer. With wood chips versus spreading brush piles, there is no net gain on either method because the scale is the same. It is like saying what is heavier, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers? It does not matter if you chip a ton of wood, or you scatter a ton of wood, you get a ton of carbon into the soil. And if a person has time to lift, move and carry a pile of brush to a chipper, they have time to scatter it about in the same amount of time...or just leave it. Again, it is more about aesthetics and convenience.

I have been doodling up a mechanical hugel maker to go behind my bulldozer though, but while I am not sure I am ready to start welding it up yet. Someday I can see hugels being formed mechanically.

 
Tyler Ludens
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When we rented a chipper, we found we could not physically move enough material to make it worth the cost.  It made more sense to hire guys with a chipper to cut and chip the trees, although this was also quite expensive.  It is taking me a few years to move the chips from the piles to the places where I want them - mostly paths through the gardens.  I think every few years as we can afford it, we'll hire some guys to come clear trees and chip them, if we need more chips.  But the chipper adds a lot to the cost of hiring the guys.  Several hundred dollars more for the chipper.
 
Todd Parr
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Travis, I think we are just having communication difficulties.  Writing is a medium that can have that effect, especially if, like me, you can't type.  My shovel vs bulldozer to build swales is the same thing if you look at it from a different perspective.  Wood chips for me have absolutely nothing do to with aesthetics.  I use wood chips to build soil, just as you use swales to capture water.  Building soil is important.  It is at least as important as capturing water, and it could be argued it is more so.  The better the soil, the greater the results from the permaculture (or any) garden.

"A person is just not going to get a half mile of swales built in a 4 hours like a bulldozer. With wood chips versus spreading brush piles, there is no net gain on either method because the scale is the same. It is like saying what is heavier, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers? It does not matter if you chip a ton of wood, or you scatter a ton of wood, you get a ton of carbon into the soil. And if a person has time to lift, move and carry a pile of brush to a chipper, they have time to scatter it about in the same amount of time...or just leave it. Again, it is more about aesthetics and convenience."

I think this is a large part of our communication difference. Absolutely a person cannot dig half a mile of swales with a shovel in a reasonable time.  I am not going to be able to turn two dump trucks loads of slash into wood chips with any hand tool in a reasonable amount of time either.  I take wood chips, spread them 6-8 inches deep and plant my gardens in them.  They are building soil, fertilizing, holding water, and suppressing weeds at the same time I am using them right now.  You are right that the end result would be the same if I spread 2 ft of slash over my garden.  Eventually it would break down.  But how on earth can I plant in it?  How long would it take to break down if I don't have a way to crush it or anything else.  I don't have 30 acres of forest I can cover in slash and leave.  I have about half an acre to convert to gardens and I want to be able to plant them now, not 5 years from now.  It is not at all about aesthetics, as I said.  If I want to be able to use my much smaller amount of land, whether I have time to scatter slash or just leave it is irrelevant.  I need to be able to use the slash and my land. For me, there is very much a net gain by having the wood chipped rather than in slash piles.  A ton of wood chipped is useful to me right now.  A ton of wood scattered is no use and ties up my land for years.  I have brush piles I made in a small wooded area on my land for wildlife to live in and they have hardly changed in the 8 years it has been there.  They have settled a little, but they are still just brush piles.  A ton of slash made into junk pole fences or woven into baskets or anything else is of no use to me when what I need are wood chips to build soil, hold water, and suppress weeds.  Sure there are a million other uses for wood, but not that will accomplish this goal in this time frame for this little effort.  I can turn a dump truck full of slash into something incredibly useful in a short amount of time for a few dollars worth of gasoline.  That IS efficient. 

The OP has a situation much more like mine it seems.  He has an acre of land with a few branches that blow down.  You are doing amazing things on your place, but the scale is entirely different at your place than it is at mine, or the OPs. 
 
Travis Johnson
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Todd, you must be importing wood chips from a landscaping or tree trimming company because that is an awful lot of wood chips. I am not doubting you, but assuming (and this is a big assumption), your half acre is square, that would be 144 feet square. At 6 inches thick, it would take 81 cords of wood to cover it to that depth. To put what 81 cords of wood is in perspective, it is 5 tractor trailer truck loads of wood! Since a cord of wood varies between 4500-5400 pounds per cord, that is a whopping 364,000 pounds...or 182 tons. Since I always figure about 30 cords of wood to the acre, but I only remove the bole, and foresters figure that is about half the tree. Even doubling it, it only ends up being 60 cord to the acre. On the forest I am clearing into field, I have cut around 300 cord of wood so far, and I might be about half done. On 30 acres that is only 20 cord to the acre, and doubling it (because I am leaving my slash behind) it is only 40 cord to the acre, and this is mature forest.

One thing I have discovered is that wood rots down a lot faster than people think. A 2 inch diameter stick is pretty darn big and in 2 years time it is gone. Even this year I was shocked at the amount of crush-down I got over the winter. You may not get the snow cover we get here, but that slash was also still limber and spry since it had just been cut this summer and fall. In another year when it is dry, it will crush down even more; no snow needed.

I do agree with you that there is a break down in communication, but I think it is how we look at things. Maybe it is because I am a farmer and I just plain have to, but I always look at ways I can eliminate steps and get the same result. While I do not doubt that your brush piles are just that, still piles, I wonder if they would be if you took the same amount of time you would take to drag them to a chipper and scatter them evenly about the area, planting your garden in between? And of course you could always make hugels. Granted that is more work, but since nitrogen is so volatile, hugels retain it so much better then layers of wood chips.

A few years ago things worked out right and I was able to mechanical make hugels in an entire field. I realize this is different than you, but it is an interesting story. I had cleared a forest into a field, but it was one I planted in 1994 and decided I wanted it back into a field. With stumps, slash and brush abounding, I took my bulldozer blade, tilted it 8 inches (maximum tilt), angled the blade, and then plowed the entire field as if I had a giant farm plow. In doing so it rolled the brush, slash and stumps over. It left a furrow, but on the next pass it was filled, just like a farmer plowing does. In this way it was semi-smooth and not a long, tall hill like most hugels. In essence I had a 12 acre hugel-field with the wood slash and stumps under the soil. Of course I tilled it, smoothed it, and then sowed it down into clover, and it has performed as expected I would say. The PH went from 5.2 to 6.5 on its own, and while the nitrogen is a bit lacking still, it has not come into its 7th year yet either when that should go into double time. I guess this is just why I am a huge fan of hugels. That was by far the largest hugel experiment I tried, but all the others are still merrily producing with no yearly inputs.

This intrigues me. While I had no intention of getting into the land clearing business, by default I am, and while I hesitate to say my competitor (who has millions of dollars in equipment versus my bulldozers), is grinding stumps and slash at a whopping cost of $3000 an acre, I can possibly do it far cheaper via mechanical hugel-making and get a better return for the land-owner. 3 Grand an acre does not sound like much until you do the math and realize my 30 acre field would cost a staggering $90,000! You can not justify that cost in agricultural output, yet cannot justify it as a forest either today. I leaves a landowner with a serious problem, but get long-acting fertilizer by mechanical-hugel making and I think the problem (the slash) becomes the solution.

It is for this reason that I still do not see a viable reason to fire up a wood chipper.
 
Walt Chase
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Travis, why not burn that much slash?  Do your logging, plow a fire line around it with your dozer and get the state forestry commission to come out and burn it off.  Should be cheap or free.  Or you could take your dozer and make windrows of the slash and stumps and either burn them or leave them to sit and rot on their own.
 
Marco Banks
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Walt Chase wrote:Travis, why not burn that much slash?  Do your logging, plow a fire line around it with your dozer and get the state forestry commission to come out and burn it off.  Should be cheap or free.  Or you could take your dozer and make windrows of the slash and stumps and either burn them or leave them to sit and rot on their own.


It hurts!  It hurts!

I know that you guys have a completely different situation than I, but it kills me to hear people burning perfectly innocent carbon.  We've made it a goal to keep 100% of our carbon on site—every leaf, every grain of coffee, every branch that falls from every tree.

If there is a way to pile it up and let it rot, that's the way of nature.
 
master steward
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I have a wood chipper .......
I think this is one of those scale things  Paul and Travis both have lots of space and time and scale to do stuff .
My situation is different I only have a couple of acres and I get paid .. Ok I get reduced rent to tidy up the park . I don't pay for the capital costs either. So every Jan it's chipper month .Decembers being cut hedges month
It would be nice to have the use of big big machines to do stuff like hugles but I don't nor do I have space that my LL would let me pile stuff up to rot . I do that any way but there is way too much stuff I devide  the chips into resinous and none resinous and use them as mulch for the trees and veggies . It works for me if I was to get a new one it would be electric
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not opposed to burning, and in Maine you are allowed to burn. Legally you just have to go online, apply for a $7 burn permit, then start your fire. That is nice.

There are some really good pros to burning, such as reducing the volume to almost nothing, get the PH levels up, adding potash to the soil, etc, but there are some cons too, the biggest being liability. Stumps burn for months and months, and while I would start fires in the fall just after the first snowfall, they would be burning still in the Spring when it is windy and dry. The smoke would not matter on my farm, but on that mountainside I cleared last year, smoke was a huge concern because it for a kids camp and they did not want smoke choking out the campers all summer.

I do have a little bit of breathing room on this project though. I did a detailed breeding plan with the new influx of sheep we are hoping to get, and our current fields will give us twice the feed tonnage we need. I thought we were going to be right on the line of having enough feed, but we should be fine, even in times of drought. So there is no huge hurry to get this new field into production. We also won a huge Federal Appeal with the USDA-NRCS a few weeks ago, and should have a lack-luster field running at full production by the end of this year. That plays into all this as well, so I can finally take a breath and just concentrate on getting the wood off for now. In the meantime the brush can rot down.
 
Todd Parr
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Rather than pursue this to the point it seems I am just being argumentative, I'll just close with this.  I simply can't understand why people that use, appreciate, and justify the use of heavy machinery like bulldozers and backhoes, argue that using a wood chipper is somehow bad.  This entire thread has strayed far from the question the initial poster asked. 

Chris, in your situation, I would pile up my fallen branches and other debris into a pile that is large enough to justify the cost and just rent a chipper for half a day.  You can get thru a large pile very quickly this way and I wouldn't recommend buying a wood chipper  unless you are going to import large amounts of wood to be chipped, as I do.  I chip my own coppice trees and bring truckloads of chips from the local city wood chip pile.  Those I chip down into small chips with my on wood chipper so I can use them immediately in my gardens.  I'm trying to cover a large area with wood chips and renting a chipper every time would be cost prohibitive for me.
 
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Todd, I feel you. I generally don't like buying or even renting big power equipment, I have one mower and one spreader for the tractor (with a bucket), and I am giving away the spreader. I use a tiny tophandle chainsaw to clear almost exclusively, with good technique I go through a gallon of fuel a week, and I limb with a swiss axe.  I have already done a huge number of things on Paul's list, and I would highly recommend the corduroy roads, and will continue to replenish those as they decay. I will continue to work this stuff into the property as much as possible. Next year it will be part of a new fence.  The saplings here, however, replenish themselves unbelievably fast and will until we can get livestock, which requires fencing, which requires clearing due to the sickly forest which drops trees on the proposed fenceline every couple days. I can get slash delivered from tree companies all day long but so far no takers on chips, since they can sell those. So I can get lots of carbon, just not in a very usable form.

That being said, wood chips are amazing. They are a much better source of soil armor than slash. They can be mixed with soil and make potting medium. Bedding for animals that doesn't have herbicidal residue. Fast-maturing hugelbeds. Super mulch.

I have been considering getting a PTO-driven implement and sharing it with several others in my immediate area who have things they let me use, like a PTO sawmill! This is a big 8" unit, not a yard/leaf machine. I have done a cost analysis and if we use it 8 times it pays for itself over a rental, and I don't have to tow the rental unit around (about 10miles each way). If I hate it I can resell it for about $2000 based on recent Craigslist sales, which means I would have to use it twice to pay for itself. So the dollar math is easy.

I have calculated the fuel used to generate a cubic yard with the gas-powered 6" and it is about 2 gallons a yard, running big limbs in like a maniac. A diesel-powered PTO machine probably is much better, maybe a gallon a yard. I will not run any chipper to just clear brush, only if I have a whole bunch of medium stuff (2-6") ready to go.

I would contend that the carbon cost of a giant chipper plus transport of the limbs to the chipper yard plus transport of the chips to me has got to be roughly equivalent or more, because of the burden on the roads from huge trucks. I don't see how you avoid a carbon cost if you are going to use chips. Please correct me if there is something I am missing!   I am trying to be mindful of the impact but I use a whole lot of chips, and the carbon cost of building the machine is also spread over many users.
 
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