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How to spread tall mounds of wood chips  RSS feed

 
Posts: 99
Location: Dallas, TX, zone 8a
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I can get woodchips delivered to the property from a local tree service, but the trucks leave piles that are a minimum of 4 feet high, even when I ask the driver to move forward slowly while he's actually dumping.

How can I spread all that out so that it is all even, just a foot deep on the ground? We don't have a tractor, or ATV, or garden tractor; I'm not strong enough to do it all with a rake or a shovel. Does anyone have an idea for something I can push or pull that would easily move woodchips around for me? Something like a giant rake or very small plow that I could drag behind me?
 
gardener
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Hey Trish-

I just went through this a few months ago back at the end of winter. I find it much less difficult to move wood chips than soil. Soil is so heavy, and wood chips are really lightweight. It sounds like you just want to spread the chips around in place wherever they're dumped, and that's easy with a steel rake:

It can be used right side up to drag or flip it over to push. I say easy, but it still takes some work.

I moved my pile of about 30 yards from the street into my garden using a 4 tine fork and a dump wagon I tow behind my garden tractor:

It's way easier to use a fork than a shovel to scoop wood chips. It took me five days to move the entire 30yd pile by filling a wagon load with the fork, driving it to my garden, dumping it and spreading it out. My wagon holds about a half yard.

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gardener
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If you don't have a wagon, you can use a tarp by loading the chips onto it, then pulling it to the location where you need.it. You will need to tie a rope to the corners to do the pulling. Holding the corners to pull, will fatigue your hands. Easy to pull quantities will lend towards getting the job done. To big to easily drag, may result in a permanent compost pole.

Hmmm. How did I know that?
 
pollinator
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Trish Dallas wrote:I can get woodchips delivered to the property from a local tree service, but the trucks leave piles that are a minimum of 4 feet high, even when I ask the driver to move forward slowly while he's actually dumping.

How can I spread all that out so that it is all even, just a foot deep on the ground? We don't have a tractor, or ATV, or garden tractor; I'm not strong enough to do it all with a rake or a shovel. Does anyone have an idea for something I can push or pull that would easily move woodchips around for me? Something like a giant rake or very small plow that I could drag behind me?




It may be too labor intensive but I use a wheelbarrow and a hay fork.  I can't get a dump truck into my food forest so I have it dropped in the driveway out front.  I then load it into an old ranger and then drive back and distribute with a hay fork.  For the areas I can't drive to I use a wheelbarrow.

 If you purchase a hay fork I suggest getting a lightweight plastic one.  I'm using a metal one and it get's heavy after a while.  I would also add if it's not specifically a garden-bed there is nothing wrong with having mounds and uneven areas.  I think leaving it a little uneven adds to the microclimate and can add areas of shade and increased moisture.

Don't kill yourself moving it,  just do it a little at a time.   I do it for exercise and I have a teenager to help.   You may want to get a neighborhood kid to help you by offering a little cash.
 
pollinator
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I am thinking what i would do (given your criteria,)First thought is strap a sheet of plywood to back bumper of truck and drive backward to push it. Whatever gap you had to ground would be the thickness it would spread.

Given greater leaway i would weld something up that would fit in bumper hitch that would hold a 2x12 a foot off the ground.
 
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I like the tarp idea, it works good for leaves also. But if the quantity you can drag in a tarp will fit in a wheelbarrow then that'd be less work. I use a metal dog leash coupler that's double sided. It attaches much quicker than tying the corners and gives a nice 4 or 5 inch wide handle to pull the tarp. Don't make the tarp so big it won't fit thru your gate, if you have one.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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John Duda wrote:If the quantity you can drag in a tarp will fit in a wheelbarrow then that'd be less work.



That is very true. My now broke wheel barrow was really small.
 
pollinator
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I've used a tarp to good effect, and plywood to move large rocks in similar circumstances.
I've used a bumper mounted, DC powered winch to pull the tarp, very effective.
I have considered buying a manual winch and mounting it on a T stake to move mulch in my yarden.
 
master pollinator
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This is a perfect application for a two wheel tractor with a dozer blade.

Two wheel tractors are different than garden tractors or even self-propelled rototillers, but real tractors...just in 2 wheel versions. I bought a used BSC for my father for $500 including lawnmower and rototiller, and a used 48 inch dozer blade for a separate $200. It was well worth it.
 
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Do you want them spread out in situ, or do you need them moved elsewhere? I have a large mulch barrow (mulch is light, so it is deeper and larger than a normal barrow) and just take my time moving it by barrow. I like it like this, because I can apply it exactly where I want around existing plants. I generally set out to do just half an hour of barrowing, tacked onto the end of a bunch of other chores. half an hour doesn't feel too onerous, and after a while you will realise you have moved a LOT.
 
pollinator
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I do it the old fashioned way: a hay fork and a wheel barrow.  It's a nice workout.  If you only do 10 wheel barrow loads a day, it will take you some time to move that pile, but you won't be completely worn out by the task.

The only problem with taking your time in moving a pile like this is that the longer the chips sit there, the more likely they are to heat up (compost) and that creates the perfect environment for mold spores.  Then when you dig into the pile, you breath all that steamy bad mold.

I've learned to be much more careful about breathing this stuff than I used to be.  I'll stand upwind as I dig from the pile and fill the wheel barrow, and I'll wear a mask now if it's bad.
 
John Duda
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As I remember there are 7 wheelbarrow loads per cubic yard. That rule was for bark or manure in the big homeowner sized wheelbarrow. If I can guess I'd say back then the wheelbarrow was about as full as I could get it.
 
Travis Johnson
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The average wheelbarrow is 6 cubic feet. Since there is 27 cubic feet per yard, it will take about 4 trips per cubic yard if you round the wheelbarrow a bit. (Or put another way, about 1/4 of a cubic yard). There is about 7 cubic yards to the average tree trimmer truck if it is single axle, so it should take about 32 wheelbarrows per truckload from Asplunt.

As others have said, it is not really that bad to move them by wheelbarrow. If a person moved 6 wheelbarrows per day, in 6 days the whole load would be moved.
 
John Duda
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I thought you had me there for a while. But.... what you're saying you can open two bags of peat moss and dump them into your wheelbarrow.

 
Travis Johnson
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John Duda wrote:I thought you had me there for a while. But.... what you're saying you can open two bags of peat moss and dump them into your wheelbarrow.



Bags of peat moss are compressed into 3 cubic foot bags, so when the bags are opened up, there is a pheniminon known as bucket swell. Most bulk materials have this, from gravel dug out of a gravel pit (25%), to granite rock dug out of a quarry (95%). Whenever material is moved, this has to be accounted for, whether it be a construction contractor moving 100 million cubic yards of soil for a new interstate road project, or a gardner using a wheel barrow.

In the case of wood chips there is no bucket swell phenimon because the woody debris has yet to be compacted. It was taken from dense woody debris, reduced in size by mechanical energy, and blown and susquently dumped from a truck. IF the pile was left for a year, then the air in the pile would slowly be removed by natural composting and begin to grow more compact. The same would be true if you peat moss was emptied from its compressed bags and put into a big heap; over time it would begin to settle out again and begin to compact.

Still the two products would have different rates of bucket swell though because the wood chips are not soft and loose like peat moss, they still have dense chips...less dense then they were at limbs and tree boles, but more density then the peat moss. The difference between those different rates of expansion is what bucket swell is, because each product has its own bucket swell percentage.

Sadly the method of conveyance does not change when using the cubic method of measurement is used. A person would struggle to move a 1/4 cubic yard of bricks with a wheelbarrow, but a 1/4 cubic yard of feathers with a wheelbarrow would require no energy at all. The difference of course is density and weight. In a real world situation, a earthwork contractor could not measure a hill that needed to be cut out to make a roadway and conclude that 1 million cubic yards of soil needs to be removed with 10,000, 10 cubic yard truckloads. It will be more like 12,500 10 cubic yard truck loads because the material "swelled" upon extraction. The same would occure if a whole truck load of bagged peat moss arrived at your homestead and you emptied them into one big heap and then moved the pile via wheelbarrow. In that case, the most effecient way to move them is to keep them in bags, moving them right up to point of use.

...
As a side note, many people wrongly think the farmer invented the haybale, but that is not true at all. The hay bale was invented by Maine Loggers who needed to get hay from farmers fields deep into the forests of Maine for winter logging. They could not bring enough hay in via loose hay because of its bulk, so they devised the haybale as a way to increase density and thus get more hay (feed) per wagon load coming into the isolated logging camps.





 
John Duda
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I'm assuming the 3 cu ft of peat is the uncompressed size. However, I'd guess that I'd have a hard time hauling 2 bags of peat in my large homeowner sized wheelbarrow. I think they'd fit in there standing on end, but I'd guess once you tried to move them you'd lose the load unless you were on a level smooth surface.

I assume the size is the uncompressed volume because that's the way retailers do things. If one guy sells his by the compressed size then the next guy who comes along selling peat is going to mark his as 5 cu ft and leave buyers with the impression they did better by buying "Next Guys" brand of peat moss.

I did look up wheelbarrows at Lowes, the bigger one is sold as a 6 cu ft wheelbarrow. But I know from experience that it took me 7 wheelbarrow loads to haul a cu yard of bark or mushroom manure.
When I bought 2 yards of that product my 8 ft pickup truck was loaded high over the sides and I can't imagine getting all that product into 9 wheelbarrow loads.
 
pollinator
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I have moved hundreds of cubic yards of woodchips by wheelbarrow.  I find a two-wheeled barrow, a Mcleod (a big hoe-rake hybrid), and a hay fork are indespensible. If you have a decent barrow, you can tip it toward the pile and fill it half way or so with the mcleod in just a few seconds, then tip it upright and fill the rest with the fork. It's also always good to fill it only to the point where it is still easily movable. A full load that gets dropped half way there is way worse than a half load that gets where you want it easily.
 
Marco Banks
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Travis Johnson wrote:The average wheelbarrow is 6 cubic feet. Since there is 27 cubic feet per yard, it will take about 4 trips per cubic yard if you round the wheelbarrow a bit. (Or put another way, about 1/4 of a cubic yard). There is about 7 cubic yards to the average tree trimmer truck if it is single axle, so it should take about 32 wheelbarrows per truckload from Asplunt.

As others have said, it is not really that bad to move them by wheelbarrow. If a person moved 6 wheelbarrows per day, in 6 days the whole load would be moved.




It takes me considerably more than 32 wheelbarrow loads to move a truckload of chips and I've got a big wheelbarrow.  I've never counted, but I'd say that sometimes its upwards of 80 to 100 trips for a standard load of chips.  When my wife and I are out there working side by side, one will take the fork and do most of the loading, while the other one wheels it to the backyard.  We'll switch every 2nd or 3rd load, so that you can get a drink of water and catch your breath.  When we are both working, I can move about 25 wheelbarrow loads of chips an hour.  We'll get out there when it's cool in the morning and attack the pile, keeping the wheelbarrow moving.

The density of the chips also matters in determining how long it takes to move the chips.  If the blade on the chipper is sharp and the chips are fine, they are easier to scoop and move, but they will be heavier than big chunky loosely packed chips.  When the chipper blade isn't very sharp, you get a lot of stringy stuff in the pile, particularly if they've run palm branches through the chipper.   That stuff is a nightmare to scoop out cleanly -- it's a rats nest of stringy frustration.

In an ideal world, I'd love to have a place on my property where the trucks could just back up, dump the chips, and I could leave them sit for a year before I'd use them.  Then I'd take them and use them as needed.  Unfortunately, I can't do that, so I've got to move them off my driveway ASAP.
 
Trish Dallas
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Thank you all very much for the replies-  there were some ideas I might be able to use, and even when the topic wandered off into mass v. volume v. weight, I did learn a lot!    

If anyone has other ideas just for leveling out the mulch with minimal effort (I'm disabled and not able to handle something as large as a wheelbarrow), please chime in.  I really appreciate the experience and advice that the permies community provides, and again, thank you all-
 
pollinator
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Trish,

I don't know the nature of your disability, but I am sympathetic as I have several disabled friends.  I think all of the previously mentioned techniques for moving chips are quite sound, and if these are not feasible, then it may be time to take more drastic measures.

Firstly, it may be worth while hiring someone to spread the chips for you.  This would be the most "permie" solution I can think of if you can't move the chips yourself or talk someone you know to do it for you.

The second approach would be to rent a small tractor with a bucket and move them yourself.  You should be able to rent a small subcompact tractor that will happily move woodchips all day.  These are not huge tractors, looking something like an overgrown garden tractor.  I owned one of these tractors for 13 years and they were highly maneuverable, did not compact or rut up the soil and are extremely useful.  Additionally, they are quite easy to operate.  Alternatively you could rent a skid steer loader but these tend to tear up ground when turning by nature of the fact that they skid to steer.

Please keep in mind that you don't have to take either of these approaches, but since you apparently have a serious disability, I thought these might help.

Good luck in your decision and let us know how your project works out.

Eric
 
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