Farm Beginnings: Chipping Mulch

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke of clearing the land of trees. Today she speaks to chipping your own mulch.

I learned the difference between “gym fit” and “farm fit” this weekend. I am barely gym fit and I am nowhere near farm fit.

I am standing on top of the brush pile at the beginning of the weekend.

Standing on top of the brush pile at the beginning of the weekend.

Imagine a pile of twisted laundry – except that it is made out of various logs and twigs, heavy, full of splinters, and 9 feet high and 12 feet wide. Imagine dismantling that pile in order to hoist the heavy wood to a machine that is fearsome in the Fargo sense of the word.

The machine grabs with its dual rotating jaws the edges of 10 inch wide logs, small twigs, or entire cedar trees. The log that we were barely able to manuever is devoured like a teenage boy inhaling a piece of pizza. Oh and make sure to get out of the way – as the log enters the mouth of the machine, it will twist and move, so any branches that are still attached will whack you on the way in if you stand too close.

Let me take a step back and explain this more completely.

I like mulch. It retains moisture in the soil as it decomposes. You can plant potatoes and make a mound of mulch and easily dig them out in a few months.

Mulch also means you don’t have to weed as often. And if you really want to splurge, you can find cocoa shell mulch (perhaps for a herb garden), and your garden will smell like chocolate when it rains.

It struck me as crazy to go out and purchase mulch when we have a huge pile of brush from clearing the land that we could chip and turn into mulch. So I rented a 6 inch wood chipper delivered to the land on Saturday morning, to be picked up on Monday.

Up drives this truck with a yellow machine on the back. The delivery man gets out, takes a look at our small pile of brush in the woods, and a look at the HUGE pile of brush in the middle of the field. “Too bad they didn’t put this small pile on the big pile in the field. That way you could burn all of it.”

“I asked them not to.”


“Because I want to mulch as much as I can.”


“Yes, that is why I ordered the wood chipper.”

(Truth is, as they say, stranger than fiction.)

The bemused gentleman looks with a renewed eye at the smaller pile of brush. “Hmmm, this is the 6 inch chipper. I could run back and get the 12 inch one? That would eat through the pile in no time.”

“Sounds good, and in the meantime we will start laying out the wood.” My husband smiles at me.

Laying out the brush the morning of the second day before feeding the machine.

Laying out the brush the morning of the second day before feeding the machine.

Lesson number one from wood chipping, always get the biggest machine you can. Lesson number two, “laying out the wood” is easier said than done.

Writing this, I feel naive but I did not grok how difficult it would be to untangle 12 foot branches and logs, piled willy nilly on top of each other. We tugged, we pulled, we lifted, we strained, we grunted, we heaved, and eventually the pile started to feel more manageable.

I have 32 bruises on my legs from tripping over sticks, falling into the pile as the wood moved, or carrying logs and running into other logs. I am grateful it was cool enough that I had several layers of clothing on, or it may have been much worse.

After laying out the wood, one feeds it into the machine. As I mentioned above this is a loud, fearsome, powerful, intimidating machine that takes the heavy wood and moves it like a piece of cotton fluff. Here is a little sample (watch the volume on your computer).

After two days of this task – here are my conclusions.

  1. The best wood for chips are the actual logs, not the brush/twigs. Therefore there is a diminishing return on labor to feed in the smaller stuff.
  2. Not counting our labor, we spent $600 on the machine (including delivery and fuel) for the weekend. We ended up with perhaps 10-12 cubic yards of mulch. In Rhinebeck, NY the village will deliver to mulch to me for $20 and each cubic yard is $20 – 11 yards at those prices would be $240.
  3. The proffered option of burning the big pile looks more and more attractive after this weekend of doings.

Live and learn, and the bruises are fading.


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4 Responses to Farm Beginnings: Chipping Mulch

  1. wildramp says:

    We have one Producer for our market who bought a small saw mill and uses what boards he can cut to build all the sheds on the farm. The rest he mulches. You go girl!!!

  2. Thanks so much WildRamp! I love your blog, the picture of the birds on the bike is awesomesauce!

  3. Pingback: Farm Beginnings: Inoculating Logs with Mushrooms | The Real Time Farms Blog

  4. Pingback: Farm Beginnings: Bacchanalian Burn Bonanza | The Real Time Farms Blog

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