Home > Personal Projects > It’s not all fun and games — mulching without a wood chipper

It’s not all fun and games — mulching without a wood chipper

For the past four or five months I’ve been keeping watch over Craigslist and other outlets for a lightly used, affordable, durable wood chipper.  It’s not that we have so much land that we need a chipper, but frankly one doesn’t need to have a huge lot in North Carolina to put a good chipper through its paces two or three times per year.  It finally took accepting that I wasn’t going to find a thousand dollar chipper for around two-hundred, to decide to make our mulch the old fashioned way: break it up by hand and let it sit.

rubbish heap

In this picture, you can just make out the big pile of branches and yard detritus, peaking out to the right of my back, on the other side of the pine tree. (I'm the one crouching.)

Since about the first week we moved in we’ve been piling fallen tree branches, trimmings, leaves and all manner of green “waste” into a big pile in the back yard.  At the time it seemed like a pretty innocuous place to put the pile: it was obscured by a big tree so we couldn’t see it from the back porch,  It was on a spot of dirt / grass that won’t grow much because it doesn’t get much sun at all, and we didn’t really have a better place to put it.  Since that time, the pile had grown quite large.  At its peak this spring (before the summer heat broke it down a bit) it was around 4-feet in height, and about 15 to 20-feet in diameter.  It had grown so large that it partially dictated where we built the chicken coop, as well as where we moved the compost pile and where we were storing our tools.

Last week, we made a plan to tackle our Fall projects.  Third on the list (behind clearing off the already fallen leaves and pine needles from the roof and off of the gutter screens, and behind composting the garden and planting our fall greens… and actually also behind clearing out the French drain for when the big rains start) was getting after this pile, breaking all the large pieces of wood down into 6″ pieces or smaller and moving them into confined, chicken wire bins where they might break down faster.  Today was the day.

Orderly Rubbish

It took me working the better part of three hours, with little more than a vision, gloved hands and a brush rake, but in the end the massive pile which has been home to lizards and birds and bugs all summer, was reduced to one and a half bins and a medium-sized pile of kindling (which we have no need for, but which we’ll probably use for something anyway.)

It’s hard to express how gratifying this project was.  It’s also hard to express how frustrating it was that we had to do it, given that if we’d just started with bins two years ago I’d not have had to spend a weekend on it now.  Still, live and learn.

Here’s a picture of the bare earth where the pile used to be.  You can’t tell from this picture what a massive improvement it is over what was there before.  Sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to take a picture of the monstrosity before I began.

What used to be

Meanwhile, on the other side of the yard, we’re ready to start our Fall growing season.  the green “grass” is an Oat Straw cover crop that will fix the nitrogen in that bed and which we’ll turn back into the bed come Spring.  the two beds that are covered with yellow wheat straw now contain our Fall and Winter greens.  We’ll cover the small bed with a plastic dome using PVC and painter’s drop cloths like we did a few years ago, and see if we can’t keep our lettuce and Mesclun mix going all Winter.  The long bed contains hearty crops like kale, winter spinach, Chinese Broccoli, Japanese greens, and turnips.  The lone un-touched bed will get planted with Late Gobo (burdock) and some winter cress.  It’ll be a cover crop but also a bit of an experiment.

In time for Fall

Finally, here’s a shot of our volunteer avocado, which sprouted up at the beginning of the summer from a discarded Avocado pit that didn’t get fully composted or beaten up by the chickens or squirrels.  It sprouted in one of the tomato beds in the spring and I almost pulled it thinking it was some other kind of tree.  When I realized what it was, I put it back in and let it continue its path for the summer.  I put it in this big terra cotta pot so that we can bring it in for the winter.  I think it would freeze if left outside here in Durham. It’s not much to look at right now, but we have high hopes for this sturdy little guy.

Volunteer Avocado

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