Storm Debris: Clean It Up Soon & Use the Right Tools

When a storm brings down trees and large branches, here's how to clean up the debris quickly and efficiently.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

Here on my Wisconsin farm, it rained a lot last week. Actually, “a lot” is an understatement—it poured for days, with relatively brief respites between cloudbursts.

During the peak of the weather system, a particularly large storm with high winds rolled through, and while it missed my farm for the most part, it did leave behind a few calling cards. Along with the usual scattering of small branches, the storm blew down the top of a White Pine tree (a sizable section about 25 feet long) and a similar size chunk of a dead red pine.

Suffice it to say, I’ve put in a lot of work cleaning up these messes. Post-storm cleanup of fallen trees is a task that should be addressed as quickly as possible. It can be easy for busy farmers to say “I’ll get to that later,” only to have grass grow up around fallen trees, making it difficult to see what you’re doing and even harder to get everything cleaned up thoroughly. Even worse, if winter comes before you can clean up the mess and the grass gets bent down over the many broken branches, you’ll have to dig through the dead grass the following spring in order to find all of the hidden debris. (Believe me: Been there, done that!)

So I strongly recommend that you tackle the post-storm cleanup process as quickly as possible. Start by bringing a large wagon to each area where you’ll work—for smaller jobs, I like to use my trusty red wagon, though for larger projects (such as cleaning up an entire fallen tree), I prefer a large hay wagon.

Next, grab your chainsaw (and maybe a pair of pruning loppers) and start cutting the tree into manageable pieces, focusing on removing the branches and cutting up the trunk into sections. Load the larger pieces onto your wagon while taking care not to overload it—tree trunks can be heavy and you don’t want to get stuck.

Handling the larger pieces of the tree is the easy part—dealing with the smaller bits of debris can arguably be a bigger challenge. It’s astonishing how many bits of bark and leaves and small branches are scattered across the area, and you’ll probably discover gouges in the ground from the impact of the tree.

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You might believe you can just walk around picking up the bits of debris one by one, and of course you can, but it will be very slow, not to mention hard on your back. Instead, grab a metal bow rake and gather the hundreds (or thousands) of bits into piles, which can then be scooped up in large amounts and placed on your wagon. This is a much more efficient and easier way to handle the sheer volume of debris that a fallen tree produces.

Cleaning up after a major storm might not be the most glamorous of farming projects, but if you tackle it right away with the proper tools, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run.

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