Wood Chipper: Use Farm Waste to Your Advantage

A chipper can help you make use of fallen trees and leaves, and it can also help you with composting. Here's how it works.

by Matt Fowler
PHOTO: Matt Fowler

Homesteading presents many challenges and opportunities. Recognizing the opportunities and weighing their potential benefits can separate the successful homesteader from the rest. The sheer magnitude of waste on a farm can be overwhelming, but is there opportunity in that waste? One piece of equipment that can help with that is the wood chipper.

The farm each year creates a massive amount of natural waste, including leaves, downed trees, fallen branches, debris from pruned fruit trees and trimmed berry canes, garden weeds, residual corn stalks and garden compost. These items eventually create slowly decomposing piles on the farm. It’s not necessarily the piles themselves that cause problems, but rather the inefficient use of the materials. The cost of not appropriately using farm waste is high, yet the chipper or shredder can turn many of these piles into effective nutrients the farm can immediately use.

Traditionally, the chipper or wood chipper helped farmers clear areas where trees had fallen. The wood chipper takes branches and sticks not easily stackable and turns them into wood mulch. Wood chippers come in many sizes, and the size of the chipper determines the size of branch it can process.

Making Wood Chips

Wood chips have numerous uses and benefits on the farm. Ultimately, these chips are wood mulch that can benefit your soil by holding moisture, adding fresh organic matter and changing the drainage habits of the area where they are applied. Mulch can be an excellent way to prevent weeds from growing, because a deep layer of mulch keeps the weed seeds in the dark and prevents them from germinating. Wood chips, which don’t quickly compost, can make nice paths or borders in the garden.

Making Leaf Litter

Some chippers include a screen or setting that shreds material into fairly fine particles. These shredders can turn huge piles of leaves into a leaf litter that has many uses around the farm and garden. Leaf litter might be one of the most diverse and underutilized materials on the farm. Dried, shredded leaves hold similar potential for use as wood chips, but they are small and light, and they quickly decompose. It’s important to keep leaf litter and wood chips separate when running them through the chipper so you can use them in different ways.

Making Compost

The chipper is excellent at creating compost. To do this, the materials you include must break down over a period of time. Time is the biggest factor in composting. Whole potatoes, for example, take a long time to decompose. Yet the chipper can quickly turn a potato or any other compost item into a thousand little pieces. The result creates more surface area for microbes, worms, snails and fungi to break down the compost. You can also mix the composted material with high carbon items such as straw or mulched leaves; place them in the same hopper to be shredded instead of creating layers or turning the compost to determine the need for dry material.

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Eliminating the Compost Bin

With a chipper, you can eliminate compost bins that can be an affront to sight and smell. But, even if the compost bin is pleasing in these ways, it’s sure to attract flies, critters, moles and other vermin that don’t help the farm.

With the use of the chipper, you can compost directly between the rows or even use a hoe to make a small trench where you can directly compost the material. You can run garden scraps, kitchen scraps and even weeds being pulled from the garden through the chipper to immediately feed the soil in the garden as they emerge.

This story originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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