From Branches to Mulch

Limbs waiting for processingCleanup after the Microburst

“I look out over the property and all I see is work that needs done,” my husband complains. When you have a small farm, this is often true. A recent microburst, however, has complicated our landscape and canceled any weekend plans we might otherwise have had—for a long time.

With one tree uprooted and at least a dozen more damaged, our days are full of cleanup activities. Fortunately, we have a large chipper that grinds branches into small chunks—but not without a lot of manual labor.

We use hand saws and long-handled loppers to cut the large branches into smaller sections that will fit into the metal shoot of the big machine. We line the long leafy sticks in rows with the cut ends facing one direction. Then my husband starts the noisy contraption and I hand him limbs, which he feeds into the opening.

ChipperAfter working for a while, sweat drips down my face into my protective eye wear and fogs up the lenses and my vision. My nose runs, so I wipe it with my t-shirt hem without slowing the pace.

When all of the limbs that we had lined up are processed, my husband kicks the woven bag of the mulcher, where the chips go. “There’s room for more,” he says.

So I scramble to grab the loppers and retrieve fallen wood from a particularly brushy area. My mind considers briefly the possibility of encountering a Diamondback rattlesnake . . . but Jimmy needs the branches fast, so I dismiss the fear.

Luckily, all I find is a small lizard, who scrambles from the weeds and ducks beneath a pile of logs that are too large for the machine to process. My attention wanders, and suddenly my feet tangle in something and I fall flat on the ground. My wide-brimmed hat flies off, and my goggles and glasses tilt on my head.

I look up at Jimmy’s back, as he guides some dry leafy sticks into the machine. He doesn’t even know I’ve fallen.

“Good thing I didn’t get bit by a snake,” I think to myself. My husband wouldn’t have known.

I can’t speak to him over the roar of the motor. But I’m tough, so I shake off the dust and hand him another limb.

I hold my index finger up for him to see. That’s our signal that means this one has stickers. Actually, all of the wood has stickers—mesquite, palo verde, and ironwood. Some of the longer spikes, though, go right through a leather glove. Jimmy rolls his eyes, and takes that branch carefully.

Mulch between rowsAfter we’ve filled up the 100-pound chipper bag, he hefts the item onto a wheelbarrow. “Where do you want me to empty this?” he asks.

“In my garden.” I follow him, pointing. “There, between the rows.”

I never dig newly chipped wood into my soil. As organic material decays, it uses up nitrogen. If this process happens in the ground alongside growing roots, the plant may become deprived of this essential nutrient, causing stunted growth and yellowing. Only fully processed compost should be dug into a garden bed.

For now, these wood chips will make great mulch in the walkway.

“How many bags do you think it will take to finish all of the dropped branches?” I ask.

“Don’t make any weekend plans for a while . . . feel like chipping up another bagful?”

I sigh. “Might as well.”


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