As Pasture #4 is in its final stages of being cleared and readied for winter, a great deal of saplings need to be cut, cleared, and eliminated. Fortunately, many are the options for disposing of waste-wood on a Hillstead such as ours.
The easiest method is to return branches back to where they came from- to leisurely decompose somewhere on our 17 acres. This is beneficial to the overall health of the forest. Rotting wood (not treated wood) returns nutrients back to the soil, giving insects and microbes something to munch on as it breaks down. This in turn replenishes the soil’s nitrogen, increases aeration, and makes soil less prone to erosion. New roots get a healthy start, and the growth cycle begins anew. One area in which we’ve already begun utilizing this method is at the fresh-cut trail that connects the Garshed with the barn.
As the years go by, this brush/limb hedge will continue to trap fallen leaves, further building up an embankment along with the waste wood that will reduce erosion and eventually provide a natural contour to the trail. In the meantime, woodpeckers may enjoy a different opportunity for chowing down rather than chipping into the painted and bug-less pillars that hold up our porch. I hope.
The second option, also pretty easy, is to pile up the brush and burn it bonfire-style. This option may make the most sense for most people in a homesteady or farmy situation, and we see (and smell) it being employed frequently in these parts. The major concern I have with this method that in order to burn fresh-cut or “green” waste wood; one must either wait while it dries out in a pile for at a year or two, or add it slowly, piece by piece to an already-hot fire, or use an accelerant to start the fire- and probably keep it going (not a safe practice).
If you do have the time and space and patience to allow a pile of wood waste to dry out, a yearly Autumn or Halloweeny bonfire can be part of a cheerful celebration depending upon how much waste wood you have to deal with and how large you’re comfortable with making your fire (local fire codes may also be a factor).
A third option is to build a Hugelkultur. This method by far has the best name, and other benefits as well. The process is simple: build up a mound or two or whatever of excess organic waste, and allow it to rot over time. It can include sticks, branches, leaves, straw, spent hay, and sawdust (NOT treated wood)- as well as any food waste that isn’t better suited for traditional composting. We mostly toss stuff in there that is beginning to rot, along with coffee grounds, citrus, onion scraps, and eggshells- things that we won’t feed to the chickens or worms.
Though we will probably have more at some point, we currently have two Hugelkulturs. They’re below the front-lawn fire pit and above pasture #2. They’re about 6 feet wide and around 20 feet long – a tractor’s-width apart from each other so that I can get the brush hog between them. They’re angled to slow water runoff during heavy rains- keeping vital nutrients where they belong in the pasture so that we can grow a nice field of forage to support the increasing goat population.
Because we were able to snag a chipper implement along with the tractor, we also have a 4th option for dealing with wood waste -turning it into sweet sweet mulch.
As saplings, tree branches, and untreated fenceposts are removed, we have the opportunity to pile them up and mulch them pretty much anywhere on the property using the chipper and the tractor’s power take off. Not only does this save mulch-money over time, but with an abundance of tree diversity, mulch blends can be custom-made to best suit their intended purposes.
For instance, a blend of walnut and locust mulch can be used around walkways and paths, spread heavily for the purpose of preventing weed growth AND sticking around for several years before an additional layer needs to be spread. Black Walnut contains juglone, a chemical that can kill sensitive plants (including grasses and weeds), and Locust is rot-resistant, making for a long-lasting mulch.
On the other hand, hardwood mulch including a majority of Cherry, Ash, and Hickory will decompose more quickly, regulate the ground temperature under which it is laid, and return nutrients to the soil – perfect for garden beds and around freshly-planted saplings.
Finally, spruce (not Norway Spruce) and pine can be chipped up to use as animal bedding and as a mulch for acidity-loving blueberry bushes. We don’t have enough spruce or pine growing on the property to make it a good source for bedding and will likely have to rely on buying cubes of the stuff from the local Tractor Supply for a good while- but the blueberries will hopefully be well-mulched soon. That project and more soon to come, as we try to use the last few weeks before Winter most efficiently. Thus far, we’ve mulched 60 cubic feet of the green stuff, and I’m hoping to get at least another cartful before the snow comes in earnest next weekend.