Land clearing around here has mostly been a case of jumping in with both feet and figuring things out as we go along. There are days when I feel I am doing the equivalent of mowing a lawn with scissors, but mostly I think we are learning a whole lot as we go and it has been very rewarding to see the changes. We wanted to preserve the organic material as much as possible: return to the land what was being taken from the land. Close the loop and recycle.
One of the first things we realized as we went along was that we seemed to be just moving stuff from one place to the next. Chop down some little trees and shrubs here and you get a nice cleared area, but over there is a pile of trees and shrubs where an open space used to be. You trade one open view for another. After posting on a homesteading forum to find out what to do with all this debris, the best answer seemed to be: chip it. So after a while we rented a chipper and got rid of some of those piles.
(I need to pause now to point out the lovely retaining wall in the photo: Husband and I put that together using some old railway ties we found in our woods; our first landscaping project – we were quite proud of ourselves!)
Using the woodchipper was a blast. Literally. I was suddenly very glad that Husband had bought ear plugs way back, but it took a while to pry their location out of Daughter who, being the obsessive little collector of small colourful things she is, didn’t want to give them up. I seriously could not have used the machine without them. It didn’t take long to figure out the best angle to feed in the branches. I learned to avoid getting my fingers slammed against the inside wall of the hopper by holding tight to the large poles as they were fed in (those puppies vibrate a lot as they are going through the blades). In no time we were working at it like pros, taking turns bringing debris in from various nearby piles and feeding it into the chipper. We also learned that thicker side branches that are more than about 45 degrees from the main branch won’t feed in. Consequently I had to fetch my (that’s My Very Own*) chainsaw and experienced yet another moment of triumph when I was able to start the darn thing by myself (okay, it was already warmed up but still…it was a first for this City girl!).
The woodchips will be used as mulch, to fill in muddy spots, or perhaps later to line animal pens. What we don’t use will slowly rot away and thus return to the land. However, for a number of reasons we decided we only wanted one woodchip pile so we needed to come up with some other ideas for dealing with debris (bushes, small trees, branches, etc) as it would be scattered around our 4 acres as we progressed with our land clearing.
In surfing the Web for answers I came across How To Clear Land .com. I downloaded his article and read it with great interest. I could really relate to a lot of what this guy was saying. A backhoe was out of the question for us, not just because we already bought the ATV. But a very useful idea of his turned out to be the Stump Dump. Now this guy had a lot more land than we do, and we honestly didn’t think it was something we could do. But then the other day Husband was inspired by the Stump Dump to hit upon an idea that we think is positively brilliant (and is almost certainly not new; but being a City Slicker you get to pat yourself on the back for reinventing the wheel). It is as follows:
We have several very old fallen trees on our property. When a large tree falls, the root ball rips out a rather large hole in the ground. Then slowly debris and plants pile up on the root ball and the wood rots until you end up with what looks like a tall, narrow hill next to these pits in the ground. As our clearing work takes us further into the woods we’ve been noticing these hills and holes and were thinking we’d just bulldoze the mounds into the adjacent pit, thus leveling out the land. Well, the other day Husband cut down a rather large fir tree and, after limbing it and cutting into firewood what was useful, was left with these huge evergreen fronds. Fir needles and branches grow more or less horizontally outwards from the main branch and it occurred to Husband that he could pile these up rather neatly…in one of the root ball holes! Then when we are done we can get a little bulldozer to push the hill into the hole and voila! – flatter land, plus all the organic material we cut down gets buried.
So yesterday we went out to start filling the holes with fir fronds. I soon moved on to putting cut bushes, small trees, and other debris into the holes too. Those things left a lot of dead space in between, so I’d top it off with a few layers of large fir branches (remember, they are all pretty much flat) and then Husband would jump on the pile to make it go down. When we were done, high fives were had all around: we cleared up a large section of woods and there was no debris pile taking up previously cleared views. Talk about gratification! Best of all, all the organic material we cut down will be left to rot in a manner that won’t be unsightly (and won’t provide a lovely condo for all sorts of vermin). No burning required.
* the first chainsaw that Husband bought has been very useful, but we’re moving on to larger trees now and it just wasn’t cutting it, pardon the pun, so he had to go out and buy a bigger one; we are calling them His and Hers so now I can brag that I have my very own chainsaw (and I know how to use it!)