The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 4, 2005


Tree Talk
Brush piles: chip, burn or save

It is brush burning season again. Before you set the torch, however, you might want to consider the alternatives. While chipping lacks the primal satisfaction of burning, there is a lot to recommend it. Then again simply adding to the small mountain in the back 40 also has its own New England rustic charm. Below is a summary of these options with an emphasis on chipping.

Burning is pretty well outlined in the new permitting process. It is great for everything except stumps, whole trees, grass and leaves and will destroy insects, diseases and invasive seeds and shoots. Timing can be difficult, however, because of the limited days between snow cover, torrential rains and hot, dry, windy conditions. Fires can damage adjacent trees and obviously scorch the underlying soil. They might be pleasant but they still take time to tend and are not the most ecological choice given that everything goes up as either CO2, small particulate, or worse.

Chippers can be rented for the day or half day. A 2-inch trailer hitch is all you need and you can even have it delivered. You can do it on your schedule and rain-soaked or green wood is no problem. The rental units have a hydraulic feed that greatly increases safety over the old man-eaters. The typical homeower rental is 6-inch which really does mean that it will chew through a 6-inch tree and all its brush as long as the larger branches have been cut at the trunk. Eye and hearing protection is essential. Wear gloves without wide cuffs and clothing that will not snag. Keep a hand ready to hit the reverse bar just in case; it is combat. Build the stacks close to wherever you can back in the chipper making sure that the butts are all facing the chipper. You will save a lot of time if the piles are "front loaded," in that the last limb or tree added to the pile will be the first one to be pulled off into the chipper. Direct the chute to a tarp laid out on the ground if you want an easy clean-up off the lawn. The chips make great mulch, and besides the couple of gallons of gas and the noise it is reasonably ecological. Still sound a bit intimidating? Most landscaping and tree care companies either have their own chippers or will rent as needed. A hustling two-man crew can demolish a small mountain in just an hour or two.

The traditional pile off in the woods is of course the most ecological choice. Anyone who has torn into an old stack can attest to its quality as a wildlife habitat. At a certain point it does not seem to grow much larger as decay and compaction at the bottom roughly matches the additions to the top. There is also the advantage of being able to heave in stumps, leaves, grass cuttings, old potted plants and rotting swing sets.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito