Closing the Nutrient Loop with a Chipper/Shredder


chipper shredder forest 

Chipper/shredder in the forest. Photo by Steve Maxwell

The one thing that all yards and gardens have in common is plant growth. Grass, trees, shrubs and vines – they all produce a constant stream of new organic matter. This is obvious, of course, but what you do with that organic matter after it appears can make a big difference to your gardening success and environmental footprint. Let me give you an example from my own place.

As with many rural homes, we rely on a septic system, and like most septic systems the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence, so to speak. The reason is simple . . . massive additions of nutrients and plenty of water, delivered constantly and right at the root zone make for lavish grass growth all over our septic leaching bed. In this sense every septic system is a potential nutrient factory. You just need to move those nutrients to a place on your property where they can do some good. In our case this means raking up the abundant grass growth after mowing the septic leaching bed, composting those clippings, then applying the compost where vegetables and flowers can be enhanced by the additional nutrients and organic matter. Same goes for the trees in our front yard. This area started off as an open, unshaded hay field 35 years ago. Now it’s a shaded grove of maples, oaks, pines and locusts that I planted as seedlings. Taken together these full-size trees produce massive amounts of leaves and needles each year that we collect and use as mulch and soil amendments. It’s all about making use of the very localize nutrients available from your yard and nearby land, but there’s one thing that makes it all much more effective – chipping and shredding. 

To be most effective, any kind of plant matter needs to be chipped or shredded before composting before laying it on the soil as surface mulch. This is where a portable chipper/shredder makes all the difference. 

Chipping tree branches makes them usable as mulch, and shredding loose material such as leaves and grass clippings makes them sit flat on the garden and resist blowing away. The surface mulching we do all the time is the single reason my wife and I are able to maintain as much garden area as we do, without spending a whole lot of time weeding. In fact, we almost never have even a single weed come up in our heavily-mulched perennial gardens because we constantly maintain at least 3 inches of chipped and shredded mulch over all the soil all the time. Perennial flowers break through this mulch unaided each spring, and annuals get planted in the soil after we burrow down through the mulch to the dirt. But like I said, mulching materials need to be processed first for best results, and that’s where chipper/shredders make all the difference. 

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