Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A New Toy

You know you’re a real gardener when you think compost is a fascinating subject. ~Author unknown
I love dirt! I love making beautiful, sweetly aromatic compost and spreading it around the garden. I love raking Autumn leaves onto the garden beds, knowing they will protect roots from winter’s cold and keep spring’s weeds from growing. I love composting my garden trimmings, recycling them back into my soil. I love making my own ‘fertilizer’ since compost feeds the soil which in turn feeds plants. Making my own compost with trimmings (selectively of course) from my own garden protects me from buying chemicals, pathogens or weed seeds that can come with bagged store-bought compost. From piles on the ground to enclosed tumblers (which discourage rodents from living in the warmth of a compost pile) there are many ways to make and contain your pile of trimmings as it breaks down.

The healthiest gardens have dirt that is living. Living dirt is supportive of and alive with the organisms (worms, centipedes, pillbugs, earwigs, microbes, fungi and yes… even slugs) that breakdown organic matter (leaves, sticks, twigs, flower petals) making nutrients available to plants roots. If your garden can match what goes on naturally in the woods, it will be healthier. In the forest the soil is never bare. It is always covered, year-round by the decomposing debris that falls from the trees. Fallen branches, leaves and needles cover the earth and begin to decay. Decaying stumps are important too. Here in my Pacific Northwest timberlands there is a native species of huckleberry that prefers decaying stumps in which to germinate its seeds and take root.

Healthy dirt makes gardening easier and more rewarding. Healthy dirt produces healthy plants. That’s a win/win in my book, so it’s no surprise that I attended a seminar on soil science recently. While much of it I already practice, there is always something new to learn, right?

There was lot of valuable information in this seminar but my biggest take away was this, the value of wood chip as a mulch. Wood chip is not the same as beauty bark, which is just bark. Wood chip contains all parts of the tree or shrub and makes a valuable coarse mulch rich in nutrition.  


Coarse mulches allow water and air to move through it so as not to smother the soil or its living organisms below. I always knew wood chip was a good thing. Even better that arborists look for gardeners to give it away free to but a 20-yard pile of wood chip is more than I can use on my little 5000 square foot piece of property in a single season. But if you can use 20 yards or can share with neighbors and friends, a great source is Be sure to read all the information including the “expectations” page. It is a free service to recipients but understand that the arborists pay for the service so a nominal payment to reimburse the arborist is only fair. After all, $20 USD for a huge load of wood chip is nothing compared to buying bagged mulch and they deliver it right to your designated location.

At the end of the seminar one of the speakers briefly mentioned as a side note that she has a chipper, a small electric chipper. I’ve wanted a chipper for several years but I don’t have much room to store one out of the weather, nor do I want to fiddle with a gas-powered engine. So, my woody trimmings, too thick to chop up by hand, go into the collection bin that the city picks up. Did she say “small electric chipper”? Hmmm. It would sure be nice to have one. Now I am really interested! When I got home, I started looking online for used sources and found 5 right away! All the same type that is no longer being manufactured and in varying degrees of condition from looks-kinda-rusty to looks-pretty-darn-good.

Soooo….fast forward a week. I am now the delighted owner of my very own electric, 14-amp, 120 volt, 3300 rpm, capable of chipping 1½” diameter branches McCulloch garden shredder! Woohoo!! I’ve been gardening since I was about 5 years old. How is it I’ve never had one of these yet?
Turns out there much to learn about my new toy. McCulloch was made in the USA however, this chipper is no longer manufactured, and similar designs are now made overseas so finding replacement parts may be a challenge. I did discover a great source of info on Read down through the comments section of his blog post…it covers conversations by owners of this chipper (affectionately named Chippy) as they navigate the replacement parts journey. Turns out parts are becoming available but they are made in China of possibly poorer quality materials so may wear out more often.

Since I bought it used, I figured the blades would need sharpening. There are four blades to keep sharp. Two comprise the upright one-piece “V” blade and then there are two individual horizontal blades which are reversible, extending their life two-fold. I read several opinions about sharpening vs. replacing blades on Rob’s site above but I decided to try sharpening. I just did a light job of it with a couple of files. It cut through my pile almost like butter. I had a lot of green material so the exit chute plugged once. Then twice I pushed dry material through too hard and fast so it jammed. Clearing a jam requires unplugging it and exposing the blades which is not difficult but takes time away from the work so I think a good rule of thumb is every time I have the cover off, I will also give it a quick sharpening. Sharp blades do the work so I don’t have to and most professional gardeners sharpen the blades of what ever they are using after every job or throughout the job. With more practice I hopefully won’t get a blade jam or plugged chute too often.

 There is so much to learn about composting, soil science and the right and wrong way to apply mulch. I’ve long advocated for naturally feeding the soil with compost and protecting the bio diversity of soil life by not using chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, or beauty bark. In the archives, under the compost label on this blog you can find 5 more articles that I’ve written on the subject. If you find compost, mulch and dirt as interesting as I do, I hope you will enjoy my other articles. I have provided additional resources below so you can educate yourself to your own degree of interest. These links provide answers to questions and debunk myths that circle around the use of woody mulch. I encourage you to read through them.

Thanks for reading!

For more information see…

Another great source for all things garden is…
gardenprofessors .com and 
The Garden Professors page on Facebook is a collaboration of Horticultural Professors from around the USA

In bloom in my garden today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa, Viola,

Author’s photos

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