August 8, 2009

P.S. to "The Big Trees"

When we hired the tree service to trim our big trees, we got a cheaper rate because we didn't need them to haul off what they took down. Of course we wanted the firewood from those trees, but we also ended up with another huge mound of branches, twigs, and leaves. I groaned to myself over this because we had just recently gotten rid of the last pile of this stuff.

Another huge pile of yard waste in the pre-mulch stage.However, we were able to find that little red machine on Craigslist.

My new garden tool.It's a Yard Machine chipper/shredder. Considering that yard "waste" will be an ongoing problem, as will our need for mulch, it is a necessity.

This little one isn't as powerful as the one we rented, but it's 5HP engine is just as noisy! And as much of a blessing as it is to have it, to me, it also represents a dilemma.

The dilemma is this: that if our goal is to become increasingly self-sustaining, how does buying a gasoline powered machine like this help us achieve that goal? To put it in classic terms, does the end justify the means? In this case, the "end" is not having to buy much needed mulch, as well as not having huge piles of branches, twigs, and leaves all over the place.

One thing we figured out a long time ago, is that to not need money requires a lot of money. In other words, the land, structures, systems, etc. which would enable us to become independent of the work/consume economic cycle, are very expensive to obtain and set in place. This has become strikingly clear as we prepare to obtain a few animals. The very goats, sheep, and chickens which would provide us with our own milk, eggs, fiber, and manure, will require fence and housing which will be outrageously expensive to put up.

But back to the shredder. What's interesting is that DH and I have different solutions to this energy problem. For my part, I tend to think of alternatives that are hand or animal powered. For example, the old edition of The Rodale Guide to Composting has directions to make a shredder from an old reel lawn mower. DH on the other hand, researches how to make methane, with the idea of converting our power equipment to run on that.

Realistically, we realize that all big goals require a series of smaller steps to achieve. The key to success is not losing sight of those goals, while having the patience to work one's way toward them. For now, we need to keep nature from reclaiming the land while we make much needed repairs and upgrades to the house, and get our food source gardens in. It will be from that base that we can begin to build our dream.

P.S. to "The Big Trees" copyright August 2009


Woolly Bits said...

we've had the same problem - and decided not to bother with a shredder. we collect all the stuff as firewood - but then we have a range that we can stuff full of the stuff! we haven't needed any other heating material for nearly 60 of all the days this year! of course it's a lot of work to collect and break into smaller pieces, but in my experience "saving on money" usually means to "spend more time" (in this case it means to look after the fire in the oven every hour or so)! we do use the material from hedge clipping etc. as mulch around newly planted trees. doesn't look particularly attractive or orderly - but it works for us.

Renee said...

I think your DH might be onto something with the methane. ;) but on a more serious note here... you're going to have a continuing need to get rid of large yard waste as all those beautiful trees are going to produce more waste than you can possibly I feel that the chipper was a good purchase. there's a chance that you might get to a point where you either have more mulch than you can use OR might be able to mulch for your neighbors and make some money off the chipper...that can be used toward the purchase of fuel for it.
And I do agree that it takes a lot of money to be self-sufficient. But I'm in awe of your ingenuity.

Leigh said...

Bettina, I agree, we pay for stuff with either our money or our time! I happen to have more of the second than the first. ;) I really like the idea of using some of the smaller stuff for mulch. Wonder why I didn't think of that!

Renee, what a great idea about mulching for our neighbors. Thanks!

bspinner said...

Walking a fine line to be self sufficient isn't easy. I think the key is "everything in moderation".

Julie said...

I agree totally with Bspinner!!!

Dorothy said...

Making your own mulch saves transport costs, and when it's composted down wood chip is a superb soil improver. It's going to be a significant contribution to growing your own food and I think you need to see it in that context. I would imagine you might also use wood chip where you house your animals, also saving cost and environmental expense of buying in litter.

Diesel engines are very efficient, much more efficient than petrol. Unlike petrol they are not generally suitable for conversation to gas, which needs different engine structure (consulted boyfriend on this, he's very interested and well read on this stuff and history of diesel engines). I also asked him about methane, and he wondered if you were thinking of using the waste from housing livestock to generate methane, but when I told him about your climate he said the winters are probably too cold to keep it going. If you buy methane in, he says there's greater handling costs than with diesel. (He knows about this through his work, as a designer & manufacturer of electronic control units used mostly in managing energy sources and use).

I think you'll find this website of great interest, it's the Centre for Alternative Technology, of which we are supporters

Dorothy said...

Part of my link got lost! Try this

Leigh said...

Barb and Julie, you're right! Too bad moderation doesn't seem to be a natural human trait. :)

Dorothy, thanks so much for the link. Very interesting with a lot of good information, so I will show it to Dan when he gets home.

I was very interested in your boyfriend's comments about methane production. The fellow who introduced Dan to the idea makes his own and lives in Ohio, where the winters are much longer and colder than ours. I do know that we have a BMW plant nearby which utilizes locally produced methane ( article at ). Many an old time farmer used to run his farm tractor on methane, and a few farm trucks as well.

Even under ideal circumstances, there is no way we could ever produce enough methane to meet all our energy needs. What we're hoping, is to utilize enough alternative sources to meet basic lifestyle needs if it came to that. It is common to lose power in our part of the country, from both summer and winter storms. The longest we've ever lost it was three days, which isn't bad, but it has been as long as a week for some folks in the area.

With wood heat we can stay warm and cook. When we lived in North Carolina, we had well water, which utilized an electric pump. That meant no water when the power went out, so we had to keep and rotate water in 55 gallon drums. Here we are on city water (with a septic tank), which operates off water pressure, so we'll still have water in the event we lose electricity.

My biggest concern has always been the refrigerator and losing it's contents in the event of a power failure. This is also why I hesitate to buy a freezer. I would love to be able to freeze meat, soups, and some fruits and vegetables, but I would hate to lose it all if we ever lost electricity for a length of time. We figure if we could have backup power for key items like that, we would be okay.

Good point too, about making our own mulch. The other thing I remind myself is that if I'm not chipping the stuff up, someone else will be, so my argument about fuel is a bit silly when I really think about it.

Sharon said...

A lot of this will sort itself out by experience. Rodale was a household word when I was growing up. My parents were dedicated to eating in an organic environment. It wasn't easy then and I'm not sure that it is now. It's a matter of choices. My parents also used the barter system.

Sorry - I can't see a wood chipper without thinking of the movie Fargo.

Kathy said...

Well, it's shredders or a bunch of beavers, isn't it? :)

Just watch that contraption, of the Master Gardeners I know almost lost an arm when it grabbed a small-ish branch too quickly.

And good for you - any garden is a start! :)