Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Big Pile of Wood Chips or Some of the Goofy Things I Find Myself Doing

Normal people that have a need for some wood mulch would drive to their nearest home improvement store,  load up their cart with some plastic bags full of wood mulch, then they'd wait in line to check out, would probably be forced to chit-chat with the cashier about lawn-care or something before they handed over some money, and then they'd head for home.   There's nothing wrong with doing things that way, but more and more I find myself doing things outside the norm and I've also developed a severe allergy to spending money if I don't need to. 

Locally, there's been a lot of drilling activity in recent years (although it looks like that boom is pretty close to ending) and these new wells use electric motors for pumping the oil instead of the natural gas powered pump jacks that used to be used in the past.  Because of that, there's also been a mini-boom in the 'upgrading-the-electrical-grid-infrastructure' business with new electrical lines being extended to oil well sites and old electrical lines being upgraded.

Whenever they run a new line to a well-site, they clear the right of way of most of the trees, then they usually grind them all up and haul them away.  I could find a lot of uses for all those wood chips, but I've never had the chance to get my hands on any.  But when I was driving by the new wells they drilled close to the farm the other day (I can't help it, I gotta keep track of how the drilling is going, how far along they are with fracking it, and whether they're done putting in the new electrical lines to the well-site), I finally hit the jackpot and found out that instead of hauling all those ground-up trees away, there were piles of wood chips alongside the road just begging for someone like me to come along and take them home. 

A big pile of firewood, free for the taking (at least the stuff in the ditch is)

Piles of wood chips up and down the road
For those that don't know, there is a method to picking up something like this from the side of a road.  After determining that whatever I'm thinking about picking up is actually fair-game for picking up, I'll use either the 'shock and awe' method in which I roar up in the pickup in a cloud of dust, slam on the brakes, jump out before coming to a complete stop, pick up whatever I'm picking up as fast as I can, then jump back in the truck and roar off before anyone that I know can see what I'm doing, or I'll use the 'I'm on official business' method where I park in the middle of the road, slowly amble over to pick up my prize, wave to everyone that happens to drive by, take my time putting it in the truck, and then slowly drive away.
"Hurry up and fill that up so we can get outta here before anyone sees us!!"
I wasn't really interested in any of the firewood since it's mostly cottonwood and cedar (although I might get some later to make some bio-char), instead I wanted the wood chips and since there is about a dump truck's worth of wood chips along that road, I'm going to need to use the 'I'm on official business' method because it would just be too tiring to roar up in the truck, jump out, shovel chips like a madman, then roar off in a cloud of dust and gravel over and over until I had built a huge pile of wood chips back on the farm.  With the amount I'm going to try to pick up, slow and steady is the best way to pick up these wood chips from the side of the road. 
The first of many loads
In a few months, I should have every water trough surrounded with a thick layer of wood chips (it works great to keep the mud down and composting wood is supposed to help with the foot health of cattle), all the places I put my mineral feeders should have a thick layer of wood chips (mud and foot health again), bio-char can supposedly be made with wood chips so I'm itching to try that, I have some mud holes in some roads I'd like to try to fix with wood chips, and wood chips work great in the chicken house.  Plus, I'll hopefully have a big pile of wood chips built up as a reserve for any and all future needs.

The question of the day is, are you a 'shock and awe', an 'I'm on official business', or a none of the above sort of picking-stuff-up-off-the-side-of-the road kind of guy?


  1. Like you, I am both depending on the situation. Sometimes I have been both in the same stop. I was all shock and awe until someone came driving down the road and I slowed down to official business mode.

    We try to monitor all our grounds during pheasant hunting season to make sure only the people who are supposed to be hunting it are. One fall I saw a couple guys pull their truck into a field entrance across the road from where I was working and start walking down the ditch. I thought they were hunting the fence line for pheasants and on our property. I folded up my disc and drove over making sure to block their pickup so they couldn't escape and sidled up to them to inquire their businesses. They were definitely looking like official business mode. Turned out they were looking for a certain type of weed that if broke over, contained a worm in the area right below the break that was good bait for fishing. I told them to carry on and went back to discing.

    1. I guess technically you could say I'm an "I'm on official business" picking stuff up off the side of the road guy, but I try to move with a purpose (no leaning on a shovel when I'm on the job), so you might say I'm an 'I'm on official business, but I don't get paid by the hour" picking stuff up off the side of the road guy.

      Those worms must be great fish bait if you have to go to that much effort to find them, did you ever actually see one in the flesh?.

    2. I used the wrong term. They were actually larvae of some insect that lay eggs in the weeds and once the larvae hatch, they eat until the stalk breaks. I've long since forgotten the details of what insect and what weed but still remember what they were doing like yesterday.

  2. I hate paying for wood chips too but have had some bad experiences over the years with free woodchips. Our previous town used to chip all the limb debris after storms into a big pile free for who ever wanted it. My wife wanted to use them for her flower beds so I dutifully loaded up several loads and brought back home. About a week later we noticed some bugs all over her plants that we hadn't seen before and by the end of the month, they were all dead. I ended up hauling all the mulch, new and old, back and dumping it in the pile. After that, we bought mulch. With this house, I convinced her to hardscape with rock as much as possible because it lasts a lot longer and we don't have to worry about bugs in it. I'm sure cattle are not concerned about any of this as long as their feet are healthy!

    1. If I was in the prize-winning petunia growing business, I don't know if I'd use ditch wood mulch around my prize-wining petunias. But it works just fine for making compost, making bio-char, or filling up muddy spots in a farm road.

      Ten or fifteen years ago, it was all over the local news that people buying mulch at the store found out that some cypress mulch was infested with Formosan termites (which were supposed to be supercharged termites), and everyone was panicking that their house was going to be eaten to the ground because they wanted to make a little flower bed look more manicured.

    2. I've always thought about that too but fortunately we don't have much of a termite problem up in these parts and I don't know why. I think I've read that they can and do live in these parts but I've never heard anyone having termite damage and I've never seen damage outside of pictures on the internet. But I've heard people further south take termites very seriously to the point the put traps in the ground all around their house and pay people to check or bait? them year round.

    3. My brother had a friend that started a pest control business and he made most of his money doing termite inspections, treating for termites, and running the type of bait station monitoring and control you wrote about.

      He started the business right about the time the housing market took off about 15 years ago and was making piles of money because you had to have a termite inspection and any termites had to be treated before you could close on a mortgage. I don't know how big a problem termites actually were, but from what I know almost every house had a "termite problem" and I don't think he was the dishonest crook sort of contractor.

      I always thought (and I probably got the idea from my brother's friend) that the problem was that the only effective termite treatment was banned about twenty years ago, the new termite treatments didn't really work, and combined with all the new building activity the termites became a problem.

      He sold the termite business right before or after 2006 when the housing bust came, so I'm not sure what's going on in the termite treatment business today, or if termites are as big of a problem as they supposedly used to be.