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Growing trees specifically for chipping

 
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I need woodchips — a lot of woodchips — for [reasons].  I don't want the free woodchips that can be sourced from local tree services — for [other reasons].

I have acreage so am heavily leaning towards growing my own 'trees' specifically for chipping.  Generally-speaking, I'd like to grow 'trees' in the remote part(s) of my property, then harvest/chip/transport the chips closer to home where the carbon/nutrients are more useful.  Chopping and dropping the vegetation where it grows is of no use to me.

'Trees' are the first thing that spring to mind, but most woody (carbon-rich) vegetation would work — as long as it can be reduced to woodchip-sized pieces.  Having relatively uniform output is important to me because it increases the number of options I have with respect to where I store it, how I use it, and how much I use.

So, if you grow trees (or other woody plants) specifically for chipping, or have thought of the idea and done some research, I'd be curious to know:

  • what you grow
  • why you chose the species you did
  • how much (area-wise) you grow
  • how much you harvest each year
  • if and how you have optimised harvesting/processing

  • I look at growing trees for chipping as 'establishing a factory for redeployable-carbon'.  I'm wondering if anyone else does and, if so, what their thoughts are.

    Cheers!
     
    gardener
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    Neat idea.
    I have no experience,  but I have started growing trees for charcoal.
    I get willow stakes for free,  I'm considering hybrid poplar,  I'm trying to root mulberry,  but there are trees that volunteer.
    Box elder,  honeysuckle, tree of paradise and mulberry all show up uninvited and regrow from being cut back hard.

    Including nitrogen fixers like autumn olive or redbud might be a good idea.

    Anything that takes well to coppicing or pollarding and/or suckers/self seeds profusely should be awesome.
     
    pollinator
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    I don't deliberately grow trees for chipping, but I have a lot of trees well suited for it thanks to PO clearcutting...

    Red alder is awesome stuff. It's a nitrogen fixer, it grows pretty fast, it makes alright firewood if you change your mind.

    Cottonwood is awful. It is way too heavy when green, the branches explode into a million chunks when it hits the ground, it stinks, its lousy firewood that takss ages to dry, and worst of all the fallen trunks and branches all root. I would never grow it on purpose, but.... it does grow fast and self-seeds like mad.


    I have been moving the wood(20ft trees piled high on tractor forks) to where I want the chips, then chipping it directly onto garden beds or storage piles.

    I think it will be *much* more efficient to take chipper and dump trailer to tree location, chip into dump trailer, and move the chips back. A forkload is a substantial pile of saplings, but this turns into quite a small pile of chips. Way less trips will be involved.

    The catch is my chipper is a pto/3pt model, and I cant move the dump trailer with it on the tractor. Once the logging road is fixed up enough for the truck the dump trailer method will be much more practical.
     
    Tim Bermaw
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    Charcoal for making biochar and amending soils, I presume?

    Picking a species with multiple uses (e.g. stakes) is a permaculture 'stacking functions' staple, so always a good idea.

    Interplanting with (or selecting) nitrogen fixers seems like it would help a lot — especially in the long term.

    I've got Black Locust already planted, but that's — in my mind — mainly for firewood.  The plan is to transition from Eucalypts to Black Locust over time.  Given the thorns on the new growth, and the realities of feeding debris into a chipper, I'm not thinking that Black Locust would be a pleasant/desirable option for chipping.  There's also the 'hardness' to consider, and also the high levels of natural fungicide.

    Pollarding/coppicing/suckering sure would be desirable traits from the regrowth angle.  Ideally this woodlot would only need to be planted once, and would regenerate automatically.

    Pollarding implies 'poles', so I guess species with a 'straight' habit would make chipping much easier.  No need to pre-process a straight-ish, single-stemmed tree (assuming the chipper can handle the trunk diameter).
     
    master pollinator
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    Corn chips nicely, grows to full size in a season, and will give you 24 tons to the acre.

    Sunflowers give you a little less tonnage per the acre, but looks better growing, and are drought tolerant.
     
    Tim Bermaw
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    Dillon Nichols wrote:I have a lot of trees well suited for it thanks to PO clearcutting...


    PO clearcutting?

    I have been moving the wood(20ft trees piled high on tractor forks) to where I want the chips, then chipping it directly onto garden beds or storage piles.  I think it will be *much* more efficient to take chipper and dump trailer to tree location, chip into dump trailer, and move the chips back. A forkload is a substantial pile of saplings, but this turns into quite a small pile of chips. Way less trips will be involved.


    Good tip.

    The catch is my chipper is a pto/3pt model, and I cant move the dump trailer with it on the tractor. Once the logging road is fixed up enough for the truck the dump trailer method will be much more practical.


    Assuming you have a front-end loader and your chipper has one of those outlets that can be swivelled/directed, could you aim the chipper outlet towards the front of the tractor and catch the chips in the bucket?  Or are the distances/volumes such that that doesn't make sense?
     
    William Bronson
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    In not sure how persistent corn or sunflower stalks are,  but if they last long enough, maybe sunchokes would also work.
    They will give tubers, spreading them is stupid easy,and they only need to be planted once.
    Bamboo or reeds are also possibilities.
    Balancing  growth vs.  controllability is always an issue when growing biomass.


    My reasons for making charcoal :
    -Sell to artists.
    -Bake with the "waste" heat.
    -Add to chicken bedding.
    -Amend soil.
    -Fuel a  generator.




     
    pollinator
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    I wonder if chestnut would fit the bill here. It coppices well but I don’t know how fast it grows back. Red alder would probably be a better choice.
     
    D Nikolls
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    Chris Holcombe wrote:I wonder if chestnut would fit the bill here. It coppices well but I don’t know how fast it grows back. Red alder would probably be a better choice.



    In my area chestnuts definitely grown slower. Also the harder wood is probably not an upside for chipping, and the form of the tree doesn't seem likely to feed as easily into a chipper... but if you're doing branches from a coppice maybe that doesnt matter..

    My choice for a coppice would probably be bigleaf maple. The alder is less reliable than cottonwood/maple about sprouting back in my experience.
     
    D Nikolls
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    Tim Bermaw wrote:

    Dillon Nichols wrote:I have a lot of trees well suited for it thanks to PO clearcutting...


    PO clearcutting?

    I have been moving the wood(20ft trees piled high on tractor forks) to where I want the chips, then chipping it directly onto garden beds or storage piles.  I think it will be *much* more efficient to take chipper and dump trailer to tree location, chip into dump trailer, and move the chips back. A forkload is a substantial pile of saplings, but this turns into quite a small pile of chips. Way less trips will be involved.


    Good tip.

    The catch is my chipper is a pto/3pt model, and I cant move the dump trailer with it on the tractor. Once the logging road is fixed up enough for the truck the dump trailer method will be much more practical.


    Assuming you have a front-end loader and your chipper has one of those outlets that can be swivelled/directed, could you aim the chipper outlet towards the front of the tractor and catch the chips in the bucket?  Or are the distances/volumes such that that doesn't make sense?



    PO= Previous Owner, he logged 99.5% of the merch timber and did no replanting, so with very few nurse trees lots of pioneer species have popped up.


    No, I don't think that would work. The stream of chips can be swiveled, and distance adjusted somewhat, but its a fairly imprecise sort of thing, which will change as they come out differently depending on what is feeding in....I *might* be able to catch half the chips if I spent a bunch of time tweaking, but the half the rest would be all over my tractor. And the forks work a lot better than the bucket for material collection...


    (Related: there was a big chipper thread where I expressed my opinion that renting a huge chipper infrequently is probably better for most people. My nominal 8" chipper is just too slow for large scale chip production, and tying up the tractor isnt optimal.)
     
    Tim Bermaw
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    William Bronson wrote:Bamboo or reeds are also possibilities.


    Bamboo gets its great strength from a high proportion of silica.  Silica is basically sand.  We all know not to drop our chainsaw bars into the dirt because of how quickly it dulls the cutting teeth.  Wouldn't the same thing apply to the cutting blades on a chipper?  If so, then chipping bamboo might just wear out a lot of blades.

    Then again, there are videos like this that show it can and does get done:

     
    Travis Johnson
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    Any kind of use causes wear, so it is inevitable.

    One of the toughest trees on a chainsaw is actually one of the softest woods, White Cedar. The limbs on that tree, due to the twisted grain will dull a chainsaw in no time flat.
     
    gardener
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    Tim,

    Good topic, I am glad you started this thread.  Regarding your original question, I will relate to you what I am doing which is similar to your plan.  

    First off, I don’t grow or intentionally plant any trees specifically for their chips, but I do have a number of trees or bushes that grow invasively around me, especially autumn olive.

    I have a roughly 800’ long living fence, and autumn olive grows rampantly there via volunteer.  When I first bought the property, grass grew right up to the barbed wire fence line, but as I like the idea of a living fence I just let all plant matter just grow up on its own.  I do maintain a trail that runs parallel to the fence line, but over the years the invasives encroached a little bit more each year and now I have to actively cut them back now or they will aggressively take over my trail and acreage.  

    Autumn olive has basically all of the properties you were looking for in a chip-crop tree.  It grows very fast (too fast for some but this works for you), grows back from a stump easily, will spontaneously grow up from shallow roots (again, this is bad for some but works for you) and is essentially unstoppable unless you spray copious amounts of roundup or other herbicide (and why would you do that).  The wood is classified as a hardwood, but is probably the softest hardwood available.  It should not dull chainsaws or chipping machinery quickly (but of course all cutting/chipping edges will eventually need sharpening sometime).

    Last year my trimming gave me several trailer loads (4’x8’) worth of chips which was enough to give me a new garden bed 8’x16’ a little over 1’ thick for inoculation with wine caps.  I still had plenty of chips left over that have not been allocated yet, they are still sitting & aging.

    Last year I did a rather heavy trimming, but I expect to have plenty more this year when I go out and trim again in a few weeks.

    Obviously autumn olive works for me.  But if I were planting new growth, I would also consider poplar, cottonwood, or is especially poplar/cottonwood hybrid.  As has already been mentioned, cottonwood is something of a nuisance tree for many (I personally like it, but that is just my opinion), but these same qualities that people don’t like are perfect for you.  Poplar will have many of the same qualities of cottonwood, as will the hybrids.  Basically, I think that weed trees are your friend here.

    I don’t know how much you need.  Usually trail trimmings are enough for me, but I do have some autumn olive stumps still living in my tall grassy areas and sometimes if I want a bumper crop of wood chips I will let those stumps grow up for a year or two and really get a lot of chips in the end.

    Perhaps you could plant some bushes/trees and make paths between them, let them grow for between 1-3 years (or more) and stagger your chip harvest so that you can get some the first year and then increase your harvest the second and third years by which time your first planting patch will have had a time to re-grow.

    I have really rambled on more than I expected, but I hope this has been helpful.  For me, 800’ of autumn olive gives me all the chips I need for a year and it constantly grows back—it is totally regenerating itself and I do no work actually growing it.  I think this is the type of system you have in mind and hopefully you can adapt this sort of plan to work for your circumstances.

    Best wishes and let us know if you have any questions and how your plan works out.

    Eric
     
    D Nikolls
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    I was at a friends place yesterday.. last summer he dug out two ~20" cottonwoods in a field.

    There are many hundred if not thousand suckers emerging in a 100ft radius from where the trees were... not fun.
     
    Tim Bermaw
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    Eric Hanson wrote:I have a roughly 800’ long living fence, and autumn olive grows rampantly there via volunteer....  I do maintain a trail that runs parallel to the fence line ... now I have to actively cut them back now or they will aggressively take over my trail and acreage....  It grows very fast..., grows back from a stump easily, will spontaneously grow up from shallow roots ... and is essentially unstoppable unless you spray copious amounts of roundup or other herbicide (and why would you do that).  The wood is classified as a hardwood, but is probably the softest hardwood available.  It should not dull chainsaws or chipping machinery quickly (but of course all cutting/chipping edges will eventually need sharpening sometime).


    Having it grow on either side of a path or road makes sense from a harvesting point of view.  I don't have a problem with 'normal' levels of wear-and-tear — just want to avoid the 'abnormal' ones.

    if I were planting new growth, I would also consider poplar, cottonwood, or is especially poplar/cottonwood hybrid.


    Populus deltoides x nigra  ?

    I don’t know how much you need.


    A cubic metre of chips per week (average) to start with — so 52m³ (~1800ft³) in the first year (or thereabouts).  Scale up from that as things get streamlined and the woodlot grows...  Crunched some rough numbers and could probably stabilise at ~250m³ of chips per year.

    I already have a few acres of mixed Eucalyptus, Pinus, Acacia and Banksia that can get processed whilst waiting for the dedicated crop to mature, so no rush on that front.

    Dillon Nichols wrote:I was at a friends place yesterday.. last summer he dug out two ~20" cottonwoods in a field.  There are many hundred if not thousand suckers emerging in a 100ft radius from where the trees were...


    Absolutely fabulous!  Just the sort of self-replacement and expansion I'm looking for.  I'd rather spend my time harvesting than planting.
     
    Eric Hanson
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    Tim,

    You certainly need a lot more chips than I do, but I took your numbers and crunched them with my own.  Last year my 800’ yielded about 5 cubic yards worth of chips (I think, my math is not the best and I am replying while riding—not driving in a car).  Keep in mind that these were only trimmings, so I estimated that I only cut 1 foot back into a hedge at least 10 feet thick.  If I were cutting 2-3 feet back then I would have exponentially more as the center of the hedge is taller and thicker than the edges but I am trying to preserve and grow my hedge.

    Another tree you might consider is silver maple.  

    I don’t know how much land you want to devote to trees for chipping, but a basic thought I had was to make lanes of brush 15-20 feet thick have paths 8-10 feet wide.  I know that this is a lot of land used for pathways, but I would make harvesting a lot easier.

    Personally I would grow a combination of trees and bushes.  You could easily mix cottonwood and autumn olive for example.  Maybe diversify the trees up a bit.  A combination of bushes and trees will help maximize the vegetation yield.  Bushes will occupy the lower part of your chipping lane and trees will grow above them.

    Your plantation might have to sit for a year or two for the first harvest, but as long as it has time to recover before the next harvest it will practically spring from the earth.  Maybe put in all of the trees/bushes that you want in one year and divide the whole area into quarters.  Let everything grow for 1-2 years, then start with one quarter per year and move quarters each year.  Before long you will have more chips than you know what to do with.

    Maybe this plan or some variation will work for you.  Let us know what you think.

    Eric
     
    pioneer
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    I have about a half acre I would guess of box elder that I use for this.  It grows super fast,  many feet a year. I cut it off at about 4 or 5 feet tall and it recovers well on the couple trees I've tried in the past.   My plan is to cut a third of the trees each year,  and continue as long as it doesn't kill the trees.  Last fall was the first cut at the new property, so I'll see how they recover this year.
     
    Trace Oswald
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    I took a couple pictures of mine.  It's kind of hard to see,  but I cut this one last fall.  Our growing session just started here,  and these have grown more than a foot already. I pulled one new branch off to show how much they have grown.
    20190525_203522.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 20190525_203522.jpg]
    Cut last fall
    20190525_203549.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 20190525_203549.jpg]
    New growth length
     
    Trace Oswald
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    I was thinking about this thread today when I realized I need to trim the box elders away from my driveway again.  I thought I would show how much they have grown so far. This is all new growth taken directly from where I pollarded this tree last year. In a couple months, these trees have put on nearly 5 feet of new growth.  
    20190622_193504.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 20190622_193504.jpg]
    20190622_193517.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 20190622_193517.jpg]
     
    pollinator
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    Two things: your estimates of 250m2 per year of chips is HUGE. I would be considering finding alternative approaches to reach the same ends. I presume you are aiming for widespread soil building?

    Second. Around here most of the woodland is chestnut coppice, which makes many useful products. It is cut typically on a 10 to 15 year cycle, yielding good poles for fencing. And chestnut is also slow to break down.
     
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