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Turning leaf collection business into a composting business?

 
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I see all these landscape companies with their leaf removal systems. It’s usually a plywood box built on a dump truck or dump trailer. On the front or back, they mount a leaf vacuum shredder loader. Most of these businesses have to pay to dump their leaves somewhere. My land is a bit far out of town. So instead of looking for different landscape companies to come and dump on my land, I’ve started the process of a leaf removal business myself. This way too, I know I’m what I’m getting for my orchards and gardens. It makes loads (pun) of sense to get paid to remove leaves from clients and start the composting process. Especially for my soils structure and fertility improvement. Either by spreading it out and layering it across a large area or by building wire wrapped compost cages and letting it age until next season. I could also supply other local organic growers in the area. Especially if I add worms and mycorrhiza. Seems like a win win situation. I have the space for a large area to dedicate to this and now the equipment to get started. I’ve already got clients lined up...
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leaf vacuum shreader
leaf vacuum shreader
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trailer
trailer
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trailer
trailer
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dump trailer
dump trailer
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[Thumbnail for 58B51108-B906-41D2-9044-51532C814FCC.jpeg]
leaf-shreader-vacuum-set-up-on-dump-trailer.jpeg
leaf shreader vacuum set up on dump trailer
leaf shreader vacuum set up on dump trailer
 
D. Nelson
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When I’m not using the trailer for leaf collection, especially during the off parts of the season. I plan on using the trailer in conjunction with my land clearing and grading business. Because I also have an excavator. Making wise investments for the future...
35162499-5070-4845-8C8B-A918B4D4FD45.jpeg
excavator
excavator
 
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Very nice D.  I love it!  Thank you for these posts.  How do you set your rates for leaf removal?  Just curious as I've never looked into it as I also use all my leaves as well as all the extra leaves I drag to my property.  You've got me into a severe case of leaf envy!
 
D. Nelson
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Greg Martin wrote:Very nice D.  I love it!  Thank you for these posts.  How do you set your rates for leaf removal?  Just curious as I've never looked into it as I also use all my leaves as well as all the extra leaves I drag to my property.  You've got me into a severe case of leaf envy!


there are a few videos on YouTube about learning how to charge. Get some good blowers. Like Echo 8010T and Stihl BR 600. And then there’s the larger push blowers 18hp +. Some machines like the Hurricane X3 is a riding blower with blower distances of walls of leaves from 15-20’. The latter being anywhere from 10K - 12K. Gotta have clients with acreage to justify that expense. But also figure if you’re getting older and up in years your body can’t handle running a blower all day but a riding one which you could feasibly do a 5 acre property in 10 to 30 minutes and make upwards of $1000. Study other landscaper videos pertaining to this on YouTube. it’s how I’m learning.
 
D. Nelson
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I have one client with two neighbors all of which have been paying $600 for each visit to come vacuum the leaves that they have already raked to the edge of the road. Not everybody is going to do that but, you can always charge for blowing them with your machinery to the front and then vacuuming them up. In the meantime what I’ve been doing is driving through various neighborhoods and every time I see bags of leaves especially the ones in paper bags I  load up as many as I can in the back of my truck and bring them home. Free leaves are free leaves, bagged or shredded!
 
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D. Nelson wrote:When I’m not using the trailer for leaf collection, especially during the off parts of the season. I plan on using the trailer in conjunction with my land clearing and grading business. Because I also have an excavator. Making wise investments for the future...



I have excavator envy. That's a great looking machine.

I'm hoping to rent one like this soon to do some work on my property. Have you ever used it to dig up a 12 inch diameter tree stump?
 
D. Nelson
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Steve Thorn wrote:

D. Nelson wrote:When I’m not using the trailer for leaf collection, especially during the off parts of the season. I plan on using the trailer in conjunction with my land clearing and grading business. Because I also have an excavator. Making wise investments for the future...



I have excavator envy. That's a great looking machine.

I'm hoping to rent one like this soon to do some work on my property. Have you ever used it to dig up a 12 inch diameter tree stump?



Many and larger than that. This machine makes quick work. After the stump is out, it takes no time to smooth out the area. Effortlessly...
 
Steve Thorn
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Great to hear D., thanks for the info!
 
D. Nelson
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My friend Dave came over and we started building the leaf collection box on the trailer.
trailer-converted-to-leaf-collection-box.jpeg
trailer converted to leaf collection box
trailer converted to leaf collection box
converting-trailer.jpeg
converting trailer
converting trailer
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making leaf collecting box on trailer
making leaf collecting box on trailer
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trailor being converted to collect leaves
trailor being converted to collect leaves
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
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leaf blower and shreader
leaf blower and shreader
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leaf blower shreader
leaf blower shreader
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
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trailer being converted to collect leaves
trailer being converted to collect leaves
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trailer conversion
trailer conversion
 
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D. Nelson wrote:I see all these landscape companies with their leaf removal systems. It’s usually a plywood box built on a dump truck or dump trailer. On the front or back, they mount a leaf vacuum shredder loader. Most of these businesses have to pay to dump their leaves somewhere. My land is a bit far out of town. So instead of looking for different landscape companies to come and dump on my land, I’ve started the process of a leaf removal business myself. This way too, I know I’m what I’m getting for my orchards and gardens. It makes loads (pun) of sense to get paid to remove leaves from clients and start the composting process. Especially for my soils structure and fertility improvement. Either by spreading it out and layering it across a large area or by building wire wrapped compost cages and letting it age until next season. I could also supply other local organic growers in the area. Especially if I add worms and mycorrhiza. Seems like a win win situation. I have the space for a large area to dedicate to this and now the equipment to get started. I’ve already got clients lined up...



Awesome!
 
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D Nelson,

I have one problem with what you are doing.  I wish I have thought of it first.  I want one too!  I am jealous!

In reality I think this is a really great idea.  I would personally just love to have access to as many leaves as you are going to get and be able to turn them into high quality compost like you plan to do.  I especially love the leaf vac.

I rake my neighbor’s yard and use his leaves on my garden.  I have tried to justify getting a small leaf vac truck loader like you have but just can’t justify the expense.

Awesome idea!

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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Eric Hanson wrote:D Nelson,

I have one problem with what you are doing.  I wish I have thought of it first.  I want one too!  I am jealous!

In reality I think this is a really great idea.  I would personally just love to have access to as many leaves as you are going to get and be able to turn them into high quality compost like you plan to do.  I especially love the leaf vac.

I rake my neighbor’s yard and use his leaves on my garden.  I have tried to justify getting a small leaf vac truck loader like you have but just can’t justify the expense.

Awesome idea!

Eric


Thank you for your kind words. You might want to consider picking up a backpack blower that way it’s a lot easier on you as opposed to raking leaves
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nelson,

For a while I had a sort of truck loader.

I own a Worx electric blower vac.  I would typically rake the leaves into piles.  I then used my blower in the vac mode and would suck them up.  I bought an attachment to the blower vac that had about a 10’ black plastic tube connected to a canvas bag with an opening designed to fit around a garbage can.  I would just place the bag in the back of my trailer and let them fill up the trailer full of chipped up leaves.  It took plenty of time, but I could eventually get quite a load of leaves in the trailer (4’x8’).

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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Eric Hanson wrote:D Nelson,

For a while I had a sort of truck loader.

I own a Worx electric blower vac.  I would typically rake the leaves into piles.  I then used my blower in the vac mode and would suck them up.  I bought an attachment to the blower vac that had about a 10’ black plastic tube connected to a canvas bag with an opening designed to fit around a garbage can.  I would just place the bag in the back of my trailer and let them fill up the trailer full of chipped up leaves.  It took plenty of time, but I could eventually get quite a load of leaves in the trailer (4’x8’).

Eric


Got pictures?
 
Eric Hanson
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Wish I did!

Basically it was just a 4x8’ trailer with 2’ sides.  I would stick the bag part in the trailer and bungee it into place.  I would then have a limited amount of room to sweep the vac back and forth across a pile of leaves.

The operation would take me about 4 hours from start to finish.  A proper set of equipment could have done this in 20 minutes.  But I had the time and not the money so that’s what I went for.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nelson,

I am very curious as to how much actual compost you will get in the end.  I raked my neighbor’s yard for years with my makeshift truckloader system.  I hauled multiple trailer loads of ground up leaves to my garden beds.  I piled the beds 2-3’ high each fall.  By spring almost nothing remained of the leaves.  I was expecting to have some measurable increase in soil volume, but Instead I had absolutely no visible additional material!  The soil was much better, having turned from hard clay into something softer and more friable, but the leaves seemed to disappear.  I was shocked at how much volume I didn’t have.

But you are going to have a lot more leaves than me so I am curious as to what you get.

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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From what I understand with the size of the box I’m building on the trailer, it will have a capacity of approximately 30 cubic yards of shredded leaves. It’s going to be 8’ from floor to ceiling . I’m copying this guys build, more or less.
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nelson,

BTW, what model of leaf vac did you get?  I see it is a Billy Goat model, but do you know the HP, airflow, hose diameter, etc?

For a while I was really looking for a leaf vac like you have, but I just couldn’t justify the expense for my purposes.  For me it would have been a very expensive piece of equipment for a hobby and one that I would only use for a few weeks out of the year.

For you the equation is entirely different as this is something that you will use to make money.

One last question, how do you plan to break down the leaves?  Will you go a fungal or bacterial route?  Either one could be a winner, I am just curious.

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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Eric Hanson wrote:D Nelson,

BTW, what model of leaf vac did you get?  I see it is a Billy Goat model, but do you know the HP, airflow, hose diameter, etc?

For a while I was really looking for a leaf vac like you have, but I just couldn’t justify the expense for my purposes.  For me it would have been a very expensive piece of equipment for a hobby and one that I would only use for a few weeks out of the year.

For you the equation is entirely different as this is something that you will use to make money.

One last question, how do you plan to break down the leaves?  Will you go a fungal or bacterial route?  Either one could be a winner, I am just curious.

Eric


Hey Eric. It’s an 18 HP Billygoat DL 1801 VE,. Besides the vacuum, there’s an impeller that shreds the leaves as they get taken into the 10” diameter hose. Beyond that I may use Myko’s. I add it to my wood chip piles anyway. Otherwise, I have a few experiments I’d like to try for breaking it down. Like layers of leafy lasagna or wrap in in a cage and let it cook....I cannot wait to create more friable soils here! Clay sucks!

I spent a good portion of the day working on the trailer some more. I started making mistakes towards the end of the day and decided to finish tomorrow. I did get three sides up but failed to get a picture of that. I bet my mileage is gonna stink! I’ll be pulling a big, big box on wheels! I can’t wait to show it dumping with the box on it.
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Adding the removable top to the leaf box
Adding the removable top to the leaf box
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alternate view
alternate view
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view from inside
view from inside
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2x4 risers to attach the plywood to
2x4 risers to attach the plywood to
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The base boards stay on and the 2x4s for the plywood butt up against the permanent risers
The base boards stay on and the 2x4s for the plywood butt up against the permanent risers
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The plywood brings the leaf box wall height to almost 8'
The plywood brings the leaf box wall height to almost 8'
 
D. Nelson
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Eric Hanson wrote:D Nelson

One last question, how do you plan to break down the leaves?  Will you go a fungal or bacterial route?  Either one could be a winner, I am just curious.

Eric


9D2BB304-EA6E-4B13-A91E-E18DD73B2BF5.jpeg
Mycos innoculum
Mycos innoculum
617C8925-5EA0-41B4-A09A-0DF3BE98A772.jpeg
Mykos inoculant
Mykos inoculant
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nelson,

That looks like a really good setup.  Good info on the truckloader.  I wish I had one myself.  If it were me I would try to break those leaves down with wine cap mushrooms, but then I am on a wine cap binge so I might not be the most objective.  You are absolutely correct about clay soil being difficult stuff.  Leaves will do wonders to help loosen the soil.  I added a LOT of leaves to my clay garden beds.  I don’t exactly know where all the leaves went but the soil beneath is sooooo much better than before.

Good luck!!

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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Test one two...
 
D. Nelson
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Almost done
9cHhNLynSFqSTPIMiIr8Lg.jpg
getting there
getting there
59786797526__FDB92FE1-4C6A-4EA5-AF99-1AF6BE845A8A.JPG
joists across top hold wall as well as support the netting that will hold in the leaves
joists across top hold wall as well as support the netting that will hold in the leaves
jIND6AJuT7qWMtvUJd-EXg.jpg
leaf box walls up
leaf box walls up
 
D. Nelson
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A few shots of it lifted
D52AiO8oQ-OUhgpiB5tB4w.jpg
hinged back wall
hinged back wall
vbIBUu3iSciyYd7tb41O9w.jpg
dump position
dump position
RRv6QNWETUmVGC3jTouwHQ.jpg
dump position to empty leaves
dump position to empty leaves
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nelson,

I just watched your video.  Very nice!  I am now even more jealous than I was before!  Really, you have a pretty cool setup there.

A question for you:  have you thought about using wine cap mushrooms to decompose your leaves?  I use them on wood chips and I assure you that break down wood chips aggressively.  The process takes about a year, but they are very aggressive, easy to “plant” and leave behind a very nice, magically fertile bedding material.  I grow them on woodchips, some people grow them on straw and I see no reason they would not work on dried leaves.

It is just a thought but it might be helpful for you.

Eric
 
Greg Martin
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Really great job D!  Just one question, do you use the inoculant to add preferred fungi rather than just letting the native spores take over the process, or is this more about speed to decompose because of the massive volume of leaves?  I'm a biochar guy so I'm very, very interested in what you're doing as a means to produce a lot of biochar leaf compost.
 
Eric Hanson
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D,

I agree with Greg!  Choosing a really good mushroom could really turn all those leaves into something special!  At the moment I am extremely preferential to wine cap mushrooms as I have had very good luck with them on woodchips.  I imagine that they would aggressively colonize and thoroughly break down into a great compost.  An alternative might be blue oyster mushrooms.  The blue oyster mushrooms will colonize and break down the substrate in about half the time of wine caps, but wine caps are pretty oblivious to growing conditions and both establish easily and are pretty bulletproof.

If you do this you will want to flatten your bed somewhat so that the mushroom spawn can get some contact with the soil underneath.  As the leaves break down you can go ahead and add more leaves on top.  In the end you will have a wonderful compost that you can use on gardens or even bag up and sell!  That would be a great Permie value-added product!

Should you go this route you might well be amazed by how far the leaves don’t go.  I have seen huge piles of leaves get reduced to an almost trivial amount of compost.  But then you will be accumulating a huge supply of shredded leaves and you will want to do something with these so maybe reducing them to a tiny amount might be great just by itself.

But at any rate, you have the fixings of a great operation there.  I have one request if it is not too much trouble to ask.  Any chance you can get some video of your operation at work?  I would just love to see things like how well your leaf loader sucks up the leaves, how well it shreds up the leaves, just how easily you can dump the leaves, etc.

Anyhow, great system you have there!

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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I’m hoping to finish the trailer build today and mount the vacuum. I have a few jobs lined up, so hopefully this week I’ll be able to do what you’re asking. I was planning on making a video about it anyway soooo...
86D6E8DA-D408-4C3F-B37E-BF179EF09227.jpeg
blower
blower
F7B97A72-623D-424F-9D7F-376727E444C5.jpeg
leaf box complete
leaf box complete
 
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D. Nelson, nice setup. I've had a similar rig for 9 years now.
Mine is smaller, a 13hp Billy Goat loader w/8" hose, on a 5' x 8' single axle dumping trailer, 6-1/2' high box.
I used to pull it with a compact pickup (just replaced this past year with a full size).

I'm in the Boston suburbs, so the smaller size fits our smaller lots better (most are under one acre, many 1/2 acre or less.)
About one load (or a bit less) per property, 10 cubic yards when shredded.
This is my personal rig, and I just collect my leaves and our nearby neighbor's leaves each fall, anywhere from 6-10 loads.
I have done some (pickup only) for hire way back when I first got setup, but hard to fit in with a full-time job.

I definitely see it as an investment, both in time and labor savings for now, and also as a fall back plan for some income.
Like you, having both the land to put the leaves and a use for the compost, is a win-win situation. An edge over the landscape guys that pay to tip their trucks.


 
D. Nelson
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Using the excavator today, I managed to get the Billygoat Leaf Vacuum mounted and the top hinged rear door completed except for the port hole for the blower end. I'll use a jigsaw and cut that out tomorrow. I also managed to install the rest of the shade cloth and attached to to the back of the hinged door. I'll most likely run a few thin strips of wood slats across the top "joists" and over the shade cloth to keep it in place. I feel like mashed potatoes!

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Eric Hanson
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That looks very nice!

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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I still need to paint it for longevity, im just trying to get it functional so I can go0 collect some leaves. When the leaves have all been collected for the season, I'll remove the top plywood portion and start using the trailer for hauling and dumping in conjunction with my land clearing and grading work.
 
D. Nelson
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Its alive!!!   I'll try to post a video of it in operation later. So excited!
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Eric Hanson
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D,

Yes, please do!  I for one would love to see it in action!!

Eric
 
D. Nelson
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I made a quick video but nothing worth posting to YouTube without major editing. I will make more of an effort to video tomorrow when I go back. It needs a little tweaking too which I'll do in the morning before heading back over there. Got Leaves?
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D. Nelson wrote:I still need to paint it for longevity, im just trying to get it functional so I can go0 collect some leaves. When the leaves have all been collected for the season, I'll remove the top plywood portion and start using the trailer for hauling and dumping in conjunction with my land clearing and grading work.

id use a good quality deck stain instead of paint. it won't flake and will protect much better. nice setup! bet you could make good money up here with that as compost is very expensive here. maybe you could talk to some restaurants and cafeterias to get some food scraps to mix in there to help the compost to finish quicker. our local university does this and then adds it to the leaves us custodians collect in the fall. by the following summer the pile is completely broke down and they sell it by the load to anyone that wants it
 
Eric Hanson
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D,

I think Steve makes many good points.  The stain and water sealer might well outlast paint.  If you were to stain all that wood and coat it in some long-lasting water sealer, I would expect it to shed water like a ducks back for quite some time.  Probably at some point the wood would need a new coat of sealer (Maybe once/year?) but that’s not a big deal.  

I guess another option would be to “paint” the wood with bed liner for trucks.  I would expect this to be durable and resistant to the elements, but I don’t know how well it would apply to wood as opposed to metal.  It might work just fine.  

Of course you could prime and paint.

Last option, you could use a masonry sealer.  I used a product called DryLoc that was recommended to me on Permies.  This coats the lumber for my raised bed garden edges.  It is some pretty unusual “paint.”  It feels like a very thick paint with sand mixed in.  It dries hard though.  It is pretty durable.

Anyhow, these are just a few options, you already have a great setup.

Eric
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Eric Hanson wrote:D,

I think Steve makes many good points.  The stain and water sealer might well outlast paint.  If you were to stain all that wood and coat it in some long-lasting water sealer, I would expect it to shed water like a ducks back for quite some time.  Probably at some point the wood would need a new coat of sealer (Maybe once/year?) but that’s not a big deal.  

I guess another option would be to “paint” the wood with bed liner for trucks.  I would expect this to be durable and resistant to the elements, but I don’t know how well it would apply to wood as opposed to metal.  It might work just fine.  

Of course you could prime and paint.

Last option, you could use a masonry sealer.  I used a product called DryLoc that was recommended to me on Permies.  This coats the lumber for my raised bed garden edges.  It is some pretty unusual “paint.”  It feels like a very thick paint with sand mixed in.  It dries hard though.  It is pretty durable.

Anyhow, these are just a few options, you already have a great setup.

Eric



From my experience, with a similar setup (mentioned above), smoother is better. I notice a difference now as compared to when my trailer was new with intact paint on the floor (now rusted) and flat (a few dents and wiggles)
I wouldn't use either the DryLoc or a spray-on bedliner, since they might be or are intended to be non-skid. You want it to slide!!

I have also found that prompt dumping is easier than letting it sit overnight or even days before emptying. Especially  if temperatures are below freezing, since you can get a crust of leaves frozen to the floor and sides. Not much sliding going on... and then you are up inside forking it all out!!
 
D. Nelson
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Sorry for the long post.
Thank you to everyone for your feedback. I will consider every option. I definitely want to do something before winter sets in. Today I was really hoping to video everything but alas, my helper didn't show up again. They no longer have employment with me. Going out drinking on work nights never set well with me. It's soooo hard to find people willing to work around here and I pay well! I just don't get it...? Anyway I had to go back to the same place and finish up. All the leaves were already in huge piles along the roadway by my friends landscape company. I'm not getting paid to remove them because they typically just blow them across the street and down the mountain but, I'm just as equally interested in the leaves. Plus, this was the maiden run of the SS Behemoth and I wanted to see how everything functioned. All together I think I got about 28-30 cubic yards total in two days. it took me by myself about 4.5-5 hours to complete the job. This gives me a rough estimate for how much I'll need to charge in the future. I still think its a win win situation no matter how I look at it, especially since I'll be using the leaves in the orchards and maybe set up a small composting business. I'd like to collect veggie scraps from restaurants but I did that in the past and it was me having to go pick up stuff daily and sift through it to remove all the other garbage that cooks threw in the buckets. I stopped when some of my buckets had meat scraps thrown in. I eat meat, I just don't want it in my compost. On another note, the vacuum shredder really chops them up well Some leaves go through whole only because big globs get sucked in together. Wet leaves are harder to vacuum and rake. Dry leaves suck up easily but create loads of dust.
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D. Nelson
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Shredded and dumped
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