Looking for cheap way to process small branches into mulch

Billerica, MA(Zone 6a)

The way I'm organized now, I compost any branches that are 1/4" or less, and anything larger than 2" I use as firewood. It's the stuff inbetween that's tough to deal with. I burn most of it in a firepit, but my town has tough restrictions on outdoor burning. Besides, I'd like to chip it up and use it for mulch or for composting. Chipper/shredders are a bit pricey, and was wondering if maybe there's a cheap and easy way to break it up to a more useable size... at least some of it.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Do you have too much of it to chop by hand?

Billerica, MA(Zone 6a)

Way too much. I do some of the smaller, softer stuff by hand... very tedious.

Lodi, CA(Zone 9b)

I have a pattern where a guy put a mower on a frame, and had a small chute to feed the branches in. I am sorry, I can't find it anywhere..

I did find this though!

Billerica, MA(Zone 6a)

Thanks ZZ... though I find the particular item in the article a bit over my level of expertise to try to assemble, it has given me some similar but less complex ideas. I do have an old lawnmower I can experiment with and we'll see how it goes. Meanwhile if anybody else has any suggestions, I'd like to hear them.

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

lol - Be careful! (Sorry, I was just having a flashback to my business law class, which had a whole chapter on why they put those absurd product liability disclaimers on things, based on examples of things people had done with lawn mowers.)

I decided bartering with someone who owns a chipper/shredder was the most efficient use of my resources. You can definitely burn through a lot of your time trying to break them down by hand. No one who has one of those things uses it hardly ever, so you don't really have to offer all that much. Mostly they're just happy to see it used, because then they don't have so much nagging guilt about buying it.

If you've got space, it's cool to leave some of those sized branches piled up as wildlife habitat. I've really been noticing the past couple of weeks the teen-aged birdies hopping around inside my pile. They're old enough to be out of the nest, but not really experienced enough to avoid predators, so they seem to gravitate to the extra shelter of the branches.

Billerica, MA(Zone 6a)

Thanks birdlady... for both the ideas and the warning. I was planning on trying something real simple. My old lawmower is a mulching type with a rear bag. I was thinking of lowering the unit to it's lowest setting, preparing an area especially for this... then running over the light branches. I'll limit them to 1", maybe less. I can burn the rest as I built an 8 ft diameter stone firepit, 20" high. If everything works out, I'll get the mulch I need, and probably limit my burns to 1 or 2 a year. btw, I have lots of wildlife habitats already. That's what I did with my brush when i first purchased my property. Also have bramble bush in an area which is off-limits to anything larger than a rabbit. I have a love/hate relationship with the rabbits around here as I have the only wooded area in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I'm looking for a small, used chipper/shredder. They have them as small as 2 hp, for branches up to 1 1/4". Cost about $180 new but sometimes (rarely, around here), a used one can be gotten for under $100 (still a lot of $ as I got laid off a year ago, and only work pt-time now). We'll see how it goes.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I use my feeble electric lawn mower to chop/shred small brances - say up to 1/2" or 3/4 inch at very most. Those go pretty slowly, and may eventually break the mower down. I plan to sharpen that lawn-mower blade with an angle-grinder sometime soon!

I just rock back and forth over a layer, with the wheels on the HIGHEST setting, then back off, stir the heap, and chop again. If the finished result seems too coarse, I run over it again with wheels set lower. I always mow over the sidewalk, that just seems to let the chunks fly up into the baldes easier. It also seems to help if the branch lengths are not too long. Sometimes I can mow "the fine stuff" off easily, then have to go back and break up the longer and thicker branches so the mower can get at them.

My main concern is to avoid the mower flipping over and mowing my foot or the power cord!

This gets small branches fine enough for me (shreds finer than 1/8" or 3/16ths).

It sounds as if you only have to reduce the diameter down to 1/4" or less before composting it with the rest of your light brush. Maybe you don't need the "mulching" blade. Maybe a single-edge blade would chop heavy wood faster.

I agree with your plan to limit this to branches under 1" or so, unless you have a super-potent lawnmower.

Stuff larger than 1/2-3/4" I break up just enough to lie flat. If they are already piled loosly, I use a pruner that looks like a bolt cutter, and cut only what I need to, in order to let them pack fairly close together. This also reduces their bulk and unsightliness, and lets me walk over them without that "trampoline" effect. Hopefully it reduces the fire hazard, too.

Then I leave them there, to soften up with wood rot over a year or two (we have lots of rain). I throw some green or brown clippings over them occasionally, to hold the humidity and encourage breakdown. Like very inefficient and slow composting.

I plan to go back and "mow" that heap after it has softened enough that the mower can digest it! Then those shavings will go into the real compost heap.

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