Saturday, March 02, 2013

Sawdust And Seedlings

Cabbage Gone to Seed
Today Kris and I decided to work at home. I put in some time putting some seeds in for the garden, in the process pondering what to do with the pods put out by the cabbage I let go to seed.

Seeding for Seedlings
The pods seem to have little blacks seeds in them; some of the pods were open with some of the seeds apparently missing; I don't know what sort of creature did this but it doesn't seem to have had an enormous hunger for the cabbage seeds since a great many of them were left.
I planted a bunch of the pods and a few loose seeds in a wooden box of dirt to see if they'll sprout. I also started 5 saucers of herbs to be transplanted when they get big, and a bunch of tomatoes and marigolds - hopefully they'll grow nicely together when they get big!
Branch Of Cabbage Pods
I then went over to my brother Dan's to experiment with the new woodchipper. His neighbor had 3 or 4 balks of lumber that had sat out for years, covered in tarps that gradually tore; water got in and nature had her way. With the neighbor's permission, we were hoping to salvage enough lumber to work on Dan's garage and my shed. We started sorting last week, but found that most of it was rubbish. There seems to be at least four different ways that rot, mold or bugs can take apart of 2x4, just from what we saw. However, this was a clue that the wood was not treated with any preservative; the natural processes of biology were well underway returning the wood to the soil.
One Big Cabbage Pod
The first idea was to truck the garbage wood to the dump; it wasn't doing anyone any good where it's sitting. But that can be expensive, something like $120 a ton. Also, it violates the principle of Dispose On Site which, when practiced prudently, can minimize costs in a most frugal way!
But then I had a thought: let's make wood chips out of it for mulching! I wouldn't touch it if this were pressure-treated wood, but this was obviously just the straight stuff and pretty harmless.
We researched woodchippers. No-one I knew had one and they rented for a few hundred bucks. Dan noticed Harbor Freight had some on sale: an electric model, and a large gas-powered model. The electric was about $30 cheaper but noticeably smaller. I didn't want to go with gas-powered, because they are notoriously polluting; I figured I didn't mind doing the extra work needed with the smaller machine because, after all, I need the exercise and I wasn't doing this for pay. Dan went along with the idea and picked up the machine; we're splitting the cost and figure it's pay for itself on our various projects over the years.

Dan and the Disassembly Line
When I got to his house this morning, he had been experimenting with the machine. The maximum diameter it handles is an inch-and-a-quarter, which is a lot smaller than the 2x4s and 2x6s we were dealing with. He'd hacked some with a hatchet, which sort of works but is very slow. He pondered a minute, and then we brought out his saw. Now we had a disassembly line going: he sawed the boards down to 1-inch wide, I fed them through the chipper.
It's not a fast process but we made good progress. In an hour or two we had 10 cubic feet of wood chips, maybe $20 worth. That may be a lot of work to save $20 but remember, we also saved on garbage fees, and much of the time was spent in learning the process. The chips look great on the lawn!
The End: Wood Chips!
I learned a bit about using a woodchipper, most of which was interpreting its behavior so as to avoid clogs. The sound and the stuff coming out the bottom provides plenty of clues as to whether to hurry things up or to back off. And remember: safety first!
Another thing I learned was that if a 2x6 is rotten enough, you really can tear it apart with your gloved hands. This results in an acceptable mulching substance, sort of like wood gravel, that doesn't have to bother passing through the chipper.
It is indeed unfortunate that so much good lumber has been lost, but it is personally satisfying (and monetarily helpful!) to find this second and terminal use for it.

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