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May 26, 2012

Shredding garden waste for compost: wood chipper, lawn mower, or else?

I have to admit, I spent quite some time researching the options of shredding my garden waste for composting, such as tomato, corn, okra, and other plants, as well as weeds, and the good stuff - your cover crops. Surprisingly, in this day and age of seemingly everyone growing a garden, there is very poor choice of garden waste processing machinery. I hate even saying "garden waste" as these spent plants are an awesome source of future nutrients and humus for the garden.

Anyway, it looks like we have two choices: a wood chipper and a mulching lawn mover. That's it. A reasonably priced wood chipper - under $1,000 - is still not an adequate choice! Most of these have a limitation of material thickness, up to 2 inches in diameter. Well, my corn stalks are at about that thickness, and okra plants can run even thicker. But even if we upgrade and go with the unit that chips 3 inches, we are still limited by "no green" restriction. These chippers are designed to handle twigs, not plants from the garden. Even if you pull a tomato plant, it would be kind of dry on the bottom, but green on the top. So, the wood chipper, unless it's a Fargo kind (which will run several thousand dollars), is not adequate, so, save your money.

A second choice is to get a mulching lawn mover at a price tag of $300 - $500 and run it over a pile of spent garden plants. This is much better than a chipper because it does not have size limitations, but to run it efficiently for this purpose the blade has to be frequently sharpened. Sharpening the blade involves taking out the spark plugs, then unscrewing the blade, and sharpening it with the hand file or some power tool. Then, putting the mower back together. Excuse me, I am a female. Not that I am afraid of power tools, but the process sounds too involved for what I am willing to do.

Accidentally, I stumbled upon another choice. This choice does not require electricity, gasoline, or any complicated maintenance. And, it accepts basically any thickness or green range of garden waste. Enter Felco. It is a hand pruner, and at a $55 price tag was a reasonable choice for my needs.

 It is made in Sweeden, not in China, so I imagine it will last a long time. It is incredibly sharp and very easy to operate. I harvested the last of the tomatoes from ten to twelve plants, pulled up the cages, and shredded the tomato plants to fill this five gallon bucket in two hours total. It is amazing that a whole mess of tomato plants that would normally take several cubic feet by volume if not shredded, took only this little bit of space in a five gallon bucket.

I cut the plants into chunks of about two inches long. This would be sufficient to throw into the compost pile to speed up decomposting, or even use this mass as mulch (which is what I did, mulched around my cubanelle peppers). I researched quite a bit on a brand and make, and settled on this tool because it had some outstanding reviews on Amazon, plus, the shipping was free. The only thing I wish it had - some kind of harness, so I could carry it with me at all times: that's how much I love this little tool!

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