Your Mulch is Money

The mulch generated on your site is an entirely unique product.  Regardless of quantity, consistency or type, your mulch is valuable – often more valuable in the long run than the cost of the service itself.  What would you pay to cover an entire acre in 2 to 6 inches of wood mulch?…a heck of lot!  How easily could it be spread in areas far from immediate road access?…Not very!…What does it cost to refurbish your land after stripping it with a bulldozer?…again, a heck of a lot!…more, in fact, than the cost of forestry mulching it in the first place.

When Should I Begin Using My New Pasture?

Mulched produced through forestry mulching decomposes in between 2 and 10 seasons, depending on type, quantity and site conditions.  Wood mulch ultimately adds much needed organic matter and nutrients to your soil.  Mulch also holds large amounts of water which halts erosion and hastens the decay of root matter left by the mulcher.  Even when the mulch is acid (low pH), such as that produced by pine and cedar, soils in our test plots (post decomposition) have consistently demonstrated superior levels of health in every measurable category.  Better tilth and water retention along with higher levels of organic matter equals more biotic life in the soil.  The natural decomposition of mulch quickly outpaces conventional soil improvement strategies such as chemical fertilization, tillage and cover cropping.

Almost immediately after mulching is complete you will begin to notice sparse plant,  perhaps only weeds, briers and hardwood sprouts.  This is just the beginning, soon other pioneer species will arise.  Don’t be picky.  Welcome them all!  They are literally consuming the mulch and creating a more hospitable environment for bugs, earthworms, fungi and beneficial microbes.

Grazing previously mulched area
Rotational grazing

Add a few animals to a freshly mulched area and the process accelerates. Hoof action, animal waste and residual seed from hay and the native seed bank combine to move the pasture restoration process further along.  In some cases, full pasture transitions can take place within a year or less.  Once indicator species such as broomsedge, dewberry, cinquefoil etc., along with several types of mushrooms, begin to appear you can begin to consider specific improvement strategies such as lime, grasses, legumes, burning or mowing regimens.  Usually the best and cheapest plan is to simply mulch, fence, graze and rotate.  One excellent strategy we have discovered is wintering animals on freshly mulched acreage.  This saves dormant grass pasture from “pugging”  during wet grazing conditions and gives the animals time to trod and poop on the mulch while it is wet, thus assisting decomposition (It’s also better on their feet than mucky ground.)   Another effective way to speed composition is chickens.  Chickens are voracious pursuers of bugs and will literally turn every scrap of ground to get them.  It is amazing how hard they will work to build soil quality while providing eggs and meat at little cost ….Funny, how when you work with mother nature she works with you.

 

Should the Mulch Ever Be Removed?

Chickens improve pasture
Guess where the chickens were?

Never remove the mulch from your site!…even if the vegetation was dense and you now have 6-12” of mulch.  The decomposition process can appear to be stalled by such thick cover, but it isn”t.  Stick your hand into the mulch on a warm day with good soil moisture and you’ll feel the heat from the decomposition.  Eco-agriculturalist Joel Salatin once famously spread walnut hulls (a notoriously undesirable and tannic material) on his Virginia farm in the belief that any biomass was good.  He was right, anything is better than nothing.  Areas previously cleared with a bulldozer on our 300 acre farm remain inferior to mulched acreage regardless of time or inputs.  It takes decades of soil replenishment efforts to equal the improvements provided by forestry mulching.  Strict Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) is the only strategy that compares.  The ultimate improvements are realized by combining the two.

What About Stumps?

Another issue we often contend with is stumps.  Many clients are initially worried stumps mulched to ground level will decay and leave holes.  We have a simple rule for stumps – If they can be mulched then they should be.  Larger stumps, both hard and soft wood, left by timbering operations, may require removal and re-dressing, especially if the area is being restored to tillage.  If the area is just being returned to pasture or woods it is best to leave the stumps.  Even pines in the 10-14” range tend to degrade so gradually that holes are not an issue.  We have successfully transformed hundreds of acres of pulp into productive pasture.  We have never had an issue with stumps.  Even if issues were to arise we would recommend filling the holes rather than ripping out stumps.  The latter devastates fragile topsoils and creates additional disposal issues.

If you have further questions or information about the mulch generated on you site please call or e-mail.  Your questions and feedback are a valuable part of the discovery process.