By Christine Traini
Not a day goes by that I don’t ride in a chip truck back to our shop and think about the resource in our dump bed. As a tree service, it seems to me that after we perform our primary service (tree work) we have a huge untapped byproduct that typically gets fed to our chipper and dumped off site. But what if as a tree loving community, we could reframe the way we think about this material and see it as something valuable?
Thinking about the big picture, trees provide all sorts of “ecosystem services” to us, which is a fancy way of saying that trees do things that make life on earth better. When we think about ecosystems, many of us might think about forests, but the reality is that even the smallest suburban yard with a single tree is a rich ecosystem of its own. If we want to be environmentally friendly homeowners, then we should think about treating our yards as such. How can you steward your yard? Taking care of your trees is a great start! Trees provide habitat to all beings big and small, reduce erosion and runoff, cool our homes in the summer, and very importantly for Earth as a whole, capture carbon from their atmosphere and store it in their wood.
So all those little chips in our trucks are really just carbon coins being toted off elsewhere. Keeping chips on site helps reduce your carbon footprint and it’s also good for your trees and plantings!
If you already mulch around your trees (high five), consider keeping your next chip load and expanding your mulch circle just a couple inches. Every bit helps reduce compression on your tree’s roots and keeps valuable water and minerals in the soil. As chips decompose a bunch of other beneficial fungi and friends come to the party, which brings insects, then birds to who eat the insects …. If you have a small wooded area, having the crew “fly chip” into it is a great way to keep nutrients and carbon on site. Besides chips, what we call “coarse woody debris” or bigger chunks of wood and limbs has been proven to be highly beneficial to trees. Turf under your trees has pretty much the opposite effect of everything described above, so think about that the next time you have some work done and consider keeping your chips to spread under your trees. Late winter/ early spring is a great time to work on yard and garden design, so maybe you can rework some of your yard into a mulched chip bed, which in the future could support some awesome native plantings! It will be better for your trees and your little ecosystem.
Moving on, the material leftover from pruning and removals also has many cultural uses. Of course we all know wood burns, and if you’re lucky enough to have an indoor wood stove or outdoor pit, burning wood from your own tree work is way cooler that buying an $8 firewood bundle at the gas station. Certain species of firewood sized wood pieces can be used to grow your own mushrooms from home, with just a drill and some spawn. My partner and I are both arborists, so we are constantly inundated with woody material and have found many creative outlets. We bought some cheap knives and taught ourselves to carve; built a shave horse and started making wooden furniture for our home; and I’m a dyer and use bark, leaves, galls, nuts, and twigs to produce natural dyes for fabric. The possibilities are endless and maybe that chunk of walnut coming off your tree is the start of a new, exciting hobby.
So the next time you are thinking of having tree work done, do a quick google search of the species we will be working on (your arborist should be able to tell you this!). Maybe you can think of something awesome to do with your material instead of just having the crew chip it all up and haul it off.