- Author: Brenda Altman
Be careful what you wish for.
Last fall I moved to Vallejo and bought this cute little house off of Georgia Street. It had a good size front yard and a large backyard. I wanted a yard to put in a garden and a green house. Unfortunately the front and back yard and the driveway were all covered with concrete about 4,000 square feet in all! The garden would have to wait.
I found a contractor who would take out the concrete and rebuild a detached garage. It took only a week to demolish the old garage and rip up the concrete. Removal of all the concrete got rid of the large heat sink that surrounded my house. When the temperatures rose to 100 degrees F last summer the concrete added another 20 degrees.
Fast forward to January 2018. The garage is now almost completed. The driveway and yard after decades of concrete cover are now exposed to the elements. Then came the first rains drip, drip, drip the soil slowly turned to mud. Surprise its clay, what, clay in Vallejo? Even though I suspected clay, I was not a happy camper. 3” of clay stuck on each shoe as I got to the house. Even though I was taking off my clay shoes before I entered the house it was still quite a hassle. I needed some ground cover NOW!
My friend Ellyn, who is an arborist, had told me that tree pruning companies often offer free wood chips. Free and they deliver! I can afford that! The timing was perfect the garage was almost completed and the contractor would not be working during the coming rains. I went on line and submitted a request for free wood chips. If you google “free wood chips” a number of sites come up. I went to C&W tree service site and signed up. The next day the tree company called me up and asked me how much free chips I could use. Could I use 25 cubic yards? “What's a cubic yard?” I thought. I replied, “I guess so” relying on the fact I had removed 4,000 sq. ft. of concrete and 25 cubic yards would be okay.
Free wood chips! Notice the steam rising from right side of the pile.
Wow, 25 cubic yards was a lot more than I imagined! The tree guy came at around 8 am. He looked at my driveway and figured I could take the whole 25 yards. He backed his truck into my driveway and dumped a pile of wood chips 3' high 10' wide and 30' long. As he pulled away I said to myself, “Oh no what did I get myself into?” “Well”, I said to myself, “it's free and it will keep the mud off my shoes, and it will help the soil.”
I worked at that wood chip pile for days. It took a week, working around the periodic rain storms. I finally got it distributed around my property. Yes it was free and yes the soil needed organic materials and yes it was a good workout. But I learned a few things on how to be a better FREE wood chip customer.
Finally only two or three wheel barrow loads to move!
1) Have an area for the wood chips
- The landscape contractor will need room to dump the chips
- Don't block driveways or walkways if you need them
- Have an area to store chips for later distribution
2) Know how much you need
- Ha, ha 25 cubic yards that's a lot. Know how much a cubic yard is
- You can ask for less but usually there's a minimum
i. One site offered 8 cubic yards of chips
- Share a load with a friend who needs wood chips
3) Know what kind of wood chips you are getting
- Pine trees and needles are acidic, know how it will affect your soil pH
- Leaf mulch will decompose quicker than wood chips
4) Have the right tools in good condition at hand
- Wheelbarrow, shovel, pitchfork, and a rake
- A garden tractor if you are so blessed
5) Are you ready to work?
- Hire someone else
- Wear good garden gloves and sturdy shoes
- Know how to use your tools correctly
i. Good ergonomics = efficient work and less back pain
- Take plenty of breaks and hydrate often.
- Have fun! Did I mention the wood chips are FREE!
Some interesting observations:
I noticed steam coming off the pile of chips – I took a number of temperature readings that ranged from 120 degrees F to 147 degrees F.
Further evidence of decomposition I noticed different coloration in the layers of the wood chip pile.