Orchards don’t produce at their best yields forever. As the plants pass their prime, production slows. For farmers looking to start a new crop on the same land, this presents the question: what do you do with the wood and green waste of the old orchard?
In the past, a common practice was to uproot the old trees or shrubs and burn them—some farmers chose to spread the ashes in the old field in hopes of reincorporating nutrients into the soil. However, burning orchard waste is a less accessible option in the modern era, as more burning regulations have been placed to preserve and improve air quality; especially in areas where wildfires are a huge concern, getting a burning permit can be difficult.
Landfill disposal is an option for disposing of orchard waste, but between tipping fees and the several million tons of wood waste already sent to landfills per year, it isn’t the most financially or environmentally conscious solution. With the assistance of horizontal grinders, there are better ways to dispose of orchard waste which can actually improve the health of the future crop.
Mulch is a great way to add aesthetic appeal to your orchard. With the right equipment, orchard waste can be ground and colored in one pass, then spread around the new crop for a dynamic color contrast.
The benefits of mulch aren’t just aesthetic, however. The layer of mulch deters weeds from sprouting near your crop, helps retain soil moisture, protects roots from extreme cold and heat, and limits erosion. Certain varieties of mulch can even help protect against insects and other pests.
Both green and brown orchard waste can be added to compost—a good ratio of the two helps balance the compost for ideal consistency. Green waste, which includes things like grass clippings and live leaves, help add nutrients to your compost, but too much can make your mixture slimy and less spreadable.
Brown waste can be chipped and added to compost to enrich the mix with carbon; additionally, more finely-ground brown waste can be used as a bulking agent, which helps air move through your compost. Spread the compost into the soil of the new crop to promote healthier growth.
One of the best ways to utilize ground orchard waste is with whole-orchard recycling (WOR), which is the practice of chipping whole trees and shrubs, then turning the soil to reincorporate the material directly back into the ground. A study by the University of California, Davis found WOR offers serious benefits by “…increasing the health and productivity of the subsequent replanted orchard and soils while sequestering carbon, reducing GHG emissions, improving soil structure and increasing water use efficiency.” With WOR, the study saw long-term increases in carbon and nitrogen content in the soil, as well as improvements in the water retention.
There are various options for disposing of orchard waste. Skip the burning permits and tipping fees—contact a Rotochopper representative instead, and learn more about how you can improve the health of your future crops with the use of a horizontal grinder.