Saturday, April 6, 2013

Chopping brush. There is more going on then you may think!

brush has been raked from under the trees and is ready for chopping
In one of my earlier blogs from a couple years ago I talked about apple pruning here at Butternut Farm.  Pruning involves removing unwanted limbs and shoots from a fruit tree.  My tools of choice are a hand saw and a good pair of Corona 26" bypass loppers.  While pruning is a very artistic expression of any fruit grower, what to do with the mess it produces is not.  Yup, all that brush needs to be dealt with.  Traditionally it has been burned.  However over the last 20 or so years most fruit growers have converted to chopping the brush.  The tool of choice for that job here at Butternut Farm is a 5' Kuhn Flail mower/brush chopper.  Run off the PTO of our 35hp JD 4600 utility tractor it is a bit undersized for the work we ask it to do so we take it real slow and don't try and chop any branches over 4" diameter.   3 passes down a row and we are able to turn all those branches into small splintered up fragments. 
    The brush residue which is left behind is a great way to add valuable organic matter to the soil.   Especially when it is done every year.  Slowly this residue will get broken down by the living biota in the soil.   Bacteria, microbes, earth worms, etc are constantly working on these chopped up branches in various stages of degradation.  This process releases all the nitrogen that our apple orchards need, puts carbon back into our soil, and helps fuel the "living soil" here at Butternut Farm which leads to a more sustainable farm system. 
    According to research done by Alan Lasko in New York apple orchards (Cornell coop ext.).  A typical acre of high density apple orchard, similiar to the ones we have here at Butternut Farm, removes almost 20 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. 12 tons by the trees and 8 tons by the grass sod.  Multiple that by the 6.5 acres of apple orchards that we have here and that is 130 tons of carbon dioxide that our apple orchards are removing from the atmosphere every year.  If for no other that alone is a good reason to by local apples! 
Just chopped apple brush.  This mechanical break down of the prunings is the first step in the digestion of this great food for our soil. 
Just after brush chopping.   By harvest all this residue will be pulled into the grass sod and be barely noticeable