Monday, April 30, 2012

"Free" Mulch and Getting What You Pay For

Sometimes, the most frugal and sustainable activities are ones for which you seize the opportunity; not all sustainable projects can be planned.  Case in point:  our "free" mulch and firewood.

Last Thursday, Mr. FC&G opened the door to a tree-trimming company who was in the neighborhood doing work for the power company.  They offered to do some work on our trees, which definitely needed it.  I don't know about your area, but in ours, the power company will only pay to have trees trimmed to the extent that it interferes with the electric lines, meaning that almost every suburban house has a tree that either angles off at an alarming tilt or has a hole cut in the branches mimicking Pac-Man.  We had a couple of those trees, and Mr. FC&G was happy to pay for the experts to be the ones to go several stories high into the trees, among the power lines, to set things right.

In the process, however, he realized that the tree trimming was going to throw off a lot of hardwood suitable for burning in our fireplace, and a lot of mulch.  Although it was an uncommon request (such that Mr. FC&G had to sign off on the work order so the trimmers wouldn't be questioned back at the home office), they agreed to chip the mulch and leave it on the driveway, and leave the larger logs for us to keep.

What you see above is the resulting mulch.  I am not very good at estimating poundage or cubic feet of mulch, but I can tell you that that is roughly a crap-ton of mulch.  It took us 7 hours this weekend to spread the mulch under trees and around flower beds, and to haul the logs into the back yard for splitting and seasoning (the splitting will have to happen after the garden is in).  There were approximately 45 wheelbarrow-loads of mulch.

Our lesson?  Always ask for the by-products of work that you can use.  We could never have trimmed those trees ourselves, and we did have to lay out some cash to get it done, but we also got a certain amount of "free" mulch and firewood that will offset some of the outlay.  In addition, we ensured that a lot of biomass that "belongs" to our property stayed there, a big concern for Mr. FC&G.

Second lesson?  Always spread your mulch as soon as you can.  We waited about 24 hours before starting to spread the mulch, which was comprised of chipped up branches from both hardwood trees and pines.  In that short time, the mulch had started to hot compost, and it steamed visibly when we cracked open the pile.  I don't know if it could have gotten any hotter than that, but my mother has stories of hay put away in the barn with some dampness on it, and the hay eventually catching fire from the process.  The interior of this pile was quite warm, but once it was spread to a depth of 2-3 inches, it was perfectly cool.  So, the lesson is to be careful with your pile of wood mulch, because decomposition certainly releases heat.

The Analysis

Fast:  Getting the mulch and wood was quick; spreading and hauling took some time, but we were happy to invest it.

Cheap:  Again, this is not a project that we undertook on purpose, but we certainly maximized our savings by asking to keep our tree-trimming by-products.

Good:  The flower beds and trees look wonderful with their new mulch around them, and I look forward to burning the wood in the year to come to keep us toasty in winter.

Readers, what is your best "save" from a contractor's project?

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  1. There's a tree service whose home base it just a mile or two from here and I call them quite frequently for mulch. Can't knock free mulch AND free delivery :)

  2. My story is a tree cutting story, too. I contacted a company to cut a hickory tree that was huge and hollow at the base, fearing it would fall on my house. The guy wanted $450 to cut it down, and haul it off. I asked how much could he charge to just put it on the ground. $75

    He finished and he and his two helpers left. About an hour later the two helpers returned. They told me they would clean up the yard, even raking the leaves, if I would let them have the tree. I agreed. They returned several days later, and they left the yard in great condition. Later, I found out that they sold the hickory wood to a local BBQ.

    That worked out well for everyone. Lesson: don't give away hardwood. Sell it.