MULCHING, TILLING REPLACES BURNING FRUIT TREES

EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. — The skid steerer with its 84-inch-wide wood mulcher doesn’t look all that intimidating sitting idle. But it can reduce a 15-foot-tall apple, pear or cherry tree to wood chips in minutes, shaking the ground and sending chips flying 100 feet.

This is the second season Aaron Krause, 35, owner of Krause Enterprises in Wenatchee, has been mulching and tilling fruit trees into the ground instead of yanking them out by their roots with an excavator and burning them.

Krause specializes in orchard tree removal, planting and prep work for planting — all but fumigation. Right after fall harvest through spring is his busy season, hiring out his services to orchards throughout Central Washington.

Some people chip trees and then have big piles of chips to deal with. Krause believes he’s the only one who mulches trees as they are standing and tills them into the ground fine enough that the ground is ready for planting.

The mulcher gets everything above ground and chips tree trunks up to 30 inches in diameter. The tiller grinds up stumps and roots in the plant zone to 1 foot underground. The grower’s investment in the old trees becomes nutrients for the new planting.

Krause said he turned to mulching because state Department of Ecology restrictions are making it harder to burn.

“There are too many days you can’t burn,” he said.

Depending on the site, size of trees and other variables, he charges an average of $1,500 per acre to mulch and till. That includes subsoiling, ripping the ground to a depth of 3 feet to prepare it for fumigation.

“There’s no waiting, no delays, no restrictions on when we can work and virtually no farm labor,” he said.

With pulling and burning, growers often use workers to pick up limbs and roots and help with burning.

“So far, we’ve had excellent feedback. Auvil Fruit had me do 20 acres up at Orondo last year. They loved it,” he said.

“We had a little bit of difficulty with some rocky ground but he’s getting a new tiller to take care of that,” said John Baile, assistant orchard manager at Auvil Fruit Co.

“It’s a great set up and way cost-effective. You don’t have to deal with DOE on burn days. It’s the way of the future,” Baile said.

Everything is ready for fumigation at $1,500 to $1,600 per acre versus pulling and burning at $1,300 an acre and then spending more for tilling the ground, he said.

“We just had two orchards chipped and then you have chip piles. We have to haul them off and put it back on as mulch, so we’re moving chips around. His (Krause’s) program gets it all done for a lot less,” Baile said.

On Oct. 20, Krause was removing cherry trees in an East Wenatchee orchard. Trees 7 to 8 inches in diameter quickly became a field of mulch as Cole O’Brian operated the machine. The mulcher can do three to four acres per day and from mulching through field prep, the process is faster than pulling and burning, Krause said.

A few miles away, Tyson Suppes operated Krause’s big tractor, tilling into the ground mulchings from graft stumps. There was a rumbling each time the tiller chewed up another stump underground.

“We’re trying to please the grower and get something done for them that they can’t do themselves, at a reasonable price,” Krause said.

Article by Dan Wheat , Capital Press
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