As a leading educational establishment, our estate comprises a dozen sites across a city. Our environmental policy means that we aim to minimise the use of chemicals, we compost much of our green waste and re-use woodchips on flower and shrub beds as well as using them for surfacing. With an intensive tree maintenance programme set to commence this winter, we will have no shortage of chips to top up all the mulched areas. In the past we have trailered the chips to the sites, tipped the material and barrowed it onto the beds. To be honest, it is a job few of the staff want to do and the number of man-hours spent doing it is simply too high. It is also messy, with considerable effort needed to clean up afterwards. Is there a cheaper and easier solution?

I am not surprised you have few volunteers for this task. Using a barrow and shovel to place the woodchips and then raking them level is clearly a time-consuming and tedious job. And if your crew are trying to clear up afterwards with brooms or besoms, they are making the job even harder.

Consider mechanising the process by using equipment that will transport the chips and then accurately discharge all of the material straight onto the beds or the paths.

For this purpose I recommend that you have a look at the Finn Bark Blower. It's available in the UK from Liston Equipment and is made specifically to transport and apply landscape mulch and bulk materials efficiently.

The smallest model is the BB302. It has a 1.2cu m hopper, is suited to small and hard-to-reach areas and will apply bark mulch, woodchip, compost or other similar bulk materials.

The BB302 weighs about 2.8 tonnes when loaded and can be towed by a tractor or appropriate truck. It is ideal for spreading material in beds in parks and gardens, and could be used to top up the bark in playgrounds.

The Bark Blower has its own engine. In the case of the BB302, the engine is a 33.5hp Kubota diesel. Using an air compressor and blower system, the Bark Blower propels the material down a 100mm-diameter on-board flexible hose. Any lumps and clumps of material are dealt with by an anvil so that an even spread pattern can be achieved.

Hoses are available up to 45m in length, so you should be able to reach most parts of the largest shrubbery. It also works well on slopes. Remote controls allow the operator to adjust power and material flow.

The Bark Blower eliminates the hard work of shovelling mulch and, with the right-sized model, it should dramatically speed up the job. It also helps to keep the work area tidy - there's no residue from a tipped heap.

The BB302 costs around £30,000 ex VAT. That might sound a lot, but I reckon you will find that it lends itself to other tasks such as filling woodchip-fuel bunkers. Larger models are also available and there is a de-mount version, with 3.6cu m capacity, designed to fix onto a truck chassis.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 25 years, and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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