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NE Mulch Producer Turns To Granular Colorant

Interstar colorant and dispenser allow Green Mountain Mulch to grind and color in one process.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 4/1/2003

DERBY, Vermont — Making colored mulch is a lot easier and less expensive for Green Mountain Mulch these days. Now, the company can grind wood material into mulch and color it in one process.

Green Mountain Mulch (GMM) colors its product with colorants from Interstar, a company headquartered in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The Interstar system utilizes dry, granulated colorants, which are trademarked as Granastar.

Rodney Barrup, who founded Green Mountain Mulch (GMM) in 1978, first chose the Interstar Granastar product because it yielded mulch that was dry enough after coloring to be bagged immediately. Later he became convinced that adding colorant before grinding was the way to go, and he, like Interstar, which had the same idea, began experimenting with a way to do just that.

Currently at GMM, a dispenser releases Interstar colorant into the infeed trough of a Continental Biomass Industries Inc. 4000 series Wood Hog grinder. The colorant is dispersed onto the waste wood as it heads toward the hammermill. Consequently, the colorant is released before the wood is pulverized. The approach works because Interstar granules require no water for application.

In the manufacture of mulch colorant, Interstar taps expertise developed in a long track record of making pigments to color concrete. Interstar is also known for its research and development. It recently developed a mobile dispenser for horizontal wood grinders, the Granastar Dispenser.

Rodney and his team at GMM also made a dispenser. A dispenser from Interstar and the dispenser Rodney made are both in use at GMM. Rodney explained that GMM is always experimenting to find ways of improving its operations, and even when it is satisfied with the performance of a particular machine or piece of equipment. "We built our own dispenser," he said, "in our own shop."

The Interstar dispenser functions better than the one GMM made, Rodney acknowledged. "The Interstar one works very, very good," he said. Still, he remains interested in further experimentation to take the technology even further.

As Rodney sees it, both he and Interstar have the same goal: to come up with the optimum configuration for application of the Interstar Granastar colorant. "This coloring (and grinding innovation) is a trial and error method," he said.

When GMM began coloring mulch several years ago, it used a system and colorants that require water, and it continued to use water-based colorants until last year. A dry colorant offers several advantages. One benefit is that the finished mulch weighs considerably less, and transportation costs are reduced. "Interstar lightened up our loads at least 4,000 pounds per trailer," said Rodney, and that "saved us on our transportation costs."

The Interstar granular colorant is a particularly good match for GMM because the company grinds mill waste exclusively. The green wood has enough moisture content to make for a good coloring result, he said. For best results in coloring bark mulch, a small amount of water is required, he indicated.

Interstar merits yet another big plus from the perspective of GMM. Rodney wants consistency in his company’s mulch product — "the same product all the time," he said. Coloring with Interstar Granastar achieves the consistency he wants.

Rodney emphasized that everything that is accomplished at GMM is possible because of the way the principal players at the company work together. "They’re a team," he said.

When Rodney and his wife, Marilyn Barrup, are at their winter home in Florida, he is officially semi-retired, keeping abreast of what’s going on at the business by phone and occasional visits. But from March through May, he and Marilyn are at GMM full-time, and they are as busy as everyone else during that peak season. "When I’m there, I’m working," he said.

The team at GMM is tight and integrated, said Rodney. Yes, everyone has a designated role, but everyone helps out as needed, too. Kevin Barrup focuses mainly on day-to-day operations especially.

GMM is located in Derby, Vermont, which puts it on the Canadian border, adjacent to Quebec Province. The town has about 4,500 residents.

The location means good access to Canadian sawmills, where GMM picks up wood waste or contracts with haulers to have it picked up. Rodney got into the mulch business because he was transporting milk. Farmers asked him if he knew where they could get sawdust bedding for animals. Knowing the mills in Canada, he did. He started selling animal bedding, and then mulch, and ultimately began grinding wood waste.

Rodney also once worked as an International Harvester dealer and as a dairy farmer. Naturally, he said, equipment maintenance and machinery construction are two things in which he has a great interest. (Both are also something of a necessity in an area so remote that it is difficult to get work done otherwise.)

In the spirit of trying things to enhance the performance of machines at GMM, just about all equipment gets modified, and much of it is built and rebuilt, said Rodney. Nevertheless, he appreciates the mobile dispenser for horizontal grinders that Interstar developed — just as it is. Using a dispenser for Interstar Granastar with the CBI grinder, GMM has seen its production of colored mulch increase by 200 cubic yards per hour.

Rodney said some modifications were made to the CBI Wood Hog to make it accept a dispenser. "We put in a breaker bar," he said, as well as an auxiliary hydraulic system so that if the feed roll stops, the flow of colorant stops.

About half of the mulch GMM produces is colored. And about half of all mulch sold — mostly wholesale — is bagged. GMM sells about 2 million bags of mulch each year.

In many ways, 2002 was a period of multiple layers of innovation for GMM. Not only was the Interstar Granastar system paired with the CBI Wood Hog, but the state-of-the art bagging system already in place was upgraded from a Premier Tech FFS-200 series to a Premier Tech 400 series. Given he was already very pleased with the bagging system, Rodney was delighted with the change. "We’re 40 percent more efficient than we were," he said.

Doing things better and better is just part of the fundamental philosophy of GMM. It takes a dedicated team and GMM has one. For example, the business suffered a devastating fire at the end of 2001. With the help of clients and employees  who loaned equipment and helped rebuild, the company was in business again three days later. A native of Derby, Rodney belongs to the Vermont Loggers Association and other wood products groups in New England.

With simultaneous coloring and grinding together with the faster bagging system, GMM has been able to control labor costs. "Basically, we don’t have to work two shifts anymore," said Rodney. For Green Mountain Mulch, striving for excellence never stops. "We’re always looking for a better way to make (us) more competitive," said Rodney.


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