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Penn. Mulch Business Ramps Up Production

Continental Biomass Industries machine enables Martin Mulch Products to keep pace with demand.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 4/1/2003

EPHRATA, Pa.— One way to make the most of every piece of wood is to make mulch. "We do exclusively mulch product," said Tim Martin, a partner with his father, John, in Martin Mulch Products.

"We take in stumps, logs, brush, pallets, packaging debris — anything that is not painted or treated," explained Tim. Both hardwood and softwood materials contribute to a diverse product line. For example, the company offers NaturBlend, mulch that has been aerated and composted. Its Premium Mulch is made from bark obtained from sawmills. In addition, Martin Mulch Products colors about 40 percent of its wood mulch.

John started the company in 1975 as a landscaping business. In 1990, he got into wood recycling because he wanted to expand his customer base. As the mulch segment of the enterprise began to grow rapidly, what was by then a father-and-son team decided to focus on mulch.

In recent years, annual growth at Martin Mulch Products has been in double digits. To keep up with demand, the company had to find a way to accelerate production. Tim and his father decided to invest in a machine supplied by Continental Biomass Industries Inc. (CBI). They chose a CBI Magnum Force 4000 series Wood Hog from the New Hampshire-based machinery maker.

Tim recalls when the CBI machine went into service a little over a year ago. The CBI Magnum Force 4000 series Wood Hog spurred some significant changes at Martin Mulch Products. "[The CBI] enabled us to produce more product," said Tim. Moreover, the increased production meant a change in the logistics of the business.

The CBI Magnum Force 4000 series Wood Hog is the company’s primary grinder although Martin Mulch is also equipped with a Toro Pro Grind tub grinder. With the CBI grinder, Martin Mulch Products produced 250,000 cubic yards of mulch in 2002. The CBI Magnum Force runs about eight to eight and one-half hours per day and about three days per week, said Tim. It produces 400 cubic yards per hour when it is doing the first grind of wood waste. When grinding only bark, it is faster, producing about 500-550 cubic yards per hour.

Despite the daily work-out the CBI Magnum Force Wood Hog gets, Tim said that "maintenance has been very good," and he has been "very satisfied" with the machine’s durability. In fact, if his volume was sufficient, he would add a second CBI grinder, he said.

The CBI Magnum Force Wood Hog at Martin Mulch Products has a CAT 3412 1,080 hp diesel engine. The machine is mobile, but Tim only uses it in the company’s 25-acre yard. The machine is moved with a jockey tractor.

All mulch products marketed by Martin Mulch Products have been processed at least twice. Some of it goes through the CBI for a primary and secondary grind, and some of it goes through the CBI once and then through the Toro. With the combination of the CBI and the Toro, Tim has the option of exploiting the best of both methods of breaking down and reducing wood waste. The CBI pulverizes and the Toro shreds.

Businesses in southeast Pennsylvania haul wood waste material to Martin Mulch Products and pay a tipping fee to dispose of it. Martin Mulch also picks up some material that already has gone through a primary grinding, and that material actually gets ground three times. Tim uses trommels to separate undesirable size material from mulch and recover it for regrinding. The company has trommels supplied by Re-Tech and Extech Equipment; Re-Tech makes the Magnum trommel and Extech Equipment makes the 830 trommel.

Coloring is done with a system designed and built by Tim and John. Tim explained they put a coloring system in place five years ago that has given them satisfactory results. But they began experimenting with building a coloring system six years ago. The red, black and brown colorants Martin Mulch Products uses are purchased from Becker Underwood.

A lot of the equipment at Martin Mulch Products has been designed and fabricated by Tim and John. The men know a great deal about machinery; as a hobby, they buy and restore antique trucks and tractors.

"Our shop is set up with welding," said Tim, and also some metal fabrication capabilities. A maintenance shop, office and storage building occupy about 20,000 square feet of space.

Because of their expertise with machinery, Tim and John are tough judges of new machinery and equipment. They invested in the CBI grinder after careful study. "We had looked at various machines over the years," said Tim, "and felt theirs was the best."

A demonstration provided by CBI at Martin Mulch Products helped Tim decide on the CBI. When he saw the volume the CBI Wood Hog could handle, he was sold. The CBI Magnum Force Series 4000 Wood Hog is designed for a high production grinding operations. The machine, which weights 37 tons and is road legal, is known for high throughput and producing uniform product.

A John Deere excavator with a Rockland grapple mounted on it is used to lift wood waste to the 16-foot by 60-inch conveyor that feeds the hammers of the CBI Wood Hog. The conveyor is high-sided, making it a trough. The machine also has a built-in pre-screener. Tim and John built an off-feed conveyor that carries the grindings away from the CBI and propels it toward the trommel screens or the Toro tub grinder.

The busiest time of year for wholesale mulch sales, said Tim, is a 90-day to 120-day period in the spring to early summer. That is when the company does 75% of its sales. As many as 20 employees work at Martin Mulch Products during the peak season; otherwise the company has a staff of about 12 employees. Three people work in the grinding operation, two in the shop and two in the office, and the "rest fill in wherever needed," said Tim. "Everyone here can do whatever’s needed."

Seventy-five percent of the company’s output is delivered to customers using trucks owned by Martin Mulch Products. Mulch is sold by the cubic yard and always in bulk form. Most deliveries are to customers in southeast Pennsylvania. The company also has customers in neighboring New Jersey and Delaware.

Ephrata is just about 13 miles northeast of Lancaster. It has approximately 12,000 residents. And it is among the oldest cities in the U. S., founded in 1732 as a German religious community. A printing press was established in the town in 1745.

Tim is a native of Ephrata, and he joined his father in business after finishing school. His father started the business 28 years ago when his full-time job was cut back to part-time hours.

Tim gets satisfaction from making a saleable product from what would otherwise be wasted. He and his father enjoy running a business together and "serving customers with the best service we can."


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