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Premium Soil with Wood Chips

 
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Anyone using wood chips to garden? I know it has its good and bad but let me share my experience using this method for three years and personally, I would not use anything else. For one its not weed proof, but the weeds do pull up with ease. It will turn clay into something wonderful, you will have worms galore, your soil will be bursting at the seams with microbes, and if you re mineralize with nutriments like Azomite and good organic fertilizer then you have some top notch soil. Sandy soils will actually start to hold water and nutrients and worms.

 Before you know it your growing turnips as big as your head,(turnips, I hate turnips, how did it even get in my garden) and a cabbage 13 inches in diameter. And the flavor of good home grown veggies is something you can't get from any store I know of.

 One word of caution, and this is not the fault of the wood chip, but those of us who pay attention to our surroundings, ever notice how many trees are dying (Check out Dane Wigington on youtube). My soil tests revealed high levels of aluminum, it didn't used to be there  and is even in the soils where I haven't used the wood chips but at a slightly lower level. So, try to use healthier trees for chips and try to use all different kinds of mycorrhizal in your garden to combat and eat up excess aluminium. Charcoal may help also to lock up aluminium but is otherwise great for the garden.

  If you want to see what a great job it did turning my gunky clay into wonderful loamy soil check out my youtube video.

 Here is the link to my video and please subscribe if you like what you see.  


 Everyone have a great day and God bless.
 
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William,

Yep, I am converting to a wood chip garden as well.  Presently I have 3 beds, and last year one of them was filled with aged wood chips and inoculated with wine caps.  I grew tomatoes in fertile holes while the spores worked their way into the wood.  For this year, I am planning on planting summer squash where the tomatoes last grew and last weekend I poked peas all over the bed directly into the chips hoping to colonize the chips with a bunch of roots (which I hear wine caps like) and to boost the nitrogen levels.  In the summer I will replace the peas with beans for more nitrogen and get some shade on the chips themselves so they don't dry out as easily and hopefully I will get my first flush of mushrooms soon. For added nutritional goodness, I am planning on working in some comfrey leaves for my summer squash. I am planning on converting over my other two beds later this spring.

I hear you about the weeds.  Weeding in chips is a LOT easier than weeding in my dense clay soil.   My chips took a while to fully colonize with the wine caps, but now I find the mycelia wherever I look, and the chips themselves are soft, moist and generally break apart easily.  The whole bed feels like a squishy mattress as opposed to a bed of hard little chips.  Ideally, I will be completely self sufficient for soil nutrients.  I plan on adding in compost as I get it, but also plan on adding in used bedding/litter from my daughter's hamster and bunny.  I would imagine that their waste will do a lot to keep my nutrient levels nice and high for the long term.

I am probably missing something, but then I am still learning on how to do all of this.  Thanks for posting, and if you have any suggestions for me, I am all ears.


Good Luck,

Eric
 
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I've used wood chips/mulch to replace grass in my yard, as I don't have to mow or water my mulch regularly... as far as aluminium in soil, it's a natural element in the earth's crust and found in soils. There are a variety of pollutants that you might have in your soil though, and the more microbes in your soil the greater the chance they can help repair it, as can certain plants that are accumulators of certain elements. You can also create biochar to add to your soil as well. You just can't compost those plants after they accumulate something you're trying to remove, otherwise your compost will usually deliver that bad stuff back to the soil. Just depends on the bad stuff you're trying to remove.
 
William Egan
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Eric Hanson I too put winecaps in my garden and the took of good but then I think they were taken over by some other wild mushroom. Interesting about the peas giving them nitrogen, hadn't thought about that.

Mark Tudor, True aluminium is very abundant in the earths crust but it is in a form that is not assimilated by plants or animals. It is the refined aluminium that is Mysteriously getting into the soil that is doing the harm.

I wish I could remember the guys name but the Back To Eden guy, when I was watching the first video he showed a stack of rocks, all smooth and rounded. I think those were glacier rocks and if so he has got to have good minerals in his soil from ground up rocks, and that is why he never adds anything but chicken poo. Most of us should be adding back the trace minerals because believe me they really help.

Thank you guys for looking and your input, Have a great day and God bless.
 
Mark Brunnr
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Paul Gautschi I believe is the Back to Eden guy, yeah glacial till probably has plenty of minerals, planting deep-rooted plants that can pull minerals up and using them as a green mulch/ chop and drop can also make certain minerals more available for other plants too.
 
William Egan
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Mark, I don't have much experience with wine caps  but from my experience I have learned they don't keep very long before they deteriorate. They were the first mushrooms I started from a syringe. I want to grow oysters but never have any luck. I think I have too many turkey tail spores blowing around here.I have got them started several times from wild stock. I raised some shiitake but I'm not crazy about them. Hen of the woods is another good one.
 Take care and God Bless.
 
Eric Hanson
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William,

You mentioned that you had not thought about adding peas to your chips.  If I were to better define my goals for my wood chip beds it would to make ideal garden bedding for my vegetables.  This goal broadly includes having a growing medium with a nice, crumbly tilthe, plentiful nutrients and a healthy population of micro organisms, preferably dominated by fungi.

The wood chips themselves provide the tilthe requirement, especially as they break down and rot.  The wood chips also provide healthy contributions of potassium and phosphorus in addition to a number of micronutrients.  The final requirement, micro organisms, are started by adding large amounts of wine caps.  I plan on adding in some bacteria, starting with inoculate from peas and beans.  

This is a long term project and I am certain that I will need to tweak my plan now and then, but the ultimate objective is to have an ideal, fertile growing medium with much/most of the nutrients provided via symbiosis with micro organisms.

I have obsessed about this for over a year.  Thanks for bringing it up and to all those who have read over my near single minded obsession with all things microbial and rot & decay, thanks for your patience.  I love having these conversations and I hope that some may learn vicariously and that I may learn through the interaction.  I think Permies is a wonderful forum for this type of learning atmosphere.

Thanks again and best of luck,

Eric
 
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I have a friend in Sussex that has her entire garden covered in wood chips, her first layer was put down about 12 years ago and now she just adds about 3 inches every year.
when she got the allotment space the soil was like concrete so she just started laying on wood chips and compost in layers so she could get vegetables to grow.
Now that she has been at it quite a while, the benefits are very visible if you move aside her fresh layer of chips.
When you dig down about 6 inches all you see is nice crumbly soil (it is all wood chips) and she grows some of the best vegetables found in the area.
the first three years were her hard years but now she never waters, doesn't have weeds and no slugs, voles or anything else.
Since her garden is in an allotment area, those folks with allotments around hers are now using her wood chip method with excellent results.
two years ago we did a compost tea spraying to boost her microbiome and rhizosphere organisms to better levels.

Last year I asked her if she had ever dug down to the actual soil base, she had not but did so and emailed me that she kept digging, expecting to hit that hard as concrete layer of "dirt", she went down three feet and never found it.


 
Eric Hanson
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I am curious as to how my wood chip/wine cap project will affect my underlying soil.  My local soil is pretty dense alfisol clay.  All three of my beds were tilled regularly and heavily amended prior to my discovery of Permies.  Since then I have stopped tilling (sold the tiller) aside from digging holes for live plants.  Before I added in massive amounts of chips I had worked in a lot of black topsoil, manure, and lots and lots of oak leaves.  I think it is fair to say that by now the beds stopped being alfisol clay and have become something else to a depth of about 12”.

What I did not see in large amounts prior to the chips was a lot of worms.  Make no mistake, there were some there, but not in the numbers described by some.  I assume that repeated tilling scared the little critters off.  From here on out I will not till, dig only minimally and generally try to disturb as little as possible.

My main “amendment” going forward is biology.  Before I added fertilizer (granted, it was not chemical fertilizers, it was manure, bone meal, blood meal, etc.) and now I will try to add all sorts of soil microbes.  With luck, these critters will do the tilling and fertilizing for me.

Just my 2 cents,

Eric
 
William Egan
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Eric Hanson, I knew peas and legumes put nitrogen in the soil and that fungi loves nitrogen, I guess I'm getting to have a lot of senior moments just never thought to use them in the area where the wine caps were. My wood chips have a multitude of various fungi, at times I can pick up big clumps stuck together with white mycelium (I can't spell).I just have a feeling they have overtaken my wine caps.  I have experienced a lot of the things you guys are experiencing. I think Permies is a great place too, good place to meet like minded people.

Everyone have a great day and God Bless.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Eric, your soil will start improving within the first six months. In that time period you will notice a change in coloration, texture and water holding ability.
As time marches on you will be able to notice these changes going deeper into the sub mulch soil and the odor will change, fungi hyphae will permeate and spread, water will soak in quickly and digging will be easy.
These changes all come from the leeching of minerals, bioactivity of the microorganisms, worm travel as they devour their favorite bacteria and fungi and the formation of humus.
Humus is probably the most misunderstood thing about soil for most of those who garden or farm, mostly because the word has been bandied about out of proper context for decades.
many people think humus is a type of, or looks like well deteriorated compost, this is where the misconceptions come from, humus is actually a liquid form of completely digested compost materials, I like to explain what it is by using the vermicomposting method.
Worms eat and expel castings and liquid, the solids are the compost, the liquid is closer to humus but it really isn't humus since it didn't form by the process of decomposition, worm "juice" is urine from the worm and dissolved particulates from the bedding.

How's that for some really confusing information?  

Redhawk
 
William Egan
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Redhawk its amazing how all things natural work together we have living soil, a living earth, God really knew what he was doing down to every detail . Man is the one who knocks everything out of kilter.

Good day and God bless.
 
Eric Hanson
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Redhawk,

I am sure you are right about my soil.  This weekend I would like to dig a small hole in the chips just to see how the deeper layers are working.  Also I want to see if I can find any worms crawling through.  On the surface I am not seeing any worm activity, but then I am pretty sure that at this point I would not see worms crawling across the surface of the chips.  When this pile was more like 5' tall as opposed to the present 1' height now) I found worms crawling 4' high in the pile.  Given this little bit of knowledge, I would assume that I have a better worm population in the current chip bed than in the much taller chip bed.  When I poke around the top 3" or so I always find a lot of white mycelia permeating the chips.  In essence, the wood chips are turning back into soil just like they should.  I plan on adding in your suggested rice/milk concoction to get the bacteria brewing.  In addition to this I plan on adding in some dilute urine to get the bacteria growing and sprinkle some worm castings to add both nitrogen and microbes.  When I began this project I was told that nitrogen would be very bad for the fungi (but I was then planning on using excess 10-10-10).  I assume that the much more modest diluted urine and worm castings will be harmless to the fungi (maybe even help a little?).  This along with the peas & eventual beans and I would think I would have a pretty healthy ecosystem going--I will have fungi breaking down wood, some carbs and nitrogen to get bacteria going and legumes to both get some nitrogen fixed along with an additional boost for nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Redhawk,  So you asked if what you said was confusing enough.  I thought it was perfectly confusing.  Since I started my graduate studies (history) I have found that the more I know sometimes the less I understand.  I am pretty certain that this phenomenon applies to any academic discipline.  Thanks for dropping me the information, it is certainly appreciated.

William,

You are absolutely right that nature has a wonderfully complex system for accomplishing just about anything.  I would like to think that my wood chip project is just a slight modification of the natural systems that we find all around us.

Eric
 
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I've been mulching heavily with wood chips for over 15 years.  Every year I add at least 6 inches or more.  In fact, I spent about an hour this evening hauling chips to the backyard in my wheelbarrow to put down between the raised beds.  For heavy clay soil like mine, wood chips are the miracle drug.  I can't say enough about the long term benefits of adding them continually year after year.

Yes, there are a few drawbacks, but the benefits far outweigh the concerns.

The #1 rule of wood chips: don't till them into the soil.  Leave them on the surface and let earthworms carry what they want down into the soil profile.  If you leave them on the surface they will not tie up nitrogen (N rob).  When you are ready to plant, just rake the chips back to expose good soil below, plant your beets, beans, cabbage and okra, and then once the plants are tall enough, you can gently rake the mulch back to cover whatever bare ground exists.

The #2 rule of wood chips: do NOT lie naked in the chips, no matter how lovely they are in your garden.  That's weird.  You wouldn't want to be accused of purple permaculture.

The #3 rule of wood chips: return to this thread in the years to come and post some pictures.

You may want to archive some of your soil.  Get an old glass jar and stick a spade in the ground and put your soil sample in the jar.  Store it and pull it out in 5 years and see what a difference those chips have made.

 
 
William Egan
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Marco, I agree the longer you use them the better your soil gets. After 15 years you must have some really great soil. There is one thing that amazes me about wood chips and that is when I load then on my trailer to bring home I can drive 70 miles an hour and very few chips will blow out but dry dirt will even though the load of dirt is heavier.
 
Eric Hanson
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William, Marco, Redhawk, I guess everyone,

I just got back from checking my chip bed.  That bed has had chips sitting on it for two years now and when I went to check on the bed, I did not find an obvious, discernible bottom.  My soil is hard, dense clay everywhere else, but the chips are having a noticeable effect and I am pretty sure this effect will only get more pronounced.

Hopefully this process will only get better with time.

Eric
 
Bryant RedHawk
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William Egan wrote:Marco, I agree the longer you use them the better your soil gets. After 15 years you must have some really great soil. There is one thing that amazes me about wood chips and that is when I load then on my trailer to bring home I can drive 70 miles an hour and very few chips will blow out but dry dirt will even though the load of dirt is heavier.



That has more to do with particle size William, ground up rocks are smaller particles thus the effect of the wind flow over the pile of dirt will be to lift the smaller, lighter particles into the air stream and take them away. (aerodynamic principles at work)

Keeping a thick cover of wood chips will create a flourishing fungal network not unlike a forest floor but on steroids since the depth will be greater.
I'd love to stick a piece of glass down in Marco's chips, all the way down to the soil level for observing the process of decay that has to be simply fascinating to see by this point.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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William Egan wrote:Redhawk its amazing how all things natural work together we have living soil, a living earth, God really knew what he was doing down to every detail . Man is the one who knocks everything out of kilter.

Good day and God bless.



I keep hoping that one of these days the people of the world will wake up and realize that no matter what it is on this planet, I refer to as the earth mother, it is related to everything else on this planet.
My people do not think that animals are below humans, not even the beetle is below us, all things that are here are relations. That means they must be respected and cared for, all the way down to the bacteria (from which all other things have developed).
If you look at how all the aboriginal peoples live, they understand that they live with the earth and all the different peoples; two legged, four legged, no legged, winged, rooted, all are children of the earth mother.

My people have (for centuries) known of the connections between us and all other beings, we have understood that if we don't take care of what is here, it will not be here for our children's children or their children's children.
If those people who (some how) that think the earth is here for the purpose of their desires and that using up the earth mother won't effect them or have any affect on others that live here, don't repair their destruction, soon no one will be here.
You cannot rape the earth mother forever, she will get sick and die and then no one will be here, or she will take it upon herself to ensure her survival and the human plague will be removed by her.
Is it any wonder that already we are seeing a rise in earthquake frequency and intensity and long sleeping volcanoes waking up, new diseases?
The earth mother is not kind, nor is she malicious, she simply is, and she can protect herself when need arises.

We can repair what has been destroyed to a point, but we also have to not destroy anymore of what is left.
Thinking like that is falling down into the pit of lunacy, doing the same thing over and over, expecting the result to not be the same, never has this type of thinking worked in the past and it never will.

Redhawk
 
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I've got chills Redhawk. You're exactly right. I like to think of permaculture as a bandaid. If I'm completely realistic, the limited number of permaculturists may not have much of an effect. But we are at least trying to staunch the bleeding.
 
Posts: 52
Location: California Zone 10b / Wyoming Zone 3b
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I've been using wood chips to convert my backyard garden soil from little more than sand dunes into actual soil.  It is been 2.5 years since I tilled in a three-inch layer and then added a 6-inch layer as mulch and only the largest chunks are still visible.  Time to order get another cubic yard.
 
Eric Hanson
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Alex,

You and I are using wood chips for opposite reasons.  My soil is too hard and dense and yours is too loose.  The magic of wood chips is that in either case, the wood chips are the perfect answer.  I have had my chips in place for about 2 years now as opposed to your 2.5, so we are pretty close time-wise.  My chips are still there, but under the surface their have broken up into very crumbly material and the surface has lowered by perhaps 4-5 inches so I need to get some more chips on the bed myself.  I assume your soil is better than it was 3 years ago?  Mine certainly is and it is only getting better with time.  You stated that you are going to get another load of chips.  In my case, I am going to do some serious trimming, rent a chipper and will get my own chips from my own property.  I am lucky in that respect.

Best of luck with your chip-project,

Eric
 
Alex Arn
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Location: California Zone 10b / Wyoming Zone 3b
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Eric Hanson wrote:Alex,

You and I are using wood chips for opposite reasons.  My soil is too hard and dense and yours is too loose.  The magic of wood chips is that in either case, the wood chips are the perfect answer.  I have had my chips in place for about 2 years now as opposed to your 2.5, so we are pretty close time-wise.  My chips are still there, but under the surface their have broken up into very crumbly material and the surface has lowered by perhaps 4-5 inches so I need to get some more chips on the bed myself.  I assume your soil is better than it was 3 years ago?  Mine certainly is and it is only getting better with time.  You stated that you are going to get another load of chips.  In my case, I am going to do some serious trimming, rent a chipper and will get my own chips from my own property.  I am lucky in that respect.

Best of luck with your chip-project,

Eric



oh heck yeah, it's better.
13576856_10153610282565868_2970708117650403298_o.jpg
[Thumbnail for 13576856_10153610282565868_2970708117650403298_o.jpg]
The top strip is the old topsoil, middle was compost being added, bottom is the sand below the topsoil
img_3733.jpg
[Thumbnail for img_3733.jpg]
Current garden soil after 3 years. Woodchips plus household compost and office coffee grounds.
 
Eric Hanson
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Alex,

Wow!  Those are some dramatic changes.  Your present soil looks beautiful!  I hope to someday have soil with such a nice, crumbly texture.  I am curious, how did you get that top soil profile picture?  It looks like you dug a hole, stuck a camera inside and snapped a picture of the wall.  The second picture looks like perfect garden soil.

Very nice,

Eric
 
Alex Arn
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Eric Hanson wrote:Alex,

Wow!  Those are some dramatic changes.  Your present soil looks beautiful!  I hope to someday have soil with such a nice, crumbly texture.  I am curious, how did you get that top soil profile picture?  It looks like you dug a hole, stuck a camera inside and snapped a picture of the wall.  The second picture looks like perfect garden soil.

Very nice,

Eric



I was doing some major earthwork in my back yard three years ago.  Went from a 24-degree slope to three terraces.  I was backfilling the top terrace and purposely spread out some dirt for a "before" shot since I wanted to keep track of the progress over time.  Its' still a bit sandy so it dries out faster than I would like though right now the pocket gophers are the bigger issue.  I discovered they had found my garden when I pulled up half of a carrot last fall. The one plus side is their tunnels are below the good soil and they dumped most of the sand the excavated into my neighbor's yard.
 
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I as well use a generous amount of wood chips on our farm to reclaim part of the pasture that was used as a car dumping ground. It's such a beautiful part, too. Nice and flat, with good light and a nice microclimate perfect for growing fruit trees.

Here is my formula for how I do it:
1) Stalk the Asplundh guys and bribe them with beer if they drop clean loads of chips in the pasture.
2) Give them the beer when they come through for me.
3) When it's starting as grass, I mow it very short, then spread horse, rabbit, chicken and/or duck manure and bedding in a 2 inch layer.
4) Then cover with 6-8 inches of wood chips and mulched tree debris.
5) Wait.
6)...........
7) A year later, I start planting in holes that I dig and fill in with the plant and compost.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

I have successfully brought back a 1/4 acre sized area of left behind, raw, used up, gravelly clay into rich, loamy, critter-rich planting soil. I'm still working on this area and will continue into another part of our forgotten pasture that has been assaulted by Scotchbroom and Salal at a ghastly rate. I'm doing this all with a wheelbarrow, time, and a generous supply of podcasts to keep me company.

So far I have spent zero dollars reclaiming this area of our farm - the manure is free, the chips are free, my labor is free. And I don't have to pay to go to a gym.

I am a total believer in wood chips as soil reclamation. My only irritation this spring has been a load that was dropped off with ivy and holly shredded in it. So it's just gonna sit under a black tarp for another year or so to make sure it all dies. And even then, I will be selective of where I put those chips. I'm only gonna put them where I can keep an eye on them. Because after a nuclear holocaust, all that will be left is cockroaches and friggin' English ivy.

I have a packet of Mycorrhizal Fungi that came with some seeds I ordered, and you guys reminded me I gotta spread that in the pasture. I haven't had to inoculate with other mushrooms bc the chips seem to bring enough with them. Non-edible but pretty and I just leave them alone. Save one really great load of chips that brought Morels to my garden. At least I think that's what happened. They are there now and delicious!

A note on horse poo. It can pass on weeds. Alpaca is the BEST. Bunny a close second. Duck 3rd. Horse 4th. Chicken poop bringing up the rear.


And you know that I meant all of that pun to happen.

Cheers!
 
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Great thread. 2 years ago I had never had a garden. I have a small backyard that was a couple old dead plumb trees and a weed lawn with mostly "dead" soil. The plumb trees needed to be cut down, so the guys that did that just dumped everything they had in their truck in my yard, ended up being a mixture of my plumb, some oak, eucalyptus and pine...pretty much a pile of random garbage chips and leaves. I spread it out covering the majority of my backyard to keep the mud down in the winter for the dogs, and decided to start gardening and see how it would work out.

In less than 2 years the difference in the soil has been amazing. I've added a few loads of better wood chips and some straw since then, and where the chips have been laid is teeming with life, and much of it is turning into gorgeous soil (the ground was solid, dead clay before). In my tiny suburban backyard I have millions of worms and all sorts of bugs, birds I've never seen before and bees are flocking here, and I regularly now find salamanders and other creatures.

I'm nearly 50 years old and have always had a black thumb. I've learned to feed and care for the the soil first and it's turning my thumb green.
 
pollinator
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I started using woodchips last spring, so I'm years behind most of you. Digging down under the woodchips is a treasure hunt. I keep finding earthworms where there were none before.

Until now the "mulch" has been leaves or cut up branches. But here's a video of my native soil. The area in this video hasn't had woodchips, just leaves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EzU7MbRtEk
 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
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Lauren,

Don’t worry about having just started using wood chips.  It just means that you have more wood chip adventure ahead of you!

Eric
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Mulch is never a bad thing and the more lignin the mulch contains the better it is for fungi growth.
Thick layers of mulch materials act as sunscreen for the soil and the many microorganisms that live there, protecting them from harmful ultraviolet and gamma rays.
The best mulches will be long lasting, contain high amounts of fungal food (lignin) and be easy for rain to filter through.
As rain filters through the mulch it dissolves portions of the mulch with then are carried down into the soil where the microbiome can make use of these materials.
Wood chips just happen to be one of the best and most available of all the mulch materials that fit the requirements of great mulch.
Straw is a close second but it can be easier to loose in high winds.
In an area with a concentrated number of microorganisms already in place even a rock (pebble) mulch can be a good source of nutrients for the plants and microbiome living under it.

Fungi exude substances that cement mineral (dirt) particles together to form little conglomerates that surround and protect the hyphae from harm, this is how soil texture is made better.
The fungi that are extomycorrhizae wrap these conglomerates around themselves and since they are wrapped around a root, the root is also protected.
If the fungi is approached by a harmful microorganism, the fungi will wrap it up, trapping it from reaching its goal and then the fungi will devour that trapped organism, taking the nutrients it needs and releasing the rest to the surrounding soil.

Bacteria exude some cement type substances but more are more lubricating and those lubricants are attracted to the fungi hyphae and make it easier for the bacteria to move along the hyphae strands.
Bacteria also exude enzymes that break strong molecular bonds so that minerals previously unavailable become so and these are then used by both the bacteria and the fungi as foods.
Plant roots then have readily usable nutrients and minerals available both by squeezing them out of the bacteria and by soaking up the "left overs".
Plants use exudates to feed bacteria, call particular species of bacteria to come closer or even into the root walls so that the plant can receive the nutrients it needs.
Mycorrhizal fungi provide many benefits to the microbiome world; they protect roots from harmful nematodes and other microorganisms, provide the pathway for the bacteria to get close to or inside the root walls and they also feed upon some of these bacteria.

The Microorganisms eat and poop, the plant makes use of this Nano sized fertilizer as one source of nutrients, at the same time it is sucking up "left overs" and sqeezing other nutrients out of the internalized bacterium.
Once the nutrients are acquired, the bacteria organism is allowed to escape (or retreat) from the root interior so the process can begin again.

Redhawk
 
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