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Planting directly in wood chips alone - an experiment

 
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I plan on using two 5 gallon buckets to plant tomatoes in. If I cannot obtaine the needed buckets I will resort to another method (plant directly in the ground but for one make a large pit 2 feet deep by 2 feet wide and fill with the wood chips.

One will have decent dirt and the other 3-5 year old rotted wood chips with a few solid chips left in it.

Both will receive the same sunlight and water as needed.

The experiment is to see if tomatoes can grow in rotted wood chips alone vs decent dirt.

The rotted wood chips will come from local yard waste pile. When digging into the pile you can see patches of white material (fungus I presume).

WELL rotted almost to the point of dirt.

No fertilizers of any kind will be added to either.

Your thoughts?

Suggestions?
 
gardener
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As long as the roots can reach soil that isn't still actively breaking down carbon via wood chip, then the plant should have the nitrogen it needs to grow. It's my understanding that the more wood still in the grow medium, the more nitrogen those microbes will be using to digest that carbon.

I believe that the Back to Eden method of a thick layer of wood chips is prefaced with "your soil is so hungry that the first 8 inches of wood chips will get eaten up fast, and might only be 2-3" after the first year. Each year as the soil improves, more of what you add will remain, meaning less work over time."(my paraphrased version of what I recall Paul saying)

Those wood chips are tossed on top of your existing soil, but when you plant you pull away the chips to go straight in the soil. Once the plant comes up a little, you push the chips back close to it to limit adjacent weeds. Over time those chips turn into soil and you're adding more to keep 6-8" of chips on top, but the planting is directly in the soil so you always dig away the chips for each plant.

So I would avoid mixing the chips in much at all if you can avoid it, just leave a layer on top which can be broken down by critters you include in the buckets, like worms and other little bugs. I just removed some compost from my old pile today and added fresh greens and browns in, and that pile was literally crawling with life between worms and bugs. A LOT of birds showed up within an hour of me putting that compost on a bed, they saw all the critters too!
 
Kai Walker
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Mark Tudor wrote:As long as the roots can reach soil that isn't still actively breaking down carbon via wood chip, then the plant should have the nitrogen it needs to grow. It's my understanding that the more wood still in the grow medium, the more nitrogen those microbes will be using to digest that carbon.

I believe that the Back to Eden method of a thick layer of wood chips is prefaced with "your soil is so hungry that the first 8 inches of wood chips will get eaten up fast, and might only be 2-3" after the first year. Each year as the soil improves, more of what you add will remain, meaning less work over time."(my paraphrased version of what I recall Paul saying)

Those wood chips are tossed on top of your existing soil, but when you plant you pull away the chips to go straight in the soil. Once the plant comes up a little, you push the chips back close to it to limit adjacent weeds. Over time those chips turn into soil and you're adding more to keep 6-8" of chips on top, but the planting is directly in the soil so you always dig away the chips for each plant.

So I would avoid mixing the chips in much at all if you can avoid it, just leave a layer on top which can be broken down by critters you include in the buckets, like worms and other little bugs. I just removed some compost from my old pile today and added fresh greens and browns in, and that pile was literally crawling with life between worms and bugs. A LOT of birds showed up within an hour of me putting that compost on a bed, they saw all the critters too!



The wood chips I plan on using are almost rotten to the point of being dirt. But not dirt per se.


I will post pictures when I get some time.
 
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It would also be interesting to see how a nitrogen fixer does relatively in the two media.  Perhaps a pole bean or some peas.
 
Kai Walker
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Greg Martin wrote:It would also be interesting to see how a nitrogen fixer does relatively in the two media.  Perhaps a pole bean or some peas.



That would cost me an additional $15.50 x 2 for initial soil tests to establish a baseline.

And the same again if they don't raise the prices next year.

Tomato plants are cheap lol
 
steward
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I planted an entire 5x80' garden in 1 year old wood chips. The only soil that went in was the soil that the transplants were planted in. The wood chips were layered over buried wood, mown grass and weeds, and sand.

The garden was fantastic! You can see it if you click the link in my signature. I grew tomatoes, lettuce, onions, parsley, kale, broccoli, celery, zucchini, cucumbers, and maybe some other stuff I've forgotten. Everything was very happy.

I look forward to seeing how your tomatoes fare. I bet they will be very happy.
 
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Potatoes love growing in rotting woodchips!
https://permies.com/t/53291/Wood-chips-potatoes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PO56dwmk5tA
 
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Hi Kai,

I've grown tomatoes in half composted woodchips. They grow fine, but were a little deficient. I never tested to soil to see what caused it, but I suspect it was lack of nitrogen or something was interfering with nitrogen absorption. I should say its been over 30 years since I grew in those chips, so my trouble shooting the deficiency may be off the mark.

The aboundance of certian nutrients available in mostly pure compost, could cause a number of nutrient deficiencies especially with the wood chips being not fully broken down. The plant stems were huge, and they grew tall, but the leaves should have been bigger and overall more robust.

Since to much of certian nutrients like potassium, can block the absorption of other nutrients, its always hard to diagnose such issues without a soil test; however, if you're going to skip the soil test. My suggestion would be to supplement fertalize with nitrogen, and add a sea mineral. Something like blood meal, feather meal and kelp meal supplements will most likely be very beneficial to overall production.

Hope that helps!
 
Kai Walker
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R. Steele wrote:Hi Kai,

I've grown tomatoes in half composted woodchips. They grow fine, but were a little deficient. I never tested to soil to see what caused it, but I suspect it was lack of nitrogen or something was interfering with nitrogen absorption. I should say its been over 30 years since I grew in those chips, so my trouble shooting the deficiency may be off the mark.

The aboundance of certian nutrients available in mostly pure compost, could cause a number of nutrient deficiencies especially with the wood chips being not fully broken down. The plant stems were huge, and they grew tall, but the leaves should have been bigger and overall more robust.

Since to much of certian nutrients like potassium, can block the absorption of other nutrients, its always hard to diagnose such issues without a soil test; however, if you're going to skip the soil test. My suggestion would be to supplement fertalize with nitrogen, and add a sea mineral. Something like blood meal, feather meal and kelp meal supplements will most likely be very beneficial to overall production.

Hope that helps!


I am taking pictures every sunday of both.

Right now the ones in the old wood chips are not as green and the one in the garden soil.
But both are growing about the same.

Both plants stressed though as they has blossoms on them when they were 8 inches tall. I pinched off the blossoms on both.

Some could be the huge rains we have been having lately.
In the end I will post those pix for everyone to evaluate.
End meaning when they are about 2 feet tall and have at least one fruit.
Or one of them dies or similar issue.
 
Kai Walker
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Greg Martin wrote:It would also be interesting to see how a nitrogen fixer does relatively in the two media.  Perhaps a pole bean or some peas.


Bad enough the tomato plants are being forced to grow in such a small medium. Adding another plant might lead to more problems.
 
Brent Jmiller
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Touching the seed, or seedling to the original underlying dirt or grassroot layer is the only way I've had success with woodchips. They are an awesome mulch, and anything under them will be fed with "compost tea" as they get rain and rot. I've had to add wormcasting or other rich amendments as side dressing though with fresh woodchip mulch. Eventually you will have REAL living soil!
 
pollinator
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i do mainly container gardening, and by irrigating with a 10 percent pee solution, nitrogen is never an issue in my hugel-pots (potting mix is 60-70 percent 1" bits of misc twigs). many also report success growing directly in bales of hay and watering with 1 part urine to 10 parts water. i figure it would apply similarly when growing directly in woodchips. but sprinkling a bit of good quality compost into the woodchips would make things even better. compost tea too - 'everything' is better with compost tea.
 
Brent Jmiller
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Straw and hay bales need be decomposed before growing. The urine composts them quickly (220deg F +) . Woochips compost slower, regardless. I prefer woodchips because they decompose mostly "fungally" rather than by bacterial and chemical heat. They come ALIVE faster. (note to moderator... was able to edit no longer a dup.)
 
Kai Walker
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Kai Walker wrote:

R. Steele wrote:Hi Kai,

I've grown tomatoes in half composted woodchips. They grow fine, but were a little deficient. I never tested to soil to see what caused it, but I suspect it was lack of nitrogen or something was interfering with nitrogen absorption. I should say its been over 30 years since I grew in those chips, so my trouble shooting the deficiency may be off the mark.

The aboundance of certian nutrients available in mostly pure compost, could cause a number of nutrient deficiencies especially with the wood chips being not fully broken down. The plant stems were huge, and they grew tall, but the leaves should have been bigger and overall more robust.

Since to much of certian nutrients like potassium, can block the absorption of other nutrients, its always hard to diagnose such issues without a soil test; however, if you're going to skip the soil test. My suggestion would be to supplement fertalize with nitrogen, and add a sea mineral. Something like blood meal, feather meal and kelp meal supplements will most likely be very beneficial to overall production.

Hope that helps!


I am taking pictures every sunday of both.

Right now the ones in the old wood chips are not as green and the one in the garden soil.
But both are growing about the same.

Both plants stressed though as they has blossoms on them when they were 8 inches tall. I pinched off the blossoms on both.

Some could be the huge rains we have been having lately.
In the end I will post those pix for everyone to evaluate.
End meaning when they are about 2 feet tall and have at least one fruit.
Or one of them dies or similar issue.



Missed taking pics this past Sunday due to it being Mother's Day. But I did look at them. Both growing about the same. One in garden soil is a bit greener than the one in the old wood chips.
Both are Jet Star variety.

Been transplanting things into the Hugel today and probably for the next few days yet. Off and on as the seedlings get big enough.

Going to plant some Zinnias in there too.

Had to thin the Borage.

Comfrey at home is exploding with growth!
Confrey in Hugel is slowly trying to catch up (planted crowns this year).

I think my Hugel should be 'well protected' in the daytime from garden thieves due to all the honeybees and wasps It should attract. lolol

Just need an outdoor speaker and motion sensor that plays the sound of a rattlesnake when someone gets too close....

Transplanted a couple wolf apples in there today. Hope they flourish.


 
Kai Walker
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update:

Both plants are growing similarly. The one in the wood chips slightly less greener than the one in garden soil. Ever so slightly. Forgot pics AGAIN (wife's b-day and had obligations)

We are getting nearly 6 inches of rain today. Even with drain holes, I am not sure my plants won't drown (buckets or in hugelgarden)

We will skip a couple days then rain every day for 4 more days!

I got this bad feeling about all this rain - I suspect when it stops then no rain all summer....
 
Kai Walker
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Update:
Both tomato plants about equal in size albeit both are a bit spindly.

Gave both about a tablespoon of 10-10-10 fertilizer each.

Far too much rain lately and had to use this band-aid approach...

I noticed that both buckets shrank about 2 inches since filled.
 
Kai Walker
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Kai Walker wrote:I plan on using two 5 gallon buckets to plant tomatoes in. If I cannot obtaine the needed buckets I will resort to another method (plant directly in the ground but for one make a large pit 2 feet deep by 2 feet wide and fill with the wood chips.

One will have decent dirt and the other 3-5 year old rotted wood chips with a few solid chips left in it.

Both will receive the same sunlight and water as needed.

The experiment is to see if tomatoes can grow in rotted wood chips alone vs decent dirt.

The rotted wood chips will come from local yard waste pile. When digging into the pile you can see patches of white material (fungus I presume).

WELL rotted almost to the point of dirt.

No fertilizers of any kind will be added to either.

Your thoughts?

See above update. Had to give them a small fertilizer boost due to extreme rains he received over the past 2 weeks. But I do not plan on making this the norm.

Suggestions?

 
pollinator
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Kai,

I, too am planting in woodchips, and my experience is that woodchips alone are a poor substitute for soil unless you add two elements.  The first element is some type of fertilizer.  I have used fertile holes of manure and gotten good results.  The second element is soil biology, I am using wine cap mushrooms.  Neither element is difficult to add and getting just a little of each will do wonders for your plants.  

With a little time, the combination of fertility and biology will turn those chips into wonderful bedding.

Eric
 
Kai Walker
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Took some pix yesterday. Both the wood chips one and garden soil one are about equal.

I can see no difference as yet.
 
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