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Growing a garden in aged wood chips  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Hello everyone and thanks in advance,

Since I discovered Permies about 2 years ago I have revised most of my ideas about how gardening works.  I have become especially interested in making my own garden bedding by growing wine caps in wood chips in order to break down those chips into a nice mushroom compost.  Right now I have 3 garden beds, one of which consists of woodchips that were inoculated with wine caps a year ago and are barely recognizable as wood chips at this point.  The other two are wood chip beds made from year old wood chips that I plan on inoculating with more wine caps later this week.  In the meantime, I have planted in both of my newer wood chip beds.  In one bed I am growing tomatoes in fertile holes and they are doing nicely.  The other is a more unusual case.  The third bed is actually the remains of the 5' tall pile of wood chips that sat and aged for about a year before spreading into what is now my tomato bed.  The third bed is a sort of bonus bed where I am growing just to see how growing in wood chips works.  The third bed has potatoes, onions, Romaine Lettuce, Spinach and radishes.  The spinach, lettuce and radishes were actually planted in fertile trenches as the seeds are so tiny and the chips so large I did not think the little plants would even germinate unless there was at lease some degree of soil for planting.  The potatoes and onions I dug little trenches (4-5 inches deep) and laid the bulbs and tubers right on top of the soil and covered with a nice thick layer (6" or so) or aged wood chips.  I have heard of others who have tried root crops in wood chips and did not get very good results.  I planted that bed two weeks ago.  The greens and radishes emerged within a week.  Now, two weeks later I have a few onions that have poked up and a few potatoes that are JUST starting to make their way through the top of the chips.

So my main question for everyone out there is regarding any special treatment for my root crops?  Fortunately, having wood chips sitting on tops of the ground did wonders for the soil underneath.  As I dug through the chips, it was a little difficult to find exactly where the chips ended and the soil began.  The worm activity was pretty high also.  For those who did not have luck growing in wood chips, were the root crops simply buried on top of existing wood chips?  Were they like mine and actually resting on soil?  Should I continue to add more chips (I have them) on the plants (especially potatoes) as they grow?  Once my mushroom spawn arrives I plan to fully inoculate the woodchips in between rows of crops, in between my tomato plants and all around any unused space in any of the garden beds.  With a little luck by next spring the chips will be so broken down that I will either need no soil whatsoever for fertile holes/trenches or if I do, I will only need a very minimal amount.  Additionally, I do have some comfrey plants available if those would be of use in the wood chips.

Thanks for reading listening.  This has become a real labor of love and I certainly appreciate feedback and just generally sharing gardening stories.

Thanks,

Eric
 
pollinator
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This year I did several of my garden areas under woodchips. Everything was planted into the soil under the woodchips, except the potatoes which were placed on the soil under the woodchips. It doesn't appear to make a difference.

The onions are thriving, as are the potatoes. Peas not so much, but I think that's probably quail pressure. The quail seem to love my gardens for some odd reason.

The wood chips welcome mushrooms, but also other pests. Earwigs and roly-polies have made themselves at home, as have spiders and other predators. Some of my plants aren't thriving because of the pests, but I expected that. It's not precisely the wood chips, but more of a side effect that will moderate over time. The gophers have also made themselves at home, which is a more serious problem for anyone trying to grow root crops.

Last year I did another area under deep woodchips and had none of these problems, but I didn't plant root crops.

If it were me I'd keep a pile of woodchips, and use them when necessary to either fill in or hill the potatoes. Whatever you have a use for. I would put on another thinner layer of chips in a year or two, when the current batch is almost broken down, for mulch and water conservation, and repeat the process.
 
Eric Hanson
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Lauren,

Thanks for the feedback.  It sounds like your garden is much like mine.  While still early, my plants are doing well.  I hope to continue that progress.  Hopefully my mushroom spawn will arrive soon and I will try inoculating all of my remaining wood chip beds.

Thanks again for the feedback,

Eric
 
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Have you tried transplanting your winecap mycelium? My woodchips have become mulch for trees and pathways. I am planning another bed, but I can only do so much with out hurting my back. Progress is slow. I’m hesitant to plant in it because I started this for the mushroom crop.
 
Eric Hanson
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Dennis,

I probably could transplant some mushroom compost/spawn into another bed but I have not done so yet.  I was planning on adding some more chips to the surface, wait one more year and then use to spread.  

In the meantime I am still growing in the chips by planting in fertile holes & trenches.  Stropharia likes to have some contact with soil, so fertile holes/trenches are good for the spawn and the vegetation that grows there will also provide dappled shade, ideal for wine caps.

Lastly, I learned over the last year that stropharia love to mingle with roots, and the plant and fungi enter a symbiotic, mutualistic relationship.  When I pulled weeds from my mushroom chip bed this spring I found that the mycelium was intricately wrapped around the weeds roots.  This year I will plant beans after inoculation for the following reasons:

1). Provide roots for mycelium

2). Add nitrogen via roots

3). Provide shade and manage moisture as the beans grow

4). When the beans die, they will add more nitrogen and more organic matter

With wine caps you can sort of have your cake (mushrooms) and eat it too (grow vegetables)

I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck on your project.  Please keep us updated as to your progress.

Eric
 
pollinator
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At some point the boundary between where the wood chips end and where the native soil begins becomes so blurred that it's no longer a point.

I would say that you just need to scratch back the mulch enough to reveal good "soil" in which to plant.  Whether the origin of that soil is the native stuff you started with, or the decomposed wood chips that are now humus, it doesn't matter.

The difference?  Maybe one or two inches deeper.  That's one scratch of the hoe.  Rake back the mulch with a hard tine rake and let the seeds do their thing.
 
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Wood Ear mushrooms are even better at decomposing old wood chips. And, they are a delicious "Choice" edible mushroom. I gathered several cabbage-head-sized Wood Ear mushroom "blooms" from several chip piles in NC KY last summer. The spawn is large and easy to relocate. Their name does them just...

[img]https://permies.com/i/923375/wood-ears-missouriDOTgov.jpg[/img]
wood-ears-missouriDOTgov.jpg
[Thumbnail for wood-ears-missouriDOTgov.jpg]
 
Eric Hanson
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Brent,

I have never heard of wood ear mushrooms until just now.  I trust you that they break down woodchips even better than wine caps, but honestly I just can’t picture that in my head.  Maybe faster, but so much of my existing chips in my wine cap bed have so thoroughly broken down that most are no longer recognizable as wood chips.  By now, after I scrape away the top inch of residual wood chips I find a lot of material that looks like a very large volume of coffee grounds.

This year my main goal for the “chip” bed is to load it with nutrients, particularly the big 3 NPK nutrients and really N.  I am planting a pea/bean crop to infuse nitrogen and I plan to work in some comfrey for all three NPK nutrients.  Hopefully, these plus some grass clippings will charge up the well decomposed bedding and make it fertile for direct seeding next year.

Thanks for the information about the wood ears, I may consider these in the future.

Eric
 
Dennis Mitchell
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Harvested my first winecaps for the year, day before yesterday. I had close to a gallon of them. I wanted to try drying them and I knew they would not air dry. I spent three hours drying them in the oven. After all that I had less than a cup of mushrooms. Which my cat decided to eat. Later that night he tossed them up with various mouse parts. Maybe I’ll stick to freezing them!
 
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[quote=Brent Jmiller]Wood Ear mushrooms are even better at decomposing old wood chips. And, they are a delicious "Choice" edible mushroom. I gathered several cabbage-head-sized Wood Ear mushroom "blooms" from several chip piles in NC KY last summer. The spawn is large and easy to relocate. Their name does them just...

[/quote]

Brent,  Where could I get some of this spawn?  I am in Huntsville and the wood ear I find is much smaller and always up in the trees.
 
Brent Jmiller
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[quote=Dennis Bangham]Brent,  Where could I get some of this spawn?  I am in Huntsville and the wood ear I find is much smaller and always up in the trees.[/quote]

Doubtful the spawn or spores are sold commercially, but if you can get some of the fruiting limbs and bury them in the chips just below the surface, that should inoculate the pile. They grow in much larger clusters in woodchips.  
 
Dennis Bangham
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Thanks I will try that.
 
Brent Jmiller
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Eric Hanson wrote:Brent,  I trust you that they break down woodchips even better than wine caps, but honestly I just can’t picture that in my head.  Maybe faster, but so much of my existing chips in my wine cap bed have so thoroughly broken down that most are no longer recognizable as wood chips.  By now, after I scrape away the top inch of residual wood chips I find a lot of material that looks like a very large volume of coffee grounds.




I can find no research indicating mushrooms add nitrogen, or fix nitrogen in soils. However, I assume that there is ample nitrogen in the fungally-decomposed remains of the woodchips, as I've seldom had to add anything to them (altho I do side dress by composting in place) for excellent vegetative growth! Maybe NPK isn't as important if the other nutrients are dense? not sure

Yes, to me, faster equates to better. Better tasting equates to better too. I really like Wood Ears tho.

Happy Experimenting!
 
Eric Hanson
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Thanks for all the feedback!

Some good news, my onions and especially my potatoes have been growing well since I first posted, with the potatoes showing some vigorous growth.  My spawn did not arrive until early this week, about a week later than anticipated and weather has not cooperated.  I have kept the spawn in a cool, dark part of the basement for storage and plan on inoculating this weekend.

I think I will sow about 1-1.5 kits (call it 8 pounds) in my #3 bed, the one that had a large pile of chips aging on it for a year.  The vegetables are growing well and hopefully the wine cap fungi will intertwine with the veggie roots and the veggies themselves will provide some shade for the fungi.  When all of the inoculation is done I will cover with straw and thoroughly soak down.

This year will be the first in which I sow fungi into roe crop vegetables.  It will be interesting to see how this works.  If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to educate me.

Thanks for reading and having patience with me.

Eric
 
Dennis Bangham
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If you know anyone who grows mushrooms inside a humidity chamber you might be able to get their spent blocks. Put those in the bed and you may get a surprise like these golden oysters.  
20180225_155539.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20180225_155539.jpg]
Golden Oyster surprise
 
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I am engaged in a similar experiment, less intentionally in northern Illinois.  We dug up a wood chip path was had deteriorated over the years and been infiltrated by mud during spring flooding.  I then decided to spread this mix of composting wood chips and dirt over my vegetable garden.  It's about 3 inches of wood-heavy compost.  The wood chips have been host to "jelly cup" and other mushrooms in past years, so various mycelia present.  So far, potatoes which had been planted in dirt under the wood chips are just starting to grow.  Existing plantings of strawberries and arugula doing well. I have planted corn, squash, and beans, but still waiting for these to sprout.

Coincidentally, we had an ailing maple cut down and stump ground up in another part of yard. I planted corn and sunflowers in what is mostly wood, and the shoots are healthy-looking 3-4 inches high.  I plan to add on compost as they grow, and interplant some beans to help with nitrogen.
 
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