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Growing a garden in aged wood chips

 
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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
 
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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
 
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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...

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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.  
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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.
 
Marco Banks
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I merged your stuff with the following thread. I hope that is okay by you.
 
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Starting my garden this year and the soil is horrible.  Thought I would grow some buckwheat and cowpeas to help amend the soil, but my first planting had 0 success.  Ended up ordering a ton of wood chips and thought I would attempt to grow the leftover seeds directly on the wood chips as an experiment, I had read a lot of comments online that it would not work.  
This is week one of growing directly on soil.  Have a drip hose buried under wood chips that drips for one hour twice a day and am hoping by the end of this summer the wood chips will break down more with the heat and water and the buckwheat/cowpeas will make good compost over the winter so I'll have at least an inch or two of solid soil to grow on come spring.
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I’ve been trying this same thing because I’m desperate to get something growing in my new garden (Wife and I just moved end of April). The squash were sowed the second week of June I believe, and they really didn’t do all to well after they germinated until I watered them with some liquid fish once a week three weeks ago. They’re doing much better, but nothing like the same variety of squash did in my old garden.

On July 13th I sowed what winter squash seeds I had laying around, and they just started to appear yesterday. It’ll be a regimen of liquid fish to try to have at least something hopefully to eat later this fall and winter. I’ll also be starting greens in a cell tray for transplant later this fall since I think lettuce and spinach seeds are much too tiny to sow directly into mulch without drying out.

I anticipate next years garden to be much better with the wood chips and other soil amendments I made having had time to decompose and do their thing. Part of my challenge is the soil is still a bit on the acidic side. The pH was 5.2 two years ago and a liming took it to 5.8-5.9 and hopefully I can get a little more lime on the wood chips this fall and get that pH to land somewhere between 6.3-6.6 in the next year or two.
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Just a little comment on the wood ear Auricularia auricula-judae fungus . There are other fungi which look very like it that grow on the ground so do be sure what you are picking such as  Toad's Ear  Otidea bufonia which really likes woodchips or Orange peel fungus Aleuria aurantia although the latter is not quite so easy to mistake!

Another little comment. You may know it as "Jews Ear" it has been politically corrected; incorrectly as it happens, as the name comes from Judas who is supposed to have hung himself on an elder tree which is where the fungus likes to grow.
 
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Dennis Mitchell wrote: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!



You can freeze dry those mushrooms by simply setting them on a paper towel lined baking sheet and placing that in your freezer, just don't cover them. It takes a few weeks for them to fully freeze dry.

Redhawk
 
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Eric Hansen: so how about a follow up on how the chip garden turned out.
 
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i like the idea of edible fungi to break down wood chips.
correct me if i'm wrong but when growing garden veggies in straight wood chips dont the wood chips eat up all the nitrogen,thanks for sharing pictues and progress
 
Eric Hanson
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Rob,

So I had a total of 3 beds with mushrooms growing in them.  Bed 1 which I call the north bed has now gone through two summers of wine cap mushrooms.  The first year the mycelium spread through the chips and this year I got actual mushrooms and grew summer squash.  The summer squash was the healthiest I have ever grown.  I would show you a picture but I am afraid that I let weeds get out of control.  Next year I will put down a paper weed barrier and smother the weeds.

Bed #2 or the west bed got nice raised sides and was filled with aged chips and inoculated.  I planted tomatoes and sweet potatoes in fertile holes, but the deer got to the sweet potatoes before I could.  The tomatoes grew very well (at least those that the deer missed).  I am working on getting some fencing set up.

Bed #3 or the east bed was an experimental bed that I Inoculated with left over spawn.  The crops grew well but the weeds grew faster.

I am afraid that as the summer heat turned brutal, I stopped weeding.  I will definitely say that the mushroom compost is the healthiest “soil” I have ever grown in.  Now that the heat has finally broken I need tidy up before winter.  At that point I give a better picture.

This is a multi year project.  Eventually all beds will have raised edges and will be filled 10”-12” with inoculated chips.  It was really nice to get my first flush of mushrooms and those I got earlier were tasty.

Thanks for asking, I will keep this thread updated.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Bruce,

Before embarking on my mushroom project I saw soil as a lot of chemicals with a bit of biology thrown in.  Now I see soil as a LOT of biology with a little bit of chemistry.  When I dug into my woodchip compost it became obvious that the plants and fungi were working together.

The greenest plants had mycelium intricately intertwined among their roots.  Perhaps the mushrooms need some nitrogen, but they do not rob from the plants.  I am pretty certain they were supplying each other which whatever the other needed.

Trying this experiment really changed the way I look at gardening.  I am embarking on getting healthy fungi and bacteria growing alongside my plants for mutual assistance.  5 years ago I would never have dreamed of intentionally growing fungus in my garden, but now I earnestly believe that plants are meant to grow alongside fungi and bacteria and not in opposition to each other.

I hope this response helps to answer your question and if I can help any more, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
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thats great process to make fertile garden bed, yeah i know about weeds, if they judged them at the fair i'd have blue ribbon winning weeds
thanks again sharing your progress
 
Eric Hanson
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Bruce,

No problem.  My plan for next year is to use paper.  I am a teacher and I have plenty of paper at the end of the year.  I plan on using a bunch of 3-4 page tests to lay over the surface and cover with 1-2” of fresh chips topped by some straw.  The tests make a great weed barrier and will break down on their own over the course of the growing season.  I have used this technique in the past and it really knocks down the weed population.  By the end of the year paper is reduced to almost nothing.

Eric
 
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The community garden where I have a plot gets regular deliveries of woodchips and a couple of years ago I had an excellent crop of winecaps growing in the paths between the beds where I had spread coffee grounds and woodchips. They did not reappear last season and was concerned that I'd lost them but last week, noticed a solitary mushroom appear. It is spring in the southern hemisphere but last week, a cold front came through and brought snow down to 400m (we are 300m above sea level).

Today, a friend who is a landscape gardener, found a huge crop of winecaps in a pile of woodchips and he has kindly shared the substrate that they are growing in with me. I was much more excited to be given the mycelium than the actual mushrooms to be honest!

I will bury clumps of the substrate around the gardens and top them with woodchips. They appear to have been growing in pine mulch, there are still some needles amongst the mulch and a couple of tiny seedlings.
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Eric Hanson
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Megan,

Your mushrooms look great and your spawn even better!  I too would be excited to get a bunch of that spawn.  

We had a terribly hot and dry late summer/early fall and I am afraid that I did not keep up with my weeding.  Now that the weather has cooled off I plan on getting out, clearing out the weeds and putting the bed to sleep for the winter.  At that time I will peek around for mushrooms and check to see how my spawn looks.

I did get quick look at the garden bed yesterday and I was surprised by how much the level of the chips had fallen.  The bed had been raised to over 1’ deep when I sowed mushroom spawn.  Yesterday one corner appeared only a few inches deep.  I did not get a chance to dig around, but if the rain holds off this weekend I will dig around and report back.

Great post Megan, please keep us updated!

Eric
 
Megan Palmer
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Hello Eric, thanks I will certainly keep you updated. I already have several spots in mind, the two communal woodchip piles for sure - both have recently had fresh arborist’s mulch dropped off which is where the spawn for my original wine caps came from. Not an entirely altruistic move, I figure if it gets transferred to other areas of the garden, more wine caps for everyone, including me😋
 
Eric Hanson
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So I thought I would update this thread.

First off, my old wine cap bed.

I just got back from the garden and poked around my beds.  The old chip bed, inoculated last April, is of course nicely broken down, with the woody debris resembling a cross between earth and peat moss.  I did not see too many white threads, but there were a couple of spots that had white threads, likely digesting material they never got around to last year.  I hope to add some more chips soon.  Also, the overall level of the chip bed has dropped by several inches.

My new raise chip bed:

I started another chip bed earlier this spring.  I just dug into it in a couple of spots.  I only saw a couple of patches of white threads.  I would be willing to bet that the summer heat dished out a beating on the fungi.  However, the chips themselves looked like a mixture of solid chips and sawdust as opposed to just chips, so some decomposition is taking place.


And finally the experimental bed:

I did experiment with adding in some spawn to a third bed that did not have quite so many chips--just to see what would happen.  Although I only took a quick peek, it looked much like bed #2.

Later I will add some pictures and keep things updated!



Eric
 
Bryant RedHawk
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bruce Fine wrote:i like the idea of edible fungi to break down wood chips.
correct me if i'm wrong but when growing garden veggies in straight wood chips dont the wood chips eat up all the nitrogen,thanks for sharing pictues and progress



That is one of the largest misunderstandings out there, wood chips will not reduce N to the point that plants can't grow, which is what most spreaders of this misinformation tend to lead a reader to believe.
Nitrogen is everywhere, in the air we breathe, in the soil, in all plants, in rocks, so if you have a good microbiome in your soil, you won't see any problems arise since the bacteria will be providing any N the plants should need.

If straight wood chips ate up N, then two of my English friends would not have the glut of vegetables they get every year.
Both grow their allotment veggies in over 2 feet of wood chips, both have continually added to their allotment wood chip garden beds yearly and the soil below shows the effects of being covered in wood chips for the last 7 years.
The soil underneath the chip beds is very friable, you can literally see the effects all the humus leaching into the soil below has had over the few years, the soil is almost black, smells very sweet, earthy and feels awesome in the hand.
The organism counts are nice and high, and fungi rule the chips piled on top of the clay soil that is the "natural" soil in the allotment area. Their soil only shows that it started out as clay at the two foot depth, where the first horizon occurs.

Nitrogen losses can be measured but they only occur in soils where wood chips have been "dug in" if a wood chip lays on the soil surface, you can measure the N that wood chip can take in, it isn't much at all and concern about N loss via wood chips isn't an issue if you have rich soil.
If you have poor soil then you might want to leave the wood chips on the surface instead of digging them into the soil where they would possibly create some N losses.
If wood touching soil was as horrible as most that tout the Nitrogen loss caused by wood chips, you would be examining dirt not soil, remember, soil has a working microbiome filled with fungi, bacteria and many other microorganisms.

The propaganda is primarily a scare tactic, not something to really worry about as long as you are building your soil with organic matter and microorganisms.

If you build it (your soil microbiome), plants will grow.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Thanks RedHawk for clearing this up for so many people.

At one time I believed in this fallacy, but my experience growing in woodchips/Wine Caps radically changed my outlook.

Fungi are only going to help nutrient uptake and not hurt.

Eric
 
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Apologies if this is in the wrong discussion. Goals: reduce weed pressure and increase fertility/ biological activity in a market garden, provide bedding for numerous hogs.  Resources: hogs, wood chips
(mixed with twigs and leaves), old hay, and to a lesser extent compost.  The idea is to dump loads of wood chips, let the hogs spread them and fill the 'carbonaceous diaper'. Hay is added for diversity and the hogs eat some.  After an undetermined length of time the hogs move to another paddock and the original plot is covered (sans further tillage) with 4" deep wood chip pathways and semi-permanent compost planting beds.  The primary unknown in my mind is the enriched woodchip layer will still be too carbonaceous.  The safer route would be to rake from the bed area into the pathway, but is it necessary?  Thanks in advance!
 
Eric Hanson
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Mark,

Lots to unpack there, but I think my answer would be YES!  if you have the chips, by all means use them.  I like the carbonaceous diaper concept and I think you have the right idea.

More important than nitrogen is microbes, and your aged hay and manure should provide plenty.  I wouldn’t worry about having to many chips.

I think you have a great plan there, please keep us updated.

Eric
 
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