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All the Great Things about Wood Chips

 
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Redhawks Soil Series

Wood Chip Mulch Myths and Known Benefits

Select the right mulch and you reap the benefits of healthier soils and plants. Choose the wrong mulch and the only plants that thrive are the weeds.
Before selecting a landscape mulch material, it’s important to reflect on the purpose of the landscape in question.

Production Agriculture generally requires short term, intensive management of a crop, hence they are usually not mulched, even though it would bring huge benefits to the soil, farmers usually think more about ease of harvest than benefit to the land.
The philosophy behind landscape horticulture is the long term, sustainable management of a system.
Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that, those mulches that work best for crop production (including vegetable gardens) are often not the best choices for woody ornamental landscapes.

The potential, direct benefits of any landscape mulch material fit into four general categories:

Soil benefits
• improve structure
• enhance gas transfer
• enhance water infiltration and
retention
• prevent erosion and compaction
• moderate temperature

Plant benefits
• provide nutrients

System benefits
• suppress pathogens and pests
• enhance beneficial organisms
• increase biodiversity
• neutralize pollutants

Human benefits
• economic
• aesthetic
• ease of application

Documented benefits and drawbacks behind the use of arborist wood chips as a landscape mulch.
In areas where trees are a dominant feature of the landscape, arborist wood chips represent one of the best mulch choices for trees and shrubs.
A 1990 study evaluated the landscape mulch potential of 15 organic materials, including grass clippings, leaves, composts, yard wastes, bark, and wood chips.
Wood chips were one of the best performers in terms of moisture retention, temperature moderation, weed control, and sustainability.
In many urban areas, arborist wood chips are available for free, representing one of the most economically practical choices.

Unlike the uniform nature of sawdust and some bark mulches, wood chips include bark, wood, and often leaves.
The chemical and physical diversity of these materials resists the tendency towards compaction seen in sawdust and bark.
Additionally, these materials vary in size and decomposition rate, which functions in creating a more diverse environment that can and will be subsequently colonized by a diverse soil biota.
A biologically diverse soil biota is more resistant to environmental disturbance which allows it to support a widely diverse and healthy plant population.

Wood chips are considered to be slow decomposers, as their tissues are rich in lignin, suberin, tannins, and other decomposition-resistant, natural compounds.
Thus, wood chips supply nutrients slowly to the system; at the same time they absorb significant amounts of water that is slowly released to the soil.
It is not surprising that wood chips have been cited as superior mulches for enhanced plant productivity.

Wood chips have been especially effective in helping establish trees and native plants in urban and disturbed environments.
Wood chips provide incredible weed control in ornamental landscapes.
The mechanism(s) by which wood chips prevent weed growth while still not fully understood, include light reduction (preventing germination of some seeds and reducing photosynthetic ability of buried leaves),
allelopathy (inhibiting seed germination and/or seedling development), and reduced nitrogen levels at the soil-mulch interface (reducing seedling survival).
Tannins in the wood chips also work to prevent these same things thus the application of wood chips as a mulch can be seen as giving the "weeds" a double or triple whammy.

Imported wood mulches available for purchase at nurseries and home improvement centers, they are not as cost-effective as locally produced Arborist wood chips, which are often free.
In a society where using locally produced materials is increasingly popular as a measure of sustainability, Arborist wood chips are a natural choice.
Combine all those benefits along with the reuse of plant materials as mulches which keeps them out of the landfill, a benefit that provides both economic and environmental attributes, and you have a winning system of weed control, moisture retention and soil improvement.

Due to a lot of either uniformed or misinformation being circulated on the internet as well as pseudo scientist putting out non-trialed theories.
There are, for the public, a number of concerns surrounding the use of arborist wood chips as a landscape mulch.

Commonly expressed concerns about woody mulches are not borne out in research trials.
Concern: Woody mulches will acidify soils.
Evidence: None. In field situations, it is difficult to significantly alter soil pH without addition of chemicals.
Transient changes in pH may be found in the decomposing mulch layer itself, but these have little effect on underlying soils.

Concern: Woody mulches, such as cedar, leach allelopathic chemicals that kill other plants.
Evidence: Many plant materials contain allelopathic chemicals, which can prevent seeds from germinating or kill young seedlings.
Most compounds have no effect upon established plants. Only a few woody materials have been found to contain allelopathic chemicals (e.g. Juglans nigra, black walnut).
Cedars (Thuja spp.) have not been found to have this ability.

Concern: Mulches made from chipping diseased trees can infect healthy trees.
Evidence: Most studies indicate that diseased mulch cannot transmit pathogens to the roots of healthy trees.
Under no circumstances should wood mulch be used as backfill.
Not only is this a poor installation practice, but a potential mechanism for disease transfer as well.
Fungal communities found in wood chip mulches are generally decomposers, not pathogens.
Under healthy soil conditions, beneficial and harmless fungi can out-compete pathogens for space on plant roots.
Evidence supports that healthy plants are not susceptible to opportunistic pathogens such as Armillaria and Phytophthora, which are often present but inactive in well-managed soils.

Concern: Wood chips could be a fire hazard, particularly when they are used on landscapes around structures.
Evidence: Coarse textured organic mulches, like wood chips, are the least flammable of the organic mulches.
Fine textured mulches are more likely to combust, and rubber mulch is the most hazardous of all landscape mulches tested.

Concern: Wood chip mulches will tie up nitrogen and cause deficiencies in plants.
Evidence: Actually, many studies have demonstrated that woody mulch materials increase nutrient levels in soils and/or associated plant foliage.
A zone of nitrogen deficiency exists at the mulch/soil interface, inhibiting weed seed germination while having no influence upon established plant roots below the soil surface.
For this reason, it is inadvisable to use high C:N mulches in annual beds or vegetable gardens where the plants of interest do not have deep, extensive root systems.

Concern: Woody mulches will attract termites, carpenter ants, and other pests.
Evidence: Many wood-based mulches are not attractive to pest insects but are actually insect repellent.
For example, cedar (Thuja) species produce thujone, which repels clothes moths, cockroaches, termites, carpet beetles, Argentine ants, and odorous house ants.
In general, termites prefer higher nutrient woody materials, such as cardboard, rather than wood chips.

Concern: Let wood chips age before using them if there are concerns about disease.
Evidence: There is no evidence that wood chips made from trees with diseases have ever transferred the disease When the chips are used as a surface mulch.
Some of the nutrient value (particularly nitrogen if the chips contain leaves or needles) will be lost in the composting process.
Using fresh chips ensures that some of the foliar nitrogen will feed the landscape rather than the compost pile.


Before installing wood chips, create a thin underlying layer of a more nutrient rich mulch (like compost) if there are concerns about nutrient deficiencies.
This “mulch sandwich” or semi-lasagna mulch approach is logical, and mimics what you would find in the mulch layer of a forest ecosystem.
It’s not required, though, over time a wood chip mulch will develop this same structure as the lower layers break down.

Begin mulch application before annual weeds are established.
Mulch is most effective in suppressing weeds when weeds are not yet present on site.
Bare soil should be mulched as soon as practical, especially in the spring and fall when weed seed germination is at its peak.
If this is not possible, the most effective, non-chemical way to remove weeds prior to mulching is to mow them as close to the ground as possible, followed immediately by mulching.
Prune or mow perennial weeds at the root crown in early spring when root resources are lowest (generally just as leaf growth begins).
Extensive pulling of perennial weeds from unprotected soil is not recommended, as this disturbance will increase erosion, especially in sandy soils or in sloped areas.
It is better to keep unprotected soil undisturbed. However, you can pull re-sprouting perennial weeds covered in mulch; the mulch layer prevents erosion and facilitates pulling.

Install chips to the desired depth.
A successful wood chip mulch must be deep enough to suppress weeds and promote healthy soils and plants:
Research has demonstrated that weed control is directly linked to mulch depth, as well as enhanced plant performance.
A review of the research on coarse organic mulches and weed control reveals that shallow mulch layers will promote weed growth and/or require additional weed control measures.
4-6 inches depth is recommended for ornamental sites and 8-12 inches for restoration sites and/or perennial weed problems.
Keep mulch away from trunks of trees and shrubs.
Piling mulch against the trunks of shrubs and trees creates a dark, moist, low oxygen environment to which above-ground tissues are not adapted.
Fungal diseases require a moist environment to grow and reproduce; piling mulch on the trunk provides exactly the right conditions for fungi to enter the plant.
Likewise, opportunistic borers are more likely to invade a plant whose bark is wet due to excessive mulching.
Rather than creating mulch volcanoes, instead taper the mulch down to nearly nothing as you approach the trunk.
This donut-shaped application will protect the soil environment as well as the above-ground plant tissues.
Replace mulch as needed to maintain desired depth; replacement rate will depend on decomposition rate.
Once mulch is applied, little management needs to be done other than reapplication to maintain minimum depth.
High traffic areas will most likely need additions or outright replacement long before beds or other areas.

So there you go, the uses of wood chips from tree trimmers (arborists) are many and they are far more soil healthy than most of the alternatives on the market.

Redhawk
 
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Great topic, thank you for busting the myths. I found only one typo "For exxample, cedar (Thuja) species produce thujone", other than that it looks pretty good.
 
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Do I replace wood chips every year?  Should I stop after a while?
 
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As the mulch breaks down into soil, you can add more on top to limit weed growth. No need to replace in the sense of pullig out the existing material to replace it with new material.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Dennis, as Mark brought up, you don't actually pull up the wood chips, you are replacing the depth of the chips. What you want is to have the depth of the wood chips remain fairly constant and as they are decomposed you have to add more on top to keep that depth.
There is no need to ever stop adding wood chip mulch (yearly basis) The chips will become occupied by many fungi and bacteria, spring tails, etc. thus your soil beneath the chips will end up teaming with all the good microorganisms that make great soil.

Redhawk
 
Dennis Bangham
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Thanks. It was a bad choice of words. Not replacing but adding more.
I will soon buy a small tractor so I can keep adding wood chips without spending the evening with the painful back.  
I have recently planted Blocking 14 Comfrey (that I got through permies) around each of my trees.  (96 comfrey plants in all).  I can keep adding chips every year but would I cover all this after chopping?  
I was also thinking of adding Asparagus since it was recommended on an earlier thread.  I am also learning about edible/medicinal weeds (another permies purchase) but they grow where they want.
Running out of room is no excuse to stop planting.
 
 
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Perfect timing!  I just had wood chips delivered, and my husband and sons are having a fit.  I don't get it.  less mowing, less weeding, not as much water needed and protection of the soil, for free.  I'm doing the work.  So what's to complain about?  My husband said he worried about transferring diseases on the trees that had been chipped.  I had never even thought of that, and didn't have an answer for that one except to tell him most of the chips were going in walk ways and it wouldn't matter.  Now I can tell him it is safe to put the chips out with out worries of disease.  
Last year, maybe a year and a half ago I watched the back to Eden video on you tube, and wanted to give it a try.  I found a company to deliver wood chips, and had 3 large piles delivered.(I didn't realize they wood keep delivering them until I said stop.)  Any way my hole family thought I had lost my mind, gave me such a hard time I used the wood chips in limited spaces.  The remainder of the pile that didn't get used sat between an old peach tree that was close to death and a very old walnut tree we thought was dead.  I'm terrible about watering, and this year is no different, but you would never know that by looking at these two trees.  The walnut is alive and holding it's own, and the peach looks better then it has in years.  The wood isn't spread around it just between the two trees, but even that has made a huge difference.  
This year I'm going to ring all of our fruit trees.  Per your suggestion I'm going to put down a layer of compost. Then a layer of the 1 year old wood chips and then a layer of the new stuff.  I will be careful to keep the chip and compost from touching the tree.  There is grass, and weed around the trees, should I put cardboard down first to help discourage the weeds, or should I just do the compost and chips.  Would you do the layers in a different order?
Thank you again.  This forum should help calm my husband fears.  Maybe in a few years my son's will be telling me how smart I am,  ok it will never happen, but I will know ha ha.  
 
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As always, fantastic Dr. RedHawk.  Wood chips, more than any other strategy or technique, have fundamentally changed my garden soil.  As far as I'm concerned, there is no better way to build rich, healthy soil than to regularly mulch with a nice layer of chips.  

Trees are the ultimate dynamic accumulator, sinking their roots deep into the earth and mining for all kinds of micro-nutrients.  All those wood chips not only do all the things you list, but they also remineralize soils.  Not a lot, but there is some remineralization taking place.  Over the years as the fungi break down layer after layer of chips, it all adds up.

The only caution I would add is that when they sit in a pile for any length of time, fresh chips with lots of leaves and moisture in them tend to get moldy.  I've grown pretty sensitive to breathing those mold spores the more I've been exposed to them.  So it's best to move them as soon as possible, and then once on the ground, you don't have to worry about breathing that stuff.  But other than that, they are garden gold.

Thank you.
 
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Dr Redhawk,
Thanks for this edition! Like Marco (my long-lost brother), this technique has made amazing soil in a couple years. Nothing is immediate, and the youtube pro- and con people don't emphasize that enough. That being said, it is a waste stream you can turn into abundance. It makes me laugh when the arborists drop off, and ask what I'm doing with all these chips, and they don't see the hundreds of loads already under the ground feeding the soil web. Plus, it makes me look like I really know what I am doing. And I don't.

Feed your soil and your soil will feed you.
 
Marco Banks
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Tj Jefferson wrote: and they don't see the hundreds of loads already under the ground feeding the soil web.



^^ This ^^

Almost every time I get a load, I find myself thinking, "What am I going to do with all these chips?"  Then, two days later when they've all been spread I think, "I sure wish I had another yard or two to put down over here and maybe a few more wheelbarrow loads to put down over there."

Then I'll see people buying "garden mulch" (which is just aged wood chips) at Home Depot by the 2 cu ft. bag and I think, "My fungi would eat that much mulch before 5 am and would be screaming for more".  

Is there anything more beautiful than raking back 6 inches of wood chips that have sat there all winter, and planting in the beautiful black soil beneath?  I'll get my students out there and say, "OK, lets make some garden beds over here."  They'll respond, "It's just wood chips".  But once we rake back and chips and they see all the fat earthworms breakdancing, and the beautiful black crumbly soil that's a rich as blood, they see why I use so many chips in my garden.  Those raked berms of chips create perfect raised pathways between the beds, and then once the plants start to grow, they can be gently put back between the plants as mulch again.

My long lost wood chip brother from another mother.  You made me laugh when I read that.  :>)
 
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A few years ago we lost 3 of our papermills in a single week, in total we are down to six from a high of 145 in 1947. The problem is, those paper mills would consume 2500 cords of wood or more per DAY. That sounds sad, but Maine is a big state, and the most forested in the Nation, and the reality is, we grow a cord per acre, per year, sustainably. Maine will NEVER run out of trees...

But our economy is based upon wood, our second largest export after electricity.

So my idea was, to keep our logging industry going, why not put that wood to good use. Organic Matter in the Midwest is around 1%, but transportation is cheap, and we have so much stinking wood, and now no place to send it.

All it would take is a planter that would deposit wood chips as it was engaged in planting crops. It would not flood the field with wood chips all at once, but over time, every year, more and more wood chips would be added to the fields of the midwest increasing soil fertility. Good gravy, if they can transport wood chips from Sweden to make paper in Maine economically, then they sure can ship wood chips by the trainload (or ship load through the Great Lakes or Mississipi) to increase mid-west soil fertility.

It really makes sense. As it is right now, with the loss of our paper mills, landowners (and Maine is 95% privately owned), is clearing forest to put it into fields because we have to pay our property taxes somehow. Many thought that shutting down paper mills would make our forests better, but it really has just eliminated their value as a forest altogether. I have cleared 100 acres myself, and I am not alone in that endeavor. Wood chips for the mid-west would make forests in Maine viable again.
 
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Marco Banks wrote:

The only caution I would add is that when they sit in a pile for any length of time, fresh chips with lots of leaves and moisture in them tend to get moldy.  I've grown pretty sensitive to breathing those mold spores the more I've been exposed to them.


Thank you.




This is no small thing, and thank you for pointing it out to people that may not know. I'm a huge advocate of using wood chips, but i made myself very sick a couple times before i realized it was the mold in the wood chips that caused it.  Both times I got a very high fever and was miserable for a couple days. After that, I became extremely sensitive to the mold in chips. At this point, if I load wood chips that aren't freshly chipped, i wear a respirator.  Please everyone, heed Marco's excellent advice and take proper precautions if you move chips that have been sitting, especially if they are actively steaming.
 
Marco Banks
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:
At this point, if I load wood chips that aren't freshly chipped, i wear a respirator . . . if you move chips that have been sitting, especially if they are actively steaming.



If you wake up the next morning and are hacking up green goo and spitting it onto the floor of the shower to clear your lungs, you've been "molded".  A steaming compost pile = good.  A steaming wood chip pile = caution.  It's still good, but you don't want to be standing downwind of that cloud of steam.

That said, it's still the best stuff for your garden or orchard.  You've just got to use appropriate caution.  As Trace has said, a respirator is needed -- not just one of those little paper masks, as they are not adequate to filter out the spores.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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As soon as I can get my chipper back in working order I have lots of sticks and twigs to run through it along with some tree trunks.
The one thing I really like about having one of these machines is that I can have fresh wood chips when I want or need them as long as I'm willing to do the work of making them.

Molds can be fatal, so either a double canister respirator or one of the air tank type full face masks work best when spreading spores via shovel full of wood chips.

Redhawk
 
Tj Jefferson
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Travis Johnson wrote:A few years ago we lost 3 of our papermills in a single week, in total we are down to six from a high of 145 in 1947. The problem is, those paper mills would consume 2500 cords of wood or more per DAY. That sounds sad, but Maine is a big state, and the most forested in the Nation, and the reality is, we grow a cord per acre, per year, sustainably. Maine will NEVER run out of trees...

But our economy is based upon wood, our second largest export after electricity.

So my idea was, to keep our logging industry going, why not put that wood to good use. Organic Matter in the Midwest is around 1%, but transportation is cheap, and we have so much stinking wood, and now no place to send it.

All it would take is a planter that would deposit wood chips as it was engaged in planting crops. It would not flood the field with wood chips all at once, but over time, every year, more and more wood chips would be added to the fields of the midwest increasing soil fertility. Good gravy, if they can transport wood chips from Sweden to make paper in Maine economically, then they sure can ship wood chips by the trainload (or ship load through the Great Lakes or Mississipi) to increase mid-west soil fertility.

It really makes sense. As it is right now, with the loss of our paper mills, landowners (and Maine is 95% privately owned), is clearing forest to put it into fields because we have to pay our property taxes somehow. Many thought that shutting down paper mills would make our forests better, but it really has just eliminated their value as a forest altogether. I have cleared 100 acres myself, and I am not alone in that endeavor. Wood chips for the mid-west would make forests in Maine viable again.



Travis, there may be a market in the mountain west. I have been trying to do the massive pit biochar burn and see if I can make decent-ish char. Shipping by rail is cheap. The issue is that good char needs a uniform input and best with a lot of surface area. The energy and expense of chipping was not feasible based on some discussions I had with someone who managed a commercial biochar plant. If a chipper could be had cheaply, and loads of biomass are available, my estimate was that this would sell for $500 per ton. Shipping not included.

My massive biochar thread discusses some of the early math- using lignin from the wood to generate the heat to pyrollize the wood. It is very inefficient in an open pit, but the end product is massively value-added.

Still on hold because the guy I am plotting this with has been slammed with work this summer since it was so wet last year.

That being said, if you could set up a way of doing this, and get a decent product (there would have to be some serious testing and quality control) this price in areas of the west would be double. This is only reasonable in high-value crops. If you are interested let me know and I will give you my research. I've dug pretty deep including some market analysis.
 
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Great post Bryant!!!  We've put wood chips down in our sandy and extremely well draining food forest (over a layer of cardboard) and it does wonders for holding moisture up near the surface.  Weeks after the last rain it will be damp at the soil surface.

The only issue we tend to have is that some "weeds", like sheep sorrel, send rhizomes through the chips and come up all over.  I'm sure the easy answer is to eat it, but we can't eat 500 salads a day...  For now the missus is doing "pull and drop" with them.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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MIke, Sheep Sorrel is one of the leading herbal remedies for cancers, don't pull it and waste it, unless you are sure you will never need to have some available for making a life giving tea.

Sheep Sorrel takes 3 years for the roots (the main part of this herb that is valuable for cancer fighting) to mature and be at their best.

I would recommend that you put those plants into containers, unless of course a wild growing bed of such a valuable herb appeals to you and your wife.
You can dry sheep sorrel, whole plant and once vacuum packed it will last for about a decade.

Redhawk

PS, I'll pay the shipping on those rhizomes of sheep sorrel if you care to send me the ones you would toss.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks for the info Bryant!  Based on the square footage of the sheep sorrel invasion, there's no way I could put them all into containers.  Imagine about a swimming pool sized area that's fully populated with it.

I'll take some pictures and run them past you (and the rest of the site) to verify it is what I think it is and to see how the roots look.

For now the missus will just leave them in the hopes that we won't need em :)
 
Tj Jefferson
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Dr Redhawk,

I have a huge amount of rhyzomes, but they are probably 2 years old. I have been pulling them like Mike but I have plenty I could give you if they would work. I am not worried about them coming back, they are all over and I am sure they have plenty of new rhyzomes waiting for a chance.

If you want them, let me know. It would be the first chance I could repay your good graces and scholarly advice. If we get another big rain they really pop up and I can find the fat older rhyzomes. I am certain they are sheep sorrel, we eat it in winter in soups (and it is delicious!) but we have far more than we can utilize.

Just PM me and they will be on the way, we are due some cooler moist weather this weekend.
 
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Indeed!

In fact, I got a simple electric chipper (lil less than 2" diameter) sos I can make my own. Or take the neighbors' "waste"
 
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I just had to chime in on the "Don't Breath the Mold Spores" brigade. When we got our first load of woodchips, my then 3 year old son LOVED them. He loved to dig in them and throw them, and watch their "dust" float through the air. Then he got a cough. I quickly realized it was the spores he was playing in and banned him from playing in there anymore (insert very sad son here). It took 2 years for his lungs to go back to normal.

So, for those that get woodchips, watch your kids, too. There's not much more fun than a giant pile of woodchips, but it's also very dangerous if it's spewing spores...

The spores also seem to be related to what trees were in that batch of mulch. The more recent deposit of woodchips never made any dry powdery spores like the last one. I don't know what was the difference between them, but there sure was something different!
 
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ari gold wrote:Indeed!

In fact, I got a simple electric chipper (lil less than 2" diameter) sos I can make my own. Or take the neighbors' "waste"



I think it's a great idea to salvage some debris that others would otherwise put out for garbage. But, I was surprised at how LITTLE of a pile I was left with after what seemed like A LOT of material and time though !

The chipper I was using I got for next to nothing (at least that's what I tell myself ) then it developed some problems over time so I gave it away rather than fixing it. I am still considering another and this time I too think I'll go with an electric version if nothing else to save on the noise factor! Just enough for shredding the brushy stuff. Thicker stuff I save for firewood or hugulkulture now since I have found a source to get free arborist chips.



 
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Dennis Bangham wrote:Do I replace wood chips every year?  Should I stop after a while?



WARNING: If your wood chips are anywhere near your house, cars or anything else you would rather not have peppered by artillery fungus, you would be well advised to remove & replace your wood chips/mulch annually.
These things can shoot their waxy spore pods up to 20 feet and are very difficult & time consuming to remove (I learned about this one the hard way). It might just be a problem here in the Northeast USA, your milage may vary.

More info can be found here:  http://rayhaluchinc.com/getting-rid-of-artillery-fungus/
IMG_2593.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_2593.JPG]
Artillery Fungus spores
 
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Pete,

I haven't heard of Artillery Fungus here in NSW Australia but I think our restrictive firearms laws would probably mean it'd be illegal to posses, LOL.

As to mould spores in general, my experience had been to suffer symptoms similar to Legionnaire's Disease until I took to wearing a mask. (Not just when handling woodchips but also when having to do any digging.)

I had five very large truckloads of woodchips delivered from the Air Force base where I work just as my haematologist stopped me from working in the garden until my bloods were improved. (Decreased immune system due to chemotherapy for Leukemia.)
That has gone well and I am now back gardening, (with a mask of course,) however my five truckloads of woodchips have decomposed into a very good soil additive for my raised garden beds. Wish I could get another five truckloads.
On second thoughts, make that fifty truckloads!

Cheers,

Bid
 
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This is relevant to me this weekend as my family and I are hauling arborist tree chips (plus leaves) from ChipDrop to the backyard for placement among my food forest.
 
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Hmm, that artillery fungus looks like some spot I laboriously cleaned off a car we bought a few years ago.  

Only problem I've had with wood chips is that the voles loved the soft soil it created and demolished my hostas, nanking cherries, and a couple of apple trees.  A couple of cats have shown up that seemed to have helped.

I backed off of wood chips for new trees, (still use plenty in the garden), but have started spreading a thin layer of wood chip compost around some more established trees.
 
pollinator
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Great thread everyone!

I have wanted to add to this conversation, but this is hard considering all the great commentary thus far.  

I, too am a woodchip convert.  I have been using woodchips for several years, but within the last year I discovered just how amazing winecaps in woodchips work, not only for the mushrooms, but how they leave the resulting compost amazing for plants.

While I am thoroughly on the woodchip bandwagon, I have one singular problem.  My veggies are apparently more attractive to pests than ever before (in this case deer).

While my veggies grow very well, the deer get to them before I do.  I am in the process of putting fencing around my garden beds so hopefully next year will different.

But all in all, I wholeheartedly recommend woodchips, and if you can, I strongly recommend adding in wine cap mushrooms.

Eric
 
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Hi,

I wonder if anyone has any advice on ways to speed up decomposition of wood chips.

I planted a wide variety of fruit trees into very dense clay soil and many of the trees, especially the stone fruit, are struggling. I have wide ring of woodchips 10" high around each tree, but it seems that they are breaking down relatively slowly. I haven't seen much sinking over the course of this summer.  I spread myccoryzal fungi initially when laying down the chips in March and saw a bunch of gnarly shrooms pop up during April/May, but haven't seen the chips breaking down much.  When I spread the chips a few inches down, I see the white hyphae everywhere.  I've been watering weekly during the dry weather. Any advice to speed up the process so the chips can start doing their thing and improving the soil texture?  I am thinking some kind of nitrogen source, but not sure how to go about it.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Fred,   To speed up the break down of wood chips you need fungi, lots and lots of fungi, which you can add by using mushroom slurries every chance you get.

Redhawk
 
Jen Fulkerson
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frustrated by trying to get the wood I got into my rose garden which is surrounded by a flower garden, veggie garden, can shed, and a hugel.  So I must do the work by hand, ether with the wheelbarrow, or in some tight spots a bucket.  The wood is shredded instead of chipped with tons of long strips of wood, and loaded with fungi of some kind, it makes a cloud when you dig into it.  Not to mention the weather has been over 100 every day and in the evening the mosquito's  are so bad you get bit even with off on, and I usually stay away from that stuff!  I was almost at the end of my rope the other evening.  My son thought he was funny a week before when I was doing a different area that the bobcat could move the chips to and he filled the wheelbarrow that has a flat tire.   The wood filled the wheelbarrow and the surrounding area.  I was taking the wood around the wheelbarrow because it was close, and more dry without so much fungi, and the soil under it was amazing.  This area is in front of my new hugel.  My son helped me load soil and last years wood chips onto my hugel with the bobcat.  This ended up removing all the weeds in this area.  The soil dried out and looks dry and dusty  (on my list of things to do) So you look around this area it looks dry and sad, but where about 8" of wood had been dropped, and nothing else done, no water, nothing and in only a week the soil is dark and moist.  The drastic change in such a short time, reminded me why I'm doing this.  It is worth the sore muscles, sweat, and bites.  Why isn't everyone doing this.  Simple, free, and amazing results.  
I don't mean to get fanciful, but writing this out, I see I needed a sign and one was provided for me. It doesn't even matter who, or what, or why, that's for the individual to decide, I'm just grateful, not only for the boost, but the gift in recognizing it. It really is a beautiful and amazing would we live in.
 
Eric Hanson
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I have mentioned this before in other posts, but by converting to woodchip garden beds, and especially by infusing with wine cap mushrooms (I am sure other mushrooms would work as well, I just started with wine caps) has changed the way I view soil/garden bedding fertility.  Previously I saw soil as a bunch of chemicals in the substrate mix with a few microbes thrown in to boot.  I now see soil as a LOT of microbes working hand in hand with plant roots with a few chemicals here and there.  

This last summer I grew some of the best summer squash I have ever grown.  To be clear, they were planted in fertile holes filled with a manure/bagged topsoil mix, but those same fertile holes were left from the previous year when they grew tomatoes.  I added absolutely no chemical fertility this year.  The only change to the woodchip bedding was the fact that the wine caps I sowed last year really broke down the woodchips into a coffee ground like substance and the overall fertility of the bed was magnificent, better than the previous year with untapped manure.  

I am convinced that the extra soil biology made the difference this summer.  I am now in the process of converting all of my garden beds into woodchip beds.  I plan on this taking between one to two additional years to complete.  In the meantime my biggest challenges are the chip up more wood for garden bedding, both to make new beds and to continue feeding old beds.  Additionally I need to make both new raised bed edges (my current raised bed frames are old oak logs that are rapidly deteriorating) and finally getting fencing around the beds to protect from deer that just love all the fresh produce.

I know this has been a long post, but I cannot overstate how magically woodchips infused with appropriate fungi work in the garden.

This is a really great thread and I am very pleased that so many people are catching the woodchip bug.

Eric
 
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As I read this discussion, my right elbow is screaming at me. My neighbor, whose  property mine surrounds on 3 sides, just had some trees removed from an area between his cabin and an outbuilding on my property, both built before the town had zoning and setback requirements. Two of the trees were fairly large. The logger took what wood he could mill into lumber, left my neighbor with smaller logs to cut into fire wood, and a left us with a nice sized pile of wood chips. All summer before this my neighbor had been using his nifty  wood chipper to deal with some of the smaller trees around his yard. He has been sharing those woodchips with me as well. This has allowed me to mulch around plants and trees, as well as mulch areas that I simply want to not have mow,  We all know those areas that result for poor planning or growth that  create spaces that are too tight to get a mower into, so the grass is neglected and then starts self-seeding in your garden beds. Hence, my elbow and my knees are screaming, moving two large wheel barrows full of woodchips may be a bit more than my old body could handle, especially over rough terrain and uphill. I love having a neighbor that you can work with instead of against. Especially, since he has made me the executor of his estate, and I am the primary beneficiary. It just seems silly for his 1/2 acre to have cut out of my property (long before our time). So someday, the two properties will join again.
 
Eric Hanson
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Josephine,

Nice!  I love the idea of two properties being made one again.  Sort of like real estate healing.

Also, it certainly is nice to have access to a huge supply of woodchips and even better that you can get along so well with your neighbor.

Nice!

Eric
 
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Minor testimonial:

We sit on small acreage and half of it has post oak as an over story. In years past after the long dry season come about now to end of Sept. we would start to see some leaf drop. Ground is hard red clay.

This spring I laid down cardboard and 4-6" of chips. The oaks in this section have shown little leaf drop as of this posting. In the past there would be some leaf drop attempting to conserve moisture.  I am hoping to see an increase in acorn drop next spring. We also had mushrooms popping up everywhere. In spots where I looked underneath, the soil is not cracked dry hard. Not exactly damp but improved.

There is also the aesthetic of the mulch. The place looks like a forest rather than a bunch of poles sticking out of red pavement. Weeds have been suppressed , the few I see I can pick out by hand. And by golly I don't have to mow it!

Great stuff!
 
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5 years back, I started growing my veggies in beds: With a very sandy soil, I immediately doubled the amount of 'real' soil by taking soil from alleys and putting it on top of the beds. But then, there were the alleys. What about the alleys? I wanted them clean and [relatively] weed free. Since wood chips are abundant, I went into it big, adding about 6" of chips in the alleys. Big success: Alleys clear, better crops... I was happy. The bed themselves were getting plenty of leaves in the fall.
Fast forward to this year: As I re-organized my beds, I moved some -[now]-well-composted chips and sawdust from the alleys. I liked the texture as soon as I dug in. Nice and airy, even though that is where we walk. The beds themselves had good looking nice dark soil... but... still very few earthworms: this very sandy soil is taking in the nutrients from the dead leaves, but the dead leaves have broken down so fine that the spaces between the grains of sand are filled by dirt and dust. The unfortunate results is that it compacts worse than if I had not done a thing. The leaves need to be *mixed* with the soil in the fall. I think that just placing the leaves and parting them to plant isn't doing it.
For a healthy soil we need variety of particle sizes along with the organic matter and all I had was grains of sand with mud in between. The couple of inches below were soft enough to get seeds started thanks to the leaves that kept the soil damp. Below that, however, it was very hard for seedling to pass roots through.
So now, besides placing leaves in the bed, I will also pick some shovelfuls from the alleys, building up the soil [literally] as I go.... and mix the leaves in.
 
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Thanks Bryant for the thorough research, and thanks everyone for their personal experiences.

The only thing I could add is that wood chips tend to move the soil from a bacterial decompositon mode to a fungal one. This is great for trees & shrubs, and not so great for annual vegetables. The success of the Back-To-Eden folks indicates that this is not necessarily a deal killer. All the other common objections to use of wood chips seem to be myths.

I can't say whether mixing with nitrogen fertilizer or anything else will counter this. I'm in the early stages of my experimentation.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau David,
I understand your thoughts of vegetables not being fungal dominant.
However, recent research shows that vegetables do indeed require some fungi and they even make use of ectomycorrhizae, which surround the growth roots of even carrots, this fungi helps prevent the carrot from going woody, allows for more nutrient uptake by the carrot plant (this works for almost every vegetable as well) and the end result is a far more healthful, betacarotene rich, root food.
The same is true of beet root, another item that was previously thought to be totally dependent upon bacteria for nutrient uptake.
So, don't discount the importance of having fungi in every vegetable garden bed, without it the bacteria will be slow to answer the exudate calls from your vegetables and that means slower growth because of slower nutrient uptake.

The more we research the many rolls of fungi in the soil, the more it becomes evident that all soil needs to have at least some fungi hyphae running through it.
These fungal strands allow interplant communication and they help control parasitic nematode counts along with fighting diseases that affect our garden plants.

I don't recommend making additions of Nitrogen unless you can see there is a need for more nitrogen in the soil.
Usually plants (even heavy feeders like corn) living in a healthy, bioactive soil don't need anything extra thrown their way, the bacteria will break down the locked up minerals and they will create other nutrients needed by the plants, force feeding them not only makes the plants lazy it also makes the bacteria and fungi lazy, which results in less nutrient value in the foods we are trying to grow.
That is not what our goal should be.
Currently most of the foods humans consume are missing at least half of the nutrients the foods had 100 years ago, some foods have lost even more of their nutrient value in just the last 40 years, the results of folks depending on artificial compounds (fertilizers) to provide nutrients for the plants.

Redhawk
 
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Here I am again. Help My latest load of wood chips I think is from a sweet gum tree.  Besides the very strong smell which will dissipate over time, oh I hope soon, there are tons of sharp seed pods in the mix.  My plan for the chips are the start of a food forest.  My concern is if I use the chips this way, will I end up with a sweet gum forest instead of a food forest?  My father-in-law has a wood chipper he stores at our house and lets us use.  I have seen on line people running the seed pods through a chipper, it got rid of the sharp parts, but I wounder if it destroys the seed.  I'm no sure how fine the chipper is, but I'm not very fond of the idea of rechipping a large load of chips. No way am I going to pick out all the seed pods.  I'm not happy with the sharp parts, but we have lots of sharp burs and stuff on the ground so going barefoot is already out of the question, so I can live with that.  No sending these chips back.  What should i do?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sweetgum trees are prolific reproducers, but the seed pods (gum balls) do need soil contact to enable sprouting.
If this was my load of wood chips I'd try to get some sort of ground separation (like a tarp) between the chips and the soil.
Then I'd let them sit over the winter or at least until I could get the surface soaked with mushroom slurry.
A good coat of mushroom slurry will; process the odor causing molecules in the wood and it will start the decay process quickly and that means the seed pods would start decaying so that by next spring you would     have no living seed pods.

I think that would be a far better solution over re-chipping the whole lot, you are correct in thinking that re-chipping isn't going to get rid of the seed pods trying to germinate in the right conditions.

Redhawk
 
john mcginnis
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:Here I am again. Help My latest load of wood chips I think is from a sweet gum tree.  Besides the very strong smell which will dissipate over time, oh I hope soon, there are tons of sharp seed pods in the mix.  My plan for the chips are the start of a food forest.  My concern is if I use the chips this way, will I end up with a sweet gum forest instead of a food forest?  



See this article -- https://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-sweetgum-trees-seed-39700.html -- then think the reverse.

dormancy -- the plant has a chill requirement. Can you deny the seeds the opportunity?
Light -- Breaking dormancy the seedlings need the light. Can you deny that?

My suggestion:

After first frost in your zone, put down the chips. Let it over winter. In the spring, first sign of sprouting place a light tight tarp(s) over the area. The seeds will exhaust their reserves then die. Those meager few that sprout later after removing the tarp can be hand plucked.
 
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A rocket mass heater heats your home with one tenth the wood of a conventional wood stove
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