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Soil improvement with no till

 
pollinator
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Good morning friends! I wanted to pass along something I discovered over the past year. For the past few years I’ve piled copious amounts of grass clippings and leaves into my garden beds. This year I was able to get a large amount of free local wood chips from a friend. Once I ran out of planned uses for the chips I started mixing them into my garden topper mix. The results amazed me. In a few weeks I had a crazy amount of worms living under the mix. The soil was transformed overnight! Some of these were new beds that I was trying to prepare for the 2020 season but were able to use them this year. The only downside was varmints. Some of the beds are near the woods and I guess a tasty worm meal was on the menu for some creatures. I had to replant one particular bed four times. When I would go out in the morning it looked like someone had dug everything up! Other beds had to be transplanted a couple times as well.
Anyway, I’ve been here five years and I’ve never had yields like this year. It was also done with the least amount of effort. Hope this helps someone out next planting season. Scott
 
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Outta curiosity, what species were the wood chips?

How big were the chips(1", 1/2", 1/4", chunky sawdust)?

Did you put the chips down before you put the rest of the topper down, mix into the topper first, chips on top of the regular topper, or just the chips added on top alone?

Did you have extra moisture or less compared to the chipless times you've added topper?
 
Scott Stiller
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They were a mix of pine, poplar and oak. None of it was sawdust, most of it was decent size. I mixed it into the regular mix without thinking ratios. Maybe a fourth of the mix was chips. We did have a decently wet winter and early spring.
 
gardener
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Scott,

Congratulations on your discovery!  But I have to say I am not surprised.  It is truly amazing what a pile of organic matter sitting on soil will do for fertility.  I am increasingly finding that it is the life in the soil that matters and not as much the individual nutrients.  You have an abundance of both so I expect you will have some very healthy, fertile ground.

Eric
 
pollinator
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Do you have a specific formula in your garden topper mix, or is that just in reference to the grass clippings and leaves you mentioned?
 
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I have found the same with my no till garden. We mulched 1/3 of the garden. The next year 2/3 and finally all of it. I can tell a noticeable difference in each section. I actually planted potatoes in the first and second section this year. There was a noticeable size difference in the potatoes from the 2 sections. We also added year old leaf mulch we bought cheaply at the mulch-selling-place over the entire garden.  The hardest thing for me is planting in a no till garden after years and years of walking through and planting a freshly tilled garden, so soft and fluffy. Still fluffy, just not "soft" anymore.

We haven't used a formula. We just add whatever we have or can get. Composted manure with wood shavings, vacuumed yard leaves, lime, grass, vegy compost, etc. etc. etc.
 
Scott Stiller
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No specific formula. Honestly, mostly leaves, grass, then wood chips are a distant third.
 
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I am a huge fan of no till. I've also been building up my garden beds' soil with grass clippings and leaves. And I have also seen tons of worms just loving this kind of environment.

I'm doing layers of grass clippings, and leaves, both as bed toppers / mulch, and I can get away with maybe watering my plants a few days out of the year (when it's been super hot for 2-3 weeks with no rain). But I am not using wood chips or wood mulch on my garden beds -- my plants don't grow as well, and I've read/heard the wood breakdown process uses nitrogen, which plants need.
 
Eric Hanson
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Mac,

Have you considered using mushrooms to break down your woodchips?  I am in the process of converting all of my garden beds into raised beds filled with woodchips Inoculated with wine cap mushrooms.  It takes about a year to really break down those chips, but when they do break down they produce some amazing garden bedding.  In my experience, the mushroom compost needs no watering aside from rain.

In my area, we get the most rain from fall to spring.  Right now we are in a mild flood stage.  But summers are hot and brutal.  Before I started with mushroom compost, I planted into our clay soil, and no matter how much I tried to amend it, it was still clay.  In our summers the clay dried into something that could be used for bricks and roots didn’t even try to penetrate.  It was bad enough that I installed a drip irrigation system and in doing so I buried about 1000’ of water tubing that ran from my house out to my gardens and eventually to fruit patches and fruit trees.  

The tubing is still there but I have not used it in at least 2 years.  The decomposing wood chips really soak up the rain, the mushrooms and other soil biota really condition the soil beneath an now I would have to dig quite deep to find clay at all.  My woodchips are about 12” tall, but their effects on the soil run at least a foot deep and probably much deeper.

For many years I tried in vain to change the composition of my clay soil—I dug/tilled in bagged topsoil/manure, leaves, grass clippings and all seeds sorts of organic matter.  The clay seemed to eat them all and remain clay.  I think tilling was the problem.  But after just 1 year of woodchips/wine caps, the clay now looks dark, rich, friable, and much easier for plant roots to penetrate even in hot summers.

Mac, I wish you the best of luck, but my little tidbit here is that woodchips with proper fungi will do miracles, miracles I myself did not believe until I saw them for myself.

Eric
 
Posts: 35
Location: North Central North Carolina Zone 7B
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Interesting stuff using the mushrooms to breakdown the wood chips.

I'm reading Michael Philips Holistic Orchard book now and I believe he notes spraying fungi to help break down wood mulch so even if you didn't want the mushrooms you still get the same effect.

Got his older, Apple Grower book plus his fungi book, what to read next...

Still need to get soil samples on my place but the ground up woody debris is left on the ground and whatever I can use to help break it down sooner and so enrich my rocky clay soil the better.
 
master pollinator
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Hi Scott,

I have been making a similar discovery.    Lots of composting material in my raised beds.  I loosen it little if it gets too compacted.  But less is certainly more.
 
Eric Hanson
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John,

Can you make a raised bed?  If you can raise the bed by about a foot or more you might well never want to ever till again.

I am almost at the point where the only digging I will do will be to plant a small tomato plant or make a potato mound.

One irony is that I learned about and began practicing mushroom cultivation just after I bought a bunch of high quality digging tools like a really good grub hoe and a scuffle hoe for weeding.  Those tools now mostly stay in the garage.

Eric
 
John F Dean
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Hi Eric,

Yes, I have raised beds.  
 
Eric Hanson
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Sorry John, if I had been thinking I would have remembered that we had just discussed that.  Sorta a palm to face moment!

Eric
 
denny hall
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Scott Stiller wrote:Good morning friends! I wanted to pass along something I discovered over the past year. For the past few years I’ve piled copious amounts of grass clippings and leaves into my garden beds. This year I was able to get a large amount of free local wood chips from a friend. Once I ran out of planned uses for the chips I started mixing them into my garden topper mix. The results amazed me. In a few weeks I had a crazy amount of worms living under the mix. The soil was transformed overnight! Some of these were new beds that I was trying to prepare for the 2020 season but were able to use them this year. The only downside was varmints. Some of the beds are near the woods and I guess a tasty worm meal was on the menu for some creatures. I had to replant one particular bed four times. When I would go out in the morning it looked like someone had dug everything up! Other beds had to be transplanted a couple times as well.
Anyway, I’ve been here five years and I’ve never had yields like this year. It was also done with the least amount of effort. Hope this helps someone out next planting season. Scott



Scott,

Are you getting wood chips from a tree service company?  What about sawdust from a lumber mill?   My place is ground down and the chips fell where they fell, some bigger chunks too.  I am going to try planting white dutch clover for some cover.  I have been watching some YT videos on forest gardening and I have planted a few trees, a few more are coming.  A few bushes on the way too.  Starting my FG journey and I was wondering what is working well for you since you are in my same zone.  
 
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