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Wood chips are working

 
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I have this area between our garage, and some fruit trees that we do nothing with.  No one mows it , every year it's a huge mess of tall weeds that become dry then we have to do something or it becomes a fire hazard.  Last year I spread wood chips over it. (I want to make a food forest, but haven't gotten to it yet) Now there are a few small weeds, but nothing compared to the non wood chip area.  I decided to plant some potato's in this area.  I pulled back the chips and the soil is damp and there are tons of worms.  We actually got a few days of rain last week, but it wasn't much and the ground is already starting to dry out.  Maybe now I can prove to my family it is worth doing, and add more areas of wood chips to keep the weeds in check, and improve the soil.
 
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Hi Jen,

Yep, a bunch of woodchips just thrown on the ground are amazing after a few months decomposition.  I get plenty of worms in mine as well.

Eric
 
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hau Jen, I think it's great that you are using wood chips to not only keep moisture where you want it but to make use off the tannins and other compounds wood chip bring to the grow your soil party. Many bacteria make use of those compounds and earthworms come to feast on those bacteria. The more you provide wood chips, the better the soil will become. (Eric is great at mentoring fungi and wood chip uses.)

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

I wanted to give a longer post, my last one I had to make in a rush.

First off, woodchips have radically changed the way I now see soils, soil organisms, soil chemistry, gardening, etc.  Chips more than a few inches deep can radically transform soil.  I have dense, hard brown clay by me, and having a nice layer of woodchips just laying on the surface for about a year changes my soil in such a way that it becomes difficult if not impossible to find the boundary that separated soil and chips.  The two kinda merge together to the advantage of both.  

Woodchips simply just sitting will attract all sorts of soil biota such as worms that you see, the decomposing bacteria the worms eat, and all sorts of fungi that happily munch on the wood.  If you get really ambitious, consider inoculating with wine cap mushrooms.  Even if you don’t like mushrooms, wine caps will make the woodchips into the most amazing garden bedding that is fertile beyond belief.  If you are interested, you can check out a long running thread HERE:

https://permies.com/t/120/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter

This thread documents my fungal journey from being a complete and total neophyte to having a certain level of basic fungal competence. Don’t worry, wine caps are easy and basically teach you how to grow them.

Your idea of using woodchips to grow potatoes is great.  This mirrors my own plans for this season.  I have a nicely fertile mushroom compost bed, a bunch of seed potatoes, and a whole lot of fresh woodchips.  Everything seems about perfect if not for one factor—absolutely non-stop rain.  My solution is to place the potatoes on the surface of the bedding and then cover with a nice, thick layer of chips and let them grow.

You can do much the same, but I suggest burning the seed potatoes deep enough that they are in the moist, darker region of wood chips.  If you were so inclined, this would be a great opportunity to inoculate with wine caps.  The wine caps actually like a little bit of sunlight and the potatoes will provide that perfect shade and the mushrooms even like to interact with roots, helping plants grow which helps wine caps grow.  It is a great win-win-win situation.  Woodchips and mushrooms will be a part of my gardening for now on.

Jen, you don’t have to do any of these things, but wine caps and wood chips are a natural, perfect fit for each other.  I applaud your decision to use woodchips and I am certain your potatoes will do wonderfully.  If you want to try wine caps, that would be great too and I can help if you so desire.

Good Luck and please keep us updated,

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you so much, sounds like I'm in luck.
Eric, I would love to grow mushrooms.  my family and I love mushrooms.  It's one of those things I want to try, but I need to do some research so I know at least kind of what I'm doing before I start.  I live in N. California, zone 9b, so I worry it will be to hot and dry.  Do you recommend buying sawdust spawn, or peg spawn.  I know it doesn't mind some sun, but would it rather have shade?  There is a spot beside my garage that has total shade because of the trees, I don't think it gets any sun at all.  It is still something I'm looking into, but I would like to grow mushrooms.
 
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Wood chips are awesome!  I first started using them in the small beds in my backyard several years ago.  I planted two spindly rhubarb plants in one of those beds and the growth that year was very impressive.  Actually the plants were getting really crowded and I divided them last year, removing one completely and dividing both of them. I think I ended up with about 15 divisions from those two plants.

My vegetable beds are four years old and each year I add another layer of wood chips. In one of those beds I had a volunteer potato sprout the second year. Off of that one red potato, I ended up with over 30 potatoes.  I’ve never gotten a yield like that from spring planted potatoes and last years volunteer yield wasn’t near that impressive (around 12 potatoes) but it was a very wet season.  The soil in my beds improves yearly and honestly all I do is spread a layer of comfrey leaves each spring followed by some dried blood.  Then I top it with 2-3 inches of wood chips.  

My chips are a mixture of shrub prunings and fallen limbs from our property.
 
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I know of no better soil amendment than wood chips.  It's great to hear that your experiment has proven to be so successful.  Just not having to deal with all those weeds --- that alone is fantastic.  But when you see how well your trees respond as well as having vastly improved soil for your other plants, that makes it all so great.

You'll need to reapply a new layer of chips every year, or twice a year, which is my situation now.  The healthier your soil gets, the faster those chips will decompose.  The sub-soil fungal community will only get stronger and more extensive with each new application of chips.  That's a good thing.

Thanks for the report.

m
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

If you want to give woodchips a try I would suggest trying wine caps.  You do have a few challenges in that the 9b climate zone will be hot and hardwoods (meaning non-conifer) are preferred.  Do you know what species of chips you have?  At the very least do you know if you have non-conifers in your chip supply?  If you can start with this, then we can work from there.

So when I do a garden mushroom/woodchip bed, I like to make it multi-task.  But for starters I get a bunch of chips and then distribute them about 12” thick.  I didn’t see how thick yours were— can you give me an approximate idea?

At any rate once I get the bed of chips set up I then go and dig fertile holes for tomato plants.  You can use a large variety of different plants, but I like tomatoes because they have a substantial root system, the plants grow tall and really cast shade over the woodchips (wine caps actually prefer dappled shade, or a mix of sun and shade—this is part of the reason that wine caps are such a great starter mushroom).  The tomatoes love to grow in heat which is exactly when you want that shade.  Moreover, wine caps really like to grow along a soil interface and interact with plant roots—both the plant and mushrooms grow faster this way—and the tomato roots will reach into the woodchips and find the fungi to the benefit of both.  The edge of the fertile hole will act as another chip/soil interface.  And finally, I get tomatoes!  Jen, you can use a lot of different plants to substitute for tomatoes if you want, but I think the qualities to look for are shade casting, deep rooting heat lovers.  Peppers, or squash might work just fine as will a lot of other plants.

Back to the build though.  So once you dig the fertile holes, save the excavated chips for later, we will get back to that.  Backfill the holes (about 8-12” wide and deep) with some growing medium.  I use bagged manure, but compost would likely work better.  Fill the hole completely and then push in a stake so you can find the hole later.  Next, dig random little holes in the chips all around the garden patch (about 6” wide & deep) and connect them with little trenches about 2-3” wide and deep.  Now get out your sawdust spawn and crumble/sprinkle into all the little holes and trenches.  The idea is to make a bunch of little fungal hotspots and connect them with little fungal pathways.  Don’t hold back on the spawn, especially in the little holes.  In fact you might want to sprinkle into the holes, add in some woodchips and add more spawn—basically layer until the holes are filled.  Make certain the little trenches get sprinkled too and then cover.  Now that you have all your little holes and trenches are covered, sprinkle any remaining spawn on the surface.

Now, remember all those chips excavated from the fertile holes?  Well now take those and layer them over the entire inoculated area.  This will cover the filler in the fertile holes as well.  This might give you 1-2” of additional coverage.  At this point I like to get the hose and water thoroughly, really give the chips a soaking.  Next, get some straw (I had to use grass clippings last year) and spread them 2-4” deep and water again.  The point of the straw is to give shade protection to the chips and help keep them from drying out.  Finally, plant tomatoes (or whatever)!

Keep the tomatoes watered and the wine caps will be watered, but I don’t see you having a problem as you already told us that the chips are moist anyway, even in your zone 9b heat.  

The whole process might well take a year.  Don’t get discouraged if you get 6-8 months into the process and you have no mushrooms.  Try to avoid disturbing the woodchips (but if you have to walk on them to harvest tomatoes then you have to walk on them), but after several months (say 6 months) gently dig in and look for signs of fungal growth—little white strands or fuzz inside the woodchips.  My first bed took just over a year to produce a mushroom.  By month 6 I was thinking that I failed.  By month 8 I saw real signs of fungal activity and by just after a year the wine caps jumped out of the bed.

Jen, this has been a long and complex post.  Somewhere on Permies I helped someone else out with the same idea, only I had the sense then to include a numbered step-by-step process.  For reference, my first bed (6’x15’) I used two 5.5 lb bags.  In my second bed (8’x16) I used 4 5.5 lb bags.  I don’t know how big an area you are talking about, but even if you just get a start in the center, the fungal bodies will reach out to find more woodchips.  And it is actually good that you have some bacterial action going on in your chips as wine caps and bacteria tend to play well with each other.

I hope this gets you a start and if you need any help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,  here are a couple of threads that might help.  The first is a better step-by-step procedure I detailed for someone else.  You might have to scroll down a bit to find it.

https://permies.com/t/130092/mushroom-newbie


The other thread is my ongoing experiment with mushrooms.  At the beginning of the thread I was a neophyte flailing in the night.  Over time I got a certain amount of competence, but I am not the expert.  I keep this one updated so that if someone else can learn from my successes, failures and anxieties, then so much the better.

https://permies.com/t/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter


And just as a thought, these were steps that worked for me, but please don’t think they are written in stone.  It’s more like they are written in smoke signals.  

I wish you the best of luck and if you have any questions or problems with your mushrooms, please don’t hesitate to ask. The single greatest lesson I learned over the course of growing mushrooms was patience.  

Please keep us updated,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

One last bit of information.  If you are looking for mushrooms to buy, I would start with sawdust (or maybe grain) spawn.  I did not use peg spawn as that is more for intact logs.

I know of two reputable sources of wine cap spawn.  The first is fungi perfecti, and is generally considered to be the gold standard for mushrooms.

Personally I use field&forest.net.  I have had great luck with their products and they have really informative, first class customer service.

At any rate, I just wanted to pass on at least two good sources of spawn

Good Luck,

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I want to get wine cap mushrooms, I think it might be my best bet in my hot dry climate.  I was watering my potato's today and noticed some mushroom(non eatable).  Will this mess up, compete, or crossbreed with the wine caps.  My plan was to buy wine cap sawdust and put it a few different places, hedging my bet so to speak.  I just don't want to poison my family!  Another question is I read they should be in hardwood.  All my chips come free from a tree service, so I have no idea what kind of wood it is.  Does it matter?  Thanks for letting my pick your brain.  Jen
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

Wine caps are not going to cross with other mushrooms.  Wine caps will aggressively out compete other mushrooms.

A thought on cultivation though.  Mushrooms grow somewhat like plants in reverse.  Plants sink their roots into fertile soil, deem it good and then grow the sexual part of the plant.

Fungi (wine caps) are different.  Once their spores or spawn get into chips, their bodies grow rapidly as they eat wood.  The different fungi bodies in the chips grow, swap DNA (sexual reproduction) with other fungi of the same species, and keep eating and growing until they run out of food at which point they hit a crises, realize that the party is over, and out of desperation to save themselves, push up s mushroom containing spores (which are kinda like asexual seeds) and spread themselves with the wind to another spot.

Jen, sowing a little bit of mushroom spawn here and there probably won’t do you any good.  They like to really consume all the wood they can before pushing up a mushroom.

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you Eric.  You put my mind at ease, and I will put the mushroom sawdust in a space together.  Does it matter what kind of wood the chips are from?  Thanks again.
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

Wine caps will happily eat most deciduous wood.  Wine caps don’t especially love conifers—specifically the sap in the conifers.  Give them hardwoods or straw and wine caps are happy.

Happy shrooming,

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I ordered wine cap mushrooms, I should get them in about 3 weeks.  I reread all the posts, to make sure I was ready. My wood chips are about 8" deep, so I will put more chips on. I have some kind of pine chips I got last September will this do, or should I call and request a new load?  The wood chips I get are free so I don't get to choose. I did read the wine caps like fresh chips. My family will have a fit if I get more, but if it means I will have a better chance at growing mushrooms they can just deal with it.  I can always use wood chips.  
Also Eric when I dig the holes and pathways for the mushrooms do I do a circle, and plant the tomatoes in the middle, or make a winding path with tomatoes, etc along the path?  
I can't tell you how much I appreciate all your help.  Without it I would probably still be just thinking about growing mushrooms instead of giving it a try.  And I would have failed for certain, knowing I would have given up if nothing emerged after a few months.  At least now I know to keep watering and give them a better chance.  Thanks.
 
Eric Hanson
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Hi Jen,

So far it seems like you are right on track.  Wine Caps do best on hardwoods.  I am not certain how they will work on pine chips.  Probably depends on the sap in the chips.  So if you can get hardwood chips, that would be great.  If not, you might try some straw as wine caps just love to grow on straw.

Regarding the little pits and trenches, there is no one way to do it right.  I started by digging little pits between my tomatoes and then surrounded the tomatoes with more pits and trenches.  But if you like spirals, there is no reason to not do spirals.  My design was more grid-like to give each pit of spawn a better access to tomato roots.

Good luck in your project!  I hope to hear more.

Eric
 
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I would just like to add don't be afraid if you have the wrong type of chips. still try! I am growing wine caps on cedar atm! They are a great beginner mushroom that is very forgiving.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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The 8" of wood chips that are in the area I will plant the mushrooms has a lot of sweet gum wood chips.  I know because it had a ton of the round spiky (I assume) seed pods, and I was worried I would end up with lots of little trees.  No trees and according to the internet it is a hard wood.  Maybe I will just rake a higher layer of the sweet gum together where the mushrooms will go and fill in the bare area with the pine.  Any way I'm looking forward to trying my hand at growing mushrooms.  Thank you Shawn It's nice to know the pine will be fine, because I'm pretty sure there is some of that mixed into the sweet gum.  
I get the chips free from a tree company, and most of the time I have no clue what wood it is.  Last year the seed pods and strong smell, and  pine needles plus the wonderful smell helped at least give me an idea.  Thank you all.
 
Eric Hanson
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Hey Jen,

I have not used sweet gum balls, but I would like to.  I am curious and excited to see how yours work out.  To me (and many others) sweet gum balls are a real nuisance at best and a hazard at worst.  Normally I just love to get rid of them.  But using them as substrate for mushrooms is one of the best repurposing options I have heard of in a long time, a real trash-to-treasure story.

Good Luck, and please keep us updated.  I for one really want to know how well this particular project works out and I might incorporate this into my own mushroom project.

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I will keep you posted. I know I was very worried when they dropped that load off, and it smelled so strong!  Once I spread it out the smell greatly reduced, and like I said so for no volunteers.  
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Today was the day.  I ordered wine cap mushrooms about 5 weeks ago.  It was suppose to take 2 to 3 week, but I understand lots of things are going slow, I was just happy to get it.  I planted it today. I planted it the way Eric told me to except I forgot the straw step.  No big, it was dark when I finished, and I did throw some cardboard I soaked for a few hours on top.  To help keep the moisture in (it has been windy lately), and to know where I put them.  I have some straw, I will soak it and add tomorrow.  I'm thinking about keeping the cardboard on for a while to keep the area damp.  I made the holes under an apricot tree, and on both sides of one of the comfrey rood I just planted.  I made my little highway connecting the holes that are also between the 6 tomato plants.  The highway runs along the East side of the tomatoes. I was thinking I would plant a zucchini and some cantaloupe behind the wine caps so they will get a little shade on the east side as well.  Now I just have to water and wait.  All the wood chips I have are about 8 months old, I  guess.  I have ordered more.  When I get more should I put a couple of inches on top of where I put the mushroom spawn?  Or should I just leave it alone?  Thanks for all your help Eric.  I hope I did it right, and will some day have mushrooms.  Thank you.
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