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Faster Woodchips Compost?

 
gardener
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I got some woodchips delivered some years back.
I moved some around,  but mostly they stayed in a big pile.
This year I have found them to be perfectly decomposed into a wonderful fine fluffy finished compost.
I love this,  but I'm wondering how to do this on purpose, and much more quickly.
I'm thinking either lots of oxygen and lots of nitrogen,  or inoculation of fungus and some nitrogen?

I like building things, so a container that circulates pee/oxgen enhanced water via an air lift pump seems like a neat idea.
On the other hand,  building a pile of woodchips mixed with spawn,  covering it and going away,  also seem appealing.
Or,  maybe a build that pile atop a spiral of perforated 3" black drain pipe attacked to a solar powered muffin fan?

I am certain I'm overthinking this,  as is my wont, so please,  help send me down a simpler road to faster woodchip compost.
 
pollinator
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What has worked for me in getting wood to break down quickly into great compost is using it in French drain like trenches. Ideally, I’d out these below livestock runs and fish/duck ponds, and running those trenches around hugel beds as pathways, with some flat areas for sediment drop but ultimately with positive down hill flow to avoid flooding structures or floating hugels here where 10” rain events in one day are not unheard of. This has gotten woodchips (red alder, shore pine and Sitka spruce mostly) to break down into great, finely textured compost in 18months or less while serving multiple functions (water absorption and filtration, pathways, drainage, aeration, adding fertility and organic matter) while doing so. It’s not the fastest compost, but in natural systems, generally slower decomposition retains more nutrients and carbon. The ends of this spectrum are epitomized by coast redwood forests that can have trees decomposing for twice as long as they grew (upwards of 2200yrs), in contrast with fire, which gases off more nutrients and carbon the hotter it burns. I guess I don’t understand how the apparent miracle that is the Berkeley method works (18days with little loss of mass has never happened for me yet but I never do it perfectly), but it usually is light on the wood products as I understand, and that’s what we have in greatest abundance here.
 
gardener
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William,

Yep, woodchips are pretty amazing things.  If you want them broken down faster, there are certainly ways to do so.

In the super easy category, you can mound them up and dump lots of diluted urine on them.  I did this a year ago to a pile and when I dug it apart, you could plainly see the long, dark streaks where I poured the urine/water solution.  Those streaks were plainly darker, more rich looking and better broken down than the areas that did not get the urine.

Another option of course is the use of mushrooms.  Even if you don’t get actual mushrooms, the fungi itself will still break down the wood extremely well.

I like to pour fresh chips right into a garden bed and plant in fertile holes filled with manure.  The real benefit of this is that you can use the chips immediately (which I think is your goal) while they break down.  You can combine this with either of the previous techniques if you like.  This is my preferred approach and I really like that I can get the chips to do double duty.

I hope this helps,

Eric
 
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I guess one of the questions is: How much work and investment do you want to put into faster wood chip compost?

From what I have seen, faster decomposition usually means more involvement in the process. Which means more work or more tools or more energy.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:William,


I like to pour fresh chips right into a garden bed and plant in fertile holes filled with manure.  The real benefit of this is that you can use the chips immediately (which I think is your goal) while they break down.  You can combine this with either of the previous techniques if you like.  This is my preferred approach and I really like that I can get the chips to do double duty.

I hope this helps,

Eric



Eric, could you explain this a little bit clearer? Exactly what you are doing. Thanks. ron...
 
Eric Hanson
gardener
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Hi Rob,

So what I was trying to explain (and I guess I was unclear) was that I like to really pile the chips on the garden bed—as in up to a foot thick and sometimes even more.  That many woodchips is normally too thick to plant through so I dig holes in the chips and backfill with manure or topsoil (bagged in my case).  Then I plant in the hole now filled with manure.  The manure provides plenty of nutrients for the first year, and by the second to third year the chips are sufficiently broken down that they are almost like soil, and they will continue to break down into a nice, crumbly garden bedding that is great for planting.

Now I like to jump start this by sowing wine cap mushroom spawn.  The wine caps break the wood chips down completely after one year and just by having the wine cap fungus growing in the chips, the overall bedding fertility is tremendous.

Rob, if you want any more details or are still interested in wine caps, just let me know and we can go over some possibilities.

Good Luck,

Eric
 
pollinator
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Rain.

In my Mediterranean climate if you make a pile of wood chips in the dry season (late spring to mid-autumn) your pile won’t change at all. If you leave it outside in the rainy season (late autumn to mid-spring) it’ll break down into compost effortlessly.
 
Nancy Graven
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I've been thinking about this for the last few days. And kept thinking about the desire for quick compost with wood chips versus how much effort or money or energy you want to put into it.

Something that I don't think anyone has mentioned is grinding/cutting your wood chips into smaller pieces.

If you have a means (and willingness)  to do this,
I think this would help a LOT with any method of composting.

I bet if you chopped chips very fine, and put them in a rolling composter with some pee laced water and some scoops of active compost (for biology) and turned it every other day or so - you would have compost in nothing flat!

Maybe a halfway method would be to screen your chips to get some finer chips/compost quickly.  The larger chips would be available  a bit later.
 
pollinator
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For chips I get from the city where the tree companies dump them, I run them through my own chipper that makes them much smaller like Nancy said, and then I walk around my land looking for any kind of mushroom that is growing.  Take the mushrooms and grind them in my blender with water and dump around in the chips.  If I don't want to bother chipping them smaller, I just make a pile somewhere and dump the mushroom slurry on.  I think I first got that idea from Dr. Redhawk.  The absolute best areas I have for growing are places I piled huge piles of wood chips and just kept taking some as I needed them throughout the year.  The bottom of the pile stayed a couple years because whenever I got more, I put them in the same spot.  That place is amazing now.  I planted a guild there and the plants, including the tree, are 4 or 5 times bigger than trees I got at the same time from the same place, but planted elsewhere.  I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't done it myself.
 
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