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Now that the wood chips are in....?

 
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We added a thick layer of wood chips to our big garden this fall. They aren't yet totally decomposed, but we're excited to see the results. Our only issues:

1) We've tried scraping away the chips in some places in order to plant seeds directly in the soil, but they either don't come up, or come up and do poorly and then disappear. How do others deal with this? We've mostly done seedlings so it's not a huge issue, but any day now, we want to plant a lot of bean seeds, and I'm not sure how to do that and ensure that they come up. Thoughts?

2) We wanted to put a layer of manure down last fall before adding the wood chips, but didn't get a chance. Now some of the new plants look a little yellowish and we've got a big pile of composted cow manure, and we'd like to add it. But can/should we add a layer on TOP of the wood chips? Or add it in some other way, like as fertilizer tea?

Thanks, in North Carolina.
 
pollinator
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We had similar problems when we first used wood chips in a vegetable growing area. After 4 years the soil is amazing, from regular topping up, but the growth of many plants was stunted.

We have up mulching annual areas with chips and focused on berry bushes, fruit trees and paths. Annuals get well rotted compost, or get topped with spoiled straw or hay.

I recommend getting your plants started in pots and transplanting when a little bigger. And you should find a way to add nitrogen - urine is great. Pee into the watering can, top up to dilute it, then water your plants.
 
pollinator
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Welcome to Permies, Amanda!
 
steward
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Hi Amanda, welcome to Permies!

I am in a similar situation, and I'll share my strategy for growing in fresh wood chips while I wait for decomposition and other soil life to get going. I use liquid fish with kelp, and I use a mycorrhizal/bacterial inoculant. In my 25 years of gardening, I have settled on these two inputs, when inputs are needed to get results. Fish & kelp is complete with minerals and trace minerals. Fungi and bacteria get all guests in the wood chip and soil party communicating and having a good time. They're inputs, they cost money, but while I'm waiting for biological processes from the wood chip decay and native soil improvements, these two inputs can give me results and provide food for my wife and I to eat.

I've had some challenges, some failures, and some surprising success growing in fresh wood chips. I didn't get my garden started last year until June because of moving, and my trials and observations were limited. Last summer and fall, I grew the most beautiful Hokkaido squash vine that yielded about 8 gorgeous, delicious, and long storing squash. My wife and I just used the last one in a pumpkin pie recipe this March. My fall peas were dismal. When sowing seeds in wood chips, I find the big seeds do just find dropped right in the wood chips and covered up, large seeds like squash and watermelon - they germinate fine in my experience with daily watering. Small and very tiny seeds I have much better success if I either start those in cups to transplant, or make a crater in the wood chips and throw a handful of soil in, and sow tiny seeds in that. The roots will find their way down to the native soil.

The composted manure could be scattered on the surface, raked into the chips, or be made into teas and applied locally. With rain, time, bugs, microbes, it will all end up in amongst the wood chips while they decay. I think the teas will yield more immediate results with the plants, the scattering and raking in will be there to largely benefit next years garden. Hope this helps!

 
gardener
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Crudely breaking soil into two types, there are fungal dominated soils and there are bacterially dominated soils.  (False premise, I know, because both are present in healthy soil, but go with me on this for a minute).

Forest ecosystems tend to me fungal dominated.  The tree roots feed a broad range of fungi as the interconnected network of fungal strands work in concert with the trees to provide nutrition.  In essence, the fungi is the internet between the trees, allowing for the transportation of nutrients and even information between the massive trees growing above ground.  Cool, huh.

Garden soil tends to be bacterially dominated.  Compost is a big bacterial/microbial festival.  When you put compost on a garden bed, it jumpstarts the microbial community that may be underpopulated.  Yes, there are nutrients in the compost, but the primary contribution it makes to your potting soil or your raised bed is bring a wealth of soil biological life.

So what's all that have to do with laying down wood chips?  

Wood chips mimic a forest environment, where branches and leaves are constantly falling to the forest floor.  As they drop, the fungi in the soil will spring up and grab hold of that food source, digest it, and pull the nutrients down into the soil where it is used by the trees and other plants.  But if you put wood chips, for example, over a lawn of green grass, there isn't the fungal network established YET to fully take advantage of all that carbon.  The stuff just sits there.  What does break down tends to break down due to bacterial decomposition rather than fungal decomposition.  Making this transition from bacterial to fungal takes time.  A year or two.  

People are tempted to think that this stunted growth of plants is due to N rob.  But if you haven't tilled the chips into the soil profile, your soil nitrogen isn't tied up, it's just simply lacking.  As someone suggested above, adding additional manure around the plants, or peeing around the plant base will give it the temporary bridge needed for that initial process of transition from bacterial dominated soil to the eventual fungal dominated soil.  

Four suggestions.

1.  As stated above, pee freely.  If you've got men in your life, give them strict instructions where they are to direct their pee (as the male equipment makes it a bit easier for the direct distribution of the fluid to the location . . . trying to be delicate here).

2.  Keep the chips wettish.  Once a week or so, soak them well with a standard garden sprinkler.  Chlorine in city water tends to retard fungal growth, but what can you do?  Some water is better than no water -- as the chips are kept moist, the fungi will colonize it more quickly.

3.  Give it time.  Don't give up on this experiment.  If you need to, rake back the chips, dig a smallish hole with a spade, and fill in the hole with potting soil and compost before you plant into it.  Then once the plant is established, push the chip mulch back close to the plant.  Let cucumbers, sweet potatoes and melons vine out over the mulch.  

4.  Worms take about 3 to 4 months to reproduce, so by the end of summer, you'll notice a significant explosion in your worm population.  That'll help tremendously.  Worms like to make their home right at the soil/mulch interface.  They'll help with the decomposition process, pulling organic material down into the soil, and adding their digestive enzymes and bacteria to the decomposing mix.

You don't have to do anything to add fungi because it's already out there in the soil and fungal spores by the zillions are constantly floating through the air and settling on things.  Give it time and the fungi will take over.

Best of luck and welcome to Permies.

m
 
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Good points Marco, thanks. Something that comes to mind. If we cover the soil with wood chips, soil will be moist oxygen will have access but what about the food of our little fellows? . They die of hunger? That is why as mentioned above putting a fish emulsion works because it basically have some bacteria and food for them. I think its best to put the wood chips when plants are establish already and then keep the soil planted to support soil life. New wood chips wont decompose for quite sometime no matter what the fungal density. I think in farming its most important to do things in such a manner that the soil lifeforms is kept alive. But I'm guessing, so let's wait for Dr. Redhawk to show up and tell us that I'm terribly wrong:)
 
master steward
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Amanda, welcome to permies!

You have been given some great advice!

Here is the technique that I use:

I use the red solo cup that are for parties.  I cut the top off for about 3 1/2 inches.  Throw away the bottoms and keep the tops.

I move the chips back and insert the cup into the soil about 2 inches. Then I follow the package directions for planting the seeds.

I developed this method because it is very windy where I live and I didn't want my seeds to blow away.

Once the plants have gotten a good start the cup tops can be removed easily.
 
gardener
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Amanda,

I too use lots of woodchips, but woodchips take time to break down to the point where they can be seeded directly.  Instead, I dig a little trench, fill the trench with a little bit of topsoil/garden bedding (usually bagged) and seed into that.  After seeding, I would cover with chips, sit back and wait.

The additional bagged topsoil/garden bedding is only necessary for 1-2 years by which point the woodchips are so broken down that they feel like a high quality garden bedding themselves.

Good Luck!

Eric
 
pollinator
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I’m learning a lot by reading this thread!

I added chicken bedding and compost at the end of the year last year, moving the chips aside, but some of them got mixed in. So I know I’ll have to be sure to feed nitrogen this year. That will include urine, spent coffee grounds, and compost laid on top.

The dirt I built my raised beds on was completely dead - we built a garage and the yard was completely torn up for the drainage pipe to be laid. The beds were filled with rotten wood on the bottom, with compost, imported soil, and leaf mold on top.

I push the wood chips aside and plant into the soil, not covering the seeds but waiting for seedlings to emerge. I do this even with tiny seeds. Beans shouldn’t have any trouble but I wouldn’t cover them with chips. Seeds need to be planted in soil, not chips. The chips are wonderful mulch.
 
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Hi, We too use wood chips.  We dump the pile and spread it out about 4 inches thick.  Liquid fish manure helps out a lot if you have it but watering is essential.  The new chips need to stay moist for a good couple of seasons.  The first thing I plant are legumes like clover and I plant it immediately.  It will grow and die back so just keep planting it.  A nice variation that we did recently was planting mustard and brassicas in the chips as a crop for next years green mulch.  It has thrived and and the bees as well as the animals love it.  We walk along the trails and take small bites of the buds occasionally.  They are wonderful.  This is on one year old wood chips here in the Pacific NW.
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pollinator
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I have wood chip gardens varying from 3 years old to brand new. I put one thing down- lime (which is actually rock dust from dolomite). I don't bother with certain plants right away, they just suck and make you mad. Mine start as 12-16" or deeper, generally 9" second year and stabilize at 6ish with minimal addition after.

Year one (six moth oldish chips)- tomato, tomato (lots of tomato), tomatillo, onions, potato, sweet potato- these heavy feeders break down chips. Some beds have winecaps in them. I pee on them and add coffee grounds if I have them. Helps with slugs. Build some rocky spots for amphibians. Sesbania as a nitrogen crop. No other N fixers have done squat for me year one.

YEar two in trenches for new crops- same, add okra, parsnips (to build depth), squash. Some carrots have done OK. Salsify if you like it. Marigolds. Other stuff planted from sets- peppers and eggplant.

YEar three- whatever you want pretty much. Make sure you did the rock outcrops because the slugs will be banging. I still have minimal success with corn in this arrangement, maybe year five?
 
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I use chips/ chicken turkey house litter. To combat a slight nitrogen drop caused by decomposing wood chips I lay cardboard now first the add the litter on top this does a couple things no weeding as the cardboard holds them down. When it rains the chips/manure make a compost tea the runs into the rows. I leave a 3 to 6 gap on the cardboard to plant in then once the plants are up move mulch between them. The cardboard will decompose and the worms love it end of season either till or top with another layer and shift the rows over this acts like the lasagne method of compostingood luck
Tim
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pollinator
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Your setup with the corn looks amazing Timothy!
 
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