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Making a compost pile with wood chips?

 
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I have always had problems getting a pile to cook.  I've heard that wood chip piles will start cooking themselves and breaking down with no help.  
So if I have a pile of wood chips that start to heat up inside, can I use that  to throw and mix in kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, leaves, grass clippings, etc and just turn the pile every now and then?
Would I still need to wet it down occasionally?
Would covering it with a tarp help it cook and compost?
Thanks 😌
 
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yes put organics in it. if you add something "hot" like chicken manure it will help it to cook faster. raw wood chips eat nitrogen if you can add something high in nitrogen like chicken droppings it will help to pile to cook quicker.
I'm sure some of the experts here can suggest other stuff to add.
 
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Dawn, you mentioned fresh horse manure in your other post. Get it in there! As Bruce said, that's the "hot" nitrogen that should get your pile cooking.
 
Dawn Olivo
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Dawn, you mentioned fresh horse manure in your other post. Get it in there! As Bruce said, that's the "hot" nitrogen that should get your pile cooking.



Will doing that and cooking it til next summer kill those weed seeds?  
 
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Hi Dawn,

I am curious, about how large are your wood chips?  The reason I ask is that the larger the chips, the slower the rate of decomposition.  Mixing in a bunch of greens along with the wood chips will eventually decay, but the decay is really going to happen right along side the interface of the chips and the greens.  Now if you have sawdust or little 1-2 mm chips, I would think that would heat up fairly quickly (all of this assumes that you have plenty of moisture and airflow).  When I chip up brush, I get a lot of 2” sized wood chips and I can’t imagine them heating up and decaying very quickly using table scraps or the horse manure.

I have heard of sizable wood chips/chunks heating up and decaying by using something like liquid ammonia or granular fertilizer, but personally I don’t recommend either as I have better, more organic ways to break down the wood.

Not long ago I was left with a huge pile of wood chips and I didn’t know what to do with them.  I posted my dilemma here on Permies and even went so far as to inquire about using old, left over 10-10-10 fertilizer from my pre-Permies day’s.  I was strongly encouraged to consider using mushrooms to decay the wood away.  I took that advice and was absolutely staggered by the results.  My wood chips were transformed into the most wonderful garden bedding I could ever have hoped for.  

Today, I grow exclusively in wood chips decayed by Wine Cap mushrooms in raised beds.  I need no external fertility after the decomposition has begun. I think you would love the results.  Incidentally, I think that if you mixed in the horse manure that would get composted as well as Wine Caps like both some bacterial interactions and a bit of nitrogen too.

Dawn, I think you know my thoughts about the wood chips by now and if you are interested, let me know and I can help you further.  Actually, right NOW is a great time to get Wine Caps started if you are interested.

Good luck in whatever path you choose.  These are exciting projects so please keep us updated on your progress.

Eric
 
Dawn Olivo
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Hi Eric,
They are arborist wood chips, fresh.  Lots of green mixed in.  I would love to learn more about the mushrooms and how to get started with that.
As for mixing in the horse manure, I'd love to do that but no one seems to answer my question about the weed seeds.   I need to be able to kill them and I thought to do that the manure had to be hot composted for quite some time?   Does the mushroom create that environment?  
I don't have to use the manure.  It sounds like the mushrooms would give me a lovely compost.  Just seems a shame to waste all that good manure.  
Thanks!
 
Eric Hanson
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Dawn,

I have never composted horse manure before, but I had a co-worker that had horses and she set aside the manure to sit for a year after which she used it for flower gardens.  She called it black gold and never told me about weed problems.

The mushroom compost is wonderful stuff and if you are interested, right now is a great time of year start if you are feeling ambitious.  I can provide you with more information if you like.

Eric
 
Dawn Olivo
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Eric Hanson wrote:Dawn,

I have never composted horse manure before, but I had a co-worker that had horses and she set aside the manure to sit for a year after which she used it for flower gardens.  She called it black gold and never told me about weed problems.

The mushroom compost is wonderful stuff and if you are interested, right now is a great time of year start if you are feeling ambitious.  I can provide you with more information if you like.

Eric



Yes, would love more information, thank you
Dawn
 
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I got around 15 truckloads of chips dropped off a few months ago and had my dad combine them into 2 extra-large piles soon after they were dropped off. Due to the summer heat I didn't really mess with them much until the past week when the temps got a bit lower. I was surprised to dig in one of the piles and got hit with a rush of heat from them continuing to decay; even though they've never been turned or even wet down until a recent rainstorm. So, I definitely think you are on the right track by using the fresh chips as a base for your compost and adding additional waste & moisture.

One thing I did notice is that my piles already have an active fungi culture going on in the pile (not sure if wild fungi, or from the 3 oyster mushrooms I tossed on the pile after they were delivered). I could be wrong but, from my understanding, fungi are going to be essential in finishing the composting process when there is wood involved. I believe I read in one of the posts on here that bacteria can't fully break down, either, the lignin or cellulose (can't remember the details) in wood, so that part of the wood will remain solid until a fungus breaks it down. Since fungi spores are pretty much everywhere, you shouldn't have to worry about introducing anything, unless you want a specific type of fungus/mushrooms, so it should naturally break down. Though the fungi may not fully colonize until the pile cools down a bit, so that may be one of the final steps in getting fully finished compost.
IMG_20200927_142518504_HDR-2.jpg
KCs wood chips
KCs wood chips
 
Dawn Olivo
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KC,. Yes, that's what I saw on a video too, a pile of wood chips that had just been left, and dig a little and the heat a d steam start coming out.  
I didn't know about the fungi, and how it all works.  I'm still new to this way of gardening and learning thanks to helpful people like you all!
 
Eric Hanson
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Dawn,

Making mushroom compost is really pretty easy, is just one of those weird things that most people never really discover.  I will walk you through how I make Wine Cap mushroom compost, though most of what I mention will apply to Blue Oysters which have similar growing habits.  I am just specifically familiar with the Wine Cap mushroom.

The first thing I do is make a raised bed for my wood chips.  I like to use 2x10 lumber that is painted with a product called DryLoc.  The Dryloc is like a paint made of thin cement.  It will help protect the lumber from being destroyed by the Wine Caps.  I like to make my beds 8'x16', but you can certainly adjust the dimensions to your liking.  Once you have your bed set up, fill it with chips about 12" tall.  This is important because the Wine Caps like to have an interface with the soil, so I try to set this in a place that you will have the garden set for good as you will essentially be making the mushroom compost on site.

When you fill the bed, slightly mound the chips to allow for settling.  I like to then dig out 8 fertile holes in a 2x4 pattern and back fill with a garden bedding soil mixture.  In these places I like to plant tomatoes because they give me shade and the tomato roots will interact with the mushrooms.  You can use pretty much any plant you like, but tomatoes make a nice, tall bushy plant that gives nice dappled shade, but use what you want.  Set aside the chips you excavated from the fertile holes for later use.  Mark the holes with a tomato cage or stake or something so you can find the fertile holes later.

After the fertile holes have been excavated, backfilled and marked, dig more holes 6-8 inches across and deep and connect those little holes with little trenches about 2-4 inches deep.  Now take your mushroom spawn and crumble it up a bit and spread in all the little holes.  It is not a bad idea to leave a little lump or two in each hole just to get the fungus off and running.  Spread in the trenches also.  After spreading, fill in the holes with a layer of chips, followed by spawn and more chips till the holes and trenches are filled back to level.  If you have any spawn left over, spread it on the surface.  I used 2 5.5 pound bricks for this bed, but I might be tempted to add another 2 bricks to get things off and running faster.

Now that you are back to level, and all the chips and spawn are spread, thoroughly water the whole bed so that everything is evenly moist.  You probably can't over water as the chips will only soak up so much water initially, but you do want the chips to stay damp.  At this point I recommend laying down newspaper or cardboard to act as a evaporation barrier.  Finally, lay down those chips that you were saving from the fertile holes, add a layer of straw (optional, but a good idea) and water everything again, plant your tomatoes and sit back and wait.

I am going to give you two links that might help.

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

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

The first link is to a long running thread that documents my journey from being an absolute novice to having a basic degree of competence.  The second link has a step-by-step set of instructions for making the beds.  It is basically the same as is here, but there were a few minor modifications for a per who was trying to grow mushrooms under a pine tree.  The pine tree part is minor and mostly irrelevant, but having a step-by-step set of instructions is helpful.  

An advantage of building the compost this way is that you get to make use of the garden the first year for veggies while the fungus spreads throughout the wood chips.

The process will likely take 6-12 months to get your first mushroom flush.  I started mine in spring and it took 12 months almost to the day to get mushrooms, but this was fine as to me the mushrooms are a tasty bonus and I am really after the incredibly fertile compost the fungi will make in the process.  You can keep the process going after the first flush by adding another 2-4 inches of fresh wood chips on the top.  The bed level might well drop 2-5 inches as the chips break down and over time they will become soft and moist.

Good luck with your endeavors.  If you have any questions (I certainly did), don't hesitate to ask.  

Eric
 
Dawn Olivo
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Eric,
Wow, for a newbie that load of information seems overwhelming but very interesting and I'm eager to delve more into learning about it.  I will go through the threads you linked to.  I love learning new things about gardening and this sounds like a great process.  Thanks so much, I will be in touch with questions, I'm sure.  😃👍
-Dawn
 
Eric Hanson
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Dawn,

I understand the overwhelming part, but really it is pretty straightforward.  You basically want to Inoculate little spots and by having the spots connected with trenches, you make little highways to spread the fungi.

The amount of details seem overwhelming, but I tried to spell out every step, ironically to make the process easier.

And it is normal to feel a bit overwhelmed, but this passes.

Eric
 
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I have 4 compost bins near my garden and a commercial composter closer to my house for food scraps.  I don't do anything special with the ones by the garden.  I fill one up and go onto the next. Normally I put bedding in them from the goats, chickens, and pigs. There is about a 2 to 3 year cycle.  By the time the last bin is is filled, the first has broken down completely.
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