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What to do with Piles of rotting wood

 
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I inherited several piles of old wood like this in different spots around my property. What would YOU do with it? I emphasize “you” because I really want to know your thoughts, not what could theoretically be done.

I thought of hugelkulture but 1) I don’t know the wood species, and 2) honestly I’m not convinced hugelkulture is right for me.

What would you do?

1 2 3 go!
58AF7678-58E2-441B-8031-E143E6F8AE28.jpeg
old wood pile. What would you do?
old wood pile. What would you do?
 
pollinator
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Okay, I'll play.

1. I see a lot of firewood. It's hard to tell its condition, but if it's dense hardwood then it has value to me or someone else. Salvage, split and stack the good stuff. Use it for heating or sell it for cash.

2. The odds and ends that are left over go into the char burner. For me, that's a scrounged oil barrel with the top cut out, and cutouts on one side, on the middle and top tiers, 40% around. That gives a good chimney, feeds from the top, directs the heat onto me (winter burn), keeps the smoke out of my face, and with constant packing as it burns, makes decent char in the bottom one-third section. Plus, it's portable.
 
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As I write, I was just about to put a WANTED ad on Freecycle, for untreated wood in any state.  I need structure to terrace a sloping (small, urban) yard, and find that branches and old logs work well, as they create a baffle for water and sediment which would otherwise leave the site, and decompose.  It's not hugel exactly, but I've been astonished at how nice and friable the soil is where I have done this previously.  (The soil is pretty sandy here).
 
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Rotten wood is outstanding for planting trees or woody bushes.  We need fungal soil for these, to grow the wood. Most of us have soils that are far too bacterially dominated instead of fungal dominated.  Even for an average garden, we'd prefer to have a balance between the two.  I would keep it and use some of it every time you plant a tree or bush.  Helps clay drain. Retains moisture in summer.  Keeps rich organic material in sandy soil.  That's why it's useful for hugulkultur.  Starts the soil food web.  
John S
PDX OR
 
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Since you are not into hugelkulture then I see firewood.

Brush piles make a great habitat for wildlife though it looks like you are in an urban setting.

What about woodworking?  Some of that wood might work for plates, spoons, or mallets.

Here are a couple of forum you might find some ideas:

https://permies.com/f/391/pep-woodworking

https://permies.com/f/133/woodworking
 
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Joseph,

Hugelkulture is not my thing, but woodchips and fungi (wine caps) are.  Looking at that pile I personally see a nice bed of wood or wood chips being composted by edible Wine Cap mushrooms and growing veggies at the same time.  If you choose this option, over time the Wine Caps will reduce the wood into extremely fertile garden bedding that is second to none.

Wine Caps are about the easiest mushroom to grow and if you are interested, I can walk you through the process.

Good Luck,

Eric
 
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I would bury it in a hugelbed. I don't have space for a real hugel, but I have "hugelfied" all my garden beds at this point. Buried old stumps and nasty wood.
Chips and firewood are always good uses!!
 
Eric Hanson
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Tereza makes a good point.  If you don’t feel like making a hugel mound, you might be able to make a sort of buried hugel bed.  

I did this a long time ago when I was disposing of some wood.  I dug a trench, threw in the wood, then replaced the soil.  In the end, I got a slightly raised bed as I would expect you would also.

This might be a way to utilize the wood without making a huge mound.  If you wanted to still use mushrooms, this can be adapted to still serve that function as well.

Eric
 
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looks like your in a fairly urban area. if not wanting hugelkulture
if you want it gone---post online ad for free firewood
or you could burn a little at a time and amend your soil with wood ash. neighbors might not like a big bon fire, or you could call fire dept and ask if they want to use it for training fires.
theres got to be a book somewhere---50 things you can do with unwanted wood.
I might add that whatever you might do with it, now, winter time is the best time to deal with it, no problems with hidden hornet nests or snake dens
 
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Looking at the pictures, I see at least one pallet mixed in with the raw logs. It if were my wood, I would separate out any wood that might have nails in it (e.g. pallet, construction debris) to be burned in a pile where you could recover the nails or embedded metal when the fire was done. (I don't like nails in/on the ground.) The rest I would use the most broken down half for mixing into garden soil directly creating a buried wood bed, and process the least broken down half into biochar.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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^^Agree re nails.^^

These get special handling at my place. Otherwise they WILL end up in a tire. There is a special law of physics devoted to the affinity of rubber tires and lost nails/screws.
 
Joseph Bataille
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Okay, I'll play.

1. I see a lot of firewood. It's hard to tell its condition, but if it's dense hardwood then it has value to me or someone else. Salvage, split and stack the good stuff. Use it for heating or sell it for cash.

2. The odds and ends that are left over go into the char burner. For me, that's a scrounged oil barrel with the top cut out, and cutouts on one side, on the middle and top tiers, 40% around. That gives a good chimney, feeds from the top, directs the heat onto me (winter burn), keeps the smoke out of my face, and with constant packing as it burns, makes decent char in the bottom one-third section. Plus, it's portable.



I wasn’t so sure of the quality of firewood since it’s been exposed to the elements for years, so bio char is definitely something I considered looking into. Great thoughts!
 
Joseph Bataille
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Mary Gallos wrote:As I write, I was just about to put a WANTED ad on Freecycle, for untreated wood in any state.  I need structure to terrace a sloping (small, urban) yard, and find that branches and old logs work well, as they create a baffle for water and sediment which would otherwise leave the site, and decompose.  It's not hugel exactly, but I've been astonished at how nice and friable the soil is where I have done this previously.  (The soil is pretty sandy here).



Just west of this spot is a little hillside (nothing major, a 15 foot distance with a 30 degree grade) that could use some terracing. Problem meet solution? Maybe!
 
Joseph Bataille
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John Suavecito wrote:Rotten wood is outstanding for planting trees or woody bushes...... I would keep it and use some of it every time you plant a tree or bush.  Helps clay drain. Retains moisture in summer.  Keeps rich organic material in sandy soil.  That's why it's useful for hugulkultur.  Starts the soil food web.  
John S
PDX OR



We have lots of food forest plans. See my other post on transitioning an established forest to a food forest. I’d love feedback on that post too if you have any tips. I’m trying to think through some strategic reverse succession.
 
Joseph Bataille
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Joseph Bataille wrote:We have lots of food forest plans. See my other post on transitioning an established forest to a food forest. I’d love feedback on that post too if you have any tips. I’m trying to think through some strategic reverse succession.



Oops. You’ve already contributed there, John. I should also mention that We have plans for blueberries, apples, and peaches in another area. The would could be a great addition there.
 
Joseph Bataille
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Anne Miller wrote:What about woodworking?  Some of that wood might work for plates, spoons, or mallets.

Here are a couple of forum you might find some ideas:

https://permies.com/f/391/pep-woodworking

https://permies.com/f/133/woodworking



I haven’t gotten into working unprocessed wood yet but I’d be up for the challenge!
 
Joseph Bataille
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Eric Hanson wrote:Wine Caps are about the easiest mushroom to grow and if you are interested, I can walk you through the process.

Good Luck,

Eric



Hey Eric, one of my non-checked-off tasks for the day literally written into my journal is “Look into mushrooms.” I was looking because it was suggested for my food forest plans. I know very little why wine caps over other types? We were considering types that we already eat like baby bellas, oysters or shiitakes.
 
Joseph Bataille
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Tereza Okava wrote:I would bury it in a hugelbed. I don't have space for a real hugel, but I have "hugelfied" all my garden beds at this point. Buried old stumps and nasty wood.
Chips and firewood are always good uses!!



I remembered seeing someone use wood (mostly branches) to fill in his raised beds. I never considered it for stumps and logs. Do you have lots and stumps in your beds?
 
Joseph Bataille
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bruce Fine wrote:looks like your in a fairly urban area. if not wanting hugelkulture
if you want it gone---post online ad for free firewood
or you could burn a little at a time and amend your soil with wood ash. neighbors might not like a big bon fire, or you could call fire dept and ask if they want to use it for training fires.
theres got to be a book somewhere---50 things you can do with unwanted wood.
I might add that whatever you might do with it, now, winter time is the best time to deal with it, no problems with hidden hornet nests or snake dens



We actually have a good amount of space (2.7 acres) and I’d describe it as rural. There’s a horse farm down the street. Thanks for the tip on dealing with it in the winter. I may not get around to it this year, in that case. This is Year 1 and we have so many “priorities.”
 
Joseph Bataille
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Eric Hanson wrote: ....I did this a long time ago when I was disposing of some wood.  I dug a trench, threw in the wood, then replaced the soil.  In the end, I got a slightly raised bed as I would expect you would also.



We have plans to dig a few small swales between garden beds. These would probably be of good use as extra material in the berms/beds.
 
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Joseph Bataille wrote:

I wasn’t so sure of the quality of firewood since it’s been exposed to the elements for years, so bio char is definitely something I considered looking into. Great thoughts!



Either way, if fire is to be involved I would dry it out first.

I use piles of wood to kill grass. It takes a year but does a good enough job that the grass is totally dead and doesn't grow back for at least a year, which is a huge advantage when trying to grow just about anything

Any pieces of wood that are big enough and tall enough to cast a decent shadow, i like to plant seedlings on the east or north side of them for the afternoon shade.
 
Eric Hanson
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Joseph,

You can certainly try other mushrooms, but Wine Caps are a great starter mushroom.  They grow on most non-conifer wood and are extremely aggressive, quickly reducing the wood to to a wonderful garden bedding material.

I do eat mine (get them small, they grow HUGE fast), but mostly I grow them for their ability to really break down wood.  The left over compost is amazingly fertile.

Good Luck,

Eric
 
Joseph Bataille
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Now that makes a lot of sense to me. Basically mushrooms as another composting strategy. I wonder if they grow well on wood that’s already been used and tired out on other mushrooms...
 
Eric Hanson
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I saw your wood and I am guessing that Wine Caps can still grow, though you are a better judge than I am.  Is there still some relatively intact wood in all those logs & branches?  If so good.  Even if there is a bit of some other mushroom already growing I don’t see a tremendous problem.  Wine Caps are so aggressive that they tend to obliterate just about all other mushrooms in their path (but don’t put them up against blue oyster mushrooms—they will simply arm wrestle each other to death).  That’s part of the beauty of starting with Wine Caps.  Also, Wine Caps like just a bit of dappled sunlight and some contact with soil—they actually thrive best when interacting with soil biota.  I bet that wood has soil biota growing already.

It is surprising how fast you can get Wine Caps to devour a pile of wood like that.  If you are interested, I can point you in the right direction.

Eric
 
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I would remove any processed wood materials like that pallet and check to see if they were treated or not.

The rest I would either use for hugel beds or I would organize it and build habitat features for wildlife habitat which would also help manage pests by promoting their predators. I have lots of log piles on my property and it has resulted in a ton of garter snakes and a lot less slugs and other pests.
 
Tereza Okava
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Joseph Bataille wrote:Do you have logs and stumps in your beds?


I do, logs anyway. I have a really small urban garden, but I visited a friend who had just cleared some land, and I have some old mushroom spore kits at home doing nothing. Brought home a carload of sketchy looking logs to try. Turns out my setup doesn't work well for mushrooms (temp and humidity variation is too wild for the varieties I have) so I just buried them. I have about 10 smallish beds and I grow a variety of things year round, so I cycled through all of them as they finished whatever crop they had, digging each up and burying whatever logs and scraps I had laying around. As Eric says, it makes a nice pretty raised bed quickly, and depending on what you put down there it may take more or less time to "fall". I put a good amount of moldy sugarcane bagasse in over the wood, and that rots really fast, while logs will take more time.
Last year was the longest drought we've ever had, and I couldn't help but notice that most stuff did just fine. I watered a few times, but it was a few times, not obsessively, and I got some good crops. I couldn`t help but think about all that nice rotten wood down there holding water (mulch on top helped too, of course).
 
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Douglas Alpenstock
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Hey Joe, it's the busy season. It would be appreciated if you gave us an executive summary. Textual information moves at light speed; video drags on forrreeeeever. Cheers mate!
 
Joe Grand
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Sorry, it a difference of opinion. I wanted to embedded media, but it did not work that way.
Words can say anything, true or not, but seeing is believing.
I love seeing what other people all over the world do & I have learned thing that I have applied to my corner of the world.
"What Happens to Woodchip if You Leave it in a BIG Pile for Months?" tells the story, if one has time to learn, if not, that your choice.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Fair enough. No offense intended.
 
Joe Grand
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None taken, you have a right to your opinion, same as anyone.
I am bias, I like this youtuber.
 
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I'm following this post closely as I have piles of logs and firewood on my property left when the timber company harvested a neighbor's property.  There was an issue with another neighbor denying them access to what's still classified as a "public" though almost impassable road and we and another neighbor leased them temporary access to go through our properties and their landing was on ours. In return we were given all the offcuts which were mostly oak and poplar.  Some of the piles are left and are starting to decay and I'm hoping to move them over the winter just as soon as I decide on how I'll utilize them.
 
Eric Hanson
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Michelle,

What condition are the logs in and what uses do you have for them?

Are the logs

Freshly Cut?
Seasoned?
Weathered?
Rotting/insect damaged?
Turning back to earth?

Would you want:

Firewood?
Lumber?
Roundwood building materials?
Wood chips?
Composting material?

I can think of all kind of uses, but I would need a little better description of the wood and your interests first.

Eric
 
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I have three very large piles of rotten limbs, I also have pine trees from six inches in diameter to eighteen inches in diameter, that I need to remove from the edge of my orchard.
I can not use them for mushrooms or BBQ, so I was thinking maybe borders around the garden beds.
I know you have done this, but was it with softwood or hardwood?
 
Eric Hanson
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I used Oaks and Hickories to make garden beds.  The trees fell in 2009 in a big storm and were dragged out of the woods 3-4 years later during forest cleanup (it was a LONG job!).  The oaks are pretty much gone now--obliterated by rot and mushrooms.  The Hickories are on borrowed time, though there are still some solid and hard pieces left.  I would imagine that poplar would decay very quickly, at about the same rate as pine.  Unless treated in advance, I just can't imagine either of these species standing up to decay for any significant time.

BUT!

If you do have some logs in pretty good shape and if they are either free of rot or you can reasonably clear them of rot, you might try Sou Shi Ban preservation (I might have misspelled that).  Basically, you lightly char the outer portion of the log and they go from being very rot prone to very rot resistant.  The Japanese used to make a sort of Tee-Pee of logs over a fire to get the charring process started.  Today, an easier method would be to use a propane torch to run over surface.  I have never tried this, but had I known of this back when I made the raised beds (2012ish) I might well have tried doing just this.

I don't know if this helps, but this is where my train-of-thought response leaves me.

Eric
 
Michelle Heath
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Eric, the I'd describe the logs as weathered but some of the poplar are starting to show signs of decay.  It's probably been four years since they were cut.   We had cut and split several cords of oak for firewood but it would now fall into the decayed category as people weren't interested in it after we sold our truck and couldn't deliver.  Even offered it for free to anyone who'd come and get it when it was still in it's prime but no takers which is sad considering you could come up the farm road and drive directly to the piles and people were begging for firewood.  I think there's approximately 2-3 cords left.

The logs I was thinking of either using to edge beds or to make a hugel bed or two though it wouldn't be massive as it would all be hand labor used in constructing it except for dragging the logs.  My thoughts on the firewood is to use it hugel-style as well.  I could leave it where it's at and attempt beds there but in reality that would probably be classified as a zone I rarely visit so would have to be something pretty carefree.  Otherwise I would move it closer where it would get more care and attention.  Could compost it as well

We don't need the firewood as only the big garage is heated by wood and our plans are to dismantle it in the near future.  Some of the big logs could probably be used for lumber and I may contact someone with a band mill and check into that.  Most of the material is too big for our chipper and not interested in renting a bigger one right now.  I'm not sure how roundwood building would hold up here and honestly I doubt I'd find time to attempt it within the next few years.

How would mushrooms do if I were to just inoculate the firewood piles in place?  Would I eventually end up with something that could then be collected and used to fill garden beds?
 
Eric Hanson
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Hi again Michelle,

So from the sounds of things, most of that wood is already in rough shape.  Sounds like there is little to no wood left worth preserving?  And what there is you want to cut for lumber—makes sense to me.  As I can see things you have the following options:

1). Make hugel mounds.  The wood you describe is about perfect as it has considerable rot in place.  Do you have a tractor with bucket, forks or some other way of moving logs?  If so that would be great but it sounded like no, so even still, a hugel mound can be a worthy endeavor.

2). Maybe try and make raised bed edges.  Sure, they won’t last but they don’t really cost you anything but labor.  You could even fill the bed in part with some of that rotten wood.  Even if you only get 2-3 years out, it might be worth considering.  I keep saying my bed edges only have one year left yet something keeps holding all the rotten wood together.  It’s like zombie wood.

3). Finally, break those suckers down with mushrooms!  The best way to do this is to break apart that brush pile and lay all the wood as flat as possible on the ground.  Probably you would want to use peg spawn.  Here, you drill holes and tap in little pegs of compressed spawn into the logs.  Press these into the freshest part of the log.  Maybe if you stacked some narrow wood 4-6” diameter two layers tall you might be able to use some straw to make a layer before stacking the next row on top.  In this case you might use sawdust or grain spawn.  Actually, straw inoculates quickly so maybe this would work.  In either case, keep the piles in shade and moist.

The next question might well be which mushroom.  I would narrow that to two mushrooms:  Wine Caps or Blue Oysters (you can find either at field&forest.net).  Either can be a winner but don’t use both as they will fight each other for dominance and both lose.  

Very briefly, Blue Oysters are highly aggressive and will colonize the wood quickly leaving fungal destruction (and edible mushrooms) in its path.  

Wine Caps will do the same but take a bit longer, are extremely forgiving mushrooms to grow, thrive on neglect and might just be the perfect starter mushroom.

If all this is confusing, let me know and we can work out the details.
 

Just a couple of details worth mentioning:  these mushrooms work best by far on non-conifers.  Conifers can really hamper them so they might not be best for pine.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Joseph,

Hugelkulture is not my thing, but woodchips and fungi (wine caps) are.  Looking at that pile I personally see a nice bed of wood or wood chips being composted by edible Wine Cap mushrooms and growing veggies at the same time.  If you choose this option, over time the Wine Caps will reduce the wood into extremely fertile garden bedding that is second to none.

Wine Caps are about the easiest mushroom to grow and if you are interested, I can walk you through the process.

Good Luck,

Eric



Eric, how would you inoculate the decaying wood with wine caps? It seems like they would already be mostly or totally colonized with other types of mushrooms. Would the wine caps outcompete established mushrooms?

Thanks,
Justin
 
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