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All the Great Things about Wood Chips

 
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My chicken yard is a long ago horse corral.  It was so dry and hard most weeds wouldn't even grow there, and forget about digging.  A few months ago I finally got my son to dump a load of wood chips into the chicken yard.  I started to spread them out, but stopped deciding the chickens would enjoy spreading them around.  They did a pretty good job spreading them over the yard.  
Yesterday out of curiosity I pulled the chips aside, and under was dark damp digable soil.  We have had basically no rain, and I don't water.  Yet in only a few months the wood chips have transformed the soil from dry hard pan to beautiful soil. Not to mention giving the chickens endless hours of entertainment.  I am a true believer!  Wood chips are a miracle soil cure.
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:My chicken yard is a long ago horse corral.  It was so dry and hard most weeds wouldn't even grow there, and forget about digging.  A few months ago I finally got my son to dump a load of wood chips into the chicken yard.  I started to spread them out, but stopped deciding the chickens would enjoy spreading them around.  They did a pretty good job spreading them over the yard.  
Yesterday out of curiosity I pulled the chips aside, and under was dark damp digable soil.  We have had basically no rain, and I don't water.  Yet in only a few months the wood chips have transformed the soil from dry hard pan to beautiful soil. Not to mention giving the chickens endless hours of entertainment.  I am a true believer!  Wood chips are a miracle soil cure.



Pretty much anytime you lay down wood chips, straw or any kind of mulch where wasn't,  microbes in the soil will become active, worms will me attracted, the soil will become progressively more and more arorated, and the soil food web will begin forming.

From one perspective the food web is based on on a mulch layor of carbon. Available nitrogen will eventually be there with out adding  any, and far more likely than not, phosphorous and mineral solubilizing microbes will establish themselves and flourish.
 
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Today, we hauled two pickup loads of aged/aging wood chips home and now I'm trying to decide how best to utilize them. We had planned to haul in some topsoil and build a new potato bed of about 500 sq. ft., and the chips were going to be the mulch. Now I'm wondering if we need the topsoil at all. There are more chips available (total of 10 yards), so we could really smother the existing ground and plant potatoes directly on the ground, covered with 6 inches of chips.
The existing soil is stony (which we'll pick out, regardless) and sandy with nearly non-existent topsoil.
So, I'm looking for advice as to whether I should haul in some topsoil or just pile on the wood chips.
 
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Somewhere in Permies is an article where they planted the potatoes on small soil mounds and then covered with woodchips.  Went back later and showed how easy it was to harvest the potatoes.
 
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I would simply use the Chips, as they decay they will build you soil. They are great for Potatoes since the chips can be the growing medium and weigh less than any soil covering, which makes harvest easier.

Redhawk
 
Michael Helmersson
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:I would simply use the Chips, as they decay they will build you soil. They are great for Potatoes since the chips can be the growing medium and weigh less than any soil covering, which makes harvest easier.

Redhawk



Thank you, Bryant. I've enjoyed reading your many posts and learned a lot from them. Your response here is all I needed.
 
Dennis Bangham
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Trying this is now a must do next year.  My wife grows the Asian White Sweet Potatoes.
 
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I love Asian sweet potatoes: They have an after taste of chestnuts. they go great with the thanksgiving turkey in the stuffing and they keep better and longer than regular potatoes if you don't get them chilled. They store very well at room temperature. they taste nothing like the orange yam/sweet potatoes you get in the store. It is like they are not even related.
I wish they didn't sprawl and replant themselves a couple of feet away. I've taken to growing them in beds and large planters: It makes it much easier to dig them out. A thick layer of mulch also makes it easier. I can get leaves for free in the Fall, so this has been my go to for mulch in my sandy soil. I've gotten wood chips from the county after some storm and I use those in paths between the beds while they rot. Depending on your soil, sweet Asian potatoes should do really well under chips. Maybe they would not re plant themselves as easily or travel quite as far? Hmmm. Food for thought!
 
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  ~Im sorry if somewhere in one of these threads is the answer to my question already, but if you have old, dead wood, to turn into wood chips, are the best nutrients already gone, from the earlier breaking down process, or is it the same nutrients at the end, as at the beginning?~I hope that makes sense?~
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Excellent question. Fresh wood chips perhaps more uniformly than already decaying wood. Nutrients that have been already consumed by bacteria aren't lost but will remain in the soil surrounding the laying wood. Chipping such wood will speed the continuation of decay and inoculate the soil you spread the new chips. I would not hesitate to chip wood that is already breaking down, think of those chips as a cross of wood chips and fungi slurry, that is the effect you should experience.

Redhawk
 
Kathy Woods
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  ~Thank you, Bryant Redhawk!~I finally found a woodchipper rental near me & some help with getting it here & running it, so im really excited to clear as much dead wood around my place as i can & chip it up for my new garden area!~Id put straw down until i could find a chipper & sifted some top soil from my woods, too, which has made a huge difference this year in the weeding, watering & survival of the veggies i planted~Having tilled last year turned it into a jungle of everything except what id planted...ha ha~Thanks again!~
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:A few years ago we lost 3 of our papermills in a single week, in total we are down to six from a high of 145 in 1947. The problem is, those paper mills would consume 2500 cords of wood or more per DAY. That sounds sad, but Maine is a big state, and the most forested in the Nation, and the reality is, we grow a cord per acre, per year, sustainably. Maine will NEVER run out of trees...

But our economy is based upon wood, our second largest export after electricity.

So my idea was, to keep our logging industry going, why not put that wood to good use. Organic Matter in the Midwest is around 1%, but transportation is cheap, and we have so much stinking wood, and now no place to send it.

All it would take is a planter that would deposit wood chips as it was engaged in planting crops. It would not flood the field with wood chips all at once, but over time, every year, more and more wood chips would be added to the fields of the midwest increasing soil fertility. Good gravy, if they can transport wood chips from Sweden to make paper in Maine economically, then they sure can ship wood chips by the trainload (or ship load through the Great Lakes or Mississipi) to increase mid-west soil fertility.

It really makes sense. As it is right now, with the loss of our paper mills, landowners (and Maine is 95% privately owned), is clearing forest to put it into fields because we have to pay our property taxes somehow. Many thought that shutting down paper mills would make our forests better, but it really has just eliminated their value as a forest altogether. I have cleared 100 acres myself, and I am not alone in that endeavor. Wood chips for the mid-west would make forests in Maine viable again.

 
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Dennis Bangham wrote: Running out of room is no excuse to stop planting.
 



Spoken like a true permie!
 
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It will be wonderful "for now" and maybe for next winter as well, but anything natural is a terrible idea for highly trafficked (or wet) areas. We had to remove a good deal of mud and old woodchips before adding two loads of sand. Even since we still need to do it again this year to get rid of some that we omitted right in the front of the shed entrance, the amount of mud has decreased significantly. We proceeded from mud that would literally bite your boot off your foot to mud that is only at its relatively shallow 4 inches deep.

The wood will digest some of the water, trying to make the area drier, but doing so as well causes it to deteriorate.
 
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fokir said, "We had to remove a good deal of mud and old woodchips before adding two loads of sand. Even since we still need to do it again this year to get rid of some that we omitted right in the front of the shed entrance



May I ask your reasoning for removing the mud and woodchips before adding the sand?

fokir said, "The wood will digest some of the water, trying to make the area drier, but doing so as well causes it to deteriorate.



Isn't that the idea or am I missing something?

https://permies.com/t/167722/soil-building
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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fokir luis wrote:It will be wonderful "for now" and maybe for next winter as well, but anything natural is a terrible idea for highly trafficked (or wet) areas. We had to remove a good deal of mud and old woodchips before adding two loads of sand. Even since we still need to do it again this year to get rid of some that we omitted right in the front of the shed entrance, the amount of mud has decreased significantly. We proceeded from mud that would literally bite your boot off your foot to mud that is only at its relatively shallow 4 inches deep.
The wood will digest some of the water, trying to make the area drier, but doing so as well causes it to deteriorate.




Indeed, for high traffic areas, Your sand will serve you much better: there is a reason that they use coarse gravel and fines for driveways, and then compact it by rolling a heavy roller on the surface: The fines will aggregate the coarse gravel in a pretty solid and dry surface. [If you wanted to "pretty it up" later, you could pour asphalt or cement]. It will save you a bit of money if you prepare a form inside of which you can pour/level whatever you prefer. [You can make a smaller area thicker.]
In my garden, I use woodchips in the alleys and allow to decompose a year or two. Then I can dig the woodchips from the alleys and incorporate them, well rotted, in the beds. This way, I get 2 functions out of one load of woodchips: Solid/ dry footing for a year or two while it decomposes, then as a soil amendment for the rest of its life.
I have the opposite problem: a very sandy soil, so water doesn't stand on long! but in the lower areas where I will not plant, the soil will eventually compact just from driving on it.
Across cultures, folks use "wattle and daub" [in old England, "torchis" in France or "adobe" in South America to make a hard compound to plaster on the outside of houses. The stuff is very stable if you match the recipe to the weather. The recipes are a little different for all, but are based on the same principle of using water and sand, clay, straw, horse hair or other natural fibers. Where water will pool, though, any natural fiber will eventually rot and yield/ decompose.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Anne Miller wrote:

fokir said, "We had to remove a good deal of mud and old woodchips before adding two loads of sand. Even since we still need to do it again this year to get rid of some that we omitted right in the front of the shed entrance



May I ask your reasoning for removing the mud and woodchips before adding the sand?

fokir said, "The wood will digest some of the water, trying to make the area drier, but doing so as well causes it to deteriorate.



Isn't that the idea or am I missing something?

https://permies.com/t/167722/soil-building





I suspect Luis may have some sort of peat bog. Depending how deep/ "spongy" it is, he could put load after load of sand and see it all swallowed every year. If he were to completely remove the mud and woodchips... he might be left with a nice pond though.
Depending on the layout of his property, that might be an option: Have a lowland/ water garden  in this problem area, and go around it to drive on solid ground. In front of the barn or any building door, though, creating a cement "apron" might be his best bet.
 
Anne Miller
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You are welcome, Cecile

I asked fokir so I would really like to hear what the reasons are.
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:Here I am again. Help My latest load of wood chips I think is from a sweet gum tree.  Besides the very strong smell which will dissipate over time, oh I hope soon, there are tons of sharp seed pods in the mix.  My plan for the chips are the start of a food forest.  My concern is if I use the chips this way, will I end up with a sweet gum forest instead of a food forest?  



Ha! Jen this made me laugh because I had a similar plight as you only with the sharp needle balls of chestnut trees!  In the fall I picked up a truckload of partly decomposed chestnut leaves but there were lots of pods that were not!   I thought the winter rains and snow would finish up the breakdown but no, there are plenty of bits of spiny needles that seem to find my hands. Ouch!! Need to turn the soil again and wait some more or wear good gloves when working those beds that were mulched with the stuff. The upside is that some of the nuts have sprouted and so I'm potting up the little trees in hopes of someday adding to a food forest. : )

 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Jen,  the way I have handled gum balls is turn to cha r the ones you can separate easily. The rest needs to be heaped in a cone shape. Once again we want to get the heap hot enough (160)) to kill the germ of those gum seeds. It might take 2 turns and repeats to get the majority of the gum seeds. Hope that helps.

Redhawk
 
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I need a slug problem.

That is, I have a duck problem and a lack of slug problem.

I have 3 huge piles of wood chips from the highway dept, they were very sure there is no herbicide or pesticide in anything they cut, and it’s a nice mix of some conifers, some leaf bits, and a lot of being free.  

But no one has moved in.  Pull bugs? Ants? Alien invasive from Arcturus? Anybody?  There is one tiny ant on here, one , and plenty of carpenter  ants in the bathroom of our house.  I don’t see earthworms underneath, mushrooms i planted in there have not fruited not potatoes sprouted out.  There’s one spider web in the side but otherwise it seems like a ghost town.  Any ideas of how I can get a bug or slug problem???
 
Bryant RedHawk
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What species of conifer? And were any of the chips from walnut or eucalyptus species. Try some turned milk poured on the chip pile. It sounds like the decomposition isn't very far along. Mushrooms won't appear until the whole chip pile is occupied by the spawn.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Thanks Bryant.  It's white pines, minimal black walnut if any, and certainly we don't have any eucalyptus around here.  

I should have mentioned our soil is super-super-well-drained, it is basically a sandbox that drains all the water down into the aquifer somewhere or something.  And it's been rather droughty.

The idea I've got now is to build a woodchip highway between the edge of the woods so that the insects have a way to get there from the woods.  And I'll add some water.  If I have enough spare milk I can try that too, but I don't really have any that's spoiling and I'd rather try for the cheaper solution first.  I'll post an update.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:Thanks Bryant.  It's white pines, minimal black walnut if any, and certainly we don't have any eucalyptus around here.  

I should have mentioned our soil is super-super-well-drained, it is basically a sandbox that drains all the water down into the aquifer somewhere or something.  And it's been rather droughty.

The idea I've got now is to build a woodchip highway between the edge of the woods so that the insects have a way to get there from the woods.  And I'll add some water.  If I have enough spare milk I can try that too, but I don't really have any that's spoiling and I'd rather try for the cheaper solution first.  I'll post an update.




That's an odd situation. You do not mention how long ago you piled these chips. It does take time, especially if the pile is very deep. I live in a sandbox myself but under the woodchips, [6" worth,] it feels moist and I have plenty critters, especially ants.
Central WI receives between 34-62" of moisture yearly. What do you get?
Either the moisture is inadequate or the chips were sprayed  unbeknownst to you.
In either case, TIME will solve your problem: Wood chips that do not decompose have not been invented yet. Spreading them thinner will increase contact with the ground too, favoring decomp.
Patience, my friend. And if you have access to duck caca, [ore any other caca] that will help: Put some duck caca on the pile. A few rains will start the decomp. Adding water is great. Keep your milk to make delicious cheese/ yogurt.
 
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:I should have mentioned our soil is super-super-well-drained, it is basically a sandbox that drains all the water down into the aquifer somewhere or something.  And it's been rather droughty.



Joshua:  I've meant to reach out to you for a while, as I also live in MA, and wanted to meet/visit other Permies, to swap ideas & successes/failures (I have more of the latter!).  I also struggle with extreme sand (80-90%), in Middleton.  I put out 5-6" of woodchips over a large area several years ago.  It was the tops of trees in spring, so there was a lot of green in it...but it has not impressed me.  Planting in it is painful, because the sand just falls away, woodchips fall in...ugh.  And the soil underneath never seemed to improve or hold water.  I did get mushrooms (Phallus impudicus -- ugly; and Chlorophyllum molybdites  -- a poisonous look-alike of my first foraged mushroom!), but it took a couple of years.  I did get a lot of worms...but my soil was still awful until I started planting winter rye cover crops -- that has helped far more than the chips, but I have yet to master the management & preservation of benefits.  The mushrooms probably also need steady moisture to survive.

My theory has been that woodchips work best on clay, where the worms go up and down, tilling the soil, but in sand that is no benefit.  However

Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:That's an odd situation. You do not mention how long ago you piled these chips. It does take time, especially if the pile is very deep. I live in a sandbox myself but under the woodchips, [6" worth,] it feels moist and I have plenty critters, especially ants.
Central WI receives between 34-62" of moisture yearly. What do you get?



We get 35-40" rain, but the woodchips seemed to prevent it from getting to the sand/plants.  

I know of someone in my town that loves woodchips, but I haven't been able to meet him.  I do think that putting compost below & manure on top may have helped...but I didn't have affordable access to those.  The wood has been breaking down, very slowly, but not helping my soil as far as I can tell.

And yes, it has been very dry here this year.  It has helped teach me that *water* has been the main limiting factor in things growing for me...oh, how I'd hoped woodchips would help.

mlb
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Indeed, Joshua. Michael Bajemades has another piece of that puzzle: I used to live near Vesper, WI. It is only like 20 miles away from where I live now. But Vesper is in deep clay. So same growing zone, same precipitation; the only difference is the composition of the soil.  By the way, Michael, my soil here is also 90% sand. We had a low area in Vesper: [we passed the percolation test by the skin of our teeth when we decided to build there].
On the way to the garden, there was a spot that was too often under water so we decided to put a load of chips there to be able to walk to the garden without getting wet feet. As best as I recall, these chips were pretty much gone [integrated into the soil] in about a year and a half... and still low, and still wet. I can't recall exactly how thick a layer it was but pretty thick. [>6"]
Which brings me to this additional reflection: For the few microbes in the soil to do their best at decomposing the chips , there has to be good contact with the 'soil'.
Here, in my sandbox, I've used woodchips as a way to keep garden paths free from weeds between raised bed. 4" will do the trick, easy peasy. But after 4-5 years of precipitation and additional watering, weeds find their way in it and I have to pull weds from the paths. The act of pulling weeds and their roots mixes the soil in that layer of chips. From there on, it happens fast: In year 5, the paths get transformed into growing soil. In the fall of year 5 or the spring of year 6, I move the soil and wood chips into the beds and start over with the chips in the alleys.
I hated gardening in Vesper: Weeds really cling to clay! Here, it is a breeze: After a small rain, I barely pull to get the weed root and all. But growing in a sand dune just has different challenges. Low fertility and imminent risk to the groundwater [from excessive fertilizing] are 2 of these challenges.
So time, water, maybe a thinner layer to get better contact between the chips and the soil seems to do the trick
Thanks, Michael: I had almost forgotten how much I hated gardening in clay. I love my newer garden even more now!
 
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We've used primarily wood chip mulches to go lawn free on our 1/4-acre suburban homestead. Where once was an expanse of exotics and badly-growing lawn, we now have a lush, emerging food forest.

We use the chips even in the annual beds, for paths between the rows, to cover the beds over between plantings, and for certain plants that want to overwinter. As I've written in another forum, asparagus seems to respond well to wood-chip mulch. For seed-sowing, we pull the chips back to the paths. You're giving me the courage to try re-mulching with chips once the plants are established.

We've obtained all of our wood chips for free from tree-trimming companies that come to remove downed trees. They much rather drop the load off with us than haul it away and pay to dump it.

Thank you so much, Bryant Redhawk, for the hefty breakdown of myths and assumptions. During garden tours, people want to tell us we're making a mistake with all the wood chips, but there's no evidence that they are correct, as the garden itself defies their argument! It's great to read your list and feel relieved and validated. I'll refer folks to it in the future.
 
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:I need a slug problem.

That is, I have a duck problem and a lack of slug problem.

I have 3 huge piles of wood chips from the highway dept, they were very sure there is no herbicide or pesticide in anything they cut, and it’s a nice mix of some conifers, some leaf bits, and a lot of being free.  

But no one has moved in.  Pull bugs? Ants? Alien invasive from Arcturus? Anybody?  There is one tiny ant on here, one , and plenty of carpenter  ants in the bathroom of our house.  I don’t see earthworms underneath, mushrooms i planted in there have not fruited not potatoes sprouted out.  There’s one spider web in the side but otherwise it seems like a ghost town.  Any ideas of how I can get a bug or slug problem???



How wet is the pile? Chips are a fungal favoring environment but it is essential that moisture is available to kick it off. Check the moisture.
 
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Gave up on tower of wood chips here in TN.   We have those fire ants here too, borax + sugar and a little water.   Have ants in house, borax + sugar, H2O. took care of problem.  When I see them outside I mess with their piled up soil carefully.  I have mushrooms popping up in lawn.   Have a huge pile of wood chips delivered in spring?  It is just sitting there, throw an occasion weeds on it.
 
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Be careful with aged wood chips. They carry Aspergillis which can cause a lung infection.  I have been in treatment since last fall and am almost cleared up.  I now wear a N95 mask when working any types of chips.  
 
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