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!!! Today my dad asked me if he could use wood chips around tomato plants..

 
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Today my dad asked me if he could use wood chips around tomato plants. I knew that tomatoes like a little acidity. I knew from a podcast, that there was one particular hardwood that was good for alkaline-loving plants, but didn't remember which one it was and I had to look up which hardwood it was. Don't use black walnut wood chips around tomato plants, the article said.

And this type of scenario has been my problem with starting a food forest. I have every intention to make a food forest, but at the end of the day, I still have an orchard, a vegetable garden and a medicinal garden. It does not qualify as a food forest. I do not yet have the knowledge I need to succeed with the food forest. A food forest should be able to fix nitrogen back into the soil to keep itself going. I definitely do not have that going on. But each day I gain a tidbit or two from hanging out on this forum. Currently I mean to move my blueberries to be near my pine trees because they also like acidity, so I guess I am a little smarter than before.

One of these days, I am going to take a series of pictures and put them on here and ask people to point me in the right directions. For now, I have to say, I had never even heard of a food forest before I joined this forum. I am now a step ahead. And I thank you all, especially you, Mr. Wheaton.

I have aspirations of becoming Gert someday. (Those of you who do not know who Gert is, do a search up in the Permies search bar for Ferd and Gert.)
 
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Tomato plants are heavy feeders. Anything that sucks away nutrients affects production. But on the other hand, retaining consistent moisture in harsh conditions is critical.

Wood chips are sort of a spectrum -- it depends on how far they have broken down, and that determines best use. Raw wood chips tend to suck up nutrients, so that's tricky.

For tomatoes, a thick layer of compost on top and a thin layer of wood chips on top of that, to hold the moisture, could work very nicely.

Last year, in heat waves and drought, I tried a desperate experiment. I soaked wood chips, biochar, free municipal compost, and stinky anaerobic bio-goo from my rot barrels together. And after a week or so, when that whole mix was suitably saturated and disgusting, I put it down by the shovelful on the surface of struggling annuals. They immediately went nuts and produced like mad. The plants have spoken.

I did not try that with my tomatoes. Maybe next year.

 
Elanor Gardner
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good to know.

Bio Char - another term I do not yet know....
 
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I think any addition of mulch to your tomatoes would be welcome if you don't have anything down yet.

Wood mulches tend to last a while, I too have a vegetable garden separate from other things instead of some kind of homogenous food forest, so my annuals generally get a straw mulch layer because it breaks down by the next year.
 
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One thing, especially with tomatoes is to get that fine line between mulch, especially wood chips, being too close to the stem and causing rot and having too much space so powdery mildew spores splash onto the leaves.  I use wood chips as an overall mulch which lasts for a few years and meadow hay closer in so there is some good air circulation.  Just pull back the wood mulch, plant the tomato plant/ seedling and add a little hay around.
 
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HI, Elanor.

woodchip mulch can have different effects depending on how much you fertilize, irrigate, how wet is your climate, sfsf. When in doubt, I'd experiment. Mulch only half of your tomatoes and watch the difference.

About making your own food forest, although you don't "have to" make one to be a permaculturist, I could suggest two paths to you:

Path 1. Design (rule 1, observe).
This is, stop weeding and observe what emerges. Then replace those weeds by similar species that you like better. For example, if you see Sisymbrium officinale growing, you know you can plant Brassica alba, or even a Brassica oleracea, since they are of the same family, and probably have a similar ecological function. You can do this with any weed until there's no plant you can call weed.

Path 2. Survival of the fittest.
This is, plant a humongous amount of different crop species around your trees and let nature select the fittest among them. Any plant you dislike or that is not faring well can be used as mulch. It's a bit more expensive and you need to find a good variety of seeds, but it's easy work (and no botany knowledge is required).
 
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Another thing to remember (!) is that plants don't read books, or browse the internet. Don't take anything you read as absolute truth since every situation is different. I grow fruit and vegetables here with more or less success, but if I believed the books then I would think nothing would ever grow.

Seed + soil + water + sun = plant

I have found that seeds don't grow well in the packet - and that is the best true advice I can give!

Your neighbours are probably the best guide to what will grow for you. Failure is OK too remember those often don't get shared, only the successes! Learn and try something different.

It's great that you are converting your father to permaculture too!
 
Abraham Palma
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Nancy Reading wrote:I have found that seeds don't grow well in the packet



Oh, my!!
I'm still laughing!
 
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Elanor Gardner wrote:

Bio Char - another term I do not yet know....



BioChar is essentially charcoal made thru a very wide variety of methods, in a low oxygen environment, to which is added (once cooled) any number of substances to entrap nutrients. It is then applied to soils, again, thru a very wide variety of methods, to, among other things, help with water retention, provide housing for beneficial organisms, carry nutrients and add carbon to soils.
The primary reason I make and utilize BioChar is for its  water retention features, 1 lb. of BioChar can hold 7.5 lbs of water, and I live in one of the driest deserts in the world.
 
Nancy Reading
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Hi Hal - welcome to Permies!
Biochar can indeed be awesome we have a whole forum dedicated to it. It doesn't improve every soil however (mainly I think if it is good to start with!). I'd like to use more biochar (despite being in one of the wetter parts of the wolrd!) because I'm hoping it will prevent nutrients leaching out of my soil in the rain! We'd love to hear more about your dryland experiences with it!
 
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Bio char - it's just charcoal, (bio mass baked in a low oxygen fire or oven with mostly closed container) then soaked in a water based mixture of compost, etc., then added to your growing areas.

If you have not yet found this, check on any posts from Bryant Redhawk, improving soil, biodynamic preps DIY's.  Great reading!!

You can also buy it, look for "lump" charcoal, not the little brick like things for use in a grill.


Peace

 
Elanor Gardner
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Abraham Palma wrote: Path 2. Survival of the fittest.
This is, plant a humongous amount of different crop species around your trees and let nature select the fittest among them. Any plant you dislike or that is not faring well can be used as mulch. It's a bit more expensive and you need to find a good variety of seeds, but it's easy work (and no botany knowledge is required).



This is how I have chosen my houseplants. Ha ha!  If they can live, despite my caregiving, then they are a good plant.
 
Hal Hane
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Nancy Reading wrote:Hi Hal - welcome to Permies!
Biochar can indeed be awesome we have a whole forum dedicated to it. It doesn't improve every soil however (mainly I think if it is good to start with!). I'd like to use more biochar (despite being in one of the wetter parts of the wolrd!) because I'm hoping it will prevent nutrients leaching out of my soil in the rain! We'd love to hear more about your dryland experiences with it!



Nancy... it's also a home for those ever so essential soil organisms... the pore structures are pretty amazing at clinging to nutrients and that soil life. I seriously doubt that there is a soil it doesn't improve... perhaps, in some soils it's in subtle ways that are barely perceptible. What soil in the world couldn't use more carbon in it??? Biochar appears to be the foundation material for Terra Preta, which is found in the Amazon rain forest, and that's a pretty wet place for at least part of the year...
 
Elanor Gardner
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Okay - sounds like it is made kind of like how we would make char cloth to use with flint and steel then, huh?

Well that's do-able.

Thank you everyone.
 
Abraham Palma
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About biochar not improving soils...

What I've read about is that most soils have the ability to become fertile just with plants, water and microorganisms doing their work. But some soils, like sandy ones, have a hard time holding nutrients or water long enough for fertility to rise. In temperate climates, organic matter might do the trick, but in warmer climates, humus decomposes too fast. In such cases, biochar as a substrate can hold those nutrients better than sand, and unlike humus, it does not decompose easily.

So, it helps building soil in the harsh conditions of sandy and warm. In other places, it is not better than whatever the native soil happens to be. And since making biochar is expensive, why bother? But I'd say that this is not completely true.

True biochar is not just charcoal, it's like a crystalized charcoal, made with higher temperatures. It's much more durable than the regular charcoal. It's also made of captured carbon, which is the reason UN wanted to promote it.
If I grow a forest, the forest will hold large quantities of carbon both in the trees and in the soils, but there's a point where decomposition runs at the same pace than carbon fixing, and that's when the system reaches it's maximum carbon load. Biochar does not decompose at the same rate as organic matter. So by adding biochar we are effectively increasing the potential carbon fixing of that place.
The real problem is that it is hard to justify the cost of making and delivering biochar to our land just for the carbon fixing. Who is gonna pay us for the service we are doing?

But if we could produce biochar cheaply and constantly, and add it to our soils regularly, it would be the equivalent of adding good silt soil and fixing some carbon at the same time. It is an hypothese that the natives that produced biochar in the first place got it from their daily cooking. Like using some logs for cooking, then using water for extinguishing the fire after cooking, and adding to it rests of their cooking pots (probably rests of the cooking too). How they manage to get those high temperatures cheaply is still unknown, maybe they used terracotta ovens that broke in the process, but who knows. The leftovers were thrown all over the place where there were less vegetation, and it improved the soil and made growing possible.
So they turned a residue into a resource, how permacultural!
 
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