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Wood chips as a base for hugel beds?

 
William Spettmann
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Location: Long Island, New York
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I have access to yards of wood chips for free. I am building 12 inch high raised beds. I was wondering if before filling with soil would a six inch layer of wood chips be beneficial? It would allow me to spend less on soil, and the wood chips are free. I suppose the benefits would be less without logs, which would take longer to decompose, but would like to hear what others think.
Thank you
ironfish
 
John Elliott
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I also have yards and yards of wood chips for free. More volume than I have volume of logs, and that is reflected in the composition of my hugelbeds. I think the 6" of wood chips would be quite beneficial for you, but do remember that the height of the bed will shrink as things decompose. Then you can build it back up by mulching with more chips.
 
Cj Sloane
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Save the wood chips for mulch.

Logs are better for HK. They last longer and while they may lock up some N the first year, it'd be nothing like a bed of woodchips.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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So long as the depth of your soil above the wood chips is such that your plant roots are not getting into the wood chips, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Wood chips tend to break down pretty fast in comparison to logs, and absorb water faster than logs, but in order to break down all that carbon, they need nitrogen, and thus will draw nitrogen from your beds. The shallower your burying of soil, or the more you mix the two, the more nitrogen loss to your growing system in the short term. If I have access to wood chips for free, I would consider it for paths first, seeded with clovers, and then as it begins to show decomposition (darkening/degradation to finer soils), then I would be more likely to use it as a soil substitute in the base of a shallow raised bed. The bonus of wood chips breaking down quickly is that they will hold moisture quicker, as mentioned. If I had wood chips freely available, and was wanting to build large hugulkultur mounds, and wanted to hasten the decomposition process of the larger woody logs and debris, I would think that adding a layer of chips underneath, and around and in between the log layers would hold a great deal more moisture and accelerate the process.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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you might want to do a search of "wood chips HK" in this site and other sites to get all that's been written, but your little beds are not really classic hugulkultur, so keep that in mind.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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WELCOME TO THE SITE, WILLIAM.
 
R Scott
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As long as you don't MIX the dirt and the chips, they won't sink THAT much nitrogen. They can only pull nitrogen at the boundary layer. It doesn't matter from an N perspective if you put down 6 inches or 6 feet of chips, the interface will be the same. Not true for water or other things, so it does matter--but not the biggest thing to worry about.

 
William Spettmann
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Location: Long Island, New York
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Thanks for your responses. I have a small suburban lot and will be planting my vegetable gardens in 12 inch raised beds this spring. I am building raised beds for the first time. I love the idea of hugelculture for all the benefits it provides. But unless I excavate the existing soil, I thought that maybe laying down wood chips would offer similar benefits. Any further advice would be greatly appreciated. Living on Long Island, New York, my concerns would be prolonged drought and watering restrictions. The soil here is very fertile, and I plan on harvesting rain water in the event of a long drought. Thank you all! Ironfish
 
Roberto pokachinni
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William Spettmann wrote: But unless I excavate the existing soil,

my concerns would be prolonged drought and watering restrictions.

The soil here is very fertile


I'm all for not excavating if you don't need to, however, if you are wanting to get maximum effect out of the wood chips, I would dig a trench and lay the chips in that so that they are below grade, thus rainwater on grade would go into the space and the wood chips are more likely to stay wet for longer. You will also have more soil (the excavated material), to put on top.

Of course if you do not want to excavate, all the power to you, but it means importing soil when you have fertile soil, which seems unnecessary.
 
Cj Sloane
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William Spettmann wrote:Living on Long Island, New York, my concerns would be prolonged drought and watering restrictions. The soil here is very fertile, and I plan on harvesting rain water in the event of a long drought.


Please consider adding your location to your profile.

I grew up on LI. When I was 20 I made a compost pile and was told it was "technically illegal." This was almost 30 year ago, however.

Are you reluctant to make raised beds taller than 12"? Some people bury the logs. This isn't a bad way to go because then the lawn is ripped up, you've got a pile of dirt to put over the soil and you're ready to plant.
 
William Spettmann
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Location: Long Island, New York
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Thank you all for taking the time to reply. Your wisdom and guidance is so helpful to this newbie. I have been gardening here on long island NY for several years. But I am new to permaculture and hugelculture. This past year I have read books by Mark Shepard and Ben Falk. Any recommended reading would be welcome. I was considering using wood chips for a base to my 12 inch raised beds rather than excavating my existing soil. But your responses have made me reconsider. I believe my garden may benefit more from excavating existing soil and burying some logs and woody material, then using my present soil to cover the bed. Present soil is rich and active. My reason for 12 inch bed was rather simple. I had access to a large number of 12 inch planks (untreated). Thought I could build me some raised beds. Still can, just gonna have to recruit my two sons to help me excavate.
Thank you all for taking the time to share your knowledge with me
William
 
Victore Hammett
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If your soil is already so fertile, why do hugelcultur? Yes it has a lot of benefits, but if all you have is wood chips and want the water storing of buried wood, you could do a buried mulch swale. This is basically a small trench dug on contour about 1 foot deep by 1.5-2 foot wide, filled with wood chip, then covered lightly with soil. You then build beds to the downhill side- primarily with the dirt from the trench. They are low profile so less likely to get busybody neighbors torqued up. And since they are small scale you could put enough in to where they could utilized as the paths in your garden - about 10' apart. They will not be parallel most likely, because they are designed on contour, not geometrically. You can plant to each side and the roots will draw water stored in the swale and surrounding soil.

 
Johnny Niamert
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Why not add some branches with the wood chips?

This is my plan, once the season allows it. Use old rotten logs for the majority of bulk, then fill in the voids with wood chips as I go. Mix-in and cover with manure, compost, and soil.

I agree with digging it in, if only slightly. It would seem to take a lot of extra soil to not do this first.
 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Hi! I did something similar last summer. Took 8" concrete blocks, stacked them 3 high, then filled with mostly wood chips. Used 8" of good garden soil/compost/sand over the top of the chips. Got a Fall garden planted, the stuff does well, but I find it needs more water than the stuff grown in the regular garden soil. I am all-too rapidly approaching 65 years of age, and the main idea was to eliminate so much stooping and crawling. Arthritis in the knee, you know.

I call mine a "Semi-Hugel Raised Bed." I guess the jury is still out, but I do feel that if water conservation is one of your goals, you'd be better off using the chips for mulch. I had 30 or 40 loads of chips and am just about through them with the raised bed, and mulch, and then I composted a bunch of them too. Used horse manure, built a hot style, 21 day pile, then covered with a tarp for the winter...

I don't have a particular axe to grind here. IMO composting will get the fastest, best, and most long-lasting results, if the basic soil is even half decent. If you have a good, rich soil to begin with, my bet would be that composting would give you the best results...

Just my 2 cents...
 
William Spettmann
Posts: 4
Location: Long Island, New York
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Again, I wish to thank all of you for your advice. I can hardly wait for the snows to melt so I can begin gardening for this new season. I have more planning to do. It is all good. I am also limited by recent injuries and surgery. But I am blessed and have two strong sons who will help dad realize his vision.
Thank you all
William
 
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