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Wondering about hugelkultur using wood chips

 
Michael Vormwald
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As I was pondering hugelkultur it occurred to me that a pile of wood chips (instead of large chunks of wood) might work pretty well - delivering the same desired results perhaps in months instead of years. I'm thinking of trying a raised bed with a thick layer of wood chips, covered with a layer of shredded leaves, covered with a good layer (say 6 - 8 inches) of garden soil.

Any thoughts?
 
John Elliott
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It depends a lot on your climate. Here in the South where the ground never freezes, wood chips break down quickly and are gone in a couple of years. Even the big pieces of wood quickly decompose and you have to add more biomass on the pile.

I know some of the PR about hugelkultur would lead you to think that once you bury lots of big pieces of wood, you don't have to do anything for a long time. Just reap bountiful harvest after bountiful harvest. Maybe that can be true in cold climates where decomposition only occurs a few months of the year, but in a wet, sub-tropical climate that isn't the case. For my spring planting, I am building up the hugels I built last year with more wood chips. I'm willing to do it because the results are worth it -- all that buried wood, no matter what form it is in, is supplying nutrients without me having to add chemical fertilizers.
 
Michael Vormwald
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I understand that organic matter tends to 'burn up' more quickly in warmer climates although it seems not to be an issue in the rain forest. Then again, buried wood would seem to decompose more slowly than at surface level temperatures. Perhaps moot since I'm in the Northeast. Still, I think the real advantage hugelkultur offers is that when the wood decomposes it acts like a sponge to hold water and nutrients that might otherwise percolate or evaporate away. Since this can only happen when the wood is at a certain degree of decomposition, it would seem the smaller pieces of wood (or chips) would reach this stage much more quickly than large logs. That being said, perhaps smaller wood (chips) reaches the desired effect sooner than larger chunks or logs, but won't be effective as long...although I doubt it totally disappears.
I'm building a 2x10x10 raised bed on the east side of my shed. I'm planning to plant onions and later pole beans there. I'm going to dig out a foot to 18" and fill a foot or more with wood chips covered with shredded leaves then topped with 6-8" of good amended soil and organic fertilizer. I'll see what happens in time.

Footnote: Thinking about it (out loud) some more, I wonder if a combination of wood chunks AND chips wouldn't offer the best short and long term effects?


John Elliott wrote:It depends a lot on your climate. Here in the South where the ground never freezes, wood chips break down quickly and are gone in a couple of years. Even the big pieces of wood quickly decompose and you have to add more biomass on the pile.

I know some of the PR about hugelkultur would lead you to think that once you bury lots of big pieces of wood, you don't have to do anything for a long time. Just reap bountiful harvest after bountiful harvest. Maybe that can be true in cold climates where decomposition only occurs a few months of the year, but in a wet, sub-tropical climate that isn't the case. For my spring planting, I am building up the hugels I built last year with more wood chips. I'm willing to do it because the results are worth it -- all that buried wood, no matter what form it is in, is supplying nutrients without me having to add chemical fertilizers.
 
John Elliott
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I wonder if a combination of wood chunks AND chips wouldn't offer the best short and long term effects?


That's exactly what I do and it gives excellent results with onions. Send me a PM if you would like some Egyptian Walking Onions to try out.
 
Cj Sloane
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Try this:
site permies.com/forums: hugel wood chips
in google.

Probably 5-10 threads to look through.
 
Michael Vormwald
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Mini Hugelkultur: dug out, fabricated raised bed, added decaying wood, wood chips, partially decomposed shredded leaves, topped with amended soil for bed.
Will be planting onions and later pole beans.
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Michael Vormwald
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Mini Hugelkultur
2014-04-12 15.42.45-w.jpg
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Cj Sloane
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Personally, I think the wood chips would've gone to better use on top as mulch, though you can always add that.

The main thing that strikes me in that photo is that the bed is in the shade. FYI, parsley is shade tolerant.

If you plant the parsley & it does fine and everything else looks bad, you'll know it didn't get enough light.
 
Michael Vormwald
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Wood chips within and over chunks of wood makes perfect sense to me as it creates a more complete layer of decomposing wood mass as it's all about gleaning the hugelkultur benefit of moisture/nutrient retention deep in the bed.
Yes, admittedly it's on the east side of the shed so it will receive direct sunlight until noon or so, then indirect (pics were taken in late afternoon). I realize it's not full sun, but I grew a good crop of grasses and weeds here before this experiment. We'll see how the onions and pole beans do. It may end up a salad bar or if all else fails, ornamentals.
Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch. The bed is a bit different, but generally, I still tend to grow and till under (power compost) green manures and cover crops with my Troybilt tiller (as we all know, you don't want wood chips mixed into your garden soil).


Cj Verde wrote:Personally, I think the wood chips would've gone to better use on top as mulch, though you can always add that.

The main thing that strikes me in that photo is that the bed is in the shade. FYI, parsley is shade tolerant.

If you plant the parsley & it does fine and everything else looks bad, you'll know it didn't get enough light.
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Vormwald wrote:
Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch.


Why is that? Because you'll eventually till?
Do you intend to use any mulch?
 
Michael Vormwald
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As I explained...."Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch. The bed is a bit different, but generally, I still tend to grow and till under (power compost) green manures and cover crops with my Troybilt tiller (as we all know, you don't want wood chips mixed into your garden soil)."
Yes I generally mulch with compost, leaves, grass and hay, just not with wood chips....ALTHOUGH a wood chip mulch could be an option in this raised bed.

Cj Verde wrote:
Michael Vormwald wrote:
Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch.


Why is that? Because you'll eventually till?
Do you intend to use any mulch?
 
Michael Vormwald
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So today I planted the onions and watered them in....
2014-04-13 10.16.49-w.jpg
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Cj Sloane
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According to Carrots Love Tomatoes, onion & beans are antagonists [though apparently others disagree]. Add in a heavy dose of shade & a new HK & things look dicey.
Still time to move the onions or switch to a different veggie if you haven't planted the beans...

See List_of_companion_plants for some ideas.
 
Michael Vormwald
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In the very companion list you linked, onions and pole beans are not antagonists....matter of fact, onions are listed to help beans. I'll move forward and see what happens.

Cj Verde wrote:Michael, I don't mean to be negative but... onion & beans are antagonists. Add in a heavy dose of shade & a new HK & things look dicey.
Still time to move the onions or switch to a different veggie if you haven't planted the beans...

See List_of_companion_plants for some ideas.
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Vormwald wrote:In the very companion list you linked, onions and pole beans are not antagonists....matter of fact, onions are listed to help beans.



Hmmm. Here's what I see:
Allium ---- avoid beans.

edit- oh I see. There are 2 different sources citing different results.

Well, good luck and post either way!
 
Michael Vormwald
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I prolly should have better explained that my main vegetable garden is about 3000 sq. ft. (little over 1/4 acre). It's more or less 'conventional' I guess except I garden in 3 foot slightly raised beds or mounds that I create each year with my tiller hiller/furower. In the past to enrich my poor soil and beat weeds, I've grown crops of buckwheat as green manure and a cover crop of winter rye. I typically till all the residue under in the fall and plant winter rye, then let grow in the spring to turn under the bymass 3-4 weeks before Memorial day (my traditional planting time here in Central NY.)
The onion plants I ordered from Burpee's came earlier than I expected so this raised mini hugel bed was a way to plant them w/o early tilling the main garden AND to dip a (little) toe in hugelkultur.

Michael Vormwald wrote:As I explained...."Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch. The bed is a bit different, but generally, I still tend to grow and till under (power compost) green manures and cover crops with my Troybilt tiller (as we all know, you don't want wood chips mixed into your garden soil)."
Yes I generally mulch with compost, leaves, grass and hay, just not with wood chips....ALTHOUGH a wood chip mulch could be an option in this raised bed.

Cj Verde wrote:
Michael Vormwald wrote:
Unless/until I completely commit to no till, I'd never use wood chips in the garden as mulch.


Why is that? Because you'll eventually till?
Do you intend to use any mulch?
 
Cris Bessette
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My only reservation about wood chips is that as they are breaking down, they pull nitrogen OUT of the soil.
This is true of wood in general, not just in "chip" form.

If you put enough green stuff in at the same time, it should balance out I would think.

 
Michael Vormwald
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Although it's especially true that decaying wood in the soil uses (robs) nitrogen, the effect would be very bad if the chips were mixed in the soil. However, these chips are layered on top of wooden chunks and covered with a good layer of partially decayed leaves. Although there may be some nitrogen robbing, it should be not much more than if the chips/leaves were used as mulch on top.

I hope this makes sense?
regards,
Mike

Cris Bessette wrote: My only reservation about wood chips is that as they are breaking down, they pull nitrogen OUT of the soil.
This is true of wood in general, not just in "chip" form.

If you put enough green stuff in at the same time, it should balance out I would think.

 
Michael Vormwald
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Two days after I planted the onions (sent to me by Burpee's 'at planting time for my zone' [5]) it turned cold and snowed. I pondered covering them but then decided the snow just might be a better insulator, so I just let nature take it's course. At this point it remains hard to tell if they were killed, damaged, set back - I'll just have to wait and see.
 
Arrendajo Sanchez
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I agree with Cris Bessete y use the chips of wood in the corridor between the beds not mixed with it the wood kidnap the N of the soil but in a few years it produces a very stable humus.
try to avoid the woods from the fagaceae Fam. have a lot of tannin, it goes bad for the grows.

Regards from Spain
 
Michael Vormwald
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I believe that high carbon materials only 'rob' nitrogen from soil they are in contact with. The wood and wood chips are under a good layer of leaves and 8-10" of soil. It should be fine.

Arrendajo Sanchez wrote:I agree with Cris Bessete y use the chips of wood in the corridor between the beds not mixed with it the wood kidnap the N of the soil but in a few years it produces a very stable humus.
try to avoid the woods from the fagaceae Fam. have a lot of tannin, it goes bad for the grows.

Regards from Spain
 
Satamax Antone
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And what about this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramial_chipped_wood

I haven't looked everywhere in this forum, but i haven't seen talks about this.

 
Cris Bessette
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Arrendajo Sanchez wrote:I agree with Cris Bessete y use the chips of wood in the corridor between the beds not mixed with it the wood kidnap the N of the soil but in a few years it produces a very stable humus.
try to avoid the woods from the fagaceae Fam. have a lot of tannin, it goes bad for the grows.

Regards from Spain


Hi , Arrendajo, I see that was your first post, welcome to the forum (¬°bienvenido!)
Good point about tannins.

In my opinion I think wood in the soil is fine IF mixed with an equivalent amount of nitrogen rich material.
Maybe I am wrong though.


 
Cj Sloane
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Satamax Antone wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramial_chipped_wood
I haven't looked everywhere in this forum, but i haven't seen talks about this.


Several of threads here on this topic. Enter "permies Ramial chipped wood" into a search engine & it will return at least 4 threads.
 
Michael Vormwald
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C'mon folks, think about this... this is merely the inverse of using wood chips as mulch. High carbon materials, as they decompose merely tie up nitrogen from soil they are in contact with. This is why tilling wood chips into garden soil is bad, while mulching with wood chips is perfectly fine. In this case, the chunks of wood are covered with chips that also fill in voids, then there's several inches of decaying leaves, followed by 8-10" of amended soil. I'm sure the leaves and or wood will use some nitrogen as they further decompose. Even so, the decaying material will only be able to tie up nitrogen from the soil it contacts. Just my $.02 but I don't believe they will steal N2 8-10" away from the root zone of my onions. If it seems like a problem I can always sprinkle on some high organic N2 fertilizer for the onions.
(I might also point out that the wood chunks I used were partially decomposed from fallen trees).

Footnote: on the up side I had been concerned about the cold and snow 2 days after I planted the onions. I'm happy to report that I see signs of new growth so all is not lost (knock wood)!
 
Satamax Antone
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Cj Verde wrote:
Satamax Antone wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramial_chipped_wood
I haven't looked everywhere in this forum, but i haven't seen talks about this.


Several of threads here on this topic. Enter "permies Ramial chipped wood" into a search engine & it will return at least 4 threads.


Hey CJ, calm down!

Your post feels like you're trying to school me, and it's like i sense a smidge of agression. Well, this is how i revceive it, on the other side of the screen. I said i hadn't seen any reference to that as of yet, at that moment, i did a search straight away after that. I'll put it bluntly, but i'd like you do chill out! I know you want to help. But, keep cool! Ney bother beig man! Easy peasy! There's no need to hurry, or need for taking life too seriously!
 
Michael Vormwald
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It merely looked like a helpful search string for more information to me!

Satamax Antone wrote:
Cj Verde wrote:
Satamax Antone wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramial_chipped_wood
I haven't looked everywhere in this forum, but i haven't seen talks about this.


Several of threads here on this topic. Enter "permies Ramial chipped wood" into a search engine & it will return at least 4 threads.


Hey CJ, calm down!

Your post feels like you're trying to school me, and it's like i sense a smidge of agression. Well, this is how i revceive it, on the other side of the screen. I said i hadn't seen any reference to that as of yet, at that moment, i did a search straight away after that. I'll put it bluntly, but i'd like you do chill out! I know you want to help. But, keep cool! Ney bother beig man! Easy peasy! There's no need to hurry, or need for taking life too seriously!
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Vormwald wrote:It merely looked like a helpful search string for more information to me!


Yeah, it seemed innocuous to me & there was no hostile sub-context. All I can say is that I spent half my life in New York so sometimes people (particularly Vermonters) think I'm less than friendly. I'm quite adept at conveying hostility, but on this site I try to follow the "be nice" rule.
 
Michael Vormwald
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...and they let you move to Vermont aye? Ooh, that reminds me, I think we're gettin low on maple syrup. lol

Cj Verde wrote:
Michael Vormwald wrote:It merely looked like a helpful search string for more information to me!


Yeah, it seemed innocuous to me & there was no hostile sub-context. All I can say is that I spent half my life in New York so sometimes people (particularly Vermonters) think I'm less than friendly. I'm quite adept at conveying hostility, but on this site I try to follow the "be nice" rule.
 
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Cj Verde wrote:
Michael Vormwald wrote:It merely looked like a helpful search string for more information to me!


Yeah, it seemed innocuous to me & there was no hostile sub-context. All I can say is that I spent half my life in New York so sometimes people (particularly Vermonters) think I'm less than friendly. I'm quite adept at conveying hostility, but on this site I try to follow the "be nice" rule.


Hi CJ, well, it might just be my state of mind when reading it.

If i may sugest, next time, instead of telling the person to do the search, may be do it yourself, and post links, or a google link to that search. I often do this. Exept when someone is drawning me with questions, then i tell them to do their own search. And remember, i'm French, english isn't my native language. Plus, i've lived up north in uk, where english isn't quite the same. I often have that prob with Americans, not understanding things quite the same!

Rereading your message, it might also be the dryness of it which make me feel it harsh. Look, i've adressed to you directly first of all, in this message.

Let see if i can do nicer, writing my way, as if i was replaying to you.

"Cj, do a quick search on ramial chipped wood and permies.com, there should be several threads comming out. Hope this helps.

Max. "

Sense the difference?

Well, anyway, forget about it, it's not realy important.

Seeya!
 
Cj Sloane
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Hey Michael, how about a photo update?
Is the HK in the sun now that it's really summer?
Did the beans & onions fight or make friends?
 
Cj Sloane
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