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Wood Chip Gardening

 
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Yes - you're totally right, Chris.

My favorite wood chips are right from the back of a chipper truck that's doing tree removal along the power lines. The shreddings are mostly branches, leaves, spanish moss, vines and that kind of little green stuff. The C/N must be awesome, because when I had a pile dropped in my yard, it was too hot to stick my hands into a day later. Lots of food there for my plants.

In the Back To Eden film, they mention using ground up living stuff to feed the soil.
 
pollinator
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I'll second what has been said about using cedar. I suspect that you would eventually be able to get BTE gardens working with it, but you would probably want to let it rot down for longer than normal in a big heap first (3 years say). You really get the benefits from wood chips once decomposition has really got going. The wood becomes spongy and holds both moisture and nutrients. Fresh cut chips, especially of resinous pine species, repels water rather than storing it.

Other things: in my short experience using this system getting avdecent depth of chips matters. With two inches the chips and soild beneath will still dry out, wih four inches i have found the soild still cool and moist even in one of the hottest UK summers in years. My recommendation would be to do a smaller area to full depth and expand the area as you get more chips available.

To salvage your current problems i would rake the cedar chips to path areas.

Mike
 
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I second Michael's advice on the thickness of the wood chip layer. I have seen amazing results with berry bushes and with annual plants AFTER the chips start to break down. A word of caution: make every effort to first kill any perennial grasses like quackgrass (Agropyron repens) that can spread through the chips. Quackgrass can grow 300 feet of rhizomes each year according to the University of Minnesota. A tree service company delivered several large loads of chips last spring, and I covered lots orchard area without using cardboard. I didn't use cardboard around the trees because I didn't want to smother the tree roots. The quackgrass loved it, and now I have a daily session rooting out the rhizomes. I have learned that if you are patient and if you are careful to keep the garden perimeters clear of incoming rhizomes you can eventually stifle quackgrass.
 
Michael Cox
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Also, if your chips are fresh cut try this:

Knock your grass, weeds etc... Flat
Laydown a thick spread of cardboard
Lay down an of compost or manure ( fresh manure is probably ok for this)
Then lay down your 4 inches of wood chips

The layer of manure stops the chips from leeching nutrients from the soil, cardboard kills off grasses and weeds, the wood chips start breaking down a bit faster in contact with the manure.

Wait a month or two, then plant through the layers - plug plants are probably best for the first few years, planted with an extra dollop of compost.
 
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I and many people who side with Paul on the topic of cardboard and how it's toxic would like to hear non-toxic solutions to weed control.

If, for example, the plants to be mulched with wood chips need calcium like, say, tomatoes, why not intercrop with dandelions? If not dandelions, why not some big-leafed vining curcurbit like pumpkin?

What is suggested if we don't choose to use cardboard?

-CK
 
Michael Cox
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It depends a bit what type of area you are preparing. For a lawn conversion, let it grow really long then fold the grass over flat. When you layer with chips the grass tries to grow through them but ends up growing horizontally.

For established perennial weeds i would suggest hand pulling them through the wood chip. I have had good success doing this - the wood chips seem to loosen the soil structure sufficiently that even fairly strong root systems lift fairly nicely. Annual weeds shouldn't be too much of an issue - a few will break through, but just pull them before they go to seed. I have used them as a chop and drop mulch on the wood chip.

I should add that my experience of using these is mostly in an historic ornamental english garden - we can't change this area of the garden so i'm not really aiming for permaculture, just thorough mulching for weed control and water retention. If you want to mix this up by leaving beneficial 'weeds' like dandelion in place then there is no issue. You get the benefits of the deep mulch for water retention and soil improvement right alongside the beneficial aspects of permaculture planting systems.

Elsewhere in the garden i am establishing some permaculture fruit tree guilds in a back to eden area - nice thick chips then various perennials planted through them around the trees (comfrey, globe artichokes, currant bushes, rhubarb etc...). I'm not being too obsesive about weeds in this area, other than to try and obliterate every last trace of the evil bindweed.
 
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Ken Miller wrote:Last fall I laid down wood chips on several beds. Where I planted garlic, it's coming up strong and looking better than in past seasons. There is good research conducted at Laval University in Canada on this subject. There are folks here on Permies who have been using chips for several years with good results and have not had the problems with nitrogen depletion. The information I have read, and more interesting, is my visit to Paul's place who was in the video. He has never had any nitrogen problem. Google his name and look at the videos, he explains so much about what he is doing. Makes sense, follow nature.

Here is a link that may be of help.

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_org_research.php?id=69



I've really been studying Paul Gautschi's method of wood chip gardening of late. I'm very interested in this method and just love Paul's spirit. I'm not trying to correct you on this but Paul did address nitrogen deficiency issues. I'm not sure if it was in the BTE movie or on a YouTube video. He suggested the usage of Blood Meal as a quick fix. Just put it around the new plantings and water it in.

The BTE movie pointed out a few times that the people who had problems ended up mixing the wood chips into the soil. This is what tied up the nitrogen. So, its very important to have the chips on top and NOT mixed in. I'm not speaking from experience here, just what Paul stated and others who have tried it.
 
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I am new here and live in a new home with a garden that was covered with about 8 to 12 inches of wood chips. The chips look like they have been slowly rotting for two years. I was able to plant some vegetables last summer after moving in and they did okay, but not great. I think it was because the wood chips were using up the nitrogen too fast. So, my question is for this coming spring, desiring to have a better garden, I wonder if I should deposit soil everywhere I plant a seed or a seedling so that the roots are nourished with soil rather than the fungus infested wood chips? Then should I top the soil with a light layer of wood chips--about 2-3 inches deep?
 
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Hi, I have no experience yet with using woodchips as mulch in garden. I am about to move to a house next to a piece of old farmland.

I'm thinking for establishing new garden soil I will use newspapers and sow potatoes in rows straight on the ground (in-between the newspapers) and then cover the potatoes with (bought?)soil and the surrounding newspapers with mulch such as grassclippings, leaves and waste from the neighbours horsies (straw, peat, poo). and of course keep adding mulch as the growing season goes on.
And the next year after that I can move my potatoes to a new area and the area which I previously used for potatoes only can now grow other veggies..

Then at the same time I will also try to create a huge pile containing wood chips and horse manure and let it sit for one whole season, maybe put a sprinkler on it if the weather is dry.
I'm thinking by piling it together with manure you will create a nice compost you can then put on top of your garden.
You see alot of piles in the garden of eden movie. I think good compost is the key, thats the end result we're after.
 
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For my property I'm looking to add lots of wood chips around my pecan trees and on other areas to build up low places. Will be getting from area tree trimmers. With our alkaline and calcareous soil here in central Tx. think that it will help in more moisture retention and slowly build up the soil. Also, not having to cut the grass in those spots will be a plus. Course, will have chips away from the base of the trees.
On some of the wood chips I want to experiment with growing mushrooms.
Is there a listing somewhere that weighs the soil benefits of wood chips gotten from different trees as the tree trimmers vary in what they have available. Which are best to use? Will probably stick with hardwoods like oak or ash. May be able to grow oyster or morels on. Will of course steer clear of cedar.
 
Michael Cox
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Cal - in my experience all chips are better than no chips at all. hardwoods seem to break down a little faster than conifers, so I tend to use hardwoods in growing areas and conifer chips on paths.
 
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I second the all chips are better than no chips. We have been chipping our own wood for our garden use and I have started to notice a massive difference in both the soil quality and the lack of weeds in just the few months since we moved. The soil stays moist longer, weeds are inhibited, and the red clay has started to change to a easier to work with black soil.

We do however avoid chipping conifers and other aleopathic trees (cedar is the only one we have run into so far in our chipping) just so they don't get mixed in.
 
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Chris Kott wrote: interesting amorphous yellow fungus spreading across the ground, and my potatoes died.
-CK


Sorry to hijack this thread but I am interested in your experience.
Hi Chris, this is my first time on this forum so please be gentle! I am very new to permaculture and have started a with a small raised bed of horse manure then layer of compost. I then planted my seeds into the compost and covered in barkchip from a local tree surgeon. I could clearly see the barkchip has white fungus in it, which I thought was a good thing at the time. However, I now have swards of golden and white mushrooms popping up. I clear them on Saturday and they are back on Monday! Is this a bad sign? Should I just keep pulling them out? I have ordered an organic (worm poo) fungicide to spray the bed in desperation! Any advice appreciated
 
Thomas Partridge
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While I am not Chris I will go ahead and reply with my opinion (please take with a grain of salt as that I am not expert).

Fresh mulch should probably never touch seedlings. They are very vulnerable to fungal infections and one of the tasks of mulch is to prevent things from growing from underneath it.

That being said, keep in mind that mushrooms are like fungal flowers so if you have them pop up that means the mycelium is well distributed. That is very good because that will pull nutrients from the ground underneath to the various layers of soil. Every time we see a fungal bloom we almost have a party - to us that means we are doing something right.
 
Kelly Jackson
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Thomas Partridge wrote:While I am not Chris I will go ahead and reply with my opinion (please take with a grain of salt as that I am not expert).

Fresh mulch should probably never touch seedlings. They are very vulnerable to fungal infections and one of the tasks of mulch is to prevent things from growing from underneath it.

That being said, keep in mind that mushrooms are like fungal flowers so if you have them pop up that means the mycelium is well distributed. That is very good because that will pull nutrients from the ground underneath to the various layers of soil. Every time we see a fungal bloom we almost have a party - to us that means we are doing something right.



Thank you Thomas Partridge that's good to hear I planted the seedlings in compost and then put mulch around it which I thought was ok. All a learning curve. I love this forum!
 
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Most people who watch the back to Eden video fail to see/hear the part about chicken manure, I don't know why but that's the way it is, its one of the most important parts of woodchip gardening, Dave NE
 
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Here in France quite a lot of work has been done on BRF- bois raméal fragmenté- roughly translated as fresh small branch wood chippings. If you read French here is a good allround information site http://www.brfgeneration.fr/ and of course wiki https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bois_ram%C3%A9al_fragment%C3%A9

My experience has been very positive, with a few things to watch out for. My land is typical south of France garrigue, thin top soil on a calcium bedrock, very rich in minerals and totally lacking any vegetable humus. So the idea of BRF instantly appealed. It also helps that I have 50 acres of youngish green and white oak forest that I am slowly trying to whip into shape by cutting down the smaller trees and trimming the older ones.

As I work though the forest we chip up the fresh, and it has to be fresh branches, mainly anything under 5cms width, only the oak and chestnut as pine resine is a big no no. We primarily cut in Autumn and Winter because of the heat and fire risks of Spring and Summer. The woof chippings are then scattered on herb banks and garden as well as the vegetable patches up to a depth of 20cms. This is best done in Autumn, November is good. What we have found is that at the start of the process the chippings suck up nitrogen before they start to break down so a quiet period is essential to start the process.

After 5 years of doing this every Autumn we now have a good depth of rich soil, equally important for us is the water preservation qualities of a good mulch as well as the heat protection it offers the roots.

Happy gardening

Pete
 
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E. Exner wrote:

Gord Day wrote:I have a cpl truckloads of coniferous wood chips and needles.. my assumtion is they are very acidic.. even tho they are 2-3 yrs old.. I also have a huge truckload of deciduous wood chips that are only 1 yr old. I,m figgering that being 1 yr old, thier thirst for nitrogen has all but been abated? I will make raised beds with the deciduous chips (combined with manure) and use the coniferous for the walkways.
I would appreciate input on this as it will be my first attempt.. I will also use forest humus, but dont whether to use it as the top "soil" or incorporate/mix it into the deciduous chips.. most of my crops will be shrubs and small trees but i will plant a few veggies. being raised beds I can manipulate each bed and compare findings.

cheers from, northern ont



I'm new to permies and to hugelculture. I have talked with several people and they all say sounds like a good thing but all they have is pine, so this has been a burning question. I was hoping someone could elaborate more on the above question. It didn't seem to be answered and I'm very curious, especially since I used mostly an evergreen bush in my first hugelculture bed. All seems well but I also put cardboard between the soil and the wood. Don't ask why...it seemed like a good idea at the time. All that digging and moving of wood made me really tired so I don't think I was thinking.

Thanks



There is nothing wrong with the heart wood of conifers being used as wood chip mulch in the manner that is being discussed in this thread. Conifer forests have been using them for eons, it is as has been mentioned the outer/inner bark, cambium layer and needles that hold almost all the acid qualities desired by blueberry growers, other berry bearing trees are very much like blueberries, preferring and even requiring more acidic soil than say vegetables or fruit trees like apple, pear, peach, etc. If you have only 3-4 inch or less diameter branches to make chips from, they are best used with acid lovers or on pathways. If you have tree trunks and you shave them down to heart wood, then you have material that will do a very good job of building soils for other than acid loving plantings.

The best garden I've ever seen was planted directly into wood chips that were used as a soil cover/ planting base, this was in England. The method used was a 4 inch thick layer of chips then manures (chicken, goat, sheep and cow), compost and grass clippings were used as top dressings as they came available during the year. When I saw the garden, the chips had been down for three years and every thing planted, from onions to tomatoes to squash to cabbage was doing magnificently well, this garden was in an allotment plot and the surrounding gardens were barren compared to the one I was actually visiting.

Wood chips in my experience are a boon to gardeners wanting to hold moisture and build soil naturally, you just have to do a little home work, much of which has already been mentioned in this thread, and put it into practice. Experience with wood chips comes rather quickly so it won't take long to be up to speed.
 
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My thoughts are this: Don't make this more complicated than it needs to be. I have used all kinds of trees, including many pines, and never had a problem. Put the chips as deep as you can. When you plant, move the chips aside enough that you are planting in soil rather than in the chips themselves. I have been doing this for a few years now and I'll never go back to gardening any other way.
 
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The merits of this gardening strategy are so many, it's hard to list them all. We've been laying down wood chips now for over 15 years and have watched the soil transform from hard, lifeless clay, to rich, black, crumbly and fertile. Our water use has dropped by over half. The worms are so abundant, it's crazy.

Our spring garden has pretty much all sprouted or been transplanted into the food forest at this point, so I spent the weekend laying mulch down around the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, ginger and herbs, cabbage and other brassicas . . . everywhere, particularly around the fruit trees and berry bushes. Mulch breaks down very quickly in our climate so we need to replenish it twice a year, in the fall and now again in the spring. I got a lovely load of mostly pine a few weeks ago --- I only wish I had 20 more yards of it.

Often, when you get a load of chips, there will also be bunch of unchipped larger pieces of tree trunk (firewood) in the back of the truck as well. What we don't use in the fireplace goes into the hugelkultur mounds.

In terms of bio-remediation, our understanding the role of fungi in breaking down harmful compounds continues to grow. The work of Paul Stamets and others has shown us that fungi degrade, bind, and digest all sorts of harmful stuff. Given the fact that my food forest is in Los Angeles country, surrounded on all sides by 20 to 50 MILES of city, I would imagine that all sorts of stuff has drifted down and settled on our soil down through the decades. So with each new layer of wood chips, whatever was on the surface of the soil is now covered by an exceptional fungi-growing medium. After a hard rain, it's not unusual to see 10 more more different varieties of mushrooms popping up all over out there. All that fungi is so good for the soil, the trees and plants, and the entire biome.

I would encourage anyone who hasn't tried this to take a corner of your yard somewhere and experiment with it.

 
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