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Composting Woodchips  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Eric Hanson wrote:OK, I will definitely use at least some of the woodchips for mulch. but I bet that even if I apply a nice layer, I still have extra woodchips.  How "permie" would it be to use up my 10-10-10 to help decompose those chips?  I have the bags, want to rid myself of them and don't really want to use the 10-10-10 directly on soil, niether do I want to throw the stuff away.  Would use of the excess 10-10-10 applied to woodchips be a valid means of remediating the stuff?  Further, I could add chicken droppings to kick-start the biology.



Ok here we are again in this dark gray zone. At least I am. Please check this tread I have started and moved to cider press : Upcycle: chemical fertilizer . Similar to your case I happen to have some fertilizer laying around (actually found myself in a situation) and I was searching any permie means to use it, you know, from a utilitarian view. Currently I have some piles cooking and I made some research, I am going to respond in that tread to present my findings. So in short without technical language: the main problem is chemical fertilizers are used as a mean to dispose some toxic stuff. The logic behind it is that everything is toxic if it is concentrated over a certain threshold/ limit. Farmers are already spreading fertilizers to vast areas, so if you distribute toxic stuff evenly to a very large area it won't be considered toxic anymore (obviously by whom?, by how? but that is the federal thinking) and farmers are doing that willingly and free. The question is do you want that stuff, some of the inert materials, in your garden? For my case it doesn't concern me, the soil is already dead and I am not going to use it in zones I have remedied. I am not going to throw it away or give it to someone else, because it is already produced and I don't want anyone to get the habit of using it (or getting rewarded for having such a habit). There are some doubts about SO3 and coloring agents. Other questions might be: It is basically salt so will it kill/ harm soil life? Redhawk adds vitamins and some other stuff to his piles, is this something might be considered similar? and such. I build two piles, each about 2 cubic meters, by wood chips, leaves and coffee grounds. I added some compost from my previous piles and some worms after its first and final turn. I added over 20 kg of fertilizer to one of the piles when building it. The temperatures are about the same, the one without chems are 2-3 degrees (Celsius) higher though (more microbial life?). I didn't find any worms in or around the chem pile. Seems like they moved away. Not really encouraging. On the other hand, by means of fertilizer I added many micro elements to the pile, so it might have a better performance after all. Over all, worms do not like hot piles, they want it to rest a bit to move in. I wanted to see how they would react, and the massage is clear for now. Considering other options such as using directly in the garden, stabilizing chem fertilizer in a wood chip pile (or better by some char/ biochar) will do the least damage (SO3 is my main suspect) and best impact. Considering people use card boards and papers in their gardens with no idea what it contains, adding limited amount of chem...? Molecules do not have memories after all?

Going back to the main discussion, I would second Ben:

Ben Zumeta wrote:Mulch mulch mulch all day long..mulch mulch mulch while I sing this song...

The most efficient use of the chips is as mulch on the spot they fell, the next best thing would be around your garden. If you don't mind hearing about how this is what JC would do, Back to Eden Gardening is a very informative film about utilizing woodchip as  mulch after using it as chicken litter. You could also replace 99% of his religious references to the big G or JC with scientific terms and be accurate.



I also have clay soil! Mulch mulch mulch. It is the best price-performance remedy for clay soils in my experience (only burried wood beds show a better performance, but it is so laborious)
Most of the time the simplest solution is usually the best. I wouldn't spend time urinating over wood chips in this cold weather!
 
                    
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This leads me to issue #4 which is my hard, dense clay.  While I know that clay soil does have some advantageous properties, mine has a habit of changing from a gooey, sticky mess in early spring (can't cultivate) to brick-hard clay in summer heat (almost impossible to grow through it).  In fact, I recently posted on another thread started by someone who apparently has clay soil as difficult to work as mine.

Ultimately, my goal is to get a BUNCH of carbon in the soil where it belongs.  I did my master's research partly on the history of energy, and this inevitably runs through studies on agriculture.  Among my findings was a nifty little side note to energy but a potentially tremendous boon to gardeners (and farmers).  A 1% increase in soil carbon (in just about any form) yields upwards of a 25% increase in soil fertility--especially in carbon--poor soils.  As I said earlier, I am a tad impatient and I want to find a way to get all that carbon into my soil as best as possible.  In my humble opinion, that means turning the carbonaceous material into soil ASAP.  This is the reason that I want to add a bunch of nitrogen to the chips ASAP, let bacteria do their thing, and incorporate the final product into the soil sooner rather than later.  I am thrilled at the thought of using chicken bedding--nitrogen rich and teaming with micro organisms all ready to do their part.

This is also the reason I am not opposed to using existing 10-10-10.  Though I know that 10-10-10 is not a green fertilizer, it is taking up space in my garage and this seems like an ideal way to get rid of it.  don't apply it to soil, apply it to carbon where the micro organisms can use it to do their part to turn it to soil.  While I know that the 10-10-10 is not exactly green, would it do any harm to the composting wood chips (and hamster bedding which I am getting a nice supply of thanks to my daughter, and paper clippings I have in virtually unlimited supply thanks to my line of work (teacher)?  Please note:  I am not going out of my way to get the 10-10-10, I am using what I already purchased prior to discovering this site and trying to go down a more permie path.

I do intend to use the soil contact and worm action to help get things going.  These are the types of information I glean from using this site and I thank all those who have offered it to me freely.  If this sounds like a rant, it was not intended as such.  I simply love having the exchange of ideas that I get on this site so thank you very much for both reading and contributing.

Eric



I spent the last 18 years working with soil biology to improve rangeland as well as restore native prairies and reforestation all across the state of Texas... The sticky gummy then hard as a rock clay soils I have found result from a calcium magnesium imbalance... Fortunately, that could be mitigated by adding organic matter and increasing soil biology... When you can take a three foot long 3/8 rod and mash it into the ground to the hilt just by leaning on it in black gumbo clay in the middle of August in the Heart of Texas,,, you got to be doing something right.. a well-balanced static compost plus the wood chips integrated into the soil will go a long ways towards improving your clay...
 
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Marco, Ben, Kamaar, and so many others,

I have been out sick for a while so while I have not been able to post though I have been following this thread closely.  Marco, you *ALMOST* have me convinced to go the fungal route over the 10-10-10 approach.  Just to fill in some areas where I did not inform you, you are correct in that Autumn Olive is indeed a soft wood.  In fact, it may be the very softest of woods out there.  I am almost certain that my new plan for those chips will be for about half of them to be applied as mulch.  In my mulching system I start with a layer of old tests (teacher thing) that will be laid down as both weed barrier and compost.  The chips will be applied over the tests, but they will not be terribly deep as their main job is to keep the tests held in place, so only a fairly thin layer is needed. The second half of the chips will be piled up in an unused corner of one of my garden beds where it will sit for a year in the hope that all of the biota emerging to decompose the wood chips will also add fertility to that patch of ground.

Assuming that I will abandon the 10-10-10 idea, I will still have access to chicken litter, comfrey, grass clippings and other "greens" for the pile.  Would adding these greens still be beneficial or would I run into the same problems as I would have if I added the 10-10-10?  Instinct tells me that some bacterial decomposition occurring alongside the fungi would only help out fungal decomposition but I do not know this for certain.  Also, I do have several 10' oak and hickory logs laying around for the better part of a decade and they are well on their way to decaying back to soil.  Could I scrape off some of the well broken-down hardwood rot and add it to the pile to help "seed" it with fungal growth?  Would these fungi growing on hardwood work as well on softwood?  Better?  Are there any other suggestions to getting the chip pile decomposing quickly?  I know that I need to keep it moist and that soil contact is paramount--that is why I am putting it in the garden where there are hopefully and already established culture of microbes waiting to jump in, worms that will make their way out of the soil and into the pile and finally that as the pile breaks down, its nutrients will leach into an area I plan on planting in the future anyway.

I know that this is a long post, but I am a terribly stubborn person and once I have an idea in my head it takes a lot to get me to change it.  However, your article on fungal growth was very helpful and this forum is slowly changing my mind, but at a slow and informed pace.  Thanks so much for offering up your knowledge and insight.

Eric
 
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FWIW,
I can't think of any reason not to use the olive chips as deep bedding material... take that approach and the birds will do the work for you, adding manure and turning it up.  When you start to see piles of poop, or can smell the manure and/or ammonia vapors, add another load of chips. 
 
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Eric,

Yes -- adding comfrey and other organic greens would be beneficial to the decomposition of your chips.  And yes, you are right -- both fungal and bacterial decomposition can happen at the same time, however a really hot pile isn't beneficial to fungal growth (at least not the best kind for "eating" the wood chips).  Its synthetic fertilizer that's the problem -- not organic greens like comfrey or coffee grounds in moderation.

If I had all that 10-10-10, I'd convert it into tall green grass.  And then I'd convert that grass into compost or animal fodder. 

This has been a great thread.  Thank you for starting it.

 
                    
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Adding grasses & such will increase the bacteria content of your pile...(they are primarily bacterial foods)  adding the fungal traces from the hardwoods will also help the pile... Diversity in species is a good thing, but the fungi that digest hardwoods are not the same as those that feed on soft woods... Adding any & all types of mushrooms you can locate into the pile is a good thing...also the addition of natural minerals ( such as crushed rock, egg shell or mined minerals) is also a good thing... oat or rice flour & such are also good bacterial foods...
*GOOD* compost contains a multitude of bacterial & fungal species, lots of mineralization, as well as a diverse mingaling of preditory nematodes & other micro orthopods... The greater the number & diversity of beneficial species the less likely pathogenic species will thrive...
 
Eric Hanson
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OK, you all have me convinced to abandon the 10-10-10 idea and I will embrace as close to a 100% permie path to decomposition as I possibly can!!

At present, I have a couple of plans for the pile.  Firstly, I plan on getting those chips out of the trailer and onto the ground ASAP--in this case as soon as weather permits. Those chips will go on a patch of garden in the hopes that the decomposition helps the soil and the soil helps out the decomposition.  Secondly, I plan on adding that chicken bedding as soon as I can get my hands on it (hopefully in 2-3 weeks.  At that point I will stir the chips, bedding, and existing rotting log remnants and let them sit till planting season--maybe in April.

My new hair-brained idea involves inoculating the chips with mushrooms and other fungi.  From the little I have read, wine cap mushrooms are the best to quickly break down the wood.  I have also heard of a product called Mycogro which is supposed to add all sorts of beneficial (and especially mychorrizae) fungi to the ground.  IF I can get these populations to spread and begin colonization I will start to add some and maybe all of those chips as mulch.

Regarding the inoculated fungi, could I add the spores, let sit for a couple of months and then spread, hopping that the fungi had begun to colonize the pile?  I am not really looking for a mushroom harvest as much as I want the compost to be well and on its way to decomposition by early planting season.  I do NOT expect that the micro organisms will have any where near complete decomposition, what I am looking for are wood chips that are thoroughly started on their way to breaking down, maybe enough so that after the end of the growing season I will actually need to find more mulch.

Feel free to comment or critique.  I am a total novice at all things fungal, so let me know your own ideas.  As I continue this process, I will add pictures.

Eric
 
                    
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The emergence of mushrooms is due to an overabundance of a particular strain of fungi... The mushrooms are nature's way of putting them into "Cold Storage"... An active, healthy compost pile will have a multitude of fungal hyphae (most beneficials are whitish hair-like strands) that can range from single strands to very intricate web-like structures,,, without the emergence of mushrooms.. mushrooms signal the sporation and shut down of the fungi...
 
Eric Hanson
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I am adding this post to this thread as an update and also to gather more information.  If you have read the entire thread by now you know that I am planning on composting my trailer-full of wood chips chipped up last fall.  The chips completely filled a trailer 4x8x2 feet and then some.  I have finally dumped this entire pile on a section of garden I will set aside for the duration of composting (I know this will be for a long time) and gone so far as to add about 1/4-1/3 cubic yard of used chicken litter to give it some bacteria and nitrogen to kick-start the decomposition.  It has also been suggested to me that I add wine cap mushroom spores (and there are areas on the pile that are not in direct contact with the chicken litter). 

My questions then are 1) does anyone out there know a reputable source of mushroom spores (I can find oodles of online samples, but I can't directly compare amounts--some are mentioned in grams and some pounds of sawdust), 2) is there any technique to getting this started off on the right foot, and 3) will the N from the litter have any adverse affects on the spores?

Thanks so much in advance,

Eric
 
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Eric,

I was chuckling reading this. I have spent little time on here because I finally got wood chips. Like hundreds of yards of wood chips.

First, I read through the replies on here and I don't think anyone mentioned this. If you are composting autumn olive chips, it is a nitrogenous shrub. You should need no further nitrogen input. I mix autumn olive in my other mulches if I have a load. It gets very hot, the winter loads I could tell what was in it because the autumn olive is highly exothermic. I would consider using it to heat a greenhouse level of exothermic.

Second, I have 80 lbs of 10-10-10 also that has been sitting in new condition in my barn for years. So it is comical you had the same experience. I haven't used any fertilizer ever on this property so I need to offload it, but I can't admit the ownership of the bag. I was "holding it for a friend". That being said I think Mike Jay has a point, if you can't find someone to take it, I would use it to make biomass. Your 80# bag will gradually deteriorate into elemental N2 over time with humidity and some reducing agents in the air (will take a while but it will happen), and the environmental price has been paid. So make a decision and move on. I don't want to use it on the fields because it would harm nodulization of the clovers, but your fields may be in a different condition.

Third, I did use artificial fertilizer as an accelerant in wood chips once, and it did increase the decomposition, but I did not see a corresponding increase in soil carbon underneath. It seems to decompose more into CO2 and component minerals, which is basically burning it. I think (but don't know) that Stropharia would not appreciate more than a very dilute nitrogen source. I am very careful to add tiny amounts of poultry litter in inoculated chips. I'm interested in the takes on here about it, I'm new to mushroom cultivation.

I will make a post when I have some time with the mountain of chips, and what I do with them. I am looking at different decay rates by temperature with different predominant wood types, and I can say the upshot is that the easiest thing is to compost them in place, and it produces the best conditions in my climate. The compost piles I have made get overtaken by honeysuckle and I haven't really gotten a yield because it would just spread the honeysuckle where I want compost. So if you have a hobby tractor with a bucket you can really move some chips, deep mulch and in a year have some superior soil.  
 
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