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Best way to incorporate woody material into the soil - without machinery?  RSS feed

 
Cj Sloane
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I've been cutting down a bunch of trees, mostly to open up the canopy so I can plant productive trees. I use much of the trunks for mushroom bolts or firewood but I've got lots of tops that I'd like to incorporate into the soil. My soil is heavy clay and thin but great for growing trees.

I haven't had much luck building hugelkultures due to a lack of soil to cover the wood.

I do have a chipper/shredder but it's a little finicky and I can't start it myself.

So... what to do? If I leave the slash in piles it will break down but I feel like there must be a better way. The only thing I can think of is maybe covering the piles with a tarp to speed up
decomposition.

I recently heard a podcast about making bio-char using an open fire.

Thoughts?
 
R Scott
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This is one of those times renting a bigger machine can be smart money. Rent a big chipper or hire a tree crew to chip them and dump them where you want them.

You can make biochar like the old charcoal methods, but it isn't easy to do efficiently or cleanly.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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This might be silly as I tend that way, but how about cutting stakes and driving them in? This would also open up the clay to air and water as they rot.....but it would be work....
 
Dale Hodgins
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A mixture of clay and manure, covering the wood, will work. You need a mixture of wood bugs and soil bugs. Let these critters work the material into something that you can plant in. Lime and some high nitrogen additives, will speed things up.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I dug out my clay and rocky soil down to bedrock (about 2 feet down) and refilled the pits with logs and brush, covering with the removed soil, sifted of rocks. It has been a tremendous improvement to the garden, though of course a lot of work as most of the digging was by me with hand tools. My husband dug a small portion with a borrowed small backhoe. If you have access to a backhoe, I recommend this.
 
Dan Boone
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If, like me, you're way too lazy to dig big holes by hand and way too poor to rent equipment, you might consider stacking the slash in piles at least as a temporary measure.

When you first cut stuff, it's covered in leaves, needles, and bark. My experience has been that when I pile it up, all the leaves and needles fall off, and often the bark too within a year or so. But while everything is still green or close to it, small critters move into the pile, eating the bark especially, nesting in the predator protection of the jumbled pile, pooping prodigiously, and digging extensively.

A year later, what will fall off has fallen off, what's going to get eaten has mostly been eaten, and the smallest tips of the limbs have rotted away or broken off to fall and join the growing mulchy organic layer at the base of your pile. Now if you need that growing space you can relocate the slash wherever you like (into your hugel pit you've spent the last year digging, to the place where you want to burn/char it, into your ravenous rented chipper, or into your permanent slash pile). At this point the slash is dryer, lighter, easier to move, and easier to handle. Yes, you're handling it a second time, but you're also getting more value out of it. And when you move your pile, you find an area of soil that's got more organics and nutrients in it -- and a better, fluffier, topsoil layer -- than you had when you built the pile. In my conditions it's still not weed-free (unless my pile was very large and thick) but weeds are stunted by the shading they've suffered, and that spot has become easier to plant.

That's how it seems to work for me, anyway. I don't want to overstate the benefits -- mostly I'm just looking to make a virtue of necessity -- but having lots of small, fairly deep slash piles does have benefits.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Piles like Dan suggests, make an excellent trap for wind blown leaves. Critters will haul in nesting materials and they'll shit there.

I've found that 2 year old maple slash piles, become brittle enough for formerly springy branches to snap easily when pounded with an excavator or front end loader.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My typical strategy is to cut logs for mushrooms and smaller diameter logs for firewood. Then I take out bean poles, and pea sticks. What's left usually gets piled somewhere until I have the ambition to take a pair of loppers and chop it into about 6" long pieces that I leave laying on top of the ground. I hate exercise for the sake of exercise, but I love doing low-impact somewhat-aerobic work like cutting up tree branches.
 
nancy sutton
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Re: biochar, the easy way, this thread has interesting ideas.

http://www.permies.com/t/49414/biochar/producing-biochar-jolly-roger-earthpit

And, of course, biochar will sequester CO2 for a considerably longer time than biodegrading wood. Actually, I suspect the biochar will aid in efficiently utilizing the 'nutrients' that are made available by the decomposing wood, because it lasts so much longer.
 
Rose Pinder
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Cj Sloane wrote:I've been cutting down a bunch of trees, mostly to open up the canopy so I can plant productive trees. I use much of the trunks for mushroom bolts or firewood but I've got lots of tops that I'd like to incorporate into the soil. My soil is heavy clay and thin but great for growing trees.

I haven't had much luck building hugelkultures due to a lack of soil to cover the wood.

I do have a chipper/shredder but it's a little finicky and I can't start it myself.

So... what to do? If I leave the slash in piles it will break down but I feel like there must be a better way. The only thing I can think of is maybe covering the piles with a tarp to speed up
decomposition.

I recently heard a podcast about making bio-char using an open fire.

Thoughts?


I tend to the pile and leave for a year idea (which is what I've done in a home garden situation), but, questions:

What are the trees you are cutting down?

How much material is there? What's the largest size branch/limb diameter?

Are you in a forest? How big?

When you say you want to incorporate the woody material into your soil, what is the purpose of this? Is it the soil where you are planting trees, or somewhere else?

How important is it to incoporate the woody material into the soil? Or is there a better solution for your soil and the woody material?



 
Mike Cantrell
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Dan Boone wrote: small critters move into the pile,


Such as delicious rabbits. Rabbits love brush piles.
 
Cj Sloane
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R Scott wrote:This is one of those times renting a bigger machine can be smart money. Rent a big chipper or hire a tree crew to chip them and dump them where you want them.

You can make biochar like the old charcoal methods, but it isn't easy to do efficiently or cleanly.


I own a chipper/shredder but I can't start it. My husband is the only one who can get it going and he's got other projects...
 
Cj Sloane
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I dug out my clay and rocky soil down to bedrock (about 2 feet down)...


I should have written that it's a thin layer of heavy clay on ledge. I need a pick ax to make a 6" swale in many spots.

There are some spots I could dig so I'll look around.
 
Cj Sloane
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Rose Pinder wrote:questions:

What are the trees you are cutting down?

How much material is there? What's the largest size branch/limb diameter?

Are you in a forest? How big?

When you say you want to incorporate the woody material into your soil, what is the purpose of this? Is it the soil where you are planting trees, or somewhere else?

How important is it to incoporate the woody material into the soil? Or is there a better solution for your soil and the woody material?



Mostly cutting down Birch, 6" diameter and 50' tall. It's the tops I need to deal this. I try to use anything larger than and inch or 2.

125 acres of forest. I'm clearing out here and there (near the house) to plant productive trees.

The soil is thin so I'd like to build it up. Also, I've been watching some Elaine Ingram videos and I'm looking to add material to feed the soil life.
 
Cj Sloane
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One more comment. I have been making piles with the slash but it seems better to have the wood making contact with the ground. When I pickup slash in contact with the ground, there are happy earthworms right under the wood.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau CJ, As you have noticed, worms will come to shaded areas with wood touching the soil, this is because of the many effects that become present where wood and soil meet.
The first thing that happens is that fungi spores get a foot hold this allows other micro organisms to feed and that attracts the worms.
The second thing that happens is that aeration of the soil occurs from the worm activity which lets air into the soil, nutrients from the castings become more and more present also.
The third thing that happens is that the new nutrients provide an environment that promotes seed sprouting.

The Birch tops you are wanting to utilize can be put to very good use by separating them into individual sticks and then laying them in neat stacks ( sort of a mini growing mound ) and on top of these stacks simply piling leaves, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and other compostable materials.
The now compost heap will exude moisture as the greens create respiratory moisture, this will enter the birch stick stack and begin the active breakdown of the wood fibers through mycorrhizal activity (present in just about every liter of air on this planet).
All this activity will draw in more worms, who will do their processing of the materials and leave those wonderful castings behind. Rodents, bugs and other organisms will make homes in the stacked stick heap and add their manure and urine to the mix.
In time this will all decompose to the point that it becomes wonderfully rich compost and since a lot of it will have made its way into the soil below through leaching, worm activity and other critter digging activity, your soil will be greatly improved.

Just because growing mounds are traditionally built with larger pieces of wood does not mean that using smaller pieces will not work as well, it means that it will take more of the smaller wood, and that it will actually break down faster.
I consider these things very good when compared to traditional growing mounds, you get to the end point faster and the only real disadvantage is that the mound settles quicker and turns into top soil quicker. Not really a disadvantage at all when looked at this way.

I hope that you have been able to gather some helpful ideas from this post.
 
Cj Sloane
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau CJ, As you have noticed, worms will come to shaded areas with wood touching the soil, this is because of the many effects that become present where wood and soil meet.
The first thing that happens is that fungi spores get a foot hold this allows other micro organisms to feed and that attracts the worms.
The second thing that happens is that aeration of the soil occurs from the worm activity which lets air into the soil, nutrients from the castings become more and more present also.
The third thing that happens is that the new nutrients provide an environment that promotes seed sprouting.

The Birch tops you are wanting to utilize can be put to very good use by separating them into individual sticks and then laying them in neat stacks...

I hope that you have been able to gather some helpful ideas from this post.


Yes, thanks. The confirmation of the worm action is helpful. I'll spend a little time trying to breakdown the tops so more branches touch the ground.
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