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Another use for scrap wool--retaining moisture in soil.  RSS feed

 
Nicole Alderman
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Saw this on facebook today. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1986008028343934&id=1866438206967584

Hi-Line Kitchen Processing & Garden Center wrote:Our newest experiment...as we have access to the best woolen mill in the Pacific /northwest, we have been using wool waste as a soil amendment. Ahhhhh, why you ask...Wool is 10-15% nitrogen, nitrogen makes plants grow. Wool retains water like pregant ankles (no disrespect intended) Wool is fluffy! So, when you combine this in a garden in a drought in Montana, what happens... Happy tomatoes!! We have taken swag wool (ucky) shredded it and used it as a soil amendment. It has decreased our water usage by about 31%. It has lightened our soils, and is showing great strides in helping our wee tomatoes become sturdy Montana style tomatoes...Our woolen mill has had wool on test with the WTI/DOT for the last 3 years, proving wool increases plant growth. (results available through MSU, WTI and the DOT), increases moisture retention and is way better then nitrogen robbing amendments like straw, bark and the like...More photos as we grow!!! The tomatoes are thriving!!! You can see the wool that is above ground...really cool seeing a livestock by-product increasing vegetable production!!






I wouldn't be throwing good wool away for this, but scraps to help retain moisture seems like a facinating idea. Can't tell if it's a better one than using it for insulating walls, etc. But, it is a fascinating one!
 
Dale Hodgins
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I think this would be best done at the bottom of the trench or somewhere else where wool won't stick beyond the surface. Wool is really good at wicking moisture, and it would probably bring moisture from lower levels, to the surface.

Another good reason to put the wool  deeper, is that it is very high in nitrogen, so you don't want it decaying on the surface, where that nitrogen could become airborne. Both the moisture and the nitrogen would be more useful if held a few inches below the surface of the soil. The plants may put out extra roots to take advantage of the new conditions. This would encourage deeper rooting.
 
Chris Barrows
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I love this idea!

It's coming on to County Fair time and there will be lots to be had for free!

Better to see it get put to use rather than going to a landfill.
 
Nicole Alderman
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OooooOoooooh, I hadn't thought of asking fairs for their waste wool. We have a local fair that happen 15 minutes away from us. I'll have to ask to see if they have any waste!
 
Wes Hunter
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There was a SARE grant project a few years back that explored mulching with wool.

https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/FNC10-797/
 
Nicole Alderman
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I think this would be best done at the bottom of the trench or somewhere else where wool won't stick beyond the surface. Wool is really good at wicking moisture, and it would probably bring moisture from lower levels, to the surface.


But, if you have lots of morning dew, perhaps it will absorb that and add it to the soil? I don't have too much experience with wool and whether or not it wicks, but it seems to me it more absorbs rather than wicks. I like to felt things. This requires getting the wool REALLY wet and then usually letting it dry in the shape I want. What I've noticed is, if I just set the soggy wool on top of my metal washing machine to dry, it will stay wet for DAYS, if not a week. If I put it out in the wind, it'll dry in a day, but probably become soggy again in the morning via the dew (I should stick some outside to test this, but this happens to the rest of my laundry...). BUT, if I put that same piece of felt on a cotton towel, that towel will become soggy in a few hours, and the felt will be dry.

I'm usually drying pouches, so they're tall with a lot of surface area at the bottom. I'm thinking that on a metal surface, the water tries to leave via gravity, but the wool holds it. If I put it on a cotton towel, the cotton wicks what it touches. The wool feels pretty much equally damp from top to bottom, so I think the wool likes to hold water equally through the whole piece of wool (whereas, say cotton, always seems to be drier at the top than the bottom).

So, I'm thinking that, if you have a place where there's a lot of dew in the morning, and not much wind in the day, having the wool exposed to the air would be a good thing. But, if there's little dew and lots of wind, you probably want that wool burred. Hopefully someone with more fiber arts knowledge will chime in...

In the meantime, here's my felted pouches, for illustration of the shape
Felted-Wool-Spiral-Pouches.jpg
[Thumbnail for Felted-Wool-Spiral-Pouches.jpg]
 
Dale Hodgins
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I suppose it could work, particularly if you were somewhere on the edge of the Atacama Desert, with those moist winds rolling in off the ocean.

I wonder if birds would gather it for nesting material and if furry vermin would haul it away. I suppose if you have mountains of it, it wouldn't matter too much. In the spring, I brushed my daughter's Pomeranian outside. I let the hair blow in the wind and birds seized on the opportunity immediately.
 
r ranson
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My experiences with wool as mulch so far:

Of all the mulches I've used, it is the best at allowing dew to be gathered by plants and deposited into the soil. 
On the surface, it's slow to decompose in the summer. 
No signs of birds gathering it.
Different colours wool has different effects on soil temperatures.
I haven't left it on the soil over winter yet, so I don't know if it holds too much moisture. 
The plants with wool as mulch show stronger growth - this may be because it is high in nitrogen when it decomposes or the dung tags in this wool.

When buried in the soil, it does draw a lot of nitrogen away from the plants for the first year or so.  I haven't noticed any improvement with the soil retaining moisture.  Nor any detriment. 

I definitely think this is worth experimenting with further. 
 
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