Hi folks ... I'm new here and can't make sense of posting in the forums. So please give me the good old boot and redirect if I'm in the wrong place.
We had some tree work done our property almost a year ago and have a massive pile of oak wood chips nearly six feet tall. About a third of it is from a grey pine. We're in Redding, California where the climate gets unbelievably hot and dry. I'm new to gardening and am looking for a low cost way to acquire safe (untreated) soil and to minimize or annihilate the need for any tilling. And minimal water usage is important.
So I've mostly focused on above-ground garden beds and the wood chips. It seems, though, that wood chips can present some problems. I've read some of the discussions here and am now feeling quite uncertain. Someone has to buy our wood chips and take them off our hands. Would the tannin in oak chips be a concern? What about using year old chips?
Should I go ahead and let this guy have our wood chips? I'd really welcome some input on this. There's this thing called information overload, whereby my brain gets stuck and I become very unsure of myself and indecisive.
Yes you can use them to feed the earth and create healthy soil.Especially since they are sitting for one year ,there are no concerns with so called allelopathic properties of some species.
Just don't till them in .
You've got a pile of gold in your yard in my opinion. I wish I had a six foot pile of wood chips to work with. I recommend spreading those wood chips on your current garden beds, like 3 or 4 inches thick, all over. That wood chip mulch will do several things, including, but not limited to, suppressing weeds, preventing soil moisture loss due to evaporation, and feeding the microbial life in your soil. Essentially, nothing but good can come from using these wood chips as a mulch. Like Panagiotis mentioned, try to refrain from tilling them into the soil. Just place them on the surface and let time, rain, and microbes do the rest. I bet you'll be amazed at what it will turn into and how it will improve your soil. If there are more wood chips than you could possibly use to mulch your current raised beds, perhaps consider starting an in-ground plot to garden. It's as simple as just placing the wood chips on the surface and letting nature do the rest. After a year, you'll have improved soil to plant something in. I noticed you said your tree work was done almost a year ago. If you want, go dig into the side of this pile a couple feet and you can see first hand what's going on at the bottom of the pile where it meets the soil. If there has been sufficient rain, you ought to find the start of some nice dark soft fluffy material going on in there. That's the sort of stuff gardeners like me dream about.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
I am with James on this one. You already likely have an amazing garden plot sitting underneath that pile. The macrobiota that eat the bacteria and fungi that decompose wood also loosen the soil markedly.
It has been shown in forest management that the soil structure of any kind of working wood lot with slash (woody debris from cutting trees) left on the ground is much looser than completely denuded soil. The critters in your woodchip pile are already doing the work.
I would suggest two things: first, consider inoculating your woodchips with a compost extract. Bryant Redhawk has at least a couple of threads on soil that are very informative, and include simple methods for creating a compost extract that will drop a serious dose of soil life down into the wood chip candy you will have placed on your soil.
If you are more interested in having good soil than you are with preserving the wood chip pile, I would simply start inoculating the whole wood chip pile as it stands. The bacteria and fungal hyphae will do their thing, and will attract the soil life to do theirs. If you have the time to wait, that pile of wood chips will be transformed into soil and slowly moved away by the critters you have working for you.
Second, think about using the wood chips in your compost.
And I will stress what was mentioned about leaving the wood chips on the soil surface, and not mixing them in. Any stories you've heard about nitrogen draw-down will probably have to do with mixing wood chips into soil, ensuring maximum surface area contact between woody material and the soil. That much decomposition ties up soil resources, and can cause plants to suffer. Leaving them on the soil surface mimics how the natural world deposits woody debris into the growing environment, allowing time for the system to adjust.
So let us know how you make out, and good luck.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein