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Wood chips/food forest fallacy?  RSS feed

 
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Imagine how many millions of cubic yards of wood chips gardeners use every year.
Now imagine that quantity  for helping mulching a reforested area in each region where the species
are not  that demanding in nutrients .
I can;t help but see ''our gardens'; and our practices as very energy demanding and that we tend to miss the bigger picture.
Imagine everyone in your area wanting to throw seedballs together with you to your nearby arid and  deserted areas.
Isn't it very individualistic to do everything for ''our space''.Every resource being spent there.
I may be wrong and correct me if i do so,but isn;t our gardens guzzlers of energy  coming from somewhere else?
 
pollinator
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I do not think so. In fact I think it is quite the opposite.

I have always thought my area of the world could really use its naturally resources to help other areas of the world that are struggling. For instance, we are the most forested state in the nation, and yet have amazing organic matter. My soil itself is approaching "above optimal" which is 6%. Up until 3 years ago we had paper mills that used our forest resources and allowed us to really manage our forests, mine included. Now I have lost 1/3 of the value of my forest because the paper mills have closed and I have no market for my wood. What if we converted what was former converted into paper, and use it to increase the fertility and organic matter in areas of the country where it is down to 1%? Wood chips are cost effective to ship after all. Without a market, me and my neighbors are clearing forest at an unprecedented level and turning it into open fields because agriculture pays more than forestry, and with property taxes having doubled in the last few years, we have to do something productive with the land or we will lose it.

On a microscale I can prove that home gardens are well worth doing. They say war is sadly the mother of invention and World War Two produced some major innovations, from cell phones to microwaves, but while massive weapons were crazy; the creation of Victory Garden's across the globe proved how efficient home gardening could be. This was truly necessity being the mother of invention. Obviously home gardens were not newly invented, but they were needed so bad, the governments world wide proposed them to the populations simply because they were effective at feeding the war machine and hungry citizens.The real question is; why are they not being encouraged now? The truth is they probably would be TOO effective. I am not generally one to be a conspiracist theorist, but imagine if everyone who could, was encouraged by the government to again grow their own gardens? A lot of commercial agriculture would be hurting from that result.

The reality of life is, growing food is actually the easy part. My garden produces an abundance of food fairly easily with very few inputs on my behalf, however PRESERVING that food has tradionally been, and continues to be, my nemesis. They claim 40% of the food in the Uniteed States goes wasted, and I would say that is true of my home garden. We cannot can, bake, keep stored over the winter...the food that we grow from soil to plate. Throw rotted tomatoes at me if you will, but that has been my result. I do not think the answer is to stop having a home garden, but rather to find better ways to preserve the food I do produce.
 
pollinator
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A gardener can make that resource flourish by tending to it. This may or may not be the case in big picture improvements. Seedlings trees can die when noone waters them. Seedballs may not sprout when noone waters them. The gardener has the advantage of being there 2 weeks, a month, and a year later. This might be climate based. My climate dictates the above happening.

Using it is better than not using it as the other option may be the landfill. A permie gardener will not only use it but make it thrive. A bounty will ensue that will provide herbicide, pesticide, chemical free food for himself, his friends, and others. Its hard to find fault in that.

 
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I think that what you're saying is right. It does take a tremendous amount of energy (including fossil fuels and electricity) to set up a lot of permaculture farms. I've brought in a lot of wood for hugelkultur for my place. I've bought trees for it too, some of which were transported far to my local nursery. I think what's important is that we use these resources responsibly and in a way that will reduce our future impact and allow us to consume less. For example, my garden, including the hugelbeds, has allowed to me to buy way less food at the store. This reduces my fossil fuel consumption, since food isn't being transported from other parts of the country/world/even intra-region to feed me.

A better example is watering. Here in the northwest, the general rule of thumb is that if you water a fruit or nut tree once a week in the summer, after about two or three years the tree is developed enough that it can make it with little or no watering at all. In other words, we use a lot of water up front to save a lot of water down the road. It sure is a lot less work and water to get a hundred pounds of chestnuts from a mature tree than it is to get a hundred pounds of corn or potatoes that you had to grow yourself.
 
pollinator
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Living creatures get energy from somewhere.
We as humans get energy from outside ourselves.
My wood chips come from tree services get made no matter what I as an individual  do.
They are not usually going into improving soil, much less growing food.
How is diverting them to a food forest or back to Eden style garden not better than sending them to landfills or even large scale compost programs?

I have no arid regions near me, but I do have my own vacant lot that I am building soil on, growing biomass, and feeding wild life(whether I like it or not).
I have spent thousands and owe thousands in fines I will never pay.
I wanted to share with my neighbors, but they are indifferent or hostile to my efforts.

So, you think we should pour out resources into marginal lands we have no economic stake in?

I see that as working against nature,human and otherwise.
 
pollinator
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Panagiotis Panagiotou wrote:
I can;t help but see ''our gardens'; and our practices as very energy demanding and that we tend to miss the bigger picture.
Imagine everyone in your area wanting to throw seedballs together with you to your nearby arid and  deserted areas.



I think anyone who wants to restore arid and degraded landscapes can go do that.  I don't think everyone should move to such areas.  I live in a damaged area and am restoring it.  Restoring damaged land is a long-term and physically challenging project. 

John Lieu is creating camps for people to go to degraded areas to restore them:  https://www.ecosystemrestorationcamps.org/ ; Anyone can join these camps (though I will never go to one of the camps, I support them with $)

In my opinion many or most urban and suburban spaces need restoration as well, and that is where most people live and the most resources are available.

 
pollinator
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I'm not seeing the down side here.

Wood chips are not made just so we can spread them on the ground.  They are a byproduct of other industries.  If we didn't use them to improve the soil they would end up getting burned of filling up landfills.  How is that better than using them to improve soil so that we can grown more/better food?
 
pollinator
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I've thought about this a lot as I shovel my woodchips and oak leaves brought in from other houses in my city.   It seems ironic that I'm having to haul stuff in so that I can build up the soil in my yard and retain water in order to practice the "natural" methods of permaculture which is all about striving for a closed system.  I think the operative choice as Tyler says, is about restoration which is required due to UNnaturally stripping the soil for hundreds of years.   Once the restoration is done in 5 yrs or so, then the imported materials won't be needed other than what naturally falls from my trees every year.   My woodchips don't come from industry - they're simply trees cut for the convenience of homeowners and commercial builders - so I feel like I'm doing the environment a noble service by taking what was an air quality "machine" and part  of the soil food web, and putting it to use to create rich soil which will grow more trees and the natural cycle continues in spite of a concrete pad or building replacing the original tree.
 
master steward
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I tend the land that is under my stewardship. 

I use my successes to teach others how they too can improve their land.  This helps improve the land outside my stewardship.

I find if I tell people how they should tend their soil, they turn away in scorn.  But if instead, I show them a concrete example of a functioning system, they listen and learn. 


---

Teach by doing, not by teaching - that's my motto. 

On permies, I learn the most by those who share what they are doing.  Theory is pretty, but I would rather see the result. 


 
pollinator
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Every load of wood chips that I have dumped in my driveway is a load that remains in my neighborhood rather than having to be trucked 25 miles to the landfill that accepts them.  So in the short run, it keeps that carbon local and it kept the truck from burning a lot of fuel.  I'd say that that is almost carbon neutral. 

In the long run, all that mulch saves thousands of gallons of water.  That water will not have to be pumped via energy-using pumps all the way to my house.  That's carbon negative.

in the long run, all the trees and plants on my property become a massive carbon sink as they sequester tons of carbon from the atmosphere.  Thus, the carbon in the wood chips helps the other trees grow significantly faster.  That's carbon negative.

In the long run, I am not purchasing any produce from the store.  Thousands of pounds of food will not have to be grown somewhere else and then trucked to my neighborhood store.  That's carbon negative.

In the long run, my chickens eat much of the leftover food, fruit and veggies, as well as graze on whatever else is growing out there in the food forest.  All the fertility stays on site, and the eggs are tasty.  I'm not spending much money at all to keep my birds, but we enjoy that protean and the fertility the birds bring.  That's carbon negative.

In the long run, the soil sequesters hundreds more pounds of carbon every year as the % of SOM rises.  That, again, is carbon negative.


So from a purely greenhouse gas perspective, keeping woodchips in the neighborhood rather than trucking them off to a dump, and then using those wood chips as the basis for soil fertility is an amazingly beneficial decision.

 
pollinator
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The goal seems to be to grow as much of your food/fuel etc as possible while utilizing local waste streams and undervalued materials. Any gardening technique has to be considered in the context of your local environment and where you have undervalued sources of organic matter and fertility. Most places have something nearby due to the immense and diverse waste produced by most civilizations. Where I am, wood is abundant and undervalued (its given away or burned), so I have gone with hugelkulture raised beds with paths that are on contour humus ditches absorbing my French drain (roof and bird run runoff) filled with woody debris and woodchips. Even setting aside the large amount of food I produce, the carbon sequestered by my garden will go back into the soil, and the water from my property water will filter more cleanly into our local salmon stream much more gradually. Most people could do something to improve their own food security and quality while also sequestering carbon and cleaning water that we pollute and percolating it slowly to recharge groundwater. I have done almost everything by hand and almost entirely with materials brought from within wheelbarrow range or as a part of multipurpose trip (I gather kelp, river sand, crab shells etc where I walk my dog anyway). This may have been some “work,” but I did not have to go to the gym to workout and eat much better. I can also trade what I produce for many other needs. All this adds up to money being saved every month while I work part time. If it got to the point where what I described became overly popular, I don’t see a big downside.
 
gardener
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Now imagine that quantity  for helping mulching a reforested area in each region where the species
are not  that demanding in nutrients

  This could possibly work, but imagine that, as Marco points out in discussing the trucking, in order to take all those chips from the urban arborists out into the countryside to reforest degraded areas, the huge amount of fuel that will be burned.  It is fine and noble work to reforest, and to improve damaged land, but the laying of mulch, like most organic gardening, is generally a labor intensive proposition, but, in the case of gardening it is intensive on a small scale, which makes it much more effective.

I can;t help but see ''our gardens'; and our practices as very energy demanding and that we tend to miss the bigger picture.

By reading Marco's post, a person can see all of the pluses that come with keeping that mulch in the neighborhoods, including huge carbon gains as well as water retention and I would add labor reduction from it's weed suppression.  Fertility, or nutrient demand, is a small part of the equation in relation to this, particularly when thinking that as the system matures (generally wood chip situations are no-till) that the soil ecology has a synergistic effect that creates self fertility. 

Isn't it very individualistic to do everything for ''our space''.Every resource being spent there.

In my thinking, it is not at all individualistic to grow a garden.  A garden provides for many people.   A community gains from my garlic crop, for instance, and gardening brings people together for seed and plant exchanges, as well as the exchange of preserves, and bounty sharing events.  Not only that, the local ecosystem thrives with gardens in it.  Spiders, birds, bees, lizards, frogs, etc all find homes in garden spaces where often otherwise they would be without or be struggling.  The more gardens the more power that our local ecological webs have.  Urban areas are some of the most degraded landscapes on Earth. 

Imagine everyone in your area wanting to throw seedballs together with you to your nearby arid and  deserted areas.

  Yeah, buddy, bring on the seedballs !  I love Fukuoka and his methods.  This would be a great thing for you to organize, especially if you live near an arid or desertified area.  Personally, I would have to drive about 4 hours South of here before I reached anything like that, making it unlikely that I would consider such a project at this time.  But good on you, if you live nearby and have the gumption to get on organizing a seed ball event.  Please post about that!  I'd love to hear about it.   :) 
 
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If you have private property, do stewardship on your piece of private property and find something new that worked better in your context then good on you.  You get rewarded with some fresh clean food, or some new whiz bang (or old Russian) way to heat your home more efficient or myriad of other possibilities.  And better yet if you put the info out and share it (like on permies) then the body of knowledge poor 3rd world and rich 1st world alike could benefit from gets even better.  We're all in this together, but prioritizing a personal garden before commons just makes sense to me.

If some disease ravages our race again I'll be able to quarantine me and mine a little bit longer, if grand solar minimum or global warming or peak oil causes crop failures well me and mine will be eating a little bit longer.  I get a 100 day drought pretty much every summer and I believe I could learn to get some plants through the 100 days with saturated woodchips and no irrigating.  But I haven't achieved this yet and I don't think it's possible with plants not appropriate to my climate.  So I'm going to continue trying to do my private stewardship thing, with woodchips under chickens, then composted, then mulching perennials.  If I learn something really cool along the way;  I am going to share it with a glad heart.
 
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I think that using the wood chips, as close to their source as possible is important for a few reasons. Saving on trucking, maintaining local economy/community/resources, and NOT exporting diseases or pests.

As for gardening being "individualistic"? Yes, possibly, but for good reasons (many already noted) including physical and mental health. Feed your body, mind, soul, and "your" patch of dirt... wow, we should be recruiting!
Also, on an individual scale, it's pretty doable, and the screw-ups are your own.

I'm not convinced that the "desert" or "reforested" areas need "our" help or ALL the woodchips. There's hundreds of native plants/animals/insects in these areas, how exactly does the mulch "help" them? Is this private, state, or federal land?
I have these two images in my head:
One is a four-inch thick blanket of mulch laid over miles of wild land, it just got there, somehow.
The other is a couple hundred do-gooders marching over that same land in a line, at arms reach, each broadcasting a mere handful of chips per square meter, so as not to overdo it.
 
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I think of 'my space' of garden as an example for others to see. It isn't going to save the world, but I can ensure its fertility abundance so it is a good example- and invite people to enjoy and hopefully encourage them to give it a try. Whereas the seedballs I put on grass verges got concreted over when they resurfaced the road, the (guerilla-planted) apple trees got torn out for new housing or snapped by the vandals on the park, the pear grafts on hawthorn got cut off by the flail-mower, etc.

When houses/etc are being built anyway- surely it is better to 'rescue' the wood chip and make good use of it, than have it dragged to landfill.
 
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I see the advantage of putting organic material into the ground. I do this by growing stuff, that makes roots, even if it's stuff I don't especially want. Like corn. I don't mind eating corn but the main reason I grow it is my land has little organic matter, corn grows easily and quickly, and it leaves a thick mat of roots behind underground plus a lot of stalk material above ground that I simply leave to fall over and then around this I grow the stuff I really want. If corn doesn't grow easily where you are then use a fast growing tree, or weeds.


The beauty of using plants to make their own organic matter is they do it by themselves, taking the carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, instead of needing to be ordered, delivered and spread. *THAT* is permaculture.


I recognise that for others with free and local sources of woodchips, that is permaculture too.
 
Steve Farmer
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I am also wondering if denying woodchips to the landfill means the landfill is going to return the rubbish to nature more slowly, tho that's just a random thought based on not much research at all...
 
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Panagiotis Panagiotou wrote:Imagine how many millions of cubic yards of wood chips gardeners use every year.
Now imagine that quantity  for helping mulching a reforested area in each region where the species
are not  that demanding in nutrients .



I don't think anyone would mulch an entire reforested área. I think permies would mulch rings around trees and sow a cover crop, mainly leguminous, in between that same trees. That way he/she would grow the mulch in place.
 
Travis Johnson
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Steve Farmer wrote:I am also wondering if denying woodchips to the landfill means the landfill is going to return the rubbish to nature more slowly, tho that's just a random thought based on not much research at all...



I do not think so. I think if a person did a lot of research they would see that proportionally, wood chips in a landfill is a very, very, very small proportion of the overall tonnage delivered. With community compost programs, people taking loads of it for private use, and production into electricity, I do not think much of it goes into landfills as a whole.

Then there is the question of how much of that wood is really breaking down even if it is in the pile. It is not like compost piles that are turned and aerated. They are spread out and compacted to get the most out of a landfills footprint. After 6 inches of depth, it is essentially sealed in, with little water or air getting inside the pile. I have read articles where people have done archeological digs at dumps and found newspapers that can be read 50 years later, intact hotdogs, and other food wastes that look like it was deposited there yesterday, not decades before. A modern landfill today is the equivalent of a ginormous bag of trash, sealed in on purpose so contaminates do not leak out by rubber liners, or clay backfill.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I am also wondering if denying woodchips to the landfill means the landfill is going to return the rubbish to nature more slowly, tho that's just a random thought based on not much research at all...

  I don't know about what happens down in the U.S. or in any other country, but in Canada, woody waste is not allowed in the landfill.  Landfill sites are not a dump everything in one pit situation, as there is money to be made.  Fridges and freezers and air conditioners over here.  Batteries here.  Metal s over in this heap or in a bin, bicycles there, cardboard in the bins, recycleable plastics over in this bin.  If everyone does their part, there is virtually only non recycleable plastics that end up in the actual landfill. 
 
Roberto pokachinni
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In Canada, an arborist has to pay to dump his wood chips, and all dump trucks hauling stumps or trees from a new building site are weighed going in and out, paying a fee by weight.  This is why, for the arborist, it is often in his or her interest to dump the wood chips in the neighborhood... that and the fuel savings.  
 
pollinator
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That's the way it is here in the Bay Area as well. That's why it's so easy to get a free load of wood chips. Even as a private homeowner, taking a load of compostable materials to the transfer station costs the same as a load of non-compostable materials, but the materials taken to the compostable site have to be processed more by the homeowner, logs, branches have to be a certain size or below etc. So a lot of people won't bother and it just gets dumped with the non-compostable stuff.
 
Travis Johnson
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Here in Maine, the majority of wood chips get taken to the biomass boilers where wood waste is turned into electricity. Right now the state of Maine is paying a subsidy on wood chips so its a pretty lucrative thing, about $18 a ton. (A truckload holds about 34 tons).

So here the only wood chips really up for grabs come from the utility companies cutting out powerlines. That is the nasty chips because it is all limbs so the wood is all bark and is stringy. It is nasty stuff for mulch, but when that is all you can get, that is what a person uses. Some of that goes into land fills here, but not a lot.

The incredible thing was, a few years ago a seaweed processing plant used to take their waste seaweed and dump 4 truck loads per day into the local landfull. Knowing what organic seaweed was worth, we worked really hard to get the Dept of Environmental Protection to ue it on our farms and finally got teh right to use it. Now, instead of being charged $11 a ton to dump it at the land fill, they get paid $1.90 a ton by farmers to take it.
 
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