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I think I overdid it with the mulch  RSS feed

 
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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We have a dry summer season in Portland so for the last probably 2yrs now I’ve been getting free wood chip mulch and just piling it up everywhere around the trees. There’s some old cherry, raspberry and apple trees but they struggling.  It seemed that no matter how much I watered I’d just barely limp the plants through the summer.  I haven’t seen much growth from a lot of the new fruit trees in the past few years but this year I think I hit a tipping point. We had the biggest cherry harvest I’ve seen since I moved here. I thought it’s probably a fluke due to weather or something. Then we had the best raspberry harvest.  The apple trees look like they’re going to break their branches. The fig trees that didn’t do much for the last 3 years, one of them suddenly put on 6ft of growth this year! I think I’m getting somewhere now . I know shoveling wood chips every year isn’t sustainable but I think it’s helping kick start the system. My jar soil tests showed nearly zero organic matter so the soil was pretty burned out before I arrived. Anyways I wanted to post my success here. I’m getting ahead in the battle to kick start a food forest and it feels good.
 
master steward
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Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Good for you!  You can hardly go wrong with masses of wood chips.  Over time it breaks down to beautiful soil. 

OK, if your chips are very dry with no green matter, then they might grab nitrogen, but that's what pee is for. . . .
 
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Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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Great news! It's really important for other beginners to hear this stuff. Stick to it guys, if you work with nature it will work for you in its time.

I read a study that compared growing cassava on npk versus pigeon pea mulch. The NPK plot was WAY ahead for eight years. The ninth year the mulch plot pulled ahead. This stuff takes time--but it's so rewarding.
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I am glad to hear of your success, Chris. How do you water, or is that not an issue in Portland?

I think, depending on the length of time between significant rain events, that one of the best things that can be done during establishment, when the organic matter you're adding begins to break down and be incorporated into the soil, is to run soaker hoses beneath the mulch, if that's an option.

Trying to water through the mulch only limits the amount of mulch you can lay down, and soaks the top layers of mulch, which just dry out in the sun and wind again. I think it's better to water the soil/mulch interface, as the bottom of the mulch layer will stay damp, shaded by the upper layers of mulch, and biological activity won't stall due to lack of moisture.

Again, if your issues tend to be soggy soil rather than drought, not a big help.

As an aside, I think people are concerned overmuch about their own sustainability in terms of soil amendments. Except as an excercise in self-sufficiency, what is the point in not bringing in more good, clean organic matter to be made into soil if it doesn't really cost anything?

Have you checked out any of Bryant Redhawk's Epic soil threads? If not, there's information there about accelerating the process of soil building in situ, about compost extract inoculations to kickstart beneficial bacterial activity, fungal slurries to encourage fungal networks (especially in forest systems), and about anything else you could possibly ever wonder about soil. It's highly recommended.

Anyways, some pics would be great, if you're willing. Other than that, good job, good luck, and keep us posted!

-CK
 
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Location: West Palm Beach, FL
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That's awesome!  I think wood chips are going to be beneficial in most climates, it just varies how long it takes to "settle in", and draw up the soil life.  I'm in a really hot, humid climate, and I irrigate.  I think that is one of the main reasons that the woodchips in my yard started to "take effect" almost right away.  Although I've made sure that whenever I put down new wood chips, I spend a few days watering them really well to get them nice and saturated.

The best way (in my experience) to get your wood chips to start working for you quickly is to put compost on top.  Not finished compost, I mean raw fruit peels and veggie scraps, as much as you can get your hands on.  Then compost tea on top of that.  This rotting food will attract the worms and other soil life, which will have to travel up through the woodchips to get to the food.  By this action they will be mixing your compost and their castings in with the wood chips, ensuring they don't tie up too much nitrogen and can benefit your trees right away.  We had an epic mango season this year and every time I would cut up a batch for the freezer, I'd take the 10 pounds or so of peels, pits and over ripe whole fruits and distribute them on top of the mulch around my bananas and other trees.  The soil became so full of life that now we see our native millipedes (our primary decomposers, much more common than actual earthworms down here) frequently having orgies on top of the mulch in shaded spots.

This might not work as well in a climate where the food takes longer to rot, or where you have rodent issues.  We have a lot of lizards and birds which keep rats away, and the stuff breaks down quickly enough from the heat.  I probably wouldn't recommend it near delicate veggies either, as the soil life that comes up to feed on the compost might eat your lettuce too.  Bananas and papayas have definitely responded the best to this method as they are heavy feeders.
 
garden master
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Chris Holcombe wrote:We have a dry summer season in Portland so for the last probably 2yrs now I’ve been getting free wood chip mulch and just piling it up everywhere around the trees. There’s some old cherry, raspberry and apple trees but they struggling.  It seemed that no matter how much I watered I’d just barely limp the plants through the summer.  I haven’t seen much growth from a lot of the new fruit trees in the past few years but this year I think I hit a tipping point. We had the biggest cherry harvest I’ve seen since I moved here. I thought it’s probably a fluke due to weather or something. Then we had the best raspberry harvest.  The apple trees look like they’re going to break their branches. The fig trees that didn’t do much for the last 3 years, one of them suddenly put on 6ft of growth this year! I think I’m getting somewhere now . I know shoveling wood chips every year isn’t sustainable but I think it’s helping kick start the system. My jar soil tests showed nearly zero organic matter so the soil was pretty burned out before I arrived. Anyways I wanted to post my success here. I’m getting ahead in the battle to kick start a food forest and it feels good.



This is a great write up Chris. 

Wood chips do many things all at the same time, mulching with them allows fungi to become established in the wood chips and over time the mycelium make their way down into the soil where they find roots to intermingle with.
Plant roots feed the mycelium and the fungi reciprocate with water and nutrients the plants need.
The addition of humus from the decaying wood chips is soil conditioning, the resulting humic acid  not only helps the soil conditioning but it also helps along the microbiome of organisms that are beneficial to your plants.

Trees (and most other crop plants) do better when there are mycorrhizal fungi present around and inside their roots, wood chips are great kickstarters of this type of symbiotic environment.
When adding compost or compostables on top of a wood chip mulch, the chips will act as filters, holding onto nutrients that bacteria and fungi will use quickly as food, the result with be a very nutrient dense rhizosphere (the area around the root systems) and flourishing plants.

Redhawk
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Thanks for the great replies and encouragement everyone! Here’s a few pictures I took this morning. Most areas were mulched to a depth of 10”.
381680E1-3192-4612-9BB1-A5F93CFEE924.jpeg
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Sea berries next to Nikita’s gift persimmon
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Gooseberries, asparagus and burdock
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The wood chip mountain
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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I forgot to reply to your question Chris. I mostly have things under drip irrigation at this point. I was watering by hand until a few weeks ago when I gave up and starting converting. I was spending a lot of my spare time watering once everything dried out here in July and August. I think the drip system under mulch will make a big difference. It’s already saving me hours and the plants don’t look any worse. Some of them even look better 😎. I like visiting the plants to assess how they’re doing. Now I can flip on the water, go for a stroll and then head back inside if it’s too hot.
 
Posts: 418
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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I've been putting green wood chips 6in. thick around all my trees and bushes for about 10yrs. now. you can't use too much. if you dont till' it in, it won't rob N and weeds can't grow in gren chips. we have had a very dry summer so far and i havent had to water.
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Well it happened. The Bartlett pear snapped in half. I really need to prune this thing more. It produces really leggy growth.
03DAA09D-1CE2-4D7C-9CFF-F9C34B5D09D9.jpeg
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Julia Winter
master steward
Posts: 2752
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Oh!  I'm sorry to see that.  I had a Beauty plum break, and multiple apple trees.  Seems like the fruit trees are making more than they can bear this year. . .
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Yeah it’s a good year!
 
Posts: 17
Location: Topeka, KS, Zone 6a
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I know Paul is not big on wood chips, finding better uses for the wood like his junk pole fences, but there is a new app called ChipDrop  that puts folks in touch with arborists who have loads of wood chips for free. I would rather those chips go into mulching paths and walkways around my garden and my property than into a landfill.

I am on my third load,  I've probably gotten 12-14 cubic yards of local chips. The Mycelium growth in the piles is fantastic and I'm only using it areas that don't interact directly with food crops in case some of the trees it comes from have been sprayed with toxic gick. We've had a super dry and hot summer here in Kansas and it's cut down my water usage and weed growth in some overgrown spots on the property significantly.

It seems they have connections throughout the US, so it might be worth looking into for some folks.
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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I’ve been using chipdrop also. It’s quite nice. I’ve probably gotten 10 loads from local arborists through it.
 
Eric Tolbert
Posts: 17
Location: Topeka, KS, Zone 6a
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What are you moving that with Chris? I'm using a pitchfork and a Gorilla Cart and it takes me a bit to get it spread around.
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 176
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Yeah I’m using a similar setup. A hay fork and a 10p cart from John Deere. Takes me quite a while to move the entire thing. A few months usually because I do it a little here and there in my spare time.
 
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