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Are there alternatives to wood chips that show similar results?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Are arborist wood chips and manure really as big a deal as portrayed in the Back To Eden film?

Can I achieve similar results by:

1. Applying a layer of store bought bark mulch on walking areas,
2. Applying a layer of leaves on growing areas,
3. Throwing some coffee grinds all over the garden, and
4. Interplanting some nitrogen fixers with my vegetable crops?

thank you
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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There are almost always alternatives.

Wood chips are a great carbon resource, but any source of carbon should do as well, and some better for some applications. Wood chips are denser than some, and tend to stay around longer, as well as being host for some good fungi, but that can be said of other carbon resources.

Leaves are an amazing mulch, and turn into good soil on a seasonal basis. It's even better if the trees the leaves come from are on the property, and better still if they are nitrogen-fixing bacteria hosts themselves, as the leaves will be higher in nitrogen.

Worms love coffee grounds. Just don't let the grounds form a crust atop the soil. Better to work them in with your soil and/or carbon layer.

Nitrogen-fixers as green manure crops for a chop-and-drop are a great idea, and I like using clovers as the majority of my walkway cover where I don't use wood chips, but they will only contribute nitrogen to the greater soil environment if there is an excess, such as during a root-zone die-off or during a chop-and-drop. Be careful they don't compete with your vegetable crops.

Other than that, let us know how you proceed, and good luck!

-CK
 
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Wood chips and manure really are a big deal, especially ramial wood chips (wood chips from hardwood tree branches usually of a diameter of 4 inches or less. it's the younger growth as opposed to tree trunk wood chips). Store bought bark mulch can be of benefit but I suggest avoiding the ones that have been dyed. Some store bought bark mulch, pine bark being a perfect example, can alter the pH of the soil, so pH monitoring may be something to consider if growing things that are sensitive to acidic soil pH's. Adding a layer of leaves is often a good practice, but what can inadvertently happen is leaves can clump together, forming a mat, which can do two things: it can slow the transfer of oxygen down into the soil and the release of CO2 from the soil, and it can slow or decrease the amount of rainwater making it's way into the soil, with some of it running off the surface. Chopping up leaves with a lawn mower is an easy way to prevent this mat from forming, which usually happens from whole leaves. I recommend the coffee grounds, it's a good soil amendment, and interplanting nitrogen fixers is a good practice as well.
 
pollinator
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Carlson,
A few questions….

Can you give us more details about your project?  What is the square foot of your garden? What will you be growing? What are your objectives?

What materials do you have access to in large quantities in proportion to your garden size?  What are the on hand imputs can provide you with and what are the imputs you you have to bring (and in what quantities)?
 
pollinator
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I have achieved good results by burying a bunch of logs and branches in trenches and covering them with soil.  This has allowed me to reduce irrigation by approximately half.


 
Michelle Bisson
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1. Applying a layer of store bought bark mulch on walking areas,



If you want to keep the weeds down in the pathways, apply a thick layer.  I would choose store bought mulch that was not dyed.  If you have a lot of mulch needed, you can buy it in bulk from some speciality suppliers.  Make sure that it is organic and has not been sprayed upon.

2. Applying a layer of leaves on growing areas,



If you have access to lots of leaves, this is a favourite choice of mine because I can find it in large quantities already bagged up by my neighbours in the fall. Is is so much easier to find bagged up leaves in the fall than to fine a large source of wood chips.  I also get wood chips from the local wood lot what sells firewood.


3. Throwing some coffee grinds all over the garden, and

 It is hard to have enough quantities to compare with bags of leaves, but if you have them, then use them in the garden or compost them.  A variety of bio mass is good.


4. Interplanting some nitrogen fixers with my vegetable crops?


It can be hard to work with nitrogen fixers trees in a vegetable garden as the roots are usually in the way and likely the amount of nitrogen from the roots of these trees is not enough for the vegetables.


You could grow some herbacious nitrogen fixers in the vegetable patch, but it does take a lot of space that you might prefer for vegetable growing.  If you have  long growing season, you could grow this green manure (clover etc) in the off vegetable growing season and then cut it back into the soil just before planting your vegetables.


You could add compost at the beginning of the season.  If you have access to quality manure, then add that in the fall.  

There are many ways to get a good growing garden.  The key is not in one "perfect" method, but to do the method that works in your context and what resources/imputs you have easily available.



 
carlson yeung
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Location: Vancouver, BC
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Thank you everyone for the advice. So far, I have determined to use a mulch of shredded and whole leaves with coffee grounds in my vegetable growing area. Buried wood is tempting, but precipitation is pretty good around here.

Wish to avoid arborist woodchips because they're hard to deal with. Garden area is small and they want to drop a truck load at a time. Neighbours like colourful bark mulch, so there is nobody to share a big load of woodchips.

I'm in Vancouver, BC and I have some inputs from backyard:
A plum and a fig tree near property edge.
Many shrubs and flowers scattered around the middle.

Nearby operations that appreciate volounteer waste removal:
City parks with too many fall leaves.
Starbucks with near limitless coffee grinds.
Furniture shop with clean wood shavings (the type used for rabbit or hamster bedding) and sawdust.

I wish to assemble three (3), 5' x 3' raised beds located within a few feet of flowers and shrubs. If practical, I hope to achieve soil fertility without addition of pre-decomposed material or animal products.

I like the idea of providing a habitat for underground stuff (worms, bacteria, fungi) to live through the winter. Are the nearby shrubs, flowers, and trees good enough? Do I need to have living roots directly in the raised beds throughout the year? I was thinking of just mulching the beds with leaves and coffee grinds for winter.

This video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrmoRpQs5GE suggests that the fungal:bacterial ratio is often overlooked and many people have been "overdosing" their soil with Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium-Organic Matter additives. Can I accomplish soil fertility with just leaves and coffee grinds over winter, then interplant fava beans or crimson clover with the spring sowing? If so, for a 15 square foot bed, how many square feet should be allocated to nitrogen fixing plants during growing season? My beds will grow mostly leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, and only small amounts of tomatoes, carrots, and radishes. I eat a lot of leaves!

For the non-crop or walking areas, how important is it to obtain or simulate the effects of the diversification of ramial woodchips? A mix of bark mulch and wood shavings gets closer to arborist woodchips, but the shavings are really light weight and I expect will blow everywhere in a strong wind. Is it so bad if I just mulch these areas with bark? Could I just throw coffee grinds and shredded leaves on top of bark mulch just as rain season starts?

Thank you.
 
Michelle Bisson
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Looks like you have an excellent plan!  You are using the resources that you have easy access too and that is in context to your growing situation.

I used shavings and they do not blow about in the wind like loose dry leaves.  They interlock and form a mat which makes for good walkway mulching material.  I found that the fine shavings are less ideal for a mulch for the garden (unless mixed with bulkier material) since they form this mat and then the rains have a harder time penetrating and runs off.  Mulches should be loose and bulkier to allow rain to penetrate and not run off.
 
pollinator
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Buying carbon by the bag is going to get expensive.  The thing about wood chips is that they are abundant and free.  As they break down they do such a wonderful job of lightening your soil.  But you need so much..

I'll get a 10 yard load of chips from a big truck, haul them back into the garden and lay them down 8 inches deep or so, and it takes a couple of days to complete the task.  Then I'm amazed to see those chips disappear within 6 months.  Once you get that fungal network growing below the surface of the soil, it eats through those wood chips in no time.  How much money and time would it take to buy bagged chips to cover your garden 8 inches deep?  

I don't have access to free manure other than what I get from my chickens, so I generally don't worry about adding it to the orchard.  I don't think it's necessary -- I just put the chips down and let the fungi do their thing.  

Best of luck.
 
carlson yeung
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Michelle Bisson wrote:I used shavings and they do not blow about in the wind like loose dry leaves.  They interlock and form a mat which makes for good walkway mulching material.  I found that the fine shavings are less ideal for a mulch for the garden (unless mixed with bulkier material) since they form this mat and then the rains have a harder time penetrating and runs off.  Mulches should be loose and bulkier to allow rain to penetrate and not run off.




I will try (larger) wood shavings. It's free and I don't have to take a whole truckload!
 
gardener
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hau Carlson, Have you looked through My soil threads? you might find more ideas there.

The idea of building good soil with no previously decomposed materials does work but there is a time factor since soil organisms are decomposers for the most part, this means that the only soil organisms you will start out with will be those already there.
Until they build their numbers quite a lot, that soil will not be as good as it could be at the start, but within a year or two it will be far better than at the start because the microorganisms will have multiplied greatly.

Redhawk
 
carlson yeung
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Have you looked through My soil threads? you might find more ideas there.

Redhawk



Absolutely Fascinating! Will read through all of it.
 
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