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Lots and lots of woodchips -- what should I do with them all?

 
Posts: 23
Location: Extreme Southern Central Georgia, U.S. Zone 8b
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Hello everyone!
   Just recently I was fortunate enough to catch the power company trimming and removing trees around my neighborhood and got them to dump all those woodchips on my property. Even more fortunately, I was fully expecting to only get just the one drop, 3 weeks later, they have dropped off a dump truck load every single day (and still going!).
  Roughly 375 cubic yards of woodchips later, I couldn’t be happier. However, I am finding myself wondering how to proceed with them. I was hoping to be able to start planting trees this year, but should I let the woodchips sit and decompose for a year or so before I use them? Or could I plant the trees now and just mulch around them with an even thicker pile, or would they not decompose as well or as quickly this way or something?
 
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Any of those scenarios will work.

It sounds like you've got a significant piece of land (an acre at least?), so the sooner you can put the chips down on the land, the sooner you'll start to experience the benefits.  This time of year, you could put them down at least a foot deep.  They will continue to break down over the winter and by spring, you'll be able to pull them back and plant into the soil below.  You'll see how much they've already contributed to the soil health and earthworm multiplication.

If you let them sit, they will break down in place.  This will take about 2 years, however.  If you've got that many yards of wood chips, I would imagine that you'll do both --- spread some now, and leave some to break down in place.

Be aware that as the chips sit and decompose, you may have to deal with mold spores.  Mold is nasty to breath.  As soon as you see the steam coming off the pile of chips, be aware that mold is rapidly multiplying within the pile.  You don't want to breath that steam -- please trust me.  Nasty stuff.  So move them now while they are fresh, or move them in a year or two when the mold has stopped being so active.  If you wait a month to move them, you'll want to wear a resperator or some sort of mask that filters out mold spores.  Once the chips are spread on the ground, the problem goes away --- you don't kick up as many spores as you do when you move the pile.

You've got a treasure!  You're land will respond well to this.
 
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Marco gave some great advice and ideas, I've got one for you in such an enviable position.

Creating mushroom slurries to spray on those chips after you spread them out will speed up the decomposition of the chips.
If you leave some in piles, spray those with some mushroom slurry too so they will speedup in decomposition as well.

I'd spread the chips and then pull them back where you want to plant a tree, just remember to leave a bare ring of at least 6 inches between the trunk and the wood chip mulch layer.

(mushroom slurries will reduce mold spores since fungi like to eat mold spores, this will reduce those molds and make the area at least a bit healthier than if you just spread the chips and left them to their own devices)

Redhawk
 
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Also, don't panic.  Anywhere that you have a huge pile of wood chips and it's too much work, time, or resources to move them or spread them this year?  Or next year?  Or for three or four years?  They will just be breaking down in place, a sort of slow fungal composting.  Trees nearby (up to two or three dripline radius distances) will send roots over to enjoy the feast of nutrients and moisture, and you can dig into that pile at any stage for mulch or (eventually) thick rich organic garden soil.  I was to the stage this year on a pile of chips several years old where the grass and weeds had overgrown it and I couldn't dig from it any longer with hand tools, so my brother in law pushed it six feet sideways with his tractor bucket and re-piled it.  It had turned into lovely black fluffy dirt teeming with soil organisms.  

So, don't panic if you can't spread and make immediate use of everything right away.  It's fine where it is and it won't go to waste.  
 
pollinator
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It is fall/winter so go ahead and get your bare root/potted plants and get them in the ground with the wood chip. There is no need to wait. You can also add a bit of rock dust in with all of that woodchip too, local or azomite, Sea90 also works too. Your soil is going to be so fertile.

My only other recommendation would be to give the planted trees at least 1ft clearance without woodchip in all directions
 
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I lost a tree recently and wound up with a lot of chip and logs.

My front lawn is now mostly converted into log surround wood-chip gardens.

I covered the existing grass with paper/card to ensure it is suppressed, then, when planting things, I pulled back the chip, added compost down to the card/paper layer, and planted in that. I noted about a week after planting the first bed a little bit of nitrogen deficiency I've watered in a little blood and bone around selected plants to try help them along. I didn't want to penetrate the card/paper with many plantings as very agressive kikuyu and onion flowers lay beneath and would have still been alive. The paper was damp so I hope the roots pierce it readily. I also hope that (leaving paper layer intact) was not a mistake, especially as the compost was not of high quality.

One objective was to make some permie style gardens that look great, not feral, you know what I'm saying... In between the learning phase and the eventual cottage garden look, urban permaculture often looks rather feral to normies. I want the front to advertise that food production can be rather beautiful. Now, I'm certainly limited in visual arts (made the ugliest gig posters ever, as noted by various comics and then graphic designers haha), but a few logs and plants will do wonders to a previously boring lawn.

I've had three comments in three days how good it looks. One inquiry how it works. Yes! Public awareness and acceptance of permaculture is important. Be the example.

The 'feral' stuff is further down the back. My section is like a mullet, business up front, party at the rear.

Anyways. I've used woodchip before and reinforce that all the above advice is sound. Mind the trunks of trees. Apply liberally otherwise. It's great stuff and transforms soils.

I'll get photos once the last bed is in (day or two perhaps) to show my take on woodchip in a suburban setting.
 
Gabe Gordon
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Thank you all for the great tips and advice! I’ve been hard at work the last few days spreading the chips (with a mold mask now, unfortunately learned the hard way not to breath in the dust) and I decided to place them down in large circular areas only where I want the trees, versus covering the entire area in woodchips. I figured this way I’ll get more use out of the woodchips right now and be able to plant more trees in a broader area sooner, and as time goes on I’ll just keep adding it on in thicker and wider layers until all the space between - and ideally the entire property - is covered.
 Still working on a mushroom slurry, I really like the idea of that, and it got me thinking about micorrizae. Many of the oak trees on and around my property have mushrooms growing underneath or nearby them, but right now there are so few of them I don’t know if there are enough to make a mushroom slurry with them, if they are in the right stage where they are sporulating or not, or even whether or not they are a “beneficial” species. The same type of mushroom seems to grow under multiple different oaks around here, all of them fairly distanced from each other so I’m hoping and assuming they are a good one, so I’ve picked them here and there and just buried them into the chip piles.
  This brings me to what I was thinking about micorrizae, I may post another thread for this but I suppose it can’t hurt to write here first. I’ve come across a few articles that basically state adding commercially brought micorrizae is a waste of money with the reasoning that if there are plants growing in a location at all, there are native micorrizae in the soil already, and that you could also be inadvertently adding an invasive species of mico that could potentially in the long run be detrimental. I could understand this in certain locations but from what I’ve read here it seems like the consensus is generally to inoculate somehow. My property is surrounded almost entirely by thousands of acres of native forests, the soil of which I assume must be loaded with native micorrhizae? My property itself has mushrooms popping up all throughout it, in the midst of 5ft tall grass, even seen them pop up in bare patches of exposed sandy clay soil. So because I’m surrounded by these woods, and my land has a seemingly ubiquitous mushroom population, should I bother to inoculate with an outside source or just facilitate the growth of these mushrooms already here with either slurries or feeding them with all the woodchips? Anyways thank you all again!!
 
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Gabe Gordon wrote:Thank you all for the great tips and advice! I’ve been hard at work the last few days spreading the chips (with a mold mask now, unfortunately learned the hard way not to breath in the dust)



I have made myself very sick twice now loading wood chips.  It started with a slight cough a couple hours after loading, then I just started feeling a little unwell. By bedtime, I started to get a fever.  Within an hour of that, my body was freezing, my head was so hot I was miserable, I had the shaking chills, and my fever topped out at about 102.  Last time it happened I bought a mask Mask from Amazon, but clearly it didn't have good enough filters.  I only did one pickup load to test the mask, but I got sick again, just not nearly to the same extent. If anyone has a suggestion for a better mask at a reasonable price, please share.

Since that time, I have only moved fresh wood chips.  I would recommend caution using chips that have sat long enough to begin to mold, and by caution, I mean a very good respirator-type mask.  I didn't have any long term effects from loading moldy chips that I know about, but I can't imagine that it's healthy to breathe the mold/bacteria/whatever that made me that sick.  
 
Gabe Gordon
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Trace Oswald wrote:

If anyone has a suggestion for a better mask at a reasonable price, please share.



What type of mask were you using? Was it just like a disposable filter mask? I went to a hardware store and bought a $40 “3M” brand “N100/P100” grade respirator with replaceable filters, rated specifically for mold and lead paint. I’ve been using it for about 5 hours today and can’t complain, as long as you’re wearing it properly it works great. Normally after a couple of hours I can basically TASTE the mold and dust in the back of my throat and at the end of the day I am full of coughs and generally just phleghmy and always feeling like I need to clear my throat, but today with the mask there was absolutely none of that, and I couldn’t smell a thing either (I put my head right in my fire pit just to test that further, seriously couldnt smell a thing), the most I feel is sore from working so I would definitely reccomend that respirator as an “affordable” one that gets the job done, as some of these respirators can be near $200
 
Gabe Gordon
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Also whoops, sorry, didn’t see your link there. That may be why you still felt sick as I don’t think that filter is quite adequate for mold particles, also you may want to wear goggles as the mold can still make you sick from getting into your eyes. I didnt wear goggles today but it didn’t seems to be a problem for me, although I do plan on wearing them going forward.
https://www.homedepot.com/p/3M-Medium-Mold-and-Lead-Paint-Removal-Respirator-Mask-6297PA1-A/202078789 this was the respirator I bought, the filters on mine look different but it is the same respirator. Also it’s only that price online, if you go in store to buy one it’s $40, learned that the hard way too!

 
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I'm no medical expert but I can tell from experience that shaking chills are a sign of bacterial pneumonia, or Streptococcal pneumonia. When I had the cryptococcal pneumonia or fungal pneumonia I didn't get shaking chills. I don't know why you get the chills; but I'd avoid those chips and maybe any chips if I were you.

My problem now is what do I do with that 4 cu yard, +/- that's sitting about 400 feet from the house waiting for me to spread them in the paths of my veggy garden and under those spruces up by the road. I have a lot of experience with hardwood bark and horse and mushroom manure but not with wood chips. Maybe I should stick to horse doo.
 
Trace Oswald
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Thanks Gabe
 
Marco Banks
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So many people have been positively inspired and educated by the Back to Eden movie.  Its been tremendously helpful to so many people, and a wonderful promotion for using a valuable "waste" product that used to be hauled off to landfills.  I was using wood chips extensively before that movie came out, but it certainly reinforced everything I had already discovered.  My only regret is that the movie doesn't talk about the real danger of breathing mold spores.  

I'm not the frail type.  I'm pretty old-school --- I don't wear gloves and tend to roll my eyes at using too much by way of safety equipment (ear protection, safety glasses, etc.).  I know, I know . . . but after using tools for 40+ years, it's hard to argue that "you'll put your eye out" when I never have thus far.  But I've found out the hard way that you don't screw around with mold.  And once your lungs get a good dose of them, it certainly seems like you are much more sensitive to exposure to them going forward.  

Once the chips have begun to steam, you really need to exercise caution.  Try to stand upwind and make sure you use a properly rated resperator.  
 
Trace Oswald
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Marco Banks wrote:
I'm not the frail type.  I'm pretty old-school --- I don't wear gloves and tend to roll my eyes at using too much by way of safety equipment (ear protection, safety glasses, etc.).  I know, I know . . . but after using tools for 40+ years, it's hard to argue that "you'll put your eye out" when I never have thus far.  But I've found out the hard way that you don't screw around with mold.  And once your lungs get a good dose of them, it certainly seems like you are much more sensitive to exposure to them going forward.  

Once the chips have begun to steam, you really need to exercise caution.  Try to stand upwind and make sure you use a properly rated resperator.  



You sound just like me.  It took me 50 years and hearing aids to learn that protective equipment is not a joke.  This "mold-sickness" was a real wake-up call for me.
 
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Only useful to a small geographic region, but if you're lucky enough to live in central Texas and be part of the PEC electrical coop, they've recently streamlined the process to receive free wood chips https://www.pec.coop/news/2018/get-free-mulch/ I didn't know this until today, but you can bet we're going to be arranging some woodchip delivery.  

Better yet, these will be chips that usually include a lot of smaller branches so you get bark and green leaves mixed into the chips so it's not as nitrogen hungry as most wood chips.
 
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