• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
  • paul wheaton
  • Burra Maluca
stewards:
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Miles Flansburg
  • Devaka Cooray
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Anne Miller
  • Daron Williams
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Joseph Lofthouse
  • James Freyr
  • Bryant RedHawk

How to use these big / varying size woodchips?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 8
Location: California, Redwood forest valley, 40°N, 8mi from ocean, elev 1500ft, zone 9a
1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We scored a lot (probably 50 cubic yd) of free wood chips.  They look like ground up branches and/or stumps, because there's some dirt and rock mixed in, and they're all varying sizes up to a 1" by 12", and some larger.  They've been sitting at least a year or maybe two, so there's a lot of decomposition already.  Lots of good compost in the piles.  They're almost all tanoak, with a very small percentage of redwood and other wood mixed in.

We're now thinking about what to do with them.  My initial plan was to spread them at least 8 inches deep under our trees and bushes (not touching the trunks of course), and also on any exposed soil we aren't yet using for planting.  But since we have so much we were wondering if they'd be good to mulch some of the raised beds.  We don't have a lot of other mulch available, and some of our beds are empty right now with just a thin layer of straw on top.

My question is, if we spread these on top of beds, would we need to rake them off to plant in the spring?  I imagine it varies by what we're trying to grow.  Maybe we'd be OK just pulling off the biggest pieces from the beds before planting.  

We also have ~1000 strawberry plants in the garden, which did really well this year and we're figuring out how to overwinter them.  I doubt we want to bury them under these giant woodchips, but the thought did occur to us.

We're in a very summer-dry climate (no rain from May through Sept) so building up moisture retention is our top priority.

I've been reading all the threads here about woodchip mulch, but I wonder if a lot of it might be different for us because of how big some of our woodchips are.
Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.48.15-AM.jpg
[Thumbnail for Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.48.15-AM.jpg]
Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.48.02-AM.jpg
[Thumbnail for Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.48.02-AM.jpg]
Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.47.46-AM.jpg
[Thumbnail for Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-10.47.46-AM.jpg]
 
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
226
forest garden urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Strawberries would love a woodchip mulch. They're originally forest plants and are better adapted to wood remains than straw.

If you use the chips as mulch on the raised bed (which I would be in complete support of here) just remember not to mix the chips with the soil when you plant until you are certain they've decomposed enough not to steal nitrogen from your plants. You might check with gardening neighbors before laying mulch to see what the slug and snail pressure is in your area. Mulching can make such problems worse.

I've also had good results digging a trench under a garden bed, filling that with wood chips and the recovering the whole thing with the original soil. During wet spells the wood chips get completely soaked and then they slowly release that moisture during dry spells. It's kept a lot of herbs alive through our Texas summers. That could be a good compromise for you between encouraging pests and realizing the moisture holding potential of your resource.

 
Philip McGarvey
Posts: 8
Location: California, Redwood forest valley, 40°N, 8mi from ocean, elev 1500ft, zone 9a
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Casie Becker wrote:Strawberries would love a woodchip mulch. They're originally forest plants and are better adapted to wood remains than straw.


Would you bury the entire plants with woodchips, or just put the chips beside the plants?  Or cut down the plants first?  Our plants are pretty big, a lot of them have foliage a foot tall.  What's the most depth you'd consider putting on strawberries, to not stifle their regrowth in the spring?
(I realize these may vary by region and conditions etc etc, but any thoughts on these questions are helpful.)
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
226
forest garden urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Protecting those roots is key, so unless you have extremely cold winters I would just put a thick layer of chips (4 - 6 inches) under the leaves, leaving a very small gap around the crown of each plant. The plant will continue to grow happily above ground. Remember that gap. Accumulated moisture and rotting material in the crown area of your plant will be a fast way to kill them with mold and disease.

I don't know what extra steps to take if your winters are cold enough to send your strawberries into dormancy. Hopefully someone will chime in with information for that.
 
Posts: 2295
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
107
forest garden solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would cover the entire area with woodchips.
If you have some 3ft+ tall fruit and nut trees, this will help them alot.
I would leave 12inches around each fruit trees trunk clear of woodchip.
But you have to be aware that if you cover your strawberries, dutch clover and other such plants with 8inches of woodchip they will die.
 
pollinator
Posts: 579
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
78
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You are a lucky person!

The first thing I do when I get chips is to triage them. I have three main types, hardwood chips, ramial/leaf, and conifer. You can add one more which is sawdust.

The hardwood chips take a few years to degrade, but last the best. They are what I put down on top of existing beds as a solar shield.

Ramial/leaf stuff degrades here over one summer into rich soil. That goes on the bottom of a new area. This is the most valuable stuff.

Conifer goes on the acid beds where strawberries and blueberries and stuff like that is planted.

And... sawdust, which is a big component of your chips by the look of it. I include standing dead trees that just turn into dust in the shredder. This is more challenging, nothing will thrive in sawdust for a long time. There is so much surface area they steal nitrogen and create anoxic environments. I try to mix them in ramial chips, which does allow them to degrade faster. Dust can be of benefit if you want a natural path, because it suppresses growth for a couple years of anything that needs nitrogen. I also put it around my figs who seem to get more nitrogen than they need. It could also work in a worm farm scenario, or anywhere you need absorption. It is prized for degrading toilet waste.

Everything degrades, the secret is to allow air and nitrogen mixing. The bigger pieces are great in areas you don't want to remulch for a while. I throw them in the less visible areas of beds so I don't have to deal with that area as soon. I love them all! If you have a  lot of bigger chips you might consider a real mulch fork, because the sticks mess up a pitchfork.
is a good source of info for smart equipment choices.



 
pollinator
Posts: 420
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
32
dog duck hugelkultur
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have actually buried my strawberries in woodchips about 6” deep in the late fall as Paul Gautschi (Back to Eden) suggests, and like he said it did naturally thin back my older plants and selected for vigorous younger runners that produced well the next year. In a forest strawberries would be periodically covered in duff or leaves and have to survive as a species somehow, and this seems to emulate that process. I would bet the main caveat would be that it has to be coarse enough for the plant to work a runner through.
 
Philip McGarvey
Posts: 8
Location: California, Redwood forest valley, 40°N, 8mi from ocean, elev 1500ft, zone 9a
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Ben Zumeta wrote:I have actually buried my strawberries in woodchips about 6” deep in the late fall as Paul Gautschi (Back to Eden) suggests, and like he said it did naturally thin back my older plants and selected for vigorous younger runners that produced well the next year. In a forest strawberries would be periodically covered in duff or leaves and have to survive as a species somehow, and this seems to emulate that process. I would bet the main caveat would be that it has to be coarse enough for the plant to work a runner through.


Hi Ben, this is very interesting to me as we're in the same climate.  Did you just pile the chips on top of the strawberry plants without cutting the plants at all?  We have some piles of chips that have less dirt/compost mixed into them, taken from the edges of the original pile, and I wonder if we'd want to use these on top of the strawberries instead of the denser composty chips.  

It sounds like from your experience you recommend this?  Have you tried other overwintering approaches that worked well?  We're debating burying them with woodchips vs just leaving the plants as they are and not mulching them at all.  We have enough strawberries that we could try several things on different beds.
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 420
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
32
dog duck hugelkultur
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't have enough data to make any sweeping conclusions from my own experience, but I had very good strawberry production the year after heavily mulching with woodchips (inoculated with duck pond water to emulate some of the back to eden chicken processing). In subsequent years I have been inconsistent with the deep mulch due to time and availiability of chips, but I do try to always have the ground covered by organic matter. I always have enough strawberries, but I do think that I have had less when I mulched less. It may be water stress (they are not irrigated anymore due to being under grapes that now produce).
 
Philip McGarvey
Posts: 8
Location: California, Redwood forest valley, 40°N, 8mi from ocean, elev 1500ft, zone 9a
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Ben Zumeta wrote:... I had very good strawberry production the year after heavily mulching with woodchips (inoculated with duck pond water to emulate some of the back to eden chicken processing). In subsequent years I have been inconsistent with the deep mulch due to time and availiability of chips, but I do try to always have the ground covered by organic matter. I always have enough strawberries, but I do think that I have had less when I mulched less. It may be water stress (they are not irrigated anymore due to being under grapes that now produce).


Thanks Ben!  This is helpful -- it's great to hear your experience doing what I wanted to try, in the same region, and having success.  We'll probably mulch everything else first, and if we still have time we'll bury some of the strawberries and see how they do.  I agree, it emulates the forest ecosystem.  We actually have a lot of wild alpine strawberries in the surrounding forest and spreading in the garden.  I was surprised at how well our strawberries did this year -- fruiting really well from middle of May through the first week of Nov when the freezes finally ended it.
 
gardener
Posts: 1236
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
363
bee books food preservation forest garden cooking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have received chips with vines that were 'shredded' lengthwise. Initially I placed everything together where I wanted chips to be. As I  planted, I sorted out these long pieces and put them in the mix under my trees. They are difficult to work with in the garden beds, as the chips must be pulled aside to plant seeds into the soil. As the plant get larger, the chips can be brushed up against the stems. This can be difficult if the large pieces are dragged over new plant stems, damaging them.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1053
Location: Los Angeles, CA
173
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
From the pictures you've shared, those chips are fantastic.  The big pieces aren't too large.  You'll find that they'll decompose completely within 2 years or so.

When gardening with a heavy mulch of wood chips, you will find that within a couple of years, the underground fungal network will rapidly expand.  You'll know this because you'll see mushrooms popping up in places where you never saw them before after a big rain storm.  Fungi are heavy feeders when it comes to wood chips, so you'll see the chips decompose faster and faster with each successive application.  Year 1: they'll lay there on the ground and slowly break down.  Year 3: you'll be shocked to see the thickness of the mulch layer shrink by 50% within 4 months.  Year 5:  A layer of wood chip mulch 12 inches deep will completely disappear within a year.  Some of those bigger pieces may still be around, but you'll be shocked with how fast they break down and become beautiful black humus.

As someone else has suggested, if you can heavily mulch in the fall (October is always my target month to put down new wood chips --- although it's somewhat dependent upon finding someone to source me with a couple of truck loads) -- your chips will break down through the cold winter months and the soil will be amazing in the spring.  What remains of the mulch layer is then easily raked-back and seeds are directly sewn into the soil.

In my climate, I can grow a cool-season mix of nitrogen fixing cover crop plants all winter.  Right now, my cover crop is about a foot tall.  By January, when I terminate it, it'll be 3 feet tall, thick, lush, and deep green.  I'll cut it all down and make a massive compost pile.  When I do so, I'll rake up what is left of last-year's wood chip mulch and mix that into the compost mountain to try to balance the greens with the browns.  Those year-old chips are a fantastic addition to the compost.  After 21 days, the compost will be ready, the chips (what remains of them) will be chunky but fully inoculated with nitrogen and microbial life, and will be a fantastic addition to garden beds, potting soil, or any other garden application.  

So I wouldn't worry about the bigger, chunkier stuff.  What doesn't break down in a year can be raked-up and put into your next hot compost pile a year from now.

Best of luck.
m
 
If you're gonna buy things, buy this thing and I get a fat kickback:
Thread Boost feature
https://permies.com/wiki/61482/Thread-Boost-feature
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!