Farm, Garden and The Land > Permaculture, Land Management and Foraging

Wood Chips


I know I have seen lots of posts on wood chips and their usage in the garden/food forest but I am not finding them today when I looked.  I hope that this can be followed it might be a little scattered and not as put together as I would like.

What do I do to decrease the time wood chips need to break down before being usable as garden medium?  My plan is to mix a large amount of horse manure, compost and some local soil with it to bulk it up fill voids and give the pants a place to start.  Is that enough?

Now here are my details.  (some pictures posted in Flickr at this link )

I have a not flat, but close, yard. We are in N.E Ohio so at this point the cold is our friend as you can drive and walk on frozen ground. Come spring we will have too much water turning this whole are in to a swamp that can not be moved across we get the mower stuck in May regularly. By mid to late summer, however the clay soil is almost dust dry at 6 in to a foot down.  We are converting the Lawn into more of a food forest.  The soil is heavy clay but there is some loam mixed into the top 6 inches or so under the grass, so not the worst soil.  I am building up the area and have recently gotten a source for wood chips and horse manure (saw dust bedding).  I want to get a 6 to 8 inch covering over the whole area to get it up to where it is not completely soupy until June.  I am planning on the bulk of that being wood chips from my local tree service.  I am planning on mixing in a much horse manure, compost and chicken waist I can gather with this.  I have started (see pictures in link above) a hugal bed with branches and a load of manure.  I have more branches and  logs to add as well as a plan on getting 3 or so more loads of manure to cover that expanding both up and out.  I am turning a compost pile in the chicken coop weekly giving them some thing to scratch at and and mixing in their byproducts.  They will get a heave amount of the first load of the wood chips, to get their feet out of the mud if nothing else, but knowing that they will aid in the breakdown of the chips as they mix it with the compost/scraps they are getting.

I know that the Hugal bed will take time to mature and reach ideal (2 years?).  Would a wood chip bed take the same amount of time?  Can that be sped up by adding the manure and chicken processed compost. 

I am planning on using this area as a beds this year and will increase the existing guilds around my Orchard trees with more comfrey various nitrogen fixers and the like.  We are looking to increase our berries with more verity of Raspberries, black berries, and another verity of Goji berry as well.  Some additional annuals are planned as well with melons, beans and peas, carrots, onions and garlic (expanding that next fall). I might add potatoes to an area as well.  There will be a large number of flowering plants as well to attract and feed the bees and butterflies.

Are we expecting too much for the first year or should amended wood chips produce for us this year?

Any specifics that you see problems with?

Is there a process that might work best?  Something like planting into a mound of compost in a sea of wood chips.

Is there benefits to opening the soil by digging holes trenches or similar before putting on the covering of chips?  Would that increase the water transfer by wicking?  Would it open the transfer of the fungus growth or worm paths to a worth while level, or would it be a waist of my time?  We are not frozen deep yet but in a month we will likely need a jackhammer to get through the sod.  I am wanting to get a layer or 2 down, not to the full thickness, during the cold months to start the water absorbing process and the manure and compost breaking down and making their pathways as soon as the weather breaks.

T Kehl:
I think trying to compost mulch to soil in 4 months is unrealistic without massive nitrogen input.  This could be commercial 30-0-5 or organic stuff grass, butchering leftovers, etc. 

Even so, I don’t think you will be happy with the result as you will the resulting mix will hold water VERY well and have limited structure.  IE you’ll sink past your ankles walking in it.  Learned that one the hard way.

Things you might consider:

1.    Woodmulch the whole yard.  No more grass!  Plant into containers or straw bales on top.  In successive years, keep stacking straw bales as they break down until you are satisfied.
2.   Same as above but in strips or a smaller patch to see if you like it. 
3.   Bring in some topsoil (dump truck load or 2, it’s a LOT cheaper in bulk) to spread where you want a garden.  Raised bed style or not, your choice.  Doesn’t even have to be good dirt.  Cover this with LOTS of wood mulch.  3-6” deep.  Go ahead and plant in it the first year pulling the mulch away for transplants and spot fertilize.  In 1-2 years, that soil will be ROCKIN’. 
4.   If you use and mix the horse manure with wood chips my gut is you will need 3x the amount of manure per chips to get the ratios close.  Though if they are leafed out branches instead of bark/sawdust, that ratio would be a little lower as you would get some N from the leaves.  Not sure I could recommend this unless manure is well aged (won’t leach), but if you go this way I’d want to top with at least a couple inches of wood mulch again.  Going this route, I would plant in straw bales year 1 and maybe 2

I’ve got clayey-rocky depleted topsoil, and my best stuff where my tiller actually hits the depth stops is where I had a truck dump a load of chipper mulch and didn’t get it all spread.  Was probably 2 feet tall in spots and 10’ around after the kids played in it.  3 years later, that spot has AMAZING soil.  As such, I will be sheet mulching when we move to the new house.


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