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Wood Chip Nuance

Posted by Nick Segner 
Wood Chip Nuance
January 11, 2016 03:28PM
All I dream about is chips. I literally fantasize about taking my front end loader around in the night and loading up other peoples' piles I see on the country road we live on (don't tell my neighbors).

The mulch makes perfect forest-edge-ecology-sense to me and I delight at the state of our soil when I'm brushing some back to let the chickens at the abundant worms underneath. At the soil level and up into the chips a bit, it is often white with mycelia!

Most of chips we have added (along with around 30,000 lbs of hay at this point) into the orchard have been ramial. We trade hard cider for the use of an 80-horse behemoth chipper a local guy owns and have thrown much deciduous and small diameter material through it (hazel, chestnut, alder, maple, A LOT of English laurel, elderberry, and the invasive but prolific butterfly bush).

Here's the case for ramial as laid out by the late Céline Caron and posted recently by Claude Jolicoeur in "Just Talk: Goodbye Céline" ..www.attra.org

There's a couple small excerpts from the article I had questions on, and one I just found interesting:

1) Firstly,

Quote

Evergreens perform poorly, due to the transformation of their lignin by «brown rots» which produce polyphenols and aliphatic compounds
On this topic, there's a local guy near me who's doing some amazing things with thick wood chip mulches including evergreen chips.. His name is Paul Gautshi of "Back to Eden" film fame. I've toured his place and his results in annuals and perennials alike are remarkable, truly. For example he's growing wasabi right in the woodchips next to his blueberries.. His suggestions regarding chips are simply to thickly apply species-diverse chips in many different sizes. He doesn't pay attention to ramial nor decidious sources.

Since I've seen his results, we've gotten two dump-truck loads of coniferous non-ramial chips from our local power district. Who could turn down free chips, even if they be of an inferior type (especially a guy like me with a chip fetish)?! Heck, I put that stuff right into the orchard. What do you think?

2) On page 9:

Quote

RCWs must not be composted nor ploughed under but spread in a layer not thicker than 2.5 cm, 1.5 cm being the optimum.
Could anyone point me to further information on a rationale for such a thin layer? We have a very dry summer here to say the least (last year was 1/2 inch approx. from June into October).. I'm assuming I need a much thicker layer for moisture retention.

3) Finally, I was also interested in this:

Quote

Although fungi are most important for humus formation and cycling, the humic system performs best when fungi are associated with the fungivore soil mesofauna. This process, linked to virus, algae and protozoa, makes nutrients available when needed by plants.
I had no idea viruses nor algae played a part- isn't that fascinating!

Nick Segner

Wildcat Valley Farm
Zone 8b
Olympic Peninsula Rainshadow
Port Angeles, Washington
Re: Wood Chip Nuance
January 17, 2016 08:19PM
White rots break down both sorts of lignin in deciduous wood, and in that process create humic and fulvic acids, the building blocks of humus. Brown rots take on softwood but are not able to fully degrade the one sort of lignin in coniferous trees. The allelopathic effect is real but only in the initial stages of decomposition. Much carbon lays on the floor of the boreal forest and becomes peat since the carbon never gets released from the lignin. There would come a point where white rots could pick up the slack in a mixed chip pile. But as far as big wood goes, Celine and company were absolutely right. Far too much C relative to N and a quarter of the minerals relatively speaking. Such wood is more properly directed to the woodstove or a Hugelkultur project.

The thin layer bit is relative to worked ground where the need is to jump start fungal activity. Orchardists would apply this in preparing new ground for trees or berries, say right after turning in a cover crop that wouldn't otherwise winter kill. Compost tea or holistic fatty acids follow this up.

The soil food web is incredibly diverse. Dig this -- a mycorrhizal hypha requires bacteria working slightly back from its tip to provide certain enzymes necessary to free minerals from rock. The fungi don't do miracles alone.

I am deep into all this on a next book project ... just thought I'd come up for air to say hey, Nick!

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/19/2016 07:30AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Wood Chip Nuance
February 01, 2016 06:39PM
Thanks, as always, Michael, for the info!

We are hoping to get a masonry stove set up by next winter so I'll direct those brown-rot-worthy materials thataway.

Fascinating about that soil microbe synergy. Truly most of the work is being done for us, for free, unless we manage to mess it up..

While everyone else is fixated on Star Wars 8 or whatever I'll be looking for spoilers on that new book release of yours haha!

Nick Segner

Wildcat Valley Farm
Zone 8b
Olympic Peninsula Rainshadow
Port Angeles, Washington
Re: Wood Chip Nuance
June 28, 2016 02:46AM
Nick, I also am familiar with Pauls wood chip gardening. When we cleared our land for orchard and pasture, we saved all the unmarketable trees and chipped them. Our soil is very poor, made worse by the terrible pounding it took from the machinery that "prepped" the land. So in addition to heavy chip mulch, mostly alder and maple, we also spread homegrown compost from our sheep barn between each tree, and laid paper first, to smother the orchard grass in the rows. Then chips on top. Like you, we usually get very little rain all Summer. The chips have done an amazing job of conserving water, suppressing weed competition (except for Canadian thistle

VistaRidge orchard, Quilcene, WA zone 8a est. 2012
235 Cider and heritage apple trees, 72 varieties,
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