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Chips to compost

Posts: 1340
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I have an abundance of wood chips available. I probably get 200 yards a year, and can get more if for some reason that isn't enough (which seems unlikely).

The issue I have is that they take up a lot of space, and they aren't really productive until they have degraded substantially, which takes years. I have been aging them in place where they will eventually support a silvopasture strip, but it means a delay in planting the trees for a year or two, and I am trying to speed that up. They could be quickly aged with nitrogen addition, which I have tried using deer carcasses, but it still takes a couple years because I don't turn the piles much, maybe once a year.

I noticed that squash and other vines grew as volunteers with minimal soil and in pretty fresh chips. They seem to scavenge nitrogen very well, and they were rampant and very healthy. This year I am trying to grow melons and squash right in the chips.

I made different size pockets in the chips. All chips are from last summer. I am trying to find the minimum amount of actual soil necessary to grow squash in the chip piles, which will provide squash and assist in the conversion to compost. Hopefully I can be incredibly lazy next year!

The pockets range in size from literally a garden trowel size to pockets of 8 shovels of soil. The species of squash were literally mixed in a bag and randomly planted. They are all C moschata. Some squash plantings got the full three sisters treatment as well, using either flint corn or sorghum as the upright member and runner beans. As much as possible they get peed on until germination, but there is an upper limit to production and some probably got missed. I plan on that being a common input in future years, unless I go into kidney failure! Soil used was a mix of 2/3 fill dirt (basically clay), 1/3 compost and duff and whatever I have around.

So here are the pictures:  

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Hi Tj,

Have you tried windrows for composting those chips? The trucks can dump them into windrows. You could leave just enough space between your windrows, to be narrow rows for your orchard, with a chip layer for mulch; then in your tree rows. You can still plant your squash in the remaining row space between your trees, with squash staggered in double rows, and the trees in single rows. If its mostly hardwood chips, the chip layer in the rows could be inoculated with King Stropheria spawn to give you two annual production crops, your squash and King Stropheria, then eventually when the trees get to big for interplanting squash, you'll still have two crops annually by maintaining an active King Stropheria bed as a fertalizing/composting mulch bed amongst your tree rows in the mostly shaded portions of the orchard.

If you have a shortage of hardwood chips, and they are mostly conifer chips, look into Blewit spawn. Im not as familiar with Blewit production, but I understand its very similar to King Stropheria.

Hope that helps!
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Location: South Shore, Massachusetts, USA (Zone 6b)
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I also have been utilizing wood chips over the past 4 or 5 years to help rebuild the soil, though not nearly on the scale that you have! We go through about 8 yards per year on our quarter acre lot. One thing that I've noticed is how quickly chickens can turn wood chips into compost if they are confined to an area where they scratch and turn over the wood chips regularly -- my chickens LOVE scratching around in it! Prior to having chickens, waiting for the wood chips to turn into usable compost was an exercise in patience. And having chickens for one season made me realize how fast they work their magic. Plus, you get eggs and meat, if you wish.

I'm not saying that chickens are the end-all-be-all solution, but perhaps part of the bigger picture. They have definitely made things easier for me.

I will be planting some squash into wood chip wells, filled with some compost. Glad to know that something similar worked for you!

Best wishes!
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Location: Southern Illinois
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I know that you have been tinkering with mushrooms lately and from recent experience I have to say that I think this is a great way to break down wood and turn it back into “soil.”

My own mushroom bed, while no where near as large as the volume of chips you have is nicely breaking down woodchips into an excellent growing medium and producing some tasty mushrooms (wine caps) as well.

For a volume of chips like you have I am thinking that you could inoculate a patch, let the spawn spread and push up mushrooms, and then that patch to use as a future source of spawn.  This is a solution that will be years in the making, but I think you would appreciate the results.

Whatever your plans, good luck,

It looks like it's time for me to write you a reality check! Or maybe a tiny ad!
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