Gardening With Wood Chips

Discussion in 'Crops & Gardens' started by Ken Anderson, Feb 17, 2016.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    I had forgotten where I got this idea until I mentioned the Back to Eden book, about herbal and natural remedies, in another forum. I bought a film a few years ago about a method of long-term gardening that neither required or recommended tilling the soil.

    I've been using this method to prepare sections of my land up north for planting, and it seems to be working very well.

    The film is also called Back to Eden, but I don't believe it's related to the book on natural remedies. The film recommends against tearing up the soil in order to prepare it for planting as this not only requires work, but it also disrupts and destroys natural soil microbes that are needed for healthy soil.

    This is particularly a good method for taking soil where crops have never been grown, such as on my land, where I have created small clearings by cutting trees. When the country was first being colonized, one of the problems faced by the early colonists was one of establishing healthy gardens. When trees are cut and the ground plowed, the first couple of growing seasons tend to be fairly unproductive due to saplings and weeds that are a natural part of soil that had previously been a forest. Plus, of course, there are roots everywhere.

    In modern times, weed control is often attained through chemistry but the chemicals that are used to control weeds tend to introduce stuff into the soil that aren't good for the crops either, or for the people who eat them.

    Since I had the time, one of the things that I have done on my land up north, after clearing an area, is to lay down some old rugs. It so happened that when we bought our house in Millinocket, nearly every room had been carpeted in several layers of nasty carpet. I tore that up and because the town discourages people from depositing things as large as carpet rolls in the hopper, we have to sneak such things in when no one is looking, so I had stashed the old carpet under the shed that we have in the back of the yard, and most of it was still there.

    After cutting the trees and the undergrowth as close to the ground as I could, I would lay carpet over it. After a year without sunlight, the tree roots, saplings, and weeds that would ordinarily spring forth would die out.

    The soil, however, would not die. Beneath that nasty old carpet were worms, snakes, and bugs of every sort tilling and enriching the soil for me, and without disturbing everything.

    Rather than a rug, the best choice would have been a compost blanket that would eventually compost and become part of the earth, but that would have cost money, and I'd still have those nasty rugs under my shed.

    After a year or so of being covered by a rug, I would remove the rug to another piece of ground, and cover the ground with several inches of wood chips. They are fairly cheap when you buy them in bulk and if you happen to live near someone who trims trees for a living, they might be happy to dump a few loads of chips for you for free, or at a very low price.

    You can use pretty much any organic material for mulch, but wood chips work very well. The ground will have already been loosened up considerably after a year of being covered by a rug, and the wood chips greatly reduce concerns such as weeding, watering, and fertilizing.

    Since I can't do anything in the way of preparation during the winter in northern Maine, I left the wood chips in place for a year before doing anything more, but after a few months of being covered with wood chips, you should have fertile soil that will support pretty much anything you might want to grow there, and without digging up or turning over the ground.

    You don't plant in the wood chips themselves. Rather, you would move the chips back if you are transplanting a growing plant into the ground, then cover the plant to below the first leaves. If you are planting a seed, you would have to leave an area around each seed uncovered so that the plant can get light. Once it grows to a point above the level of the wood chips, then cover it to below the lower leaves.

    Wood chips greatly reduce the amount of weeding that you have to do and wherever they sit, they will continue to enrich the soil beneath. You will still have some weeding to do, particularly if you are planting from seed, because there will probably be some airborne weed seeds looking for a home, and there will be the occasional weed that will manage to grow through several layers of wood chips. But that part of the job will be easier.

    Wood chips also reduce water evaporation from the soil, and they tend to grab moisture from the air, releasing it into the soil.

    On the Back to Eden site, you can watch the film for free, although I don't know if that is the full film, and believe that it probably isn't because they are also renting and selling it. I have it on DVD, and have watched it a couple of times.

    My description above represents my understanding or interpretation of it, although it has been a couple of years since I watched it. Quite likely, he doesn't recommend using old rugs, that being my own adaptation. You can probably achieve the same thing with several layers of wood chips.
     
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  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    Also in line with the Back to Eden method of gardening, if you want to give your new raised garden a boost, you can cut your grass or weeds short, and lay down a few thicknesses of newspaper, which will block out the light, but eventually compost. Wet the newspaper, then add several inches of compost, and cover that with wood chips. Give it a few months, and plant as above.
     
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    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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  4. Sheldon Scott

    Sheldon Scott Very Well-Known Member
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    We use a lot of wood chips. They make great mulch around trees. They hold moisture so you don't have to water as often and eventually decompose and enrich the soil, We use pine straw too, I pile it thick in the rows between the raised beds to keep weeds controlled.

    When the electric company is clearing limbs around power lines they are happy to give you all the wood chips you want.
     
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