When life gives you wood chips …

Category: , , ,

For years we have been attempting to persuade tree mulching companies to drop us a load or two of wood chips to no avail…  Then we learn even more amazing applications for woodchips in the soil building process working with Nicole Masters.  We fell in love with the potential wood chips have as a source of fungal food which will bring life to our sandy soils.   In our quest for opportunities to bring more wood chip goodness into our landscape last year we decided to borrow a friends mulcher to put some trees whose roots have found a drain pipe in the garden to good use.   We used these wood chips to mulch our orchard and promote a more fungal soil for our trees.

Well it’s true that sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.  We have recently found ourselves with an 8 metre long pile of wood chip mulch on hand and ready to be put to good use in soil restoration. There is another perspective to our wood chip windfall though.  In February our property near Tingha in NSW, Australia was impacted by a bushfire that destroyed over 20,000 hectares of land and 14 homes in the process. Fortunately there were no human lives lost in this fire but livestock and native animals were not so lucky.  On our property basically everything burnt other than our home (which miraculously was saved after it caught alight), one of our sheds, some of our vegetable gardens and our bird aviaries.  We lost all our fencing, a shed, two water tanks, shelter belts, and most of our gardens.  The wood chipped mulched trees in our orchard were lost unfortunately as there is a flip side to wood chip mulch in that it burns really well.   

We have lived at The Oasis for almost 15 years and in this time we have been regenerating a degraded landscape that had been mined for tin in the early 1900’s and had a history of overgrazing with a combination of techniques including adaptive grazing, permaculture, earth acupuncture and biodynamics.  We have experienced awesome results in rebuilding our soils and improving diversity and productive potential in our native pastures.  

Fire can destroy a life time of regenerative work in only a few minutes and leave in its wake a huge amount of work in recovering, repairing and rebuilding.  Fire recovery has felt to me like a pendulum swinging between gratitude for what we still have and devastation for all that has been lost.  The incredibly hot wild fire has destroyed a much loved and productive landscape and yet It has also left us a legacy of woodchips from cleaning up our gardens and removing all the dead plant material including some large trees, over 20 trees in our orchard, hedges and garden plants in general.  

We also now get to experience a new chapter in our regenerative agriculture journey in restoring a landscape ravaged by an extremely damaging hot fire.  As there are plenty of ways to put these wood chips to good use at the best of times it is also a great reason to share some of the ways we can use this windfall in repairing and rebuilding our soils and landscapes.  

Wood chips are a terrific source of a complex food required for soil fungi.  Fungi in most of our agricultural soils have been decimated by tillage, chemicals and artificial fertilisers so applying woodchips to soils is always a good way to re-establish your soil food web.  Trees in particular require a fungal soil in which to thrive so if you are establishing trees then a fungal soil is going to help you establish trees and ensure they thrive once established. 

Woodchips also create carbonic acids as they break down which increases the availability of nutrients. Some woods may contain rooting hormones and salicylic acid, a vital phenolic which releases bound phosphorus, reduces plant stress and is a key phytohormone in plant defence and immunity. 

How you best make use of wood chips depends on your scale and enterprise.  On a smaller scale woodchips can be applied to the soil surface at a rate of 10 cubic metres/ha.  Larger scale operations may make best use of a wood chip windfall by using the woodchips as a base for a worm farm or a compost as a material that will create a high quality fungal end product that can be applied as seed treatments or vermicast/compost extracts to broadacres.  

White wood chips from soft wood trees such as birch, elm, poplar or willows are ideal for use in these situations.  If your wood chip has strong smells from oils, resins or tannins then it will need to be aged before it can be used in compost or worm farms.  

May your wood chip windfalls be more fortuitous than ours!   

Written by Kim Deans.

Kim is available for coaching to empower you to create a thriving, profitable and regenerative farm business.  kimd@integritysoils.com Ph +61 0455 596 464