Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wood chip bed

After seeing how well the hugelkultur beds were doing, I decided to make another bed but with just digging in massive amounts of woodchips.

The idea is to see if you can get a good first year harvest from this and then in future years will there be enough organic matter in the soil so that it becomes a good no till bed.

I dug down about 1 to 1.5' deep, double dig style.  Then I added wood chips to the dirt pile and raked it back in. The bed rose about 1'+ after doing all this.

This picture shows the bed after being prepared.  The "density" of woodchips on the surface, is the same as the density of woodchips added to the entire 1' to 1.5' depth.

This seemed like a lot of wood chips to me at the time.  However now when I dig into the bed to take a look at the soil, it does seem like much less wood chips than I remember.  Next time I'll add a lot more.

The bed was planted in mid June with transplants and direct seeds of corn & pole beans. Here it is on July 10th. So far it looks quite well. The plants are not quite as green as they should be, but I'll be adding more liquid fertilizer shortly.  I have been able to keep squash, cukes, & tomatoes in hugelbeds dark green, so keeping this woodchip bed green shouldn't be an issue.

No compost, no leaf mulch, and no store-bought fertilizer was added.  The only additions were wood chips and HLF (homemade liquid organic fertilizer).


  1. Thanks for posting this, as I had been thinking of trying it. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the hugelkultur beds.

  2. CrazyKwilter,

    It has been interesting comparing. So far I'd "rank" the beds from best down as:

    1. Wood chip + vertical stumps.
    Just have 3 cukes in this small bed, but doing great.

    2. Tie between wood chip bed and vertical hugelkultur.
    The wood chip bed has been doing better than expected. Plants in it are not wilting. The same variety squash & pole bean plants wilt in the horizontal hugelkultur beds but don't in the wood chip one.

    3. Horizontal hugelkultur

    4. Loosened clay with some leaves dug in.

    The wood beds have required a lot of extra nitrogen fertilizer to keep the plants green.

  3. Just a end of the season follow up:

    The beds performed in the above order all season.

    The only new observations is that in the wood chip beds it was actually easier to keep the plants green throughout the season and especially when the weather turned cooler in September.

    After fertilizing a couple times the wood chip beds stayed green for the rest of the season. Whereas in the loosed clay beds I had to keep fertilizing all season and even then the plant leaves would turn yellow from nitrogen deprivation. I believe this was because the nitrogen would just wash away as there was little organic matter to bind it.

    And even in the hugelkultur-only beds, the leaves turned yellow when the weather turned cooler. I believe the wood chip beds were able to bind more of the liquid nitrogen fertilizer over a larger area compared to the hugelkultur beds.

    The leaves in the 2 wood chip beds are still green now into October, but every other bed the leaves are yellowed.

    So compared to a clay soil, the wood chip beds actually required less nitrogen fertilizer and kept the plants greener.

    I'm sure a wood chip bed wouldn't do as well as a good, well-built-up organic soil, but it certainly did much, much better than clay soil.

  4. Thanks for this info. This is one of the only positive words i have found thus far on planting into dense woodchips. I am currently experimenting with planting australian native plants into a soil preparation i have made about 1 cubic foot that is surrounded heavily by a sea of woodchips. I am hoping that over the next few yrs the sea of chips will breakdown into a nice soil. I am a tad concerned about nitrogen drawdown for the plants. Between the original heavy clay soil and 1 foot or so thick sea of chips i have put a few inches of coffee grounds and horse manure. I hope to attract and feed worms to work the soil. I am also pouring in my diluted urine into the chips. I am planning on experimenting with woodchips in the backyard to grow food. This was the intention for the front yard until my partner insisted on having natives in the front for 'curb appeal'. I have put in cuttings of pigface straight into woodchips and just added some chicken manure. They have all doubled in size over about a month. I am very pleased with that. Before i planted into the woodchips i let them rest for about 3 months, with two of these months with them very wet and hot from the summer rain, sun and activity from the microorganisms.

    1. You might want to also try digging in a lot of wood chips. With your choice of fertilizer (which I also use) you should have more than enough to overcome any nitrogen tie-up.

      Check out the wood chip soil post & pictures.
      It was quite a surprise for me when I saw how roots preferred growing into wood chips versus regular clay soil.


  5. I want bark chips that Do NOT have any fertilizer. Our animals sleep on the small bark, but now they only seem to have fertilizer in the bark. Bummer.

    1. I'd be happy with the extra fertilizer. I've actually gone into a forest, found wood rat mounds and harvested wood pieces and rat droppings from them for my garden.

  6. I am growing pea shoots in the house all year in wood chips soaked in 10-52-10 1/5th strenght. I put 3 inches of pre soaked wood chips into 3ft x 1ft styrofoam fish boxes which I get from the fish shop for free. We just eat the shoots, then throw out the chips under my garden shrubs for mulch. The wood chips come from the municipal compost pile. I am also trying wood chips pilled 1 1/2 ft deep with sea weed piled on that, I plan to grow dahlias and zinnia this year under the chips.