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The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › Regenerating Soils with Ramial Chipped Wood

Regenerating Soils with Ramial Chipped Wood

Greg M.
user 3541854
Acton, ME
Post #: 302
I started reading Michael Phillips new book "The Holistic Orchard" (great book to add to your permaculture reading list, btw) and early in he discusses the use of ramial chipped wood. This got me digging online for more information. Here's a good reading link:


To think way back I used to burn brush piles...aghh. I'm picturing coppiced alder and oak more than ever. Only down side is needing a chipper. I usually just haul all my wood chips home from the transfer station. Pictures of the resulting soil are so gorgeous!
Jesse S.
user 29709632
Harrison, ME
Post #: 27
Between chips and hugelkulture, there's no need to burn your brush. I had that 'aha' moment myself a couple years back. After using chips in my garden and around my orchard, the resulting soil is full of mycelium. I got blooms of volunteer meadow mushrooms in many of my raised beds last year as a result.
Sue M.
user 3284483
South Portland, ME
Post #: 128
Thanks Greg, that is a fascinating article. A lot of good info.
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 850
I have been doing chip mulching and hugelkultur for quite a few years. It works and generates soil fairly fast. Hugelkultur seems much slower.

This seems like overthinking it to me. Prairie soils are not germane to issues around here. Neither are all the mechanical techniques.

I found some questionable facts regarding how fast chips can be made and about the spread of basidiomycetes and other fungi. I don't think slime molds, ascomycetes or springtails were mentioned at all. Loggers around here can easily make over 100 tons of chips a day and that includes the time driving them to the mill. I've seen it done.

Hardwood chips are better than conifer for sure but a mix probably won't make that much difference.

My whole front yard is chips. In nine years I have had to redo chips three times because they become soil quite fast and the weeds come. The fungi run through it fast and in different years you may expect different species. Note that some fungi actually prefer conifer chips. Tubaria and Hypholoma (and other) species will likely show up the first year (they don't seem to think so).

I got four large truckloads of chips from Asplundh this past year. Most of those chips are the high nutrient twigs, small branches, and a lot of leaves. The mixed in leaves make the decomposition process happen faster creating some humus among the chips within one year. They say you have to wait 3 years to use in the garden. That is probably true but true in most any case with most any chips you can get.

Companies like Asplundh and Lucas are always looking for places to dump their chips. If they don't find a good place they may be dumped in far less useful places. I tip them when they come to keep them coming back. For $10-20 you should be able to get a serious mountain of chips in your yard.

Overthinking it probably isn't worth it. Further, you might consider chips like this to actually grow fungi.

Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 2,091
We've been using ramial wood chips (mostly hard wood) for about 6 years as both a lawn eradication technique, mulch for pathways and soil building strategy. The soil biology, especially mycelial, is mind-blowing. I also would not discount the "drought-resistance" capacity of this landscape now since the think chip mulch absorbs all moisture like a sponge and time-releases it into surrounding soils for weeks. Even after two or three weeks of no precip, the soil under the chip mulch is nice and moist.

Our 1/3 acre lot has literally "eat up" more than 40 yards of chips over the years and most of that has been turned into topsoil at the interface of the chips and the soil surface.

We know that in due course getting chips will be harder or more expensive (it's a free "waste" product right now) as the cost of chipper fuel goes up or more demand for chips grows. But for now we're making use of the resource as best we can.
Greg M.
user 3541854
Acton, ME
Post #: 304
It is amazing how quickly the chips make gorgeous soil, isn't it? I remember when I first noticed how much nicer the soil was getting in my wood chip covered paths than in the veg garden beds themselves. That's when I started using chip mulches as a cover there too.

David, I knew I'd get some good input from you with this topic...thanks. They recommended no more than 20% conifer and chipping before leaves come out. I've always used whatever was available and have also been happy. I always figured I was shooting for composting and green leaves would help with the carbon...they want just fungal dominance it seems. From your experience they're overthinking that one based on a mental model rather than from observation of controlled experimental results? Do you think you really need to chip everything to get this to work well? Maybe brush piles covered with leaves or something left for a few years? I agree that for now the chips are near free from all the road work so no worries...we get to import organic fertility to our properties cheaply at the moment.

Maybe I'll try to follow what they're saying around one apple and break the rules on another and see what happens after a few years concerning growth rates and soil quality.

By the way, Micheal Phillips orchards in NH...about 1.5 hrs north of North Conway. I may need to buy some apples from him this fall in order to take a peek at his operation as well as try some good varieties I haven't had the pleasure of coming across yet. He seems like quite a nice guy.
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 851
For most people in this group with relatively small patches of land the whole discussion of "fields" is not that useful. It will likely be used more as soil building mulch.


RCW can be used as mulch or, better, on the soil surface. In this way, RCW is slow to evolve and does not play the same role. It serves as a mechanical barrier to drying and as a shield against UV rays which are lethal for the life beneath. It is an ecological niche for forest insects and other biotas while preventing weed sprouting and agressivity. It is possible that the long-term effect will be similar to that of surface disking. Certain farmers prefer the mulching method because it does not interfere with the life of the soil."

That said, I can view my yard around my property as a "field" with agricultural crops. My crops aren't "field crops" like corn, tomatoes etc. but trees and bushes. They all are growing famously in my chipped "field" on top of what is essentially hardpan mixed soil from excavation (then covered with chips). I have built a lot of soil and have plenty of earthworms, mushrooms, etc. If I can grow a peach to 1/2 ounce short of a pound, I think I'm doing OK.

Blueberries for instance, do like growing on "brown rot" rotting wood so making inferences about what various plants like most certainly depends on what you grow. You can't paint with too broad of a brush on this issue. It depends. The wild acid loving blueberries love woodchips as do a lot of other highly useful food plants occurring naturally in the woods. In these cases compost and fertilizers may not be needed at all. The chips provide all the soil input you could possibly want without a lot of maintenance and other yearly screwing around. Blueberries do better with ammonium inputs than nitrogen.

In the end these long term soil building strategies are better for a lot of things than compost and fertilizers. I also throw my empty clam, mussel and oyster shells out there to provide some extra nutrients as apple growers did in the very old days as ultra long term soil feeders.

David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 852
It should also be noted that you may try intercropping with woodchips with corn and other crops. Wine caps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) and elm oyster (Hypsizygus ulmarius) have been cited as useful species to grow between rows. Wine caps are known to actually consume nematodes as well as the chips and create better yield from the vegetative crop companions.

Often wine caps are already in landscaper's woodchips. Mary Anderson got them in her garden via that route as did my friends at LeVatout bed and breakfast in Waldoboro. If you can obtain some of those kind of chips you may be able to expand them by adding to other chips.

I'm hoping they will show in my yard this year. So far the happy accident people are doing better......

I'm going to be looking at woodchip piles more closely this year. Winecaps have very noticeable white rhizomorphs in the chips.

user 4248834
Portland, ME
Post #: 2
Does anyone know where to get hardwood wood chips in Portland? I'm starting a mushroom garden and would much rather take a "waste product" than buy stuff in bags at Lowe's or something. All I really have in my yard are mounds of willow twigs.
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