We are in our 6th year of producing chemical free vegetables on approx. 2 acres. I had been experimenting with woodchips for several years before we were awarded the grant.
According to an April 29, 2017 article, written by Dr. Patrick Quillin, PhD, Rd,Cns, the majority of today’s farming soil is mineral deficient, farms are experiencing soil erosion and mineral depletion by leaching caused by irrigation. The soil has few microorganisms, earth worms or beneficial fungi . The constant applying of fertilizers or pesticides, whether commercial or organic is not building healthy soil, and is an added expense…………. When using woodchips as a renewable “waste” product, the issue of burning them or dumping them into landfills is avoided. Decomposing wood chips can become a viable way to create more fertile and productive soil. Using decomposing wood chips as a covering as well as a planting medium keeps the soil moist so less irrigation is required. As the wood chips continue to break down, the underlying soil becomes even more fertile with an abundance of life forms and there seems to be no negative reactions, example, toxicity or nutrient tie up. Using wood chips is economically sound (they are the natural waste/by-product of utility companies and landscapers trimming trees), less weeding is required and vegetable plants are less prone to disease.
- Show that decomposing woods chips improve the fertility of soil, less soil compaction is present, and soil moisture improves through biological, nutrient testing and soil meters
- Compare the productivity of sweet corn, green beans and potatoes. Amount of produce by weight and root mass of these vegetables will be recorded. One test plot with decomposing wood chips, one test plot plain ….
- Findings will be shared through website, social media and conference presentation
We contacted one of our local tree trimming company’s and they have been delivering woodchips for several years. We just let them set in a pile and decompose. Depending on how the chips will be used, determines how long we let them decompose before moving them to the planting beds. Since we want to take advantage of the winter snow and rain on the woodchips, we apply an additional 3 to 4 inches of decomposing chips on our planting beds that already have chips on them. By applying more chips in the fall, the woodchip tea will feed the soil all winter.
Here are some ways we are using woodchips in our no till, chemical free vegetable production.
1. Fresh chips for walk ways in our high tunnels
2 We use chips that are at least 6 months or older for our established vegetable beds. We apply 3 to 4 inches of chips each fall. Sometimes we put down extra chips in early summer if some weeds are coming through.
3. 2-year-old decomposing chips can be directed planted into. We scattered carrots seeds on top of the chips and kept watered until carrots come up.
I am pleased to share these positive results with you. I knew the soil looked richer and was more productive but it’s nice to see the soil and chemistry details comparing with woodchips and without woodchips. The following links will show soil test and chemistry analysis taken this fall (2018) on two separate plots, both with green beans. One with woodchips and One without woodchips. As you read the reports, you will notice that the plot with woodchips is much higher in organic matter, number of nematodes, more active fungi, greater biomass, more mycorrhized fungi, higher in these minerals, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, ca.mg ratio, sodium and zinc. In speaking with Mat Slaughter from Earthfort Labs (the lab who tested our soil samples) he suggested we do another lab test in early summer when the Nematode are most active.
One of our goals was to measure the productivity of corn, green beans and potatoes. However, some of the sheets where the data was recorded were accidently left in the field and were rained on. Next year I will put the data sheets in plastic so they will not get ruined or better yet buy a smart phone so the data can be voiced recorded. Another goal was to take notice of the longevity of the plants. I did not notice any difference in the longevity of the potatoes or corn plants with or without chips. However, the green beans with the wood chips still had a few blossoms and baby green beans on the vines when the first frost came. To be honest, I forgot to take pictures of the root systems in the green beans, potatoes and corn. I will make sure to put pictures here next year of the root systems with chips and without. There was much learning this year and I am grateful this is a 2 yr. project!
Educational & Outreach Activities
We will be holding a field day July 2019 here at our farm and making a presentation at the Hort Conference in Feb 2020. This report will also be added to our farm website
Several lessons learned this year.
1. If the weather is extremely warm when you plant potatoes or green bean seeds, and you are planting in a covering of woodchips, make sure to water until the potatoes/green beans seeds are up several inches. Then bring the extra chips up around the plants. This will help keep the moisture in the ground and feed the plants each time it rains.
2. Carrots can be directly sown on the top of wood chips that have been decomposing for at least 2 years. Just make sure to keep the chips lightly watered each day until the carrots come up. Usually 2 weeks
3. Adding a covering of 6-month-old woodchips in the fall is better than applying in the spring. Adding the woodchips in the fall allows for the snow and rain to release the woodchip tea into the soil.
4. Another advantage of adding the woodchips in the fall is saving time. In the areas that I had not covered with chips in the fall there was an abundance of weeds that I had to take the time to hand hoe.