Wood Chips as Forest Floor

For the last few years, we have been experimenting with wood chips in the garden. It’s been a gradual process of increasing use over many years. Here’s the story:

wood chip pile

wood chip pile

Originally, we were told by the previous owner of our house, that wood chips are a great ground cover or mulch. And they’re free! So, we started getting them delivered to cover areas of the side yard that tend to grow lots of weeds and to cover weed cloth that I put down to make weeding easier.

Fast forward a few years. I’m potting some plants and run out of soil to use. At that time, we were making our own soil – a mix of kitchen compost, horse manure and sand. I was desperate to finish my project, and didn’t want to pay for soil, so I started looking around for anything I could use in the yard. Ofer suggested that I take a peek under the silver maple (the large tree in the side yard). The wood chips had been sitting there for years, quietly composting. Well, imagine my joy, when I found beautiful composted soil right there in abundance! There was enough for me to finish my project and I was a happy camper.

Not long after, we visited the large Home and Garden show in Santa Monica. It was an interesting experience, but the most important thing we gained was an inspiration. There was a landscaper there who was demonstrating an instant garden idea – he put out straw bales, added a layer of soil and planted directly in the top soil layer. From that, we decided to create what we call instabed or layered gardening. I’ve also heard it referred to as lasagna gardening.

spring beds layered

spring beds layered

 

Good bye planter boxes, soil turning and double digging! This is what we did. We laid out 4 inches of wood chips, added a 2 inch layer of manure, and then repeated the wood chips. The final layer was our homemade soil, about 2 inches deep. We made long beds about 4 feet wide for easy weeding and harvesting. Remember our soil has so much clay that we were able to make a pond and not put in a liner. Take a look at the previous post for more info on our pond.

layered beds with seedlings

layered beds with seedlings

 

We’ve done this for a few years now and the soil is great. Our very clay soil is responding slowly. Then, we found out about the film Back to Eden. It features a man in the northwest who has been gardening solely with wood chips. And the results he has are astounding. The film gives amazing descriptions of how to do it, why it is beneficial and what results to expect. Wow!

Here’s the link to the filmBack to Eden.

So, we have now started to fill the yard with these glorious wood chips. Our insight many years before, which has been reinforced by the video, is that we have been creating an environment to mimic nature. The forest floor, as nature has created it, has purpose beyond a soft place to walk. The leaves and branches that fall underneath the mature and adolescent plants create the perfect environment for life to flourish. As it gently composts over a long period of time, it is providing the perfect combination to support life. As a result, new plants take root and grow on their own – what we call volunteers in the garden is actually the natural order of things in the wilderness.

wood chip beds

wood chip beds

fall potato sprouts

fall potato sprouts

fall garden

fall garden

Over the years, we have observed this phenomenon in our garden. The spontaneous growth that has resulted makes it feel more and more like we live in the country, in an environment that isn’t landscaped, wild. We see different mushrooms every year and mushrooms are a great indicator of healthy soil. (More on mushrooms another time.) Just don’t eat the ones you find unless you are an expert!

 

In addition, there are more birds, more “weeds” many of which are edible and have healing properties and more peace has entered the garden.

Already this fall, we have seen the spontaneous eruption of leftover potatoes in the garden. They are peeking their heads through the wood chips and showing us that they are growing the spring harvest for us to enjoy!