Cardboard and Wood Chips Mulching

9779379053?profile=originalI don't know why I refuse to leave well enough alone.

I can't help myself. A kitchen garden that grows annuals is  an elastic  medium. With the seasons and such there are any number of excuses to change the design. Guess I'm not much of a Permaculturalist.

As it happens I am sick of foraging for my harvest. My penchant for jungling means I do not have an easy grab for a bite as I am losing too much food hiding in the greenery.

Since I've also taken my penchant for milk crate gardening to another level I'm less dependent on my beds. I really need them to make soil in the way only dirt, plants and critters can. And I've done well with the making of the soil outback. Like some holy transubstantiation I have turned it from sand to loam.

All my own work -- in partnership with Nature's ways and means.

At 'the farm' -- our Vetiver plantation -- we have planted out thousands of slips in beds covered with cardboard and woodchips.  It works for us real good. While I cut the Vetiver grass for at home mulching, I need more than I've cut so far.

SO I thought  what works at the farm should work at home. So I've covered my beds with cardboard and laid down a blanket of woodchips on top of that. In time the cut Vetiver stems will be joining the layering, but for now, our farm houses a huge pile of woodchips -- some of which I'm stealing for domestic use.

I've done a few other things too as part of this revamp:

  • 9779378478?profile=originalI've placed planted out milk crates on the beds so they drain to the soil below
  • I've rejigged my overhead aerials to run aluminium chains down to climbers and ramblers (like tomatoes) below. Better than string or rope because these things offer purchase. It's chain curtaining that I got el cheapo from an Op shop. Should last me forever (pictured right).
  • I've done away with paths so that I can walk wherever I want between the plants I've planted by stepping on the woodchip carpet

I've mentioned this before this video has impressed me greatly:this is my primary inspiration.

Now that I have the soil that actually will grow things, I can be more selective with what I do with it.

I use the soil I have made as part of a simple mix for my containers like milkcrates. In them I'm growing plants that are either hard to grow or are vulnerable or expensive -- and I let the more feral species grow in the beds. Squashes. Tomatoes. Radishes. Greens.

Like Alice does.

I also appreciate her shade. I'm unlikely to throw shade cloth over my beds -- but I do use climbers on my aerials not only to protect my plants from the hot sun but I need a cooler spot if I'm going to work out there. As It is, I stay out of the garden between 11am and after 3pm most days because of the heat in Summer.

If I can cool it to an ambience that suits me without the plants suffering unduly -- I'm keen.

I also woodchip mulch my containers and, as Alice suggests elsewhere, use some chips in my potting mix as a carbon reserve.

A layer of cardboard boxes flattened out plus a topping of woodchips makes for an awesome mulch blanket. To plant I need to stab through it to the soil below.

The cardboard is plentiful by dumpster diving at the local shopping centre.

The woodchips are got by hailing down tree cutters and negotiating  with them to get their load of chips for free (or for a few cans of beer).

This woodchip makeover is carpeting the soil between my Vetiver clumps here at home as the Vetiver has functions unique to itself in way of  hydrating the upper layer of soil and sponsoring microbiology.


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  • Despite my delight in navigating another garden option with ma' chips, I am appreciating the many containers I have in production.

    What is it? Forty? Fifty? I have at least 30 milk crates working for me. Then the other odds and sods.Terracotta. Plastic. Porcelain. Near where I sit grows a Vetiver clump in a recycled toilet bowl.

    All of these are filled with soil dug from my own garden plus a few additives like manure and woodchips and maybe some with leaf litter.

    As I've said before the 'soil dug' is something I created in the first place, so I own the copyright --potted or not. Main thing is that it all works.

    As our daily meals prove...

    Of course container  plants require a weather eye out for moisture levels. Although I may coat the top with mulch layer -- primarily woodchip-- you still need to water frequently.

    So rather than waste the drippings I put pot on container and pot on garden bed in a hierarchy of recycling.

    This works folks. The container on top also shelters and mulches the one below like plants growing in fertile rock crevices.

    I'm not planning to embrace vertical gardening for the sake of going up -- but a pragmatic approach to levels works. Remember that it is hot and/or dry here in SEQ and shade has to be a primary gardening tool. My workaround is to butt my containers together for insulation and micro-climating. In this milk crates are ideal -- like dominoes or  Hadrian's Wall.

    The other trick is to group your containers in the one area so they are easily serviced -- such as with a hose. The other option is to run them near a walkway for the same practical purpose.

    Experience thus far has suggested a few indicators of what goes best in containers and what may be better suited to in ground planting.

    • Herbs: Containers
    • Spring Onions: Containers(definitely!)
    • Peppers (chilli & sweet): Maybe Containers?
    • Lettuces: Containers (added option of moving container around to chase shade)
    • Beans: Ground
    • Squashes & Gourds: Ground
    • Tomatoes: ?
    • Radishes:Ground
    • Egg Plant: ?
    • Tomatillo: ?
    • Cucumber: ? (Probably Containers )

    I guess the first principle is that if it doesn't thrive in the ground, maybe next time plant it in a container.

  • Since I built my garden with lawn clippings, I now have a very rich and spongy sandy loam with a significant colour change to black  flagging its carbon content.

    Cardboard and wood chips is a very different mulching method. Break down is sure to be slower and the cardboard + chip layer is a significant barrier to light.

    Thus +++  weed suppression.

    Having said that I'm hanging out until I can cut more Vetiver  to use as another  mulch layer. After all, I have a lot of Scurvy Weed to suppress.

    (I liked the scurvy weed as a green mulch but I kept losing sight of my plants)

    My feeling, however, is that wood chips are a great beginning to a garden and a useful way to renew it -- but unless you are growing trees and other perennials, I'd be unwilling to keep layering with wood chips.

    Why? Because they are not fibrous enough. They interlock --sort of like chip board-- if they don't break down quickly.

    I don't think the earthworms would appreciate that ceiling above them -- and I'm much obsessed with my worms  as signals of a healthy soil.

    If I had begun my garden enterprise with wood chips I doubt I would have created the good soil I have now in the volume I have.

    Ultimately I see  it is as a weed suppression exercise. Other mulches, especially mixes of different cut plants and grasses especially, are more likely to feed soil development. So while I laid down cardboard under the wood chip layer, I also desiccated a lot of greenery underneath that and left it on the soil surface before covering with cardboard.

    On YouTube you'll get a whole lot of vids on wood chip gardening -- aka Back to Eden gardening -- but I need to say I have not proved the method's efficacy to myself yet.  (In the US it also has a religious connotation among some evangelical Christians).

    In the video from Zimbabwe, Alice's ground is covered in litter -- rather than wood chips -- and she obviously plants in pots or in the soil following a mixed planting agenda. She also uses shade, I'd guess, to also suppress weed growth. But she does add wood chips to her potting mixes (in another video on the same channel)

    It's very eclectic: neither one thing nor the other.

    Wood chips, if relied on, would be  a sort of monoculture I reckon.

    In the links you shared, Christa, the authors  suggest inoculation with forest litter -- and that makes a lot of sense if all you are doing is adding a desiccated single species of tree. They also make the point that bark is different to bark is already well colonised.

  • Another good site explaining "Regenerating soils with Ramial Chipped Woods" is HERE.

  • This is a discussion of great interest to me, as I feel our garden also has benefitted from woodchip type mulch.  It is a pity we don't have detailed information on our australian trees and their barkchip.  

    Since we have used Tea Tree mulch on our garden paths, I have noticed iimprovement in areas closeby.  Another sign is the abundance of mushroom and fungi growth in those areas.  

    My garden has similarities to Alice's garden in the video, as we garden in large pots or bins. We create our own microclimate with overhanging trees.  The harvest here is not vegetables but leafy plants and fruit trees. 

    It will be interesting to hear how you see your garden changes with a woodchip type of mulch.  The ramial branches have always been put through the mulcher into the garden.  HERE is a website with good info but it is not based on our timbers in Australia. 

  • After doing some homework I'd like to add some suppositions:


    • Wood chips are one of the best mulches for holding moisture, moderating soil temperatures, controlling weeds, and overall sustainability. Wood chips absorb more water than many other mulches, water which both cools the soil and is slowly released to plants.
    • One of the main concerns, and reason often cited for not using wood chips, is that they will tie up nitrogen and cause plants to be hungry. When wood chips are used on trees and shrubs, many studies have shown just the opposite. While there is likely a shallow zone near the surface under a layer of wood chips in which nitrogen is often lacking (organisms use up nitrogen as they break down organic matter), the deeper roots of shrubs and trees should have sufficient nutrients in good soils. This shallow zone under wood chips, lacking in nitrogen, may help reduce weed seed germination. Fewer weeds means more nutrients available for your plants.
    • Since wood chips contain materials of various sizes—bark, wood, and leaves—they are more resistant to compaction than sawdust and bark. This diverse selection of materials & sizes  also supports a diverse selection of soil microorganisms. These, in turn, are more resistant to environmental stresses and create a healthier plant environment.


    • While woodchips won't bring termites into your garden, those that are there will appreciate the cool moist environment under any mulch layer.As far as I can make out being 'wood' chips don't necessarily equate with a termite takeaway option. A rotting log on the other hand is a feast.
    • When handling woodchips as they age you need to be aware of the potential of pathogenic fungi that could impact on your health. Always wet the chips before moving them and if necessary wear a mask.
    • It is always best to know where your chips come from and what they likely contain. While the spread of disease may not be significant,  some timbers are sure to be allopathic. Eucalypti is notorious in that regard.  Maybe Sheoak too. I'm unaware of a likely list for Australian species -- but in Europe Oak chips are a notorious no no. Of course, around perennials, this may be an advantage.

    We've found that laying woodchips directly on the soil is not an efficient protocol. Best to lay down cardboard first. Cardboard is wood pulp of course and will take longer to break down than the habit of Permie paper layering. If weeds come up through the chips it may be more useful to simply lay another piece of cardboard on top of the invader, then smother that with more chips.

    We drill with an augur  or stab with a short star post  through the woodchips, to plant slips or seedlings.

  • On the topic of wood chips, there is a book that is worth reading.:?

    The Woodchip Handbook: A Complete Guide for Farmers, Gardeners and Landscapers By Ben Raskin

    I thought that its asking price was a tad hefty, but you can read a generous excerpt on Google Books HERE.

    What's there is very useful.

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