Building Soil


Wood Chips Dumping

It is quite amazing to watch Gary drive his huge extended top dump truck up our steep south field road to the plateau for dumping wood chips. The truck is extended about four feet taller with a wooden framework so he can carry extra chips. Good thing there are no low bridges or power lines between him and us.
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Gary put several loads up there at the south field shed and in the wind shadow of the bales of winter hay. The pigs will enjoy these deep beds through the winter. The chips compost, accelerated by pig manure and urine, which produces warm bellies for the pigs during even the coldest weather.

Those pigs and chickens who want to can go under the sheltering roof of the south field shed, an open three sided structure. Most of the bigger pigs sleep out under the stars by their own preferences. In the morning they sometimes are snow covered. Since pigs are late risers I often come down and find them under a white blanket – we get snow almost every night once winter sets in. Their thick hair coat must keep the snow up off their bodies trapping a micro-climate of warm air near their skin. Pig’s internal temperature runs about 103°F but I have measured their skin surface temperature at abut 60°F with the infra-red temperature gun.

Eventually the wood chips compost down to about 20% of their volume and we spread the resulting rich soil amendement on our orchards, gardens and fields to improve the fertility of our soils. Years ago the extension agency had recommended we buy and apply a lot of commercial fertilizer and lime because our mountain soil is so poor, thin and acidic. One agent recommended grazing livestock instead of spreading fertilizer and said that would gradually improve the soil. A slower method but a lot cheaper.

In addition to the dung and urine from the animals there is the nitrogen pulled down by the legumes (alfalfa, trefoil, clovers), the organic matter from the growing forages, wood chip compost from their bedding and the compost of the roughly 120 tons of winter hay each year, after it improves by passing through the animals. Gradually our fields are improving and in the meantime we produce meat, a side benefit which pays for the hay, wood chips and mortgage. Slowly our fertile area grows, year after year. Building soil for the future.

Outdoors: 37°F/24°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/60°F

Daily Spark: If you can’t handle broken promises, don’t read the weather predictions.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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5 Responses to Building Soil

  1. Edmund Brown says:

    Hey Walter,
    I love your blog. I wish I was half as good as you are at doing regular updates. What a trove of ideas and photos.

    I wonder if you’ve taken any soil samples in the winter paddocks since you’ve added lots of hay and woodchips?

    We outwinter our cattle on an infertile hill right now and man do they ever prefer to graze on the spots where the fertility has been improved by importing hay. I haven’t taken a sample yet, but keep meaning to do so from a spot two or three winters past where the sod has fully recovered. I am particularly interested to see the potassium levels since it’s my understanding that plants tend to concentrate potassium and then pass it into the compost. Too much for too long can cause problems… or so “they” say. I know on dairy farms around barns there are often K excesses but they usually import a lot more fertilizer in the form of grain than I do.

    I also wonder where you get those chips? A saw mill? I’m a little to rural to rely on utility crews and county road work to keep my chip supply up. Is it expensive?

    • I haven’t because what I want to do is a lot of soil tests of different areas so I can compare them and that costs a lot of money so it is still on my To-Do list. What I do know is that the winter paddocks produce wonderful garden crops such as pumpkins, sunflowers, beets, turnips, tomatoes, squash, etc while the areas that have not gotten that treatment do not grow those things very well.

      Sometimes we do chipping here. These chips came from another forest a bit south of us and were $10/cu-yd delivered. Much of that cost is the truck. In the past I had gotten chips from the power line crews when they were chipping on the lines that run across our land but that is a small amount, maybe two truck loads total, and intermittent. I’ve become a little leery of getting random chips from road side crews because I was finding shredded cans, trash and broken glass in that material – not things I want to add to my soil.

  2. David lloyd Sutton says:

    I’d guess that chips from roadside and clearance crews in predominately piney areas would make soil somewhat acidic. In the last place I had land, Santa Barbara, I was tempted by county road crew chips, but watching them work, I realized that oleander, a seriously poisonous plant, was a big part of their take. Here in N. Ca. they use oleander along the highways as well. Never have figured that for anything but water and maintenance stinginess, it being a very drought resistant shrub\tree. They’re close to immortal. But planting something with sap that can kill in an open wound or even a laceration along freeways where folks have accidents . . . often, seems dumb. Also, if it burns, the smoke can cause fatal edema. One whole village in Brazil, early last century, died that way, practicing the local slash and burn agricultural clearance. Sometimes free is really expensive!!

  3. Zanis says:

    If you’re paying for it, get bark chips from a sawmill if you can. Much better for soil improvement – chock full of humus forming chemicals. Wood chips are primarily cellulose – i.e. sugar. There’ll be a trade-off of less heat from decomposition, though.

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