Work Wonders With Wood Waste

If you're looking for a way to improve poor soil, adding wood waste could be the answer.

| July/August 1979

Ah, summertime! Your tomatoes are blooming and your corn stalks are high! The veggies on your dinner table have that just-plucked crispness you can't get any other time of year. In short, the entire garden is busting its britches with delicious bounty!

Well, at least that's what's supposed to be happening. But maybe your harvest isn't turning out to be a cupboard stuffer after all. Perhaps that patch of "cropping" ground—the spot that looked so good when you cleared it—is really composed of such heavy clay that your seeds would need jackhammers to sprout. Or possibly your tilled soil is so sandy and light that water rushes by your vegetables before the parched plants can even "stick out their tongues." On the other hand, maybe your ground is very fertile. So much so that you can't find the victuals for the weeds!

My friend, if you've run into a passel of problems like these and want to remedy the situation, let me suggest that you enlist the aid of the soil's best friend: "wood waste."

What's So Good About Wood?

I know from my own experience that ground-up leaves, bark chips, sawdust—indeed, all wood pieces and products—are ideal conditioners for almost any kind of earth. For instance, my first homestead had a heavy clay soil that became downright gluey after a rainfall but turned (magically) into ancient Sumerian writing tablets as soon as the sun came out. Several repeated applications of sawdust—both tilled in and laid on as mulch—loosened up that ol' clay, aerated the soil, added healthy humus, and supercharged my sunflowers!

A few years later I moved to Florida and was faced with ground so sandy the grains'd slip between the fingers of a closed hand. I "planted" wood chips to handle that problem. The long-lasting "timber trifles" helped the dirt retain moisture and—used as mulch—fended off the hot southern sun. (In fact, testing proved chip-covered soil to be as much as 20° cooler than was its well-baked exposed surface! )

The truth is, I'd be hard pressed to say enough good things about waste wood. The tree products make excellent soil conditioners (which encourage the activities of beneficial micro-organisms) and fine sun-shedding, water-holding, weed-stopping, earthworm-luring, and garden-pleasing mulches. (One caution, though: Wood wastes—or any other crop "blanket"—should not be applied around heat loving plants too early in the season or the insulating fragments will actually retard growth.)

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