most organic gardeners, I know how difficult it
can be to turn poor soil into dark, rich
fertility soil. I use compost and compost tea,
take soil tests and add what is needed, add
organic matter, grow a cover crop, and use
It’s a lot of work, and even with the best of efforts it takes at least 3 to 5 years to get even close. But there are no short cuts to great soil. Or are there?
In the last 50 years a new method has been discovered for creating wonderful fertility soil out of even the worst soil. Yet it's not new at all – just new to us!
The secret? Small hardwood branches and twigs, chopped into chips while they are still green. These wood chips produce great soil with very little effort. They are called Ramial Chipped Wood, or RCW.
For thousands of years, hardwood forests have continually enriched the soil they grow in. This is NOT true of conifers like pine or cedar trees, which continually degrade the soil in so an effort to force out competition.
I have created the perfect growing environment in my garden by working an inch of RCW into my topsoil in the fall. Sure, it can temporarily tie up nitrogen in the soil, but by spring my garden is ready to go!
Mushrooms and other fungi work well with RCW, They have the wonderful ability to break down the young linings in small branches and twigs, turning them into stable humus. Stable humus is the key ingredient for great soil.
When I use ramial wood chips along with compost or green manure, I get the best of both worlds. Fungus break down the wood chips to wonderful structure in the soil, while bacteria feed on other organic matter that I apply.
The result? Many different beneficial organisms fill the soil with life into what is called the “Soil Food Web. When this happens, you have created the perfect fertility soil.
Where do you get ramial chipped wood?
It is available for free in most towns and cities from tree trimming companies.
You can apply RCW as a mulch in your garden. Or if it is more convenient, you can compost ramial chipped wood to create beautiful garden soil or potting soil.
Although it is preferable to apply RCW in the fall, it may also be put out as a mulch most any time.
Ramial chipped wood is a good choice for vegans, who prefer not to use animal waste or byproducts in their gardens.
Even by itself, RCW provides most all of the nutrients needed by plants.
The one exception to this are a variety of trace minerals no longer found in most soils. These have been leached out and farmed out and generally no longer a part of our diets.
Farmers have asked me if it is possible to use ramial chipped wood on the farm. The answer is yes, providing the farmer uses a little ingenuity in finding enough for his needs.
The great news is that as the wood chips produce new dark, rich fertility soil, less and less fertilizer is required.
Even in the tropics ramial chipped wood can transform soils. Because even in Africa the small branches and twigs aren't used for firewood, they are a perfect nutrient source to build back up the soil.
Test applications have been made in Cameroon, with great results.
Finally, an easy way for just about anyone to create fertility soil.
I learned about it from a neighbor. You can watch his RCW videos on YouTube.
Even those new to gardening can now garden like a pro. The Back to Eden group agrees with is.
I hope that you will give some thought to using ramial chipped wood. It has done wonders in my garden. Happy gardening!