As a gardener, you may be asking, “are wood chips good for compost?”. The answer is a resounding YES. Wood chips are an organic material and bring valuable nutrients to the compost pile and beneficial fungi into the decomposing process.
Are Wood Chips Good For Compost?
Yes. Wood chips are an organic material that are cheap and easy to acquire. You can add the organic matter, fresh wood chips, to your compost pile and reap the benefits. The wood chips help to give a better carbon:nitrogen ratio in the backyard compost pile.
Your backyard compost pile is probably loaded with nitrogen. Lawn/garden waste and food wastes are the most common ingredients in compost piles. Both of which are high in nitrogen. Wood mulch can be added to compost piles to give a better carbon:nitrogen ratio. Because of the wood chip’s rough structure, it allows more air flow through the compost pile which enhances the composting process.
Using wood chips in your compost does require some changes to your compost-making approach, but there are tricks to getting the most out of the material and getting them to break down quickly.
How To Make Compost With Wood Chips
To begin, let’s start by giving a brief introduction to how the process of composting works for the backyard gardener or homesteader.
Composting is a natural process in which(in the case of the backyard gardener or homesteader) a pile of kitchen scraps and lawn waste decomposes into organic matter, or nutrient rich soil.
By mixing the right ratios of carbon and nitrogen; bacteria, worms and fungi will produce an amazing material known as compost or “black gold”. This material is loaded with beneficial nutrients and improves soil fertility and water-holding capacity.
How Does Composting Happen?
There are 5 required components for the composting process to work:
Where there is moisture and oxygen, microorganisms like bugs, fungi, bacteria and worms work to break down the materials into humus.
There are three stages of the decomposition process:
- (1) Initial Organic Decomposition
Mesophilic organisms work to break down the materials into small pieces. This process begins to increase the compost pile’s internal temperature and you can feel this if you stick your hand in the middle of the pile.
- (2) Complex Organics Break Down
The temperature will continue to increase until it is too warm for the mesophiles and the next stage begins. These higher temperatures allow the thermophilic microorganisms to take over. Thermophiles break down the fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates in the compost heap into smaller, finer particles.
- (3) Breakdown
As the thermophilic microorganisms use up organic materials, the compost pile’s temperature begins to drop which allows the mesophilic microorganisms to take over again, for the final stage of the process. Once this final process is finished, the result will be beautiful, rich garden soil that is perfect for the vegetable garden, garden beds, soil amendment, putting around fruit trees and so much more.
What To Compost
Most materials can be broken down into two categories; brown materials(carbon rich) and green materials(nitrogen rich).
Rich in carbon, these items give energy to the microorganisms in the compost pile. Brown items are usually wood-based or fibrous: stems, branches, dry leaves, tree bark, wood chips, arborist wood, bark mulch, wood chip compost, wood waste, wood ash, pine needles, arborist wood chips and shredded newspaper.
Green material are nitrogen based, they provide protein and amino acids for the bacteria and fungi to be able to thrive. Food scraps, coffee grounds, green leaves, grass clippings and manure* are all excellent nitrogen-rich green materials.
*Manure needs special care to make sure it is composted correctly to be safely used in gardens where food is being produced. Only use manure if you understand how that process works.
Can You Compost Wood Chips?
Composting wood chips can be done and they offer a valuable nutrient source for the compost pile. There are a few techniques that you will want to use when composting woods chips. Let’s talk about those now.
Wood chips are a denser material, so they can take a long time to break down. But don’t let that deter you, they can be very beneficial in the compost pile.
Use Smaller Wood Chips
It goes without saying that the larger the wood chip, the longer it will take to break down. Ideally the wood chips should be no larger than 2 inches long.
Wood chips that are too large can be run through the wood chipper again to get them to a more manageable size.
Get The Carbon To Nitrogen Ratio Right
Most compost piles are looking for a ratio of 2 browns to 1 green( or two parts nitrogens and 1 part carbons). But for the fastest break down of the wood chips in the compost pile, you will want to up the nitrogen-rich materials content to a 50:50 split.
Don’t Use Fresh Wood Chips
If you have a fresh pile of wood chips, it can be very beneficial to allow them to sit for a while and start the decomposition process on it own.
The decaying wood will attract fungi and the fungi help break down the cellulose in the wood and will increase the available nitrogen.
Partially decayed and moldy wood chips are a great material to add to the compost pile and will help the break down process from wood chips, to beautiful organic compost significantly.
Moisture For Composting Wood Chips
Moisture content plays an important role in every compost pile, but it is especially important if you are looking to compost wood chips quickly and efficiently.
It is very common for the outer layers on the compost piles to dry out and lose moisture. A simple spray down with a hose will help keep the moisture in the compost pile and encourage the microbes to continue breaking down the wood chips quickly.
Turn The Composting Wood Chips
Again, as with all compost bin or compost piles, it is important to turn the compost. This will especially help the breakdown of wood chips as the turning of the compost encourages even distribution of air and moisture as well as the beneficial microbes.
If you are looking to decrease the amount of time it takes to compost wood chips, then hot composting is for you.
By increasing the temperature inside the compost pile, this will significantly speed up the decomposition, or breakdown of the wood chips.
Hot Composting Technique
Place the compost pile in the sun and cover the compost pile with a black silage tarp like this one. The black side should be facing out and the sun and tarp will work together to bring a significant amount of heat to the compost pile which will speed up the composting of the wood chips.
Composting Wood Chips With Chicken Manure
Chicken manure is a great addition to any compost pile, but the high levels of nitrogen in chicken manure can really enhance the end result of the finished compost.
Composting With Manure
Ruminant manures, such as cow manure, sheep manure, goat manure etc. is a great addition to the compost pile. These manures are high in nitrogen and are a great way to increase the decomposition rate of the compost pile.
How Long Does It Take To Compost Wood Chips?
With the right techniques and care taken to compost wood chips, you can expect it to take anywhere between 3-6 months to fully compost into nutrient rich soil.
That is best case scenario. If you follow these suggestions of small wood chips, moisture, hot composting, adding manures, getting the carbon to nitrogen ratio right and so on.
What Types Of Wood Chips Are Good For Composting?
Most any wood chips are just fine for adding to compost, unless they are toxic. But there are certainly wood chips from trees that will compost faster than others.
For instance, wood chips from hardwood trees like cedar, oak, cherry and cypress will take longer to break down into compost.
Softwood trees will break down faster for obvious reasons. Wood chips made from trees like pine, spruce, cypress and fir(just to name a few), will break down more quickly than the hardwood tree wood chips.
How Do I Get Free Wood Chips?
Wood chips are an organic material, therefore they are beneficial for composting. Most tree service companies consider wood chips to be a waste product and are happy to drop them off to you cheaply or sometimes even free of charge.
There is a great website called Chip Drop and you can sign up for free and any local companies that need to get rid of wood chips may bring you some, free of charge.
Call Local Tree Service Companies
If you are looking for free or cheap wood chips to add to your compost, get on the phone with some of the local tree companies in your area and ask if they will deliver wood chips to you. Many of them will do it for free and some may ask for a small fee or a little gas money.
Call Power Companies
Many power companies have tree crews that go out and cut trees around power lines and they often have wood chips to share with the community.
Call your local power company and get on a list so you can be the first person they contact when they have wood chips they need to dispose of.
Pull Over When You See Someone Using A Wood Chipper
Honestly, one of the best ways we have found to get wood chips for free is to pull over on the side of the road(safely) when we see a tree company or power company using a wood chipper and offer our property as a place to dump it. They are usually more than happy to bring it to us, as long as we are not too far away, of course.
Other Uses For Wood Chips
Let’s say you’ve got a super huge pile of wood chips(which would be the envy of all homesteaders, by the way 😉 ) and it’s more than you can use in your compost pile at the moment. You may be wondering how else you can use the wood chips on your property. So here are some fantastic uses for wood chips.
Wood Chips For The Gardens
It has been said that mother nature is modest, she likes to keep covered. And if you are a gardener, you will know this very well. Bare soil does not stay bare for very long. Something is going to grow and more than likely it’s going to be weeds.
You can use wood chips as an organic mulch for your gardens. The wood chips will help with water retention in the soil and are also a great form of weed suppression if you add a thick layer of wood chips to the soil surface.
You can also use wood chips for the pathways in your gardens. We like to add thick layers of cardboard on the ground and then cover with a thick layer of wood chips, works great and looks nice.
For The Chicken Run
The wood chips will absorb some moisture and work very well in the chicken run. The chickens will scratch through the mulch and the mulch mixed with their manure will make a very rich compost. Scoop that “black gold” off, put it in your gardens and then add more wood chips to continue the process.
Around Fruit Trees
Wood chips can be used as an excellent mulch around fruit trees. Again, aids in keeping the soil moisture high and will help suppress the weeds while encouraging plant growth.
Do you have spots around your farm that get muddy in the wet season? Maybe around gates or on certain frequently trekked pathways? The wood chips are an excellent stabilizer and will help tremendously with the mud.
Composting Wood Chips FAQs
Let’s answer a few FAQs regarding whether composting wood chips is a good idea or not.
Can you use wood chippings for compost?
Absolutely. Wood chips are an organic material and bring valuable nutrients to the compost pile and beneficial fungi into the decomposing process. With the tips and tricks I have outline in this blog post, you will be well on your way to using wood chips in your compost piles.
What is the best way to compost wood chips?
- gather wood chips(smaller the better) and green materials
- mix equal parts brown and green materials
- wet the pile and mix thoroughly
- place in a sunny spot to speed the process
- mix the pile with rake or pitch fork every 2 weeks or so
What kind of wood chips for composting?
Any type of wood chips can be composted, but the soft wooded trees break down more quickly than hardwoods, for obvious reasons. Arborist wood chips are fantastic because they are usually tree limbs which are a mix of brown and green material.
Is wood chips good for soil?
Wood chips are fantastic for the soil. You can use it as a mulch in gardens, around fruit trees or in pathways to suppress weeds. Additionally, wood chips help retain moisture in the soil and prevent water from splashing up onto plants.
How long does it take fresh wood chips to compost?
If you use the tips and tricks in this article to break down the wood chips quickly, then it should only take 4-6 months. Left on their own it would take years.