Wood chips are high in carbon and can take a while to decompose. But we’re going to teach you how to compost wood chips fast.
Not interested in composting? No problem. You can also use wood chips as a ground cover or mulch.
How to Compost Wood Chips Fast
The goal of composting wood chips is the same as the goal of composting other materials: to break down the materials into nutrient-rich plant food.
However, since wood chips have such a high carbon to nitrogen ratio – anywhere from 200:1 to 1,300:1 – you have to know the right way to compost them.
So, let’s go over three major ways you can compost wood chips.
Adding Wood Chips to a Pile
If you’re adding woodchips to a compost pile, the key point to remember is to balance the amount of greens and browns you add.
Since woodchips are a brown material, make sure to add green materials like food scraps, manure, or fresh grass clippings.
If you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of how to start a compost pile, check out this article.
Hot Composting Wood Chips
If you’ve ever stuck your hand in an active compost pile, you know the amount of heat the composting process generates. As microbes break down materials, they release heat.
In order to obtain active decomposition (and the heat that comes with it), you need an active compost pile.
To build an active pile, optimize the following factors:
- Carbon to nitrogen ratio
Another important aspect of hot composting is the size of the pile. Larger compost piles are better at holding heat than smaller piles.
Dedicated Wood Chip Compost Pile
Just because a mix of green and brown materials is ideal, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a compost pile made solely of wood chips. If you pile up some wood chips, you’ll notice they break down over time.
However, the decomposition process is much slower than if you were to mix the chips with some nitrogen-rich materials.
So, let’s dive into ways to speed up this process.
4 Ways for Composting Wood Chips Faster
1) Fertilizer + Shape of Pile + Turning + Moisture
By optimizing these four factors, you’ll be able to compost your wood chips faster.
As we’ve mentioned, wood chips are high in carbon. By adding nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as feather meal or blood meal, you improve the C:N ratio and speed up the composting process.
Shape of Pile
Rather than creating a long, short pile, opt for a tall, compact pile.
When you turn your pile with a pitchfork, shovel, or compost aerator, you incorporate oxygen. This oxygen is crucial for the microbes that decompose the wood chips.
The microbes that break down wood chips need water to survive, yet too much water can prohibit them from accessing oxygen. Therefore, aim for a pile that feels damp but not soaking wet.
2) Composting Wood Chips with Urea
Urea is a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. While urea is excreted in urine, most urea fertilizer is made by heating ammonium carbamide.
Since urea is so high in nitrogen, it’s a great way to balance the high carbon content of wood chips.
3) Add Fungus to Speed Up Decomposition
While fungi and bacteria will naturally make their way to your composting wood chips, you can always speed up the process by inoculating with fungi.
To do so, find some spores (the fruiting bodies of fungi), mix the spores with sawdust, and sprinkle over your wood chips.
One popular type of mushroom to add to wood chip piles is Stropharia or Wine Cap mushrooms. Take note that these fungi do best on hardwood chips rather than softwood chips.
4) Jean Pain Method Compost Pile
Jean Pain spent his life studying forests, brush, and decomposition. After many trials, he developed a system for composting brush in a way that generates heat and fuel.
To develop a Jean Pain pile, you’ll need to shred brush or start with woodchips. Mound these chips into a pile that is at least six feet wide and five feet tall — yes, you’ll need a lot of chips!
At this point, thoroughly wet the pile and then cover it with about an inch of leaves or finished compost. The last step is to cover with a tarp or tree branches.
After six months to a year, the material will be composted and ready to add to your garden.
What Else to Do with Wood Chips
If you don’t want to compost your wood chips, you have a number of other options.
Wood Chips as a Ground Cover
Wood chips can be used as a mulch to cover the ground.
If you spread the chips as a ground cover, be aware that they will still break down over time. Therefore, it’s best to apply a layer that’s at least two inches thick.
Wood Chip Mulch Pros and Cons
- Helps prevent erosion
- Helps keep down weeds
- Can be found for free
- Adds organic matter to the soil
- Will decompose over time, requiring additional applications
- Softwood trees can alter soil pH
- Can wash away with heavy rain
Wood Chips as a Soil Amendment
Since wood chips are high in carbon, they can tie up soil nitrogen when they’re tilled into the ground. Therefore, don’t incorporate them into soil you wish to plant into soon.
However, wood chips can be spread on top of soil. As the chips break down over time, they will provide your soil with a healthy dose of organic matter.
Grinding Wood Chips into Sawdust
One more option for wood chips is to turn them into sawdust. You can then use this sawdust as animal bedding.
While you can compost this sawdust, beware that the pile will compact due to the fine particle size. Therefore, you’ll need to frequently turn the pile or add in larger materials like wood chips.
From Trees to Nutrients
It’s amazing to think that woodchips from tall trees can be recycled back into the environment. Chop to it!