[permaculture] Re: Branches and small diameter wood

jamie jamie at tiscali.fr
Thu Mar 27 03:38:06 EST 2003

Hello everyone, interesting thread on what to do with a valuable resource. I
first came across the use of small diameter wood from Jean Pain's book
'Another Kind of Garden' - though it should be noted he was just using a
technique for composting that came from a medieval document (containing
eight such recipes) found in a monastery in the North of Spain (I know, very
'Name of the Rose'!).

There are three essential points of this composting technique: firstly, the
wood should be used fresh cut, secondly, ensuring that the wood is cut (or
rather sliced lengthways) in such a way as to maximise the surface area for
breakdown and thirdly, steeping the wood in water for 24 hours before making
a compost mound (a tub/bath filled with water would minimise water use,
chopping and piling the wood in a downpour is another alternative). The
compost is ready for use within three months and Jean Pain used it on his
vegetable garden so that he wouldn't have to irrigate all summer. Therefore,
done at the right time this technique would have the benefit of saving water
across time, even in dry areas, such as Pain's native Provence.

I live in the adjoining Mediterranean province of Languedoc-Rousillon and
share the same climate and flora of Provence, yet do not use this technique.
The reason I changed was after reading Gilles Lemieux's work at Laval
University in Canada. He made the very sensible point that composting loses
as much as 60% of the calorific value of the composting material through
thermophyllic bacterial and fungal action - he mentions Pain by name in this
analysis - http://www.sbf.ulaval.ca/brf/, there are English texts amongst
the French.

Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW) is used by Lemieux mixed with different manures
and worked into the surface of the soil and he does not simply stop at the
result that his research has shown that crop yields have improved from 30%-
300%, but goes on to make the claim that it is wood (read forests) that
builds soil, this is the Abstract to "The hidden world that feeds us: the
living soil" from the web site above:

Research work over the last twenty years on the use of ramial chipped wood
(RCW) in both agriculture and in forestry has shown increases in
productivity and fundamental modifications to the soil, in both temperate
and tropical climates. Although we are not yet in a position to make
substantiated proposals for its immediate use, we are able to suggest a
series of hypothesis that need to be subjected to large-scale field tests.
One clear relationship is that between the type of lignin and the behaviour
of Gymnosperm (conifers equals bad) and Angiosperm (most deciduous trees
equals good) ecosystems. We note in particular the preponderant role that
immature lignin (from branches of less than 7 inches in diameter), in the
form of oligomers or monomers, plays in structuring the soil and in building
trophic (Elaine Ingham's Soil Food Web) webs; the critical role played by
Basidiomycetes (white rot fungi) in pedogenesis (soil formation); and the
importance of endogenous (produced inside the soil system) energy in the
functioning of the hypogeous (underground) ecosystem, and its major
influence on the conservation and distribution of biologically active
water.(my comments inside brackets).

My understanding is that the RCW is not only a complete fertilizer for the
soil but, because soil itself is formed from forests, RCW helps re-establish
the full functioning of the soil as a complete system from which humanity
has been depleting it since the forests were first cleared and turned over
to agriculture. I claim no startling results as I've only just begun, but I
do recommend a close scrutiny of what Lemieux says, if for no better reason
than the loss of the valuable resource of our small branches as heat.


-----Original Message-----
From: permaculture-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:permaculture-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Rick Valley
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2003 7:27 AM
To: permaculture
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Branches and small diameter wood

I honestly can't say I use any one particular method, in fact I'm using all
the methods I know all the time and mutating them as necessary.
I make alot of compost- I always have enough to give it away as presents,
but also I use it in my container mixes (I have a nursery) It is a useful
way to process seedy, weedy or really rich stuff- mature grasses,live
blackberry canes, roadkill. So I never have to garden in soil, unless a
garden is 3 years old or so and I want to let it self-sow. Oregon is rich in
clay, and it's often pretty hard stuff if it's been driven on and then dried
out. Compost is much nicer for gardens. I usually have a number of piles
going big enough to eat a whole deer. Everytime I've tried to sheetmulch
with rich material- veg waste, etc., like I hear some worm fanatics talk
about, I get rodents instead. So that stuff gets composted, unless I have
chickens or other beasts available.
These compost piles can become compost tractors, which my friend Frank
Morton invented. Basically, you just plant the area that the pile just left.
The compost perambulates about the garden leaving a green trail- sort of the
opposite of a giant slug.
I sheet mulch all the time- especially when converting lawn and pasture, but
sometimes on driveway or? Once an area is garden, I don't use barrier, just
a thinner mulch between fresh compost hills or ridges.
I use hugelkultur everytime I'm moving earth. Why dump a bunch of dirt
somewhere without putting a mess of wood under it first? (Understand, I'm a
Yeomans fan, and I figure my first task anywhere is to shape the land to
slow runoff and store water in the soil)
One thing I hardly ever do is burn a bunch of brush- unless I'm trying to
make a poppy bed or somesuch.


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