What to do with wood

Managing windfalls of materials in the garden

We bought a house at the beginning of February with piles and piles of old semi-rotten wood out front:

I would estimate there is probably about 10x this quantity of wood piled in various spots around the property, thanks to some big old dying trees that were cut down last year.

Part of the vista from Google Street View:

There are some other stashes in other places as well, not shown above.

Since we were living just next door when those trees were cut last year, I was happily able to capture a big quantity of mulchy goodness, which I incorporated onto my garden soil.


Option #1: Firewood

Clearly the most obvious option for using a bunch of pre-cut logs is turn it into firewood.

Now, I’m no expert here — and we do have a woodstove (plus electric heat)— but people with more experience in the matter say that this wood won’t produce quality heat as it’s old and in some cases rotten. It will burn too fast, and maybe dirty. Sounds probable.

Plus splitting and storing all of it sounds… boring!


Option #2: Mushrooms

I’ve played around pretty extensively with inoculating logs with various types of edible mushrooms, like shiitake, oysters and even reishi.

This season will tell me whether or not I’ve finally found the pathway to success on that front. But I know from experience, again, you don’t want to inoculate old bad wood with mushrooms, as there will be too much competition: wild strains, etc will have taken hold by now. Best practice seems to be cut fresh wood, let it age a few weeks and inoculate once it’s only somewhat dried out.


Option #3: Hugelkultur

There’s a permaculture thing, hugelkultur, where you bury a bunch of wood in mounds, it decomposes slowly and holds moisture and builds soil over time.

It sort of works/sort of doesn’t/maybe I haven’t found the right technique yet. From my experiments, it seems that on a relatively small scale, it’s a challenge to get these things to perform.

I suspect, based on the Sepp Holzer examples you always see of this, that you have to pile these things really high with tons of material in order to achieve the critical mass necessary to accelerate the biological processes at play. It’s *probably* like a hot compost pile — it won’t get hot if it’s not big enough and the chemical reactions at play are restricted.

That said, I finally think I have a large enough quantity of wood to actually try out a freakin’ big mound of buried wood, plant over it and see what happens. For the soil moving though, I will enlist the aid of someone with a tractor. Because I don’t want to spend the next 4 months spading soil out and getting nowhere.


Option #4: Beds

There are any number of variations on the old “wood in soil” trick in gardening.

  • Use logs for garden bed borders.
  • Dig a trench and stick logs in it. Plant over top.

Or some combination of the above.

Given the sheer quantity of material with which I have to experiment, you can rest assured that I will exhaust every possible configuration of the above and post my results. Oh the wheelbarrowing that is going to take place!


Option #5: Walls

Lastly, we’ve noticed a benefit of having the wood in stacks as they presently are, since it forms a basically free barrier between us and the street. It’s a bit haphazard though, since it was “built” by a tree-cutting crew. A more formalized wall or walls, perhaps even including masonry of some sort — a more true cordwood wall — is in my future.

Anything is possible, but everything requires work. I’m fine with wheelbarrowing, and a certain amount of digging, but I’m not into “getting my hands dirty” just for the sake of it. I have a limited amount of energy and tons of things to do in the house, garden and at work — and the name of the game with land management seems to be the least effort for the maximum payoff. So we’ll see what develops!