Whether you’ve chopped down a tree in your yard and chipped it yourself or have leftover wood chips after mulching, can be a great solution. But if you’ve ever tried to compost wood chips, particularly ones you’ve bought for mulching, you might be dismayed by how slow they are to decompose. Composting wood chips is never going to be super fast, but with the tips below you will be able to speed it up.
How Do You Make Wood Chips Compost Faster?
To compost wood chips fast, you should ensure the chips are as small as possible, check the carbon-nitrogen ratio of your compost heap is correct, and turn the heap often. Wood chips are carbon-rich, so you might need to up the nitrogen content by adding grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or even leftover coffee grounds to your compost pile.
Let's take a look at these tips in a bit more detail:
Steps to make wood chips compost faster
If you don't want to pay a tree surgeon and can't buy, borrow, or rent a wood chipper from one, we recommend checking out the rest of the tips. However, if your wood chips are too large, they will still be slow to compost even if you do everything else right.
Organic 'green' materials such as lawn clippings, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps, fresh flowers, and leaves should be on top of your list. They're bursting with the ingredients you need to get those microbes kickstarted and begin composting wood chips.
Don't forget, though, that you shouldn't overdo the nitrogen source. You might think that because you have a whole pile of wood chips, you should add a whole pile of nitrogen material and get the process done faster, but it doesn't work that way! Overdoing the nitrogen will mean your optimum bacteria levels will get right out of balance, and you'll end up with a stinky mess that's less compost, more swamp. Keep the nitrogen ratio at only 20 percent of your pile; the other 80% should be your wood chips, cardboard, tree bark, and other carbon-rich materials. Getting this ratio right will ensure you have an efficient compost pile.
You should be turning once every three weeks or so in the summer, but less often in the winter, because you don't want to let too much heat escape. Depending on the pile's height and size, you might want to invest in a compost turning tool or aerator - but a fork will normally do the job just fine.
Fertilizer, as mentioned earlier, can be a great way to top up your nitrogen levels. This is especially important if you're composting in the wintertime when everything slows down. You're unlikely to have much in the way of grass clippings or green branches from plants if you're not tending to the garden as much.
Commercial fertilizer is also an important source of ammonium sulfate, which adds nitrogen but at the same time works to lower the soil pH of your compost. If the soil pH is too high, it's too alkaline, so balance it out by shifting it to a slightly more acidic place on the pH scale.
Another kind of compound using ammonia is ammonium nitrate. It's a rapid way of introducing nitrogen into compost piles, so again if you need to compost wood chips fast, then you might want to think of kickstarting the decomposition process.
Another thing you could try is to add some animal manure, for example, horse manure. Sounds gross, but horses feed on huge amounts of grass and other organic matter every day, and as a result, their gut microbes are a perfect source of nitrogen. Your local stables will be only too happy to have you take some off their hands!
How Do You Make Compost out of Wood Chips?
If you already have a compost pile, adding wood chips is the same as introducing any other high-carbon material, including wood, branches, bark, dead leaves, or cardboard. Treat the compost pile as you always have, and you’ll be fine.
But if you’re looking to turn a wood chip pile into a compost pile, or you don’t otherwise have a compost pile in your garden, it’s a great way to get into the composting game. To make your wood chip compost pile, you’ll first need to put a layer of wood chips on some bare earth. Then add some organic materials such as grass, kitchen waste (organic food waste), and other nitrogen-rich materials.
Then, more wood chips. Maybe on top of this, add some manure before another layer of wood chips. As you can see, you’re layering the pile, but you’re not adding too much nitrogen. Depending on the size of your compost pile, you might need more or fewer layers, but keeping that 4:1 carbon to nitrogen balance is key.
Don’t forget to turn the pile! Wood chips have a great advantage in that the shape of a wood chip allows for plenty of oxygen, but you still need to actively get the microbes working all over the pile for the composting process to work properly.
How To Use Your Finished Wood Chip Compost
Now you’ve got a good amount of high quality, wood chip compost, use this around your garden. Even if your compost pile hasn’t fully broken down all of the wood chips, if its otherwise finished compost, you can still use it.
Wood chip compost can still help with water drainage, preventing pests, weed growth and the effects of frost on and around your plants. Whatever you decide to do with your wood chips, you’re recycling organic material, which is always important!
Untreated woodchips, as long as they're broken up finely enough, shouldn't take longer than 5-6 months to decompose in a composting pile. This is assuming optimum conditions: the pile is hot, the nitrogen's just right, the weather's not too cold, and you're turning the pile often enough. Fresh wood chips used as mulch may take up to five years to decompost.
Because wood chips are slow to break down, they may be better used as mulch instead of as composting ingredients. Wood chip mulch looks great, helps maintain the soil's moisture levels, and can also stop weeds appearing around plants.
Yes, you can compost wood chippings, although they are slow to break down. You'll want to use smaller wood chips that are untreated (no paint, creosote, etc.) and ensure there is enough sources of nitrogen in the mix
Yes, wood shavings and other forms of wood can be composted and are an efficient source of carbon. For success, use untreated wood (no paint in the mix) and ensure there is the right mix of "green" composting ingredients that add nitrogen.