My yard is very, very sandy. Like, living in a sandbox, sandy. When I put in my raised beds I knew I was going to have moisture problems and have spent the last couple years bringing in peat, compost, and manure to try to fix my soil issues. Still, with all that I still have trouble with the moisture disappearing almost instantly after it is watered or rains. I found a documentary in February called Back to Eden which is all about gardening with wood chips. More specifically, using wood chips as a mulch to help keep moisture in, weeds out, and the soil healthy. I got all fired up about it because it makes so much sense. The guy in the film uses the whole tree when he gets wood chips from a tree trimming service (not colored mulch you get from the store or just sawdust). The leaves of the tree and the variations in the size of the chips of wood make for a perfect covering because it breaks down at a quicker rate without binding up as many nutrients, allows water to penetrate to the soil, and keeps moisture in. Wood chips and leaves break down over time and enrich the soil and keep it from compacting while at the same time increasing its water holding capacity. The guy also has a flock of chickens which he feeds garden leftovers, which in turn provides him with lovely fertilizer. It is a beautiful system.
After watching the film, I decided that wood chips were the way to go for me. However, I also wanted a frugal option and didn’t want to spend money on the project. After searching for a few weeks and making some phone calls, I finally found someone on Craigslist that have several piles of wood chips from a tree trimming service that he advertised as free. Sweet! I loaded up my shovels, and my dear hubby and I filled up my car; put the chips right in the trunk and filled a couple large bins to put in the back seat. We made a couple trips back and forth and secured enough chips to use for both the walkways in the garden as well as enough to cover my 12 raised beds.
After I put in my potatoes and set out my cabbage and kale seedlings, I covered the beds that they are in with chips. I completely covered my potato bed but put the chips around my seedlings (giving them a little breathing room), and I have been very happy to see that not only have the chips kept the soil moist but they have also help trap in some heat on the cooler nights.
The chips have also done a great job keeping out weeds thus far. There may be a stubborn piece of crab grass that pokes through, but so far the other weeds have been held at bay in all of my wood chip covered beds. The real test will come in the middle of summer. Will the chips be able to keep the soil moisture content from fluctuating so dramatically and also keep the weeds at bay? So far so good. Another experiment happening at Green Bean Gardens! I will keep you posted.
You should watch Back to Eden! It may just inspire you to try something new in your garden this year!