Wood and chipped bark have an extremely slow rate of natural decomposition. Depending on the size of the chips, this can take several months. The chemically complex Lignin present in wood provides a physical barrier against enzymatic decomposition by bacteria and fungi. However, there are ways to speed up the process. Whether it is the occasional rotten fence post or sawdust and wood shavings, with the tips in this article, you will be able to compost wood in no time. So let’s dig right in.
The Natural Decomposition Of Wood
Wood is the most abundant organic matter present on earth. As such, the decomposition and decay of wood is an important aspect of the biogeochemical carbon cycle. Fungi are considered the first agents of wood decay. Common species such as wet rot fungus and jelly rot fungus are known for their role in assisting wood decomposition. These fungi help break down the tough lignin present in wood.
Other detritivores such as bacteria and invertebrates such as beetle larvae, woodlice and millipedes also play a critical role in the process.
In contrast to softer organic matter, the decomposition of wood is tougher and takes longer periods of time. Fungi and bacteria rapidly consume available nitrogen while decomposing wood, which upsets the nitrogen-carbon balance of the compost. This further slows down the decomposition processes and lowers the temperature of the compost heap below optimum temperatures. So, how to compost wood chips fast?
To speed up the decomposition of wood, two things are crucial: maintaining a good balance of carbon and nitrogen content, and achieving optimum temperatures for the decomposition process to take place.
Composting Wood Chips The Right Way
What You Will Need
- NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) granular fertilizer.
- Natural greens and kitchen waste rich in nitrogen content.
- A shovel, pitchfork and rake
Step 1: Gather The Contents
Use a rake to gather the wood chips into a pile. Position the pile in a place where it receives direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day.
Step 2: Add Green Wastes
Add organic green wastes such as vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves and grass to the pile. Green wastes provide a source of nitrogen content in the compost pile. Break down your waste into smaller particles to speed up the decomposition process.
Step 3: Use A Fertilizer
Use one to two handfuls of NPK fertilizer, depending on the size of the pile. These are also known as 10-10-10 fertilizers because they contain exactly 10% of each element–nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Make sure to spread the fertilizers evenly throughout the contents of the pile. If your goal is to be 100% organic, consider using chicken manure as a substitute to NPK fertilizers. Chicken manure is well-known for its rich nitrogen content.
Step 4: Moisture
Moisture is crucial to the decomposition process. Adequate moisture allows detritus consuming fungi and bacteria to thrive. This also allows the fertilizers to soak and dissolves the wood chips. So make sure to moisten the pile with plenty of water.
Step 5: Maintaining Homogeneity Of The Mixture
Mix the materials of the compost in a container or pile with uniform length, width and height. This will ensure that the center of the mixture remains well-heated.
Step 6: Aerating The Mixture
Make sure to mix and turn the contents of the compost pile every two weeks. This will redistribute more material to the center of the pile and create ideal temperatures for bacteria and fungi to thrive.
With these steps in mind, it is possible to decompose the wood chips into finished compost in as little as three months. Let’s look at further aspects of wood decomposition, to help you out with the process.
The Size Of Wood Chips For Faster Decomposition
The size of the material you put into the compost is crucial to the decomposition process. Smaller pieces of material provide a greater surface area to volume ratio, which helps speed up the enzymatic processes. Hence, breaking down your wood chips into smaller pieces can help speed up the decomposition process. Keep in mind that wood chips greater than 6 to 7 inches in size will take significantly longer to decompose.
Balancing Nitrogen And Carbon Content For Optimal Decomposition
A healthy balance between nitrogen and carbon content is crucial for any decomposition process, not just wood. A good balance can substantially speed up decomposition of your wood chips. It also helps maintain optimum temperatures for the decomposition process. For a healthy balance, it is essential to manage green and brown organic wastes.
Wood chips are brown wastes, rich in carbon content. Therefore, we need to complement them with an adequate supply of green organic wastes such as freshly cut grass, kitchen scraps and herbivore manure. These wastes are a rich source of nitrogen, and help maintain the nitrogen to carbon ratio. You can utilize a kitchen compost bin to collect your kitchen scraps before you decide to incorporate them into your wood compost.
The Best Time Of The Year To Start Composting Wood
Several studies have revealed that the rate of wood decomposition is strongly correlated to temperature. Moisture and heat are the most favorable conditions for wood decomposition. It is recommended to start composting wood in early spring so you have a window of 3 to 6 months of warmer weather. This should definitely boost the rate of decomposition.
Furthermore, make sure to adequately wet your compost pile and keep the wood chips moist. A dry compost pile is not ideal for wood feeding bacteria and fungi, so make sure there is plenty of moisture allowing them to thrive.
Also remember to periodically turn over the contents of your compost. Every 2 weeks should suffice. A compost tumbler can make the process of turning over extremely efficient and labour-free. Regular turning of the contents can speed up decomposition by adequately aerating the pile and redistributing heat across the content.
The Different Types Of Wood
Different types of woods do not decay at the same rate. In fact, certain woods even possess rot and decay resistant properties. While these woods are great for construction, they aren’t suitable for composting. Woods like Cedar can significantly slow down decomposition by inhibiting useful insects.
Make sure to look out for the following woods that can slow down the composting process:
- American Mahogany
- Black Walnut
- Osage Orange
Learning how to compost wood chips fast is easy once you understand the basics of wood decomposition. The carbon to nitrogen ratio, the moisture content and the temperature are the most crucial aspects to keep in mind while composting wood. Sometimes there may be partially decomposed pieces still left after the composting-process is over. You can utilize and incorporate them into new batches of compost. This will help introduce the new batch with essential microbes that help activate the decomposition process.