Build Vegetable Garden Soil
Using Wood Chips

Building quality vegetable garden soil may see a bit complex.  Even master gardeners must work hard to achieve it.  Then what hope is there for a weekend gardener?  First, lets examine what makes good garden soil.

  • Good moisture content
  • Not a place that water stands – it must be well drained.
  • A good variety of beneficial microbes
  • Non compacted but well aerated
  • A good balance of mineral nutrients
  • A good pH, with minimal salt content
  • At least 3% organic matter
  • A good amount of humus
  • A minimal amount of toxins
  • 6 to 8 hours or more of sunshine a day

As long as there is adequate sunlight, all of the rest of the above items can be fairly easily achieved!  Yes, you can build quality vegetable garden soil quite easily.  Here is the formula:

  1. To begin a garden, do a soil test, (soil test page) then add in the minerals the test calls for.  When mineral content is balanced and good microbials take over, soil pH will correct itself.
  2. Apply sea minerals every year to add in valuable trace minerals not included in your soil test.
  3. Apply liquid humic acid to remediate salts and toxins and add valuable humus. Humic acids help to structure your vegetable garden soil so that air can flow down into the soil. 
  4. Use a special type of mulch, called Ramial Chipped Wood (or RCW).  This is a long-term solution for good soil.  It is chocked full of nutrients, adds organic matter, builds humus, and over time it creates a wonderful habitat for beneficial soil microbes.
  5. IF you have a standing water problem, simply build raised beds (raised bed page). 

The real miracle in the above formula for vegetable garden soil is the ramial chipped wood.  The first year you will have ok soil, the second year you will have good soil, and the third year you will have great soil.  Even the best gardeners require 3 to 5 years to build great soil.  Because of all the benefits of ramial chipped wood, you have to do very little to grow great soil, and produce professional results!

Let me elaborate a little on the above 5 steps:

Step 1

It is quite important when starting a garden to make sure that no mineral is grossly out of balance.  Go to my soil test page for easy steps in bringing things into balance.  Because you are using ramial chipped wood, which supplies well rounded nutrition for your garden, you can probably get by with only doing the soil test the first year.

Step 2

The majority of trace minerals so important to nutritious foods have leached from our soils and found their way to the ocean.  Applying sea minerals is a way to recycle these nutrients.  The ocean contains a good balance of trace minerals – it isn't high on one and low on another.  When a plant is supplied with the full spectrum of needed trace minerals, great things can happen.  That’s because healthy plants resist insect and disease invasions.

Step 3

Humic acids are quite special.  Not only do they help bacteria to break down salt and toxins, but they also act like a glue to join soil particles together.  This can help to turn compacted soil into crumbly vegetable garden soil, provides a good environment for beneficial microbes and earthworms, and creates millions of tiny air pockets in the soil.  These air pockets provide the oxygen needed by beneficial microbes, and help to store rain and irrigation water.

One fall I applied liquid humic acids for the first time to my lawn.  I was amazed by the great number of earthworms I had by the next spring.  As you know, earthworms are great for the soil.  I also know of farmers that used to have a problem with water standing in their fields after a good rain.  But after using humic acids for the first year, the water just soaked in, and did even better the second year that they applied them.  Humic acids can do wonders for a garden.

Step 4

Ramial chipped wood is made by chipping small branches and twigs from hardwood trees and bushes that are still green.  These small branches contain 75% of the nutrients of the tree.  Sadly, until recently no one realized just how quickly they could transform poor, lifeless soil to rich, thriving vegetable garden soil.  Here is a way that you can apply RCW even in the spring or summer and still get great results.

  • Lay down a few layers of non-glossy newspapers or a layer of cardboard to keep weeds and grass from growing up through your RCW mulch.
  • Put down 2 inches of compost.  You can purchase mushroom or cow manure compost from a local lawn and garden store, or you can make your own. (compost page)
  • Put down 4 inches of ramial chipped wood.  Don’t get more than 6”, as this will not allow air down to the soil, and unhealthy anaerobic bacteria will take over.  When planting or transplanting, just push aside the wood chips, punch a hole through the paper, then plant or transplant into the compost.

Some people prefer to compost the wood chips and then use them.  The major drawback to this is that with compost, bacteria are what break things down, not fungi.  Compost heaps get hot.  Yes, it does destroy pathogens, but the composting process also results in losing some of the organic matter, beneficial to vegetable garden soil.  

Second, composting RCW doesn't build long-term humus, which is one of the greatest benefits of using RCW. In contrast, when RCW is used as a mulch, the organic compounds go directly down to the vegetable garden soil structure and feeds the soil food chain without any loss, providing a rich environment for beneficial fungi, mites, pot worms, earthworms, algae, bacteria and mycorrhizae.

Step 5 (optional)

Though raised beds are not generally necessary when using RCW, I myself prefer to garden with them, since they are a quick path to deeper top soil, plus they’re a good solution to soils that are in a bog and don’t drain well.  You can click here (raised beds) to go to my web pages about gardening with raised beds.  I put a few inches of RCW on the paths between my raised beds.  This helps to prevent weeds, and provides a soft, non-muddy path to walk on.

Back to page 1           Next RCW page

(Return from Vegetable Garden Soil to Fertility Soil)

Additional Resources on RCW

RCW Websites

For many years the Back to Eden website has inspired people the whole world over to use Ramial Chipped wood.

The French Gardener has some good information on Ramial Chipped Wood on his website.

My neighbor Mark has a YouTube channel, with 25 videos about gardening with RCW.

PDP documents

"RCW: The Clue to a Sustainable Fertile Soil", 19 pages.

"Chipped Branch Wood", 12 pages.

For a 50 year history of RCW, read the pdf document, "The Hidden World that Feeds Us all", 40 pages.

On pages 6-9 of the pdf article "MRBS, Ramial Wood Chips"' you will find a comparison of advantages and disadvantages of chemical fertilizers, compost and RCW. 6 pages.

"RCW, A Basic Tool for Regenerating Soil", 15 pages.

I appreciate your input.

Please share your insights in the box below.

RCW Index

 1. Ramial Chipped Wood

 2. RCW solves gardening
 3. RCW helps create
     the perfect soil
 4. RCW for bushes, trees
 5. RCW creates a perfect
     growing environment
 6. Growing soil with RCW
     by incorporating in soil
 7. Getting free RCW, and
     which trees work best
 8. Applying RCW


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