How To Compost Wood Chips

Earlier this year we wrote about how to get free wood chips, and today we are going to show you how easy it is to compost wood chips.

Over the past year-and-a-half, we have done a whole lot of wood chip composting, as we have been talking down palmettos and clearing dead branches at our one acre of Florida woodland. The best way to compost is of course by composting with free wood chips or by using things such as kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

We use our small Troybilt wood chipper to chip and shred fresh and dried palmettos, palm leaves, dried and fresh leaves, dead branches and pine needles, and as long as it rains every once in a while, the composting process goes smoothly without us even having to turn the pile.

About two months ago we decided to turn our composting pile at The Land for the very reason that it was composting too slowly, because we had had very little rain. We turned it once and found that the middle was completely dry, but for the past couple of weeks we've had rain at least once a week, and it has done wonders for the wood chip pile. Two weeks ago we began the process of distributing compost to lower lying areas as well as to the vegetable garden, and today we brought out five wheel-barrows full of great, dark compost to help shore up the lower lying areas so that everything doesn't flood.

When we first bought The Land almost two years ago, it had been standing under water almost a year before hand, and not long after we bought it did it get soaked again. Since then we have taken down a lot of palmettos and composted all of these, plus any dead branches and leaves we could get our hands on, and we have not had any flooding. With hurricane season almost at its peak, we are worried that it will flood again, so that's why we are trying to shore up the area by filling out the compost.

Making our own wood chips is a strenuous, but necessary task, and getting free wood chips from tree crews is much less time consuming.

This week a tree crew was clearing branches in our neighborhood in preparation for any fall storms, and after they were done taking down branches hanging over our lines, we asked if we could have the wood chips. They were more than happy to give them away, as this meant they did not have to drive too far to drop them off.

The day after the first truck load of wood chips had been dropped of was the day our work started. We had to level out the pile, so that we could fit in more wood chips. As we dug into the pile of wood chips, we realized that the compost pile was already cooking. The heat was rising from the pile, and as we scraped away a few layers, we found darkened chips already. The pile was about 3 yards tall, and it was a mix of small wood chips and shredded fresh pine needles and leaves.

wood chip composting
On the right side, you see how the wood chips are composting below the surface after just one day.

How To Compost Wood Chips:
  • Clear and area for your wood chips
  • Make sure your wood chips come from disease-free trees.
  • If you are getting free wood chips from a tree-trimming company, makes sure it is easy accessible from the road.
  • The bigger the pile the faster it composts. Try to make it at least 1 to 2 yards high for maximum composting speed.
  • If possible, make sure the pile gets water at least once a week - rain water will do.
  • Turn the pile every 2 - 4 weeks for faster composting
  • You can add greens such as grass clippings and coffee grinds to make it compost faster
  • To check on the status of your wood chip compost pile, simply dig into it and check the color as well as for worms. The darker the compost the better, the more worms the healthier the pile.
  • Don't use wood chips in your vegetable garden unless these have been composting for at least a couple of months, as they can rob your soil from important nutrients such as nitrogen, if they've not broken down.
  • Don't compost walnut trees, since these contain a chemical which may hurt other plants.
  • The speed of your composting process depends on a lot of factors including how hot it is, how wet it is, and what other things you add to your wood chip pile.

About three months ago, we received a truck load full of wood chip, mainly pine shreds, since a tree company was taking down a couple of huge pine trees down the street from The Land. Since it was pine trees it was both pine wood chips and green pine needles all shredded. Last week I noticed little weeds growing on top, so today I decided to inspect it closer, as I was intending on turning the pile a little before we got another load.

composting wood chips

Turning the pile was completely unnecessary though, because once I dug the shovel into the pile it turned out to be beautiful, dark compost already with very little remaining wood chips. This pile had been about 1 yard tall, and we did not turn it or add any water outside of rain.

wood chip compost

Above you see our pile of wood chips after 3 months.

Composting wood chips is a sustainable way to help nature rebound, because not only do you prevent branches and trees from being burned, but you also add new nutrients to your eco-system and you prevent waste, all while saving green in your pocket.

Check out our article about how to get free wood chips here.