Avid readers of this blog (hi Mum!) may remember some occasions in the past where I’ve talked about our compost area here at Chartwell and the work that goes on there. All the way back in November 2011 for example we showed you how we add spent hops from nearby Westerham Brewery to our compost heaps in order to improve the structure and nutrient levels within our final product. A blog entry from December of last year also came compost flavoured when I tried to talk you through the whole process that goes into to making our Chartwell mix. Well, to continue the theme, we’ve recently been doing some other work in our compost area in the form of some wood chipping which I’ll endeavour tell you about here.
A healthy compost heap should contain a decent mix of both nitrogen and carbon, ideally a 50:50 split between the two. The bacteria and micro-organisms that produce the compost function best when this balance of materials is achieved. Too much nitrogen-heavy material will result in a smelly, slimey mess while too much woody carbon material will be slow to decompose. Nitrogen will come from green plant materials such as grass clippings and soft leafy material while the carbon is derived from woody matter such as branches and tough stems. These woody stems can’t be added to the heap as they are though. They have to be chipped in order to help break down the structure and thus allowing for ease of decomposition.
Our chipping machine is unfortunately past its best and a little on the temperamental side at the moment so we decided to hire in much tougher, harder-working machine in order to get through all of the woody material we had been stockpiling. Fallen limbs and trees from the Winter storms had meant that we had a record amount of material that needed to be chipped. Being a noisy beast we all made sure we were fully togged up with ear defenders whenever we were in the vicinity and that we were aware of all the safety features and precautions when actually using it.
There was too much material from all of these branches just for our compost system so we made use of the chips that were produced in other ways. Some were immediately used to create new paths in the Kitchen Garden that staff and visitors alike can use to get closer to the veg:
The rest will be used in areas of the woodland such as the Canadian Camp and also as ground cover in the Cut Flower perennial bed in the Walled Garden. We made sure that no diseased material was chipped during the process so we are quite happy to use our chips wherever they are needed. If you find you have an excess pile of wood chips at home they can also be used as a direct mulch to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture and raise temperature levels below ground. Wood chips are also commonly used in biomass boilers which is something we may look at having here at Chartwell at some point in the future. They can also be added to beer although you should probably use specially treated chips rather than ones from your garden!
The compost area at Chartwell isn’t accessible to our visitors apart from during some special garden tours from time to time but when you’re next here and you feel the gently crunch of wood chips under your feet, remember that even those were produced here on site by our own fair hands!