Chipped Branch Wood is a fertility system using small branches and twigs of deciduous trees to bring nutrients to the soil. Byproducts of the forestry industry can be used to create stable humus and living soil on agricultural lands.
When hardwood tree branches decompose on a forest floor, a stable and enduring humus is created. The lignans in the branches are slowly broken down by naturally occuring fungi, and these fungi also play a vital role in the soil food web, serving as nourishment for microorganisms.
Chipped Branch Wood (CBW) imitates this natural cycle in an agricultural context, creating a longer lasting humus than would result from typical amendments of manure or compost, and helping to establish an active, living soil.
A significant amount of nutrients are stored in the twigs and small branches of trees, with a higher concentration in the branches with the smallest diameter. With the CBW technique, twigs and small branches up to 7 centimeters (2.75 inches) in diameter from deciduous trees are chipped into smaller pieces. They are then applied as a mulch or incorporated with the top layer of the soil, where they are slowly broken down by fungal activity. Coniferous plants are avoided, as the lignans do not readily break down, and green leaves are also avoided, as they inhibit the decomposition of the CBW.
The impact of CBW is aggradation (the opposite of degradation). CBW is arguably the most successful technique for reestablishing or maintaining fertility in agricultural soils and developing a stable humus. One of the major advantages is that the fungi present in CBW help create a balanced soil food web. CBW attracts certain microorganisms which feed on the fungi, and these in turn nourish other microorganisms, which in turn render nutrients available to growing plants.
Chipped Branch Wood was initially explored in the 1970’s in Quebec, Canada, when the Land and Forest Deputy Minister, Edward Guay, began searching for uses of the waste products of the forestry industry. A group of Forestry Scientists at Laval University in Quebec City, headed by Gilles Lemieux, did extensive research into the agricultural benefits of CBW.
Initially called Bois Raméal Fragmenté (BRF), most primary resources about Chipped Branch Wood have been written in French. The term has been translated into English as Chipped Branch Wood (CBW), Chipped Ramal Wood, and Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW). The technique has been gaining popularity in Europe, especially in France, though is still relatively uncommon in North America.
Detailed Resources in English
The Vegan Organic Network in the U.K. has a 12-page document about Chipped Branch Wood that is available to download on their website. This document describes how to make and apply CBW:
Laval University published a document Regenerating Soils with Ramial Chipped Wood through the Department of Wood and Forestry Science, summarizing the original research:
Gilles Lemieux, the primary researcher of Chipped Branch Wood, published a paper in French about his findings. An English translation of this 66-page document, entitled Fundamentals of Forest Ecosystem Pedogenetics: An Approach to Metastability through Tellurian Biology, is available to download online:
Additional Resources in French
(Basic translations of French websites, though somewhat inaccurate, can be obtained through internet resources like http://babelfish.yahoo.com/ )
The following article in Ekopedia lists the main people involved in the Chipped Branch Wood movement from around the world, along with their websites, contact info, and blogspots: http://fr.ekopedia.org/BRF:Les_acteurs_majeurs
Elea Asselineau’s website from France, http://www.lesjardinsdebrf.com/ provides an overview of the techniques, plus links to farmers and gardeners who use Chipped Branch Wood, links to related websites and resources, and a blogspot about Chipped Branch Wood, http://brfdelarbreausol.blogspot.com/
De l’Arbre au Sol: Les Bois Rameaux Fragmentes is a detailed 190-page introduction to Chipped Branch Wood, written by Elea Asselineau and Gilles Domenech. The book is currently published only in French, and is available for purchase online.
The book Le BRF, Vous Connaissez? Pour une (agri)culture du vivant was written by Jacky Dupety and published by Editions de Terran. It is only published in French and is available for sale on the internet.