On a research trip in Europe we met with a french farmer named Jacky Dupéty, living in le Lot in south-west France. He creates living soils using an agro-forestry technique called Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW), or in french, le Bois Raméal Fragmenté (BRF).
What does Ramial Chipped Wood involve?
RCW involves chipping early winter prunings of deciduous hardwoods, and mixing them into the topsoil.
Small, chipped branches put high-protein, nutrient rich lignin into the soil in a form accessible to fungi, that then distribute the nutrients throughout the ground, for the benefit of plants and animals.
This is not just a soil conditioning process. It is potentially revolutionary, because it actually results in the creation of soil.
Once the wood is chipped and on the ground, the work is done in situ by the fungi, plants and animals themselves. The same thing happens in a forest, though obviously the time scale is expanded out greatly.
Where did RCW originate?
The method originated in Quebec, and RCW is still in early days of practical research. Some, like Jacky, are thoroughly convinced of the method’s efficacy.
Jacky reported growing many vegetable crops with very little water, with particular success with tomatoes. Water was only applied when temperatures rose into the high 30s and 40s. He showed us some beans he’d recently sown in RCW-improved soil (pictured below). They had not been watered at all, and it hadn’t rained.
We still have much to learn about fungi, the different effects various hardwoods would have on the soil, and what plants would then thrive in this modified environment.
Where to learn more
Research papers by Professor Gille Lemieux, who we met soon after Jacky, make for interesting reading. Try The Hidden World that Feeds Us: the Living Soil.
Originating out of our home of Western Australia, there’s a worthwhile Facebook group facilitated by Richard Noonan called Ramial Chipped Wood and WoodChip Composting.
While visiting Jacky, we happened to meet Jocelyne, co-founder of the educational community garden, Jardin Bourian, where they’re also experimenting with RCW. Jocelyn’s home turned out to be like a fairytale, and Jardin Bourian itself, deeply inspiring.
“Stand back, she knows what she’s doing.” Pretty sure I wasn’t fixing the chipper in this moment but let’s just say I was.
Jacky having a laugh with Jocelyne, who generously offered to host us in her fairytale home, and introduce the hidden garden she founded with her late husband, Jardin Bourian.