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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). The method originated in Quebec, and research papers by Professor Gille Lemieux making for interesting reading. Try The Hidden World that Feeds Us: the Living Soil.
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.
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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.
RCW is still in early days of practical research, though 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). They had not been watered at all, and it hadn’t rained.
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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.
We’re keen to hear from people experimenting with RCW, and if you’re local to us and interested, we recommend joining the Ramial Chipped Wood Facebook group facilitated by Richard Noonan, in Perth. There are lots of groups on Facebook in French, too, search le bois raméal fragmenté (BRF).
While visiting Jacky, we met Jocelyne, who invited us to stay with her and visit the educational Jardin Bourian, where they’re also experimenting with RCW.