Last Year I Reviewed One Book, The Vertical Garden, & It Went On To Win The Garden Media Guild Practical Book Of The Year. Ben Raskin’s The Woodchip Book Is Equally As Good & Has Too Be My First Review for 2023.

The Woodchip Handbook by Ben Raskin.
The Woodchip Handbook by Ben Raskin.

The Woodchip Handbook is Ben Raskin’s woodchip guide for gardeners, farmers and landscapers. So it covers the topic in depth for all three groups. And though that means there is perhaps more here than some gardeners will need I suspect many will be like me and be so captivated by Raskin’s take on woodchip that they will read the lot. I read it in less than a day, in two delicious sessions of self indulgence. And I loved it.

I had four books on my desk to review and I posted the selection to my Facebook group asking which I should review first. I was interested in their thoughts but to be honest I’d finished reading The Woodchip Handbook before they finished voting. The thing is woodchip is basic in the sense it covers a gardening fundamental. Simply because woodchip can feed our soils and help us establish a gardening system (or be part of a gardening system in some cases) that will enable us to sustainably grow most of fruit and veg we are ever likely to desire (only techniques such a hydroponics are exempt from this argument).

Woodchip Is Nature’s Natural Sustainable and Organic Way

In one headline I have almost written all there is to be said about woodchip. However the details is needed to complete the headline. And Ben Raskin provides that detail and then some.

Raskin is a agroforestry and horticulture professional. He is Head of Horticulture and Agroforestry at the Soil Association and he deals with his topic with the enthusiasm we’d expect. But then he goes further.  Not only is his approach practical for gardeners, the professional landscaper and farmers, he bases his thoughts on science. Every idea he discusses and every comment he makes seems to be referenced back to research that he’s carried out or has been conducted by others. Take chapter five as an example, in which he throughly covers the use of woodchip as a soil amendment, there are no fewer than 37 research papers cited.

But don’t be put off by the amount of research. It doesn’t spoil the reading of the book. The topics flow of the page and are easily read. The references just appear as discrete superscript numbers that are going to take me months to follow up and read. And if you don’t read them it will not spoil the book. They are there for pedants like me to enjoy of months and to give other readers reassurance that this book is based on facts and not the gardening myths I so often write about!

What Topics Does The Woodchip Handbook Cover?

As I said earlier, I started my 2023 reviews with this book because it covers fundamental topics that are important to all gardeners and growers.

The first chapter answers the key question, “What is woodchip?”and once that question is answered covers where woodchip comes from. It even differentiates between woodchip and chipped wood .. they are not the same!

Chapter two looks at the sources of woodchip. Not only are the basics for gardeners throughly covered, Raskin then goes in depth into hedges, coppicing, costings and machinery. Each topic is covered in plain English, there’s no technical BS here. And the costings make perfect sense to me.

Chapter three is about managing woodchip in all its guises. Not only how to use it on beds and pathways, which is how most gardeners use it, this chapter delves deeper and covers topics such as using wood chip for animal bedding. Bedding that can then be composted or used in other ways in the garden or allotment. And for those of us wishing to make seed growing and other mixes there’s a section on how to screen and sieve your compost, which leads me to chapter four.

In chapter four the topic of using woodchip for plant propagation is tackled. How commercial growers use homemade woodchip compost is covered and it’s clear how this can be adapted for garden use. It even goes into WRAPs guidelines for quality compost use for growing media (I wonder why we can’t have quality guidelines for all compost as mentioned in my article on compost standards? This proves it is possible).

Woodchip as a soil amendment is covered in chapter five. The chapter covers the nitrogen challenge, when to and not to use woodchip, and my favourite part, ramial woodchip (RMC). I’ll not spoil the section on RMC, by paraphrasing it here, as it’s something all gardeners should read and understand.

A firm favourite ……

Chapter six is one of my favourites, woodchip as a mulch. Mulching and gardening go hand in hand for me. Whether it is No Dig or using woodchip in pathways and on beds the use of mulches are one of the gardening essentials I believe all gardeners should try to understand. Mulches serve many purposes, from improving drainage and increasing moisture retention to weed suppression and feeding the soil, mulches are essential in my garden.

Then the book canters through woodchip and mushrooms where the horses also contribute a valuable byproduct to ensure the best mushrooms from woodchip and trees.

Finally, as far as chapters go, Raskin covers another essential for sustainable gardening and a sustainable planet, Building Carbon with Woodchip. If you’ve only time to read one chapter of this wonderful book make it this one. Carbon is a huge global issue and the more we can capture in soils the more chance we have to continue gardening for the next generations.

So far I’ve been in full praise mode for this book. So let me balance that with what was a very small negative for me. Though there is a section of colour photos in the centre of the book many of the photos are in black and white. They are perfectly adequate like this, but I would have preferred colour photos. Having said that let me reiterate my first comment.

The Woodchip Book Is Equally As Good as the only book I reviewed in 2022, and that one went on to win The Garden Media Guild Practical Book Of The Year

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