The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Stump dirt and mushroom compost

Beech treeI consider stump dirt to be a miracle planting aid.  But what is it?

Stump dirt spilling out of a hollow tree

The obvious answer is --- that moist, dark, earthy-smelling organic matter found inside decaying trees or logs.  Different trees create stump dirt of varying quality; my favorite source by far is our ancient hollow beech halfway up the hillside, while box-elders product lower grade stump dirt.  Maybe hardwood stump dirt is better than softwood?

The analytical side of me started nibbling away at what stump dirt actually is a few weeks ago, and the best idea I've come up with is that stump dirt is pure organic matter created when fungi decompose wood.  The closest mainstream garden ingredient I could find is mushroom compost, but that is the result of fungi growing on higher nitrogen substrates like straw and manure, so any comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt.  One study of mainstream mushroom compost showed that it consisted of:

Handful of stump dirtNaysayers on the internet report much lower NPK values for mushroom compost, though --- closer to 0.7-0.3-0.3 --- and I suspect our stump dirt is at the lower end of the fertilizing spectrum.  That would explain why the garden beds I treated with stump dirt last year didn't show much growth --- stump dirt isn't a replacement for compost.  Instead, it makes a great ready-made potting soil and can also be used like peat moss to fluff up organic-matter-poor soil.  If we ever had enough to apply stump dirt to our garden in large quantities, I suspect it would act a bit like biochar, providing spots for microorganisms to grow unhindered.  And stump dirt from deep-rooted forest trees is probably even higher in micronutrients than the analysis above portrays.

All of that said, you can't buy stump dirt, and you only find it in middle-aged to old forests.  I mine a couple of five gallon buckets every year out of our beech tree, but save it for extra-special occasions.  Another reason to have a mature woodlot on your property, perhaps?

Never see another chick drown when you switch to our chicken waterer.

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.