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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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BX23Fan
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 25 Snohomish, WA
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2005-08-17          115009


I'm about to purchase approximately 200 yards of topsoil for my new front yard. This will give me 6" of depth on top of a freshly graded clay/dirt/sand mixture (formerly a forest floor; hard-pan at about 18" below the current surface).

I've purchased a few yards recently for misc projects, and noticed that no matter where I buy, there always is a lot of wood (10%-30%, perhaps) in the soil. My limited wisdom tells me that less wood is better, but I can't back that with facts.

I can get soil as cheap as $13/yd (with wood), or a 'premium mix' for twice that which contains wood but much less.

What impact will the wood have on the end result? For example, will it absorb the nutrients out of the soil, leaving me with a huge fertilizer bill? Or, perhaps it doesn't matter in the long run.

I plan to hydro-seed, if that matters.

Thanks in advance.

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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Iowafun
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 955 Central Iowa
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2005-08-19          115093


I'm no expert, but typically the wood will add nutrients as it rots. Hence mulch is chipped/shredded wood. You should be fine as long as the soil isn't too acidic. Some trees "poison" soil with higher acidity levels to keep out competition from other species. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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ncrunch32
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 762 Kingston, NY
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2005-08-19          115101


Wow, that's a lot of topsoil. I purchased 20 yards just to use around the house for gardens and to top off some areas of the lawn where the grass is not doing well. 20 yards costs $500 here. I have no wood in my topsoil but it is very heavy and sticky with whatever they have mixed into it. I have actually pushed the bucket into the lower part of the pile - and the bucket wouldn't lift because the dirt was trying to come up all in one piece. It does seem to work very well in the gardens. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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BX23Fan
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 25 Snohomish, WA
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2005-08-19          115102


200yds is an estimate I received from a topsoil 'calculator' based on my square footage and desired soil depth (6"). I'm willing to splurge in this area to ensure a healthy lawn that doesn't yellow after a brief period of no rain. The bill for the 20 yds ($12.95/yd) was $281 after tax. $3000 on topsoil for the entire (BIG) front yard is within my psychological budget.

Your topsoil sounds much better than mine. Mine is very light and can be lifted with ease by my Kubota BX23's bucket no matter where I start to lift. There's a lot of air in this stuff, so that is probably why it's cheaper. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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ncrunch32
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 762 Kingston, NY
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2005-08-19          115103


I agree its probably worth the investment, if you are going to stay there for a while. I wish the original owner had done that here. I end up patching things up and my yard is various shades of green and brown. I think I would be tempted to go thinner than 6 inches though. A little topsoil for growing grass will go a long way. Maybe 4 inches? But topsoil will never go to waste. Keep a pile on the side for future use! ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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metastable
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 78 North Plains, OR
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2005-08-19          115105


Iowafun got it right. Wood chips make the soil acidic. You need lime to sweeten the soil. After the pH has been optimized, you may need nitrogen. FYI--wood chip filler is really common, but breaks down and can leave your lawn lumpy if you don't have a good base. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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earthwrks
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 3853 Home Office in Flat Rock, Michigan
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2005-08-20          115161


I'm a contractor. I don't want to be an alarmist but anyone when it comes to topsoil, mulch or even concrete should be wary of those who sell and/or truck it. Around here, short-loading is a HUGE problem. What they do is they say they are selling/delivering 30 yards---in a 24-yd truck no less! But when you get it you're lucky if you get 20yds. Even if they do deliver the volume they say they will, you are buying a "fluffy yard", not a "compacted yard" which your computations are based on. I tell my customers 1.)They deal directly with the top soil seller, that way they aren't mad at me when they are shorted. 2.) Figure on losing at least a third to half of the original volume. So as the saying goes "figure on how much you need then double it". To keep your topsoil guy honest go to a manager/owner and give them the dimensions you are working with that you want to fill. Let them tell you how much you need and what it will cost for the whole job. An honest guy will tell you about compaction loss and figure that in (or at least remind them of it). So tell them that since they are the professional you are relying on their professional input to determine the amount. One way or another get them to commit to not the yardage but the price---the job isn't done until, ALL the dirt is there---regardless of how much soil is needed the price will not change. And they will need to keep bringing in soil until your expectations which is what you agreed upon are met. Before I had my customers buy the topsoil I saw my jobs taking 2-3 times what I figured on ($2000-$4000 more) all due to short-loading. And the guys I bought from were friends so I thought.

A dishonest guy will him-haw around and be non-committal about the yardage---they figure you are at their mercy so you will---and have to---pay anything to get the job done and overwith.

By the way, concrete redi-mix suppliers will try this same thing if they can get away with it. A friend was a party once and was talking with a concrete supply owner---he boasted that he makes $250,000 over and above his regular sales just because of short-loading--the last time this happened to me it cost me $250 for a 1/4 yard and they were literally next door.

If you are wondering if you got what you paid for and you are using a loader, count how many level or "struck" buckets you get from each load then multiply that by the "struck" cubic foot or yard capacity which may be stamped on your bucket or you can have your dealer tell you. Then if there is a problem, you have solid evidence you have been ripped off, or rest assured you got your money's worth.
....

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____________________________________________________________________________________
topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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ncrunch32
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 762 Kingston, NY
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2005-08-20          115170


Earthwrks - based on my limited experience having rock, bank run, and topsoil delivered I agree. The pile always looks much smaller than expected when it is dumped. Also - I see nothing over the top of the truck when it comes - the driver tells me it is the law - that they can't really fill their trucks all the way to the top. My daughter who worked with the county and state transportation departments as a summer engineer intern told me the problem is pervasive - no matter who you order from. I guess that's how these guys make their money. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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ncrunch32
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 762 Kingston, NY
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2005-08-20          115171


Another comment on deliveries of rock and dirt, etc. My understanding is that, if the truck gets stuck, YOU - the purchaser has to pay the towing fee. I noticed that on rainy days the trucking company would repeatedly ask me if the conditions were OK. Luckily the truck just managed to pull out of my back yard with all 8 wheels spinning in 4wd.

A buddy of mine who worked with truckers in a past job, told me later that when these guys ask you whether conditions are OK - they are setting YOU up for the towing bill. Instead you should be noncommital and tell them that they are the experts - that you don't really know about what types of conditions their vehicles can handle. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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earthwrks
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 3853 Home Office in Flat Rock, Michigan
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2005-08-20          115177


As far as filling to the top that varies around here with who you talk to. I beleive the law is 6-8" below the side rails but I have yet to find it in the DOT Reg. book. Some guys try to impress the customer when they pull up with a mountain-peak of dirt showing---but the truth is if you level it out there would be a lot of room to spare. And with the peak showing it makes it really hard to tell if you are shorted.

As far as getting stuck, I find the lazy operators I dealt with wanted me to accept the responsibility just like you say. And you are very correct with the stance you take with them---let them decide. I had one diver who backed a 24yd trailer into a ditch that I just put a new culvert in and he crushed one end. I told the customer to deduct $200 from the soil bill for me to fix it. The soil owner went ballastic. The customer didn't feel like fighting and gave in and paid me to fix it. The owner tried to make accept the responsiblilty for the actions of his driver---no way!

Around here customers refuse to pay for a driver's mistake in getting stuck. Most places I know will fire the guy first.

Then there's the driver my one buddy has who actually backed into my new skid steer with his big dump (got mirrors?). This same guy when he delivers for me, his boss will call and tell me "make sure the ground is level because the dumb___ will raise it anyway" The last time he raised it on unlevel ground he flipped it over and caused $33,000 in damage to the trailer frame. Yep and this guy is on the road!

Concrete trucks are a little different. Sometimes when pouring a new driveway the approach/apron off the street is soaked from rain with a foot or more of mud (in a subdivision for example) and the only choices you have are: get the truck to the back and start pouring and pay for towing or turn away the truck and pay for a load you can't pour---ouch. My buddy chose to pay for towing ($600). I used to pour mobile home concrete piers (as many as 44 per home). Spring time mud made the mud two feet deep. Only once did a truck get stuck and turned out she forgot to lock the front axle--but she had another truck waiting with a tow cable just in case. We never discussed a towing bill though.

On another job I told the conc. dispatcher to NOT allow his guys to go through the alley that had low utility wires. What'd they do? Took down the wires. The driver just shrugged his shoulders as I wrote on the bill that I wasn't paying for the wires he downed. Apparently he knew more than I did 'cause he said "If the wires aren't higher than 13'-8" we will take 'em down--that's the law" he said.

....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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harvey
Join Date: Sep 2000
Posts: 1539 Moravia, NY
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2005-08-21          115184


OUCH THAT DART IN THE FOREHEAD HURTS!

I manage a sand and gravel facility, 2 asphalt facilities and deliver a broad variety of materials.

All of our loads are scaled. If the scale is down in Homer the yardage method is used and our loader guys are good, those loads are always in the customers favor and spot checked once or twice a day at one of our other 6 scale locations. I have 3 65+' scales at the Polkville location and 1 in the Homer location. The main office and terminal also have one each.

Customers are always calling in asking us to compute their needs and when it comes out short they expect us to truck the rest for free. I always make some assumptions that their grade or finished grade might be off. I will not give a calculation I will give an estimate using 2" + or- on the grade. I've been out to lots of jobs and grades are not even close.

Why is it if you have a truck that carries 22 ton customers are unwilling to buy the 2 extra ton and have some extra. 2 ton of any type of material is lost in the size of the area that will take 20 tons. Many contractors are cheap trying to cut corners and blame someone else when it's short.

That said: we mostly deal with larger contractors that quote very close and figure in the overages on dirt work and when you deliver the 2360 tons of item 4 they know exactly where it will be used. They also have no problem ordering a extra 30 ton load even if they think they only need 20-23 tons.

My dumps weigh over 70,000+ carring 21-23 tons loaded our trailers are 107,000 carring 31-34 tons homeowners and many contractors have NO IDEA how much weight that is. Most people have no clue that a contractor with good help can move a ton of material in 8 wheelbarrows, some less. As far as heaping up over the sides that is a invation for the DOT boys to stop you. Most trucks are designed to maximize the load below the sides. Our gravel weights just over 1.68 tons per yard lime stone suppliers are a little less. Do the math. 17'L X 52"H X 76"W Thats our smallest dump.

Trucks are expensive, good drivers to drive them are expensive. When a driver tells you the ground looks soft it probably is, they are not backing in. When they ask 6 times about leach fields and old tanks to include old fuel tanks they are serious. When you try to put a tractor trailer in a drive way designed for cars and not tear up the road out front or crush a culvert it probably won't work. The worst case is the homeowner who has no idea of what is buried in the yard. Once I have seen a concrete truck sitting in a old septic tank almost on its side. Homeowners falt? Or stupid truckdriver? Homeowner or contractor is going to pay for towing and damage to truck.

But contractors and homeowners find it easiest to blame it on the supplier and trucking rather than their lack of knowledge.

I've had a homeowner accuse a driver of delivering part of the load to someone else in route to the job, because the pile looked small.

Concrete and asphalt are batched in state certified facilities. Our asphalt plants are rechecked every 90 days. There is no short loading or the computer driven delivery ticket would reflect it. It is usually a bad quote based on a bad grade or the inability of a homeowner or contractor to hold a fine finish grade on the project.

Bottom line I can not believe someone would continue to do business with a poor supplier that keeps poor help unless he is just out to do a job as cheap as possible to increase his profit.

BTW for your yard I would never recommend 6" of screened topsoil unless it was screened with lots of small stone and sand.

Moisture in the soil has to do with light and fluffly or heavy and clumpy it all depends on the season and moisture also raw material.

Always remember a ton of dirt and a ton of chicken feathers weighs the same. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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ncrunch32
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 762 Kingston, NY
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2005-08-21          115220


Harvey, you are a few miles away from me or I would use you for my next delivery. Thanks for re-instilling in me confidence that my next delivery would be a full and honest measure. I appreciate that. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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BX23Fan
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 25 Snohomish, WA
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2005-08-22          115231


Out of curiousity, I called the topsoil company I plan to use and asked them about how they can guarantee that I'm getting what I paid for. They said that they use a 6 yard bucket to load the truck and thus just count the number of loads dumped into the truck. There are no scales, etc to check.

It all boils down to how much you trust them. The topsoil company I'm working with is the largest in the area (12 locations). I'm confident that the person counting the beans is not the same person who counts the 6yd buckets. I feel I can trust them. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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shortmagnum
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 848 Wisconsin
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2005-08-22          115238


The biggest problem with wood chips or shavings in the soil is that they rob the soil of nitrogen while they rot. I learned this the hard way in my garden thinking oak shavings would help my sandy soil. Now after four years the soil is finally getting back to normal. If you use wood chip laced topsoil you should put extra nitrogen down to take the place of the microbe robbed nitrogen.

If you do a net search on wood chips and nitrogen you'll find plenty of information out there. Here's one quote:

"The microflora that decomposes the wood particles takes up the nitrogen required for growth of plants. The result is that the plant becomes starved for nitrogen."
Dave ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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tk_csa
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 28 western New York
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2005-08-22          115247


I'm a hardscape landscaper. I would not recommend 6" of topsoil. First it's more than is needed and secondly, it will take 1 year to compact enough to get on it with any machine (unless you roll it in lifts and/or alot). 3-4" should be sufficient. You need to compensate for the wood fiber contnent now and over time. Decomp of the wood fiber (including leaves) will deplete the nitrogen in the soil. ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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091755
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 143 brantwood wisconsin
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2005-08-26          115497


BX23fan

The type of wood chip would be my concern. If you want
to plant immediately you would not want balsam fir, red
pine, or black walnut chips in there. It eventually breaks
down, but could affect a lawn planting if the chips have
not been in the soil a few seasons. Balsam and red pine
if cut soon after coming out of the woods have alot of
sap. Black walnut chips would probably kill everything.
It has something in it that makes it tough to grow
anything. I would put it in and lime the heck out of it.
I would doubt you wood have any black walnut chips, but
balsam and red pine are quite common.

doc ....

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topsoil with wood chips in it -- a big deal

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BX23Fan
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 25 Snohomish, WA
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2005-08-26          115506


I'm not sure what wood is in the soil, but I'm in the Seattle area, so it's likely doug fir, cedar, and/or hemlock.

Update on my quest for good soil: I spoke with the topsoil company and expressed some concern about the amount of wood, claiming that about 30% of the mixture is wood. They said they would create me a special batch (I could even approve it before purchase) with as much or little wood as I like. And still for only $12.95/yd. I told the sales lady that I'll take another 20 yards (need to plan a 120' row of english boxwood tomorrow) with 'less wood' and see if they can bring something more to my liking. I PH tested the last batch (the one with all the wood) and got a reading somewhere between 6.0 and 6.5 (closer to 6.0). That seems within the range I need for a good lawn.

They seem very accomodating. I think I'll order the big load from them if this batch turns out well. ....

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