Thursday, 5 December 2013

Chipboard as Soil Improver. No... Seriously!

Chipboard and MDF, with their synthetic constituents and health concerns, would not immediately spring to mind as compost material. Surely not something the organic gardener would want coming in contact with their soil — that would be my automatic reaction. But please read on!

I had a lot of scrap chipboard lying about, and got thinking about the resin glue that it contains; urea formaldehyde. That's a recognised agricultural fertiliser isn't it? So after a bit of research, I found this document about composting wood composite materials.
It's a long read, so for those that just want the highlights, it seems that chipboard and MDF, when composted with green waste, make compost that surprisingly contains less contaminants that compost made from domestic green waste alone. The urea resin is broken down by bacteria and fungi, releasing nitrogen which becomes available to combine with the high-carbon wood particles. This should counteract the usual stated disadvantage of composting wood — a temporary state of nitrogen mopping.

So I'm incorporating it into the bottom spit of my double digging on beds to be managed in future by minimum tillage, where it will provide slow release nutrients, and improve long term water-holding capacity. Deeply buried wood products may also be effective in catching soluble nutrients that would otherwise be leached by winter rain.
Not quite hugelkultur, but brings a whole new meaning to composting your kitchen scraps.

Gotta do something to improve this stuff...

If you're thinking of following my example, it's probably a bad idea to use:
-coated or foil laminated board,
-MR (flooring) grade chipboard (that's 'moisture resistant', which contains fungicides),
 -board contaminated with paint, varnish, or wood preserver.

UPDATE: There is another study here by the University of Tennessee which finds benefits from dressing soil with mdf sawdust at 8 tons/acre.


  1. You have the wrong hobby! You should be making pottery.

  2. If it were clay, I'd be happy. It's fine silt; all the disadvantages of clay with none of the fertility or water-holding capacity, and very capable of blowing away in dry weather if left exposed.

  3. This type of work makes me much happy because it contains lots of useful stuff especially for the students of agronomy and my brother is really interested in this work thanks.

  4. Hi, I couldn't find/open "this document" or find open the study by univercity of Tennessee "here"
    Please send addresses

    1. I get a 404 error for that too. But I found the article here:

  5. I have a bunch of cheap flooring that dissolves if you leave a puddle of water on it. Think of the cheapest laminate you could find. Weak, heavy particle board with a thin coating. Wonder if I can use it under my new no-dig bed. Would like to find out the components of this trash before using it, though. Thoughts?

  6. How about the wood from pallets