Les Jardins vivaces de Charlesbourg
A Quality Soil PDF Imprimer Envoyer


By Jacques Hébert, March 2013

Beauty, harmony and life around you that is constantly renewed


The best soils found in nature are those of river alluvium. Upstream land erosion has brought silt that enriches the land along the rivers. Leaving nature to itself, it would take only a few years before forest grows back. The forest maintains the life cycles of the soil. Fallen leaves and twigs are recycled layer by layer, year after year. Fungi turn this fresh material into soluble mineral salts used by plants. The transformation uses enzymes, like in the stomach. Microflora and microfauna also play a role in this cyclic transformation. Trees, like plants, spread their top growth (aerial part) to act like a solar collector. Through photosynthesis, plants create polysaccharides (sugars) that are channelled downward and feeding, among others, fungi that transform them into mineral salts for plants and other forms of soil life. Fungi do not photosynthesize. They rely on plants to do so. There is symbiosis, a constructive codependence in all components coordinated as a whole that can be called a food web, which is a life cycle. Such good conditions produce a high-quality mull soil.

You must understand that when you start gardening in a new site, the soil is far from being of such good quality. Our goal is to recreate this type of soil and preserve the quality.

I have developed, in my compost, a humus crop similar to that mull type of humus. I enrich this Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW) crop, mainly fresh climax (noble deciduous trees). I add about 2 to 3% of clay that I dissolve in the substrate. The clay creates my clay-humic complex.

Clay minerals mixed with humus form the clay-humic complex (CHC). In principle clay and humus are negatively charged. Therefore, they should repel each other. The connection between the clay and the humus is made by positive ions. However, this electric connection is unstable and cannot last. Glomalin was discovered in 1996 by Sara F. Wright. Fungi produce this glomalin, a glue-like substance, positively charged, that stabilizes the CHC. This glomalin is a hydrophobic thermotolerant glycoprotein with the property of stocking carbon in the form of proteins and carbohydrates.  It slowly decomposes and accumulates in soil making mineral salts available for plants. Therefore, it results in a nutrient reserve (bank) available in the soil to feed plants and soil microorganisms. Glomalin retains water and favors gas exchanges allowing soil aeration. The CHC, through glomalin, is a major component of pedogenesis. Earthworms also produce glomalin naturally. Like fungi, they develop enzymes. Earthworms can ingest up to 10% of surface living soil every year. Their faeces are pure compost. Everyone knows that earthworms are contributing to soil ventilation. We generate a humus-rich soil. Rich humus brings more earthworms and therefore more globalin. In this way, life cycles are enhanced. It is no coincidence that I have been working with clays and fungi combined with RCW for decades.

Whether it is in the pile of compost or into the ground, saprophytic fungi work as follows: “These fungi secrete enzymes and acids that degrade large molecules of dead plants into simpler molecules, which the fungi can reassemble into building blocks, such  as polysaccharides, for cell walls. From dead plants, fungi recycle carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and minerals into nutrients for living plants, insects, and other organisms sharing that habitat.” (Stamet, 2005)  I always mix part of my old compost crop with fresh deciduous RCW. Thus, microorganisms that are already active are transported to this new substrate “rejuvenated” by fresh RCW. It is preferable to use versatility of tree species for your RCW. Each species bring special characters, to compost as well as mulch. For example, Quercus bring phosphatases, among other things. Similarly, it is preferable to use several saprophytic fungus varieties in the compost, which brings different characters and value to the substrate. Orchestrating fungi cultivation makes all the difference. Otherwise, it is more random according to whether or not your environment contains fungi that can be used for transformation processes. Again, you can rely on your fungi cultivation to colonize your piles of compost, as for me, I do prefer to colonize them by mycelia inoculation at the right time in the transformation process and with the right temperature. You can also do this by spores.


Stropharia rugosoannulata, an edible Saprophyte that is very active with RCW


Of course, when introducing fresh deciduous RCW, there is a certain increase in temperature, which is necessary to start the transformation process using humus. However, I still work in low temperature. The mixture ratio controls the temperature. The bigger the proportion of old crop, the less the temperature will increase… and the opposite is also true. I increase the temperature by adding the clay. In all cases, the substrate must be homogeneous. A concentration of poorly mixed RCW will generate temperature increases in these areas, which should be avoided. Cover your pile of compost with a layer of deciduous RCW of about 5 cm and let it ferment. Add your mycelia at the right time.

This is how I get, for instance in 2012, a compost tested at more than 25% of organic matter, with a regular pH of 7.5, which is even a little basic, contrary to what is said about RCW, which is claimed to be acidifying. My nitrates vary between 6.5 and 10 ppm depending on the period when the new RCW is introduced in the substrate. When speaking of shortages in nitrogen when using RCW, this does not apply here. The cultivation and the work done by fungi make all the difference. I have a C:N of 15-30:1, still depending on the period when the new RCW is introduced in the substrate; pure RCW is probably about 200:1 originally. Ca reaches over 10000 kg/ha. Phosphorus is known to be an important element in soil fertility. Phosphorus exceeds 300 kg/ha, which represents 133.93 mg/kg, which is very good. K exceeds 2000 kg/ha, Mg exceeds 650 kg/ha, Zn exceeds 8 ppm, Fe exceeds 400 ppm, Cu is between 2 and 3 ppm, Mn between 30 and 40 ppm and B between 3 and 4 ppm. Al is somewhere around 40 ppm, which is a minimum. Clay is mainly aluminium. Aluminium act as growth inhibitor. At 40 ppm, it is a minimum. This means that the substrate, in all of its compositions, including mycelia, has digested, assimilated and transformed the clay. As we seen, the clay, through CAH and the fungi activity, makes a huge difference in the compost structure.

My compost can be applied and used immediately. It is even going to improve with time if you are using permaculture methods. You must build a mound of soil of 20-30 cm high by 1.5 m wide with the compost and recover with fresh deciduous RCW mulch. This layer of mulch is used to feed and maintain the humid and fertile ecosystemic environment for this life to be maintained and perpetuated in time with the contribution of fungi, maily Saprophytes, of the Pleurotus type, which are wood transforming fungi, or Stropharia rugosoannulata, as an integral part of this cyclic bioprocessing forming a soil of such high quality. There is no vitality loss in my planting beds as well as those of my numerous customers who use my own methods and products. If you are not using deciduous RCW mulch, fungi will run out of food and living environment. They will remain stable, waiting, migrate where there is favorable food and environment for them, or simply die.

If you go from a mineral soil almost life sterile, I recommend that you apply 30 cm of my compost and 2 cm of deciduous RCW mulch. Reduce the amount according to the level of quality of your soil. It is best not to mix the compost with the soil of your planting beds or your vegetable garden.


Mycelia, exposed for the purposes of the photo, in a young plantation of celery and leek in the back. It is in our garden where we started from a barren sandy soil two years earlier.

If you want to enrich your planting beds without moving your perennial plants, I recommend that 5 cm of my compost is added around the plants and 2 cm of deciduous RCW mulch. Everyone agrees to say that results are visible right away. Here are some comments: “I can’t believe I saw such changes in only two weeks”. An agronomist saw the soil of some friends’ garden completely transformed in humus in a single season, although she started with sand almost barren and lifeless. The garden was a success that same season. Passionate gardeners with decades of practice experienced the same success, wealth and abundance, three times more blossoming, two times longer, no aphids, no potato beetles. One of them told me that his vegetable garden used to be infested with beetles, but now, with my products and techniques, there is still a little but it is minimal. This is how people share it by word of mouth. Quality leads to quality.

If you use RCW randomly without considering the ecosystemic environment, the results will not be the same. If you use RCW as mulch in permaculture, you orchestrate life by cultivating in the best possible conditions so life can settle and perpetuate. Fungi, mainly saprophytes, are transported from the compost to planting beds. In permaculture, avoiding to stir up the soil, recovering planting beds and feeding them with deciduous RCW insures fungi life continuity and are definitely part of our ENVIRONMENT improvement chain for a living soil. Hedgerows and windbreaks also help install and provide a reserve of mycelium for their own environment as well as adjacent crops, especially if they are covered by deciduous RCW.

Once new piles are built, using permanent mulch made of my compost and RCW mulch, you will favor the development of mycorrhizae already in place. You can also introduce arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, for example of the Glomus genus, suitable for crops, still in such an ecosystemic environment, when there are none or only a few. … “Because ectomycorrhizal mycelium grows beyond the plant’s, it brings distant nutrients and moisture to the host plant, extending the absorption zone well beyond the root structure. The mycelium dramatically increases the plant’s ingestion of nutrients, nitrogenous compounds, and essential elements (phosphorus, copper, and zinc) as it decomposes surrounding debris. David Perry (1994) postulates that the surface area – hence its absorption capability – of mycorrhizal fungi may be 10 to 100 times greater than the surface area of leaves in a forest. As a result, the growth of plant partners is accelerated. Plants with mycorrhizal fungal partners can also resist diseases far better than those without. Fungi benefit from the relationship because it gives them access to plant-secreted sugars, mostly hexoses that the fungi convert to mannitols, arbitol, and erythritols.” (Stamets, 2005, p. 24.) 70% of vascular plants can live in symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Orchestrating the right mycorrhizal fungi using the right crop plants will give you much better results. The base support is our compost from RCW used to build a permanent mound of soil. The soil vitality of these piles will be permanent if recovered by a permanent layer of about 2 cm of deciduous RCW that will create an ecosystemic environment perpetuating life while feeding back microorganisms such as fungi.

There is natural formation of growing hormones and antibiotics. The resistance of plants is increased substantially. We can often produce three times more in terms of time, quality and quantity, compared to crops using chemical fertilizers.

This well-managed cropping system provides an auto-fertilizing life and soil environment, a great water holding capacity which requires little or no artificial irrigation, and little weeding. Here is Paul Stamets speaking of the effectiveness of mycelia against erosion: “The length of the pictured thread of mycelium weighed .002 grams and held dowels weighing 6.079 grams, meaning that this rhizomorph supported 3,029 times its mass. When 90 percent of this rhizomorph was cut away, it still supported the wooden dowels, meaning that it can hold more than 30,000 times its mass. This places into perspective how tenacious mycelial mats can be when they infuse habitats with their cellular networks. This grip a habitat and hold it tightly, stabilizing and protecting it from erosion.” (Stamets, 2005 p. 60).



Left (dark): a few months old pre-compost ready to be used.
Middle, close to the refiner: fresh deciduous RCW chipped and ready to be used as mulch.
Right: new mix starting its process in low temperature.

Plate-bande 12 ans

After 12 years: planting bed soil always very fertile with no additional compost or fertilizer, only a thin layer of deciduous RCW every year.

Plate-bande 15 ans

After 15 years: planting bed soil always very fertile with no additional compost or fertilizer, only a thin layer of deciduous RCW every year.


Heuchera Cutting (without root) from multiplication. It will produce a beautiful plant the following year.







Plan de Ligularia dentata Othello

Seedling Ligularia dentata Othello divided only about a month ago. Notice how this soft earth holds together well. Already, rootlets settle around these new white roots.

Racines de Ligularia dentata Othello

The same seedling Ligularia dentata Othello. Notice the new white roots only a month old. Spectacular! Eight days after planting other cuttings (without root) from the same planting, the new roots are already 12 cm long all around the cutting... This is a great start!

Ligularia dentata Othello un an après sa division

A Ligularia dentata Othello plant one year after dividing.
In this particular case, we must say that it is a mother root, but still! The humus has been removed to show the development of the root system.

A plant like this one, when divided, will give about twenty new plants for the next year.

JI have been using RCW in my gardens since 1979 and, from the start, I noticed that the soil, as well as plants, freeze less in the winter and the soil is fresher in the summer, like in the undergrowth. Once again, I would like to share some comments from Paul Stamets: “Many temperate mushroom species produce antifreeze glycoproteins that protect the mycelium form the harmful effect of water crystallizing into ice. These antifreezing agents also help prevent the soils from freezing, conferring protection to plants during extreme cold. In 2003, Hoshino and others filed a patent on the antifreezing polypeptides from several mushrooms. Additionally, soils infused with actively growing mycelium benefit from thermogenesis – the natural escalation of temperature – as the mycelium decomposes organic matter and releases heat, water and carbon dioxide.” (Stamets, 2005, pp. 65-66).

I have been gardening with RCW for over 30 years, and I opened my gardens to the public in 1988 for business purposes. I take care of 450 planting beds on about 2 hectare of intensive crop with more than 1300 varieties of horticultural plants including our home garden. I receive hundreds of raw deciduous RCW trucks containing an average of 8 m³ each. I developed my own prototype devices to refine deciduous RCW that is delivered rough. When I started, this material was going, like waste, to landfills, or worse, to the municipal incinerator.  Since then, I never stopped improving my knowledge and teaching it to others and the land does the rest for a success visible to the naked eye. People talk about it and send me the ones who are interested. The life of nature and the nature of soils have so much to teach us and we should listen with the biggest amazement and the simplest joyful humility.

This is above all my gardens, a living environment, an oasis of life that is maintained in a urban environment. There is a practical application of innovative, however natural, techniques that reproduce different environments such as ponds, a wooden area, flower and vegetable gardens, and people who can live there. There is a source of inspiration so everyone draws what they need and apply it in their own way, in their own life in order to live better, simply and naturally.

I wish you a good harmony with your living environment, that fertility brings you cycle-friendly abundance and that these healthy pleasures settle around you and in you perfectly.


Jacques Hébert
Gardener and owner of JardinsVivaces in Quebec City

For more details, visit my website


Mycelium Running; how mushrooms can help save the world. / Paul Stamets. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005, 343pp.

Glomalin; hiding place for a third of the world’s stored soil carbon./ Wright, Sara F.: In Agricultural Research Magazine, vol. 50, no. 9, September 2002