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Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur article thread

Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Our hugelbeetes are finally done!

We started the series of beds by constructing the first bed without digging a trench. We simply piled wood about 5 feet high, on top of the existing soil.

We then dug 4-5 X 5 foot trenches, filled them with logs and branches about 3-5 feet above soil level, put 4-6 inches of hay on top, and then covered with soil taken from the adjacent trench. This left us with one trench empty. The edge of the trench was approximately 5-6 feet away from the pile of wood. This left us with 2-3 foot wide pathes. I would've liked to go wider but the backhoe we used couldn't really reach that far.


[Thumbnail for step1hugeltrench.jpg]

[Thumbnail for hugelbeetetravistreestage.jpg]

[Thumbnail for step3soilhugel.jpg]

[Thumbnail for hugelbeete hay step.jpg]



http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Here's the final product


[Thumbnail for hugel beds wide shot of all of them in line.jpg]

[Thumbnail for hugel all done side shot of all.jpg]

Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
A few tips:

-If you're renting/borrowing a backhoe, have all your wood ready and on site before it arrives. We piled the logs at both the south and north ends of where the beds were flagged.

-If you want uniform beds of the same length, mark out the ends so that you don't start to 'drift' like we did. This also gives you a reference for a path in which to haul all your logs in to minimize compacting the growing area

-If you have the machinery, its best to line  or pile up your logs close to the bed and push them in, rather than doing it all by hand. Being meticulous with the placement of the logs didn't seem to make a difference in the end product comparatively.

-Compact the logs part way through at least once with either your machine, or your stomping abilities

-don't bother cutting the branches from the trunks. There's no need, and Sepp says it can shorten the life of the bed, and cause pH problems if you're using pine for example. This is due to the seepage of sap or pitch from the wounds created by the cutting

-Sepp recommends a very steep angle to avoid compaction. I think its like 70 or 80 degrees. This helps avoid compaction aparently. We got about a 50-60 degree angle, and I don't know how the heck he gets a steeper angle. It may be the configuration of the wood in more of a pyramid form than we had, though we tried to make it as such. It also may be that he packs down the soil part way through which could give a wider more stable base to put the remaining soil on so that you get less fallign to the sides.

-if you have the luxury of time, scrape up the sod and place it on the sides of the beds, set aside the topsoil to add on last, add the subsoil on top of the wood, then finally add the topsoil. We simply put everything on as it came out and were left with a lot of clay on the surfaces.

-if you're putting your beds north-south going down a slope, sepp holzer recommends a swale at the north end on contour, and then to run your hugel beds on about a 30-40 degree angle against the slope. This is so you catch water with the beds, but don't keep it there at the expense of the beds below. He says this can happen with beds that are perpendicular to the slope. I learned this AFTER I built my beds of course...

-Get ready to wear yourself out!
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
johnlvs2run wrote:
Do rocks have any place in hugelkultur?

Frank Fekonia did something similar with rocks in the bottom 1/3 of old fridges.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62ge_AqaVtM

Could someone comment on the relationship between using rocks plus organic matter as he did,
compared to using wood in hugelkultur, and might there be some benefit to using both wood and rocks?


I have to drive into town to watch YouTube. but it sounds to me from your description that he basically made a hydroponic system. 

However, if I was to venture a guess, it also sounds like he was making a quasi-trickle filter that are used in fish aquaculture systems for private and commercial use.  In which, the organic matter breaks down slowly and makes Ammonia.  Bacteria that colonizes rocks or other substrate breaks the ammonia down into nitrite and then nitrate and then finally down to free nitrogen and oxygen.  Is that what you were looking for?
Brenda Groth
pollinator

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
  10
what great pictures..and a lot of work, I can't wait to see what they look like when they are producing for you.

as for the question about rocks..i suppose that if you are in an area where it gets really cold rocks would help hold in heat and moisture as well.

maybe they could be placed on the south side to gather heat and emit it later during the day, or around more tender plants to help retain heat and moisture around the plants.

some trees also do really well with a rubble base around them, like prunus family.


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
john smith


Joined: Aug 14, 2010
Posts: 70
Location: western u.s.
Pakanohida wrote:
I have to drive into town to watch YouTube. but it sounds to me from your description that he basically made a hydroponic system. 

However, if I was to venture a guess, it also sounds like he was making a quasi-trickle filter that are used in fish aquaculture systems for private and commercial use.  In which, the organic matter breaks down slowly and makes Ammonia.  Bacteria that colonizes rocks or other substrate breaks the ammonia down into nitrite and then nitrate and then finally down to free nitrogen and oxygen.  Is that what you were looking for?


It is dryland, not hydroponics. 

He got 100 discarded and drained refrigerators and freezers, took the doors off, layed them on their backs and drilled drain holes 1/3 of the way up one end or both ends.  Then he filled the bottoms with large rocks or any kinds of rocks, 1/3 organic matter on top of the rocks, and the top 1/3 with dirt.

The only water comes from rain in the winters.   
Apparently the water stays in the rocks at the bottom all through the year.

His gardens are flourishing.


how to convert a chest freezer to a fridge

Where liberty dwells, there is my country. -- Benjamin Franklin
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Wow. Gigantic self-irrigating planters made from appliances...sounds like it would be amazing, but might be really annoying to deal with in a couple decades.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Glenn Kangiser
pollinator

Joined: Dec 31, 2009
Posts: 236
Location: Central California
I just dug one out of the ground with my Bobcat, to be taken to the dump after the owner gave up on the idea of the old freezer planter.


- Glenn -
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
It is dryland, not hydroponics.



I understand & understood that, but the nitrogen cycle works the same way on land.  Same bacteria convert it, as well as others. 

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Planted a bit of the Fall garden this morning:  turnips, greens, a few flowers.

Here's some pics of things that are presently growing:

Sweet potatoes in a hugel bed:



Mayo Blusher winter squash in a hugel bed:



The part of the garden that I haven't hugelkultured yet mostly couldn't take the heat and drought, even though it got irrigated as much as the hugel beds:



Idle dreamer

                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Brenda Groth wrote:

the backhoe guy that is putting the pond scum in my woods has also knocked over several trees and is burying them under the pond scum and the dirt that he is bringing into my woods..that I wrote about and showed pictures of on that thread mentioned above.

so this area that appears flattish..now..is buried trees under about 2' deep of pond scum, algae, seaweed, clay, dirt, micro organisms..etc..

this might work in the same manner..with the trees rotting from below and the good stuff (giant compost pile) working from above..

too bad it hadn't stopped right here..but there is still more going in there..more scum..more dirt..more whatever..and will be for 2 or 3 more days..it has been going on all day..

we told him to go ahead and knock over and bury some of the dying aspens if he needs the room..but we flagged trees that we wanted to save..

here is a look at the far corner of the woods where it isn't getting filled..
[/img]

the trees were healthier on this side..

the opening to where the area is getting filled in is to the south..so the area will get sun for the middle part of the day..i'm thinking once this area is repaired and levelled..and the stuff settles and begins to decompose (if it needs to decompose..it is mostly rotten already from being in the bottom of the pond) then it would be a good place to plant something

I'm not sure what will go there now..directly in front of this woods are 3 baby walnut trees that are doing very well..only a foot or so tall..so whatever gets put in here will have to put up with walnut trees within 40' of it..but..i have my list of things that will grow near walnuts..

this was totally unexpected..the scum in the woods..my husband arranged that this morning without my knowledge..so it is a new idea..what will happen with dead trees and pond scum


I am curious why you didn't spread the wonderful material removed from the pond onto a field where it could be plowed in and used to enrich the soil to grow crops or just left to go fallow?

"pond scum, algae, seaweed, clay, dirt, micro organisms..etc."
.... all very good material to have in a garden.


Lawrence London
lfljvenaura@gmail.com
EcoLandTech
http://ecolandtech.blogspot.com
http://ibiblio.org/ecolandtech
                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Ken Peavey wrote:

N
While the initial bed would see the wood consuming some N, this would be bacterial activity.  Once the N is depleted, do those bacteria die off allowing fungi to take over?  The fungi would release N from the wood and the wood would capture whatever N leaching out of the soil above.  N is retained rather than lost or depleted.  This line of thinking could use further development and understanding.

Mycorrhiza Activity
Fungi would be the dominant component of decomposition of woody debris, with mycorrhizae finding an optimum environment.  While the pH would tend to be less acid, making P less available to plants, mycorrhizae would be able to chelate nutrients in areas where the pH is not ideal for the plants.  The range of pH in which plants could thrive would be greatly expanded.  The plants provide sugars to the fungi, the fungi provide the plants with mineral nutrients.  It does not matter that the plants cannot access the nutrients in the rotting wood, the fungi will spoon feed it to the plants.  I think the involvement of mycorrhizae in hugelkulture is a key aspect to how it works.

Compost Amendment
When burying the wood, I think adding some amount of compost would provide the source of fungi which innoculates the hugel bed.


"N
While the initial bed would see the wood consuming some N, this would be bacterial activity.  Once the N is depleted, do those bacteria die off allowing fungi to take over?"

Several things:
"Since organisms use about 30 parts carbon for each part of nitrogen, an initial C:N (available quantity) ratio of 30 promotes rapid composting and would provide some nitrogen in an immediately available form in the finished compost."
http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/fundamentals/needs_carbon_nitrogen.htm

Hard to tell what ratio you would end up with in a Huegulkulture bed since you're trying to cover the wood with soil and not often adding manure or finished compost in any appreciable quantity. One thing for sure this sort of bed-compost pile is strictly an aerobic process; creating it above ground ensures that the relative impermeability of the soil added will not convert that process to anaerobic resulting most likely in putrefaction. Something to keep in mind; making it on a slope is an excellent safeguard against this
happening. Filling holes and depressions in the area where the bed is to be built would seem to be a good idea. This would be especially important on land with low percolating soil, clay and otherwise poor drainage due to lack of slope and soil permeability.

I would think that bacteria (thermophilic at first) and fungi would be present and actively working on the raw materials from the start,
with the possible exception of fungi while the thermophilic bacteria are making the pile heat up. There is also "cold composting" that the biodynamicists use. I would like to know more about this process. Maybe that is what happens with Huegelkulture. The thermophilic bacteria start the breakdown of the wood, cellulose and lignin, making the material less dense and more accessable to the fungi who populate the pile and complete the conversion of raw wood to black nutrient rich compost then part of the soil crumb structure and soil colloid.

I say this because I spent many years with tractor/loader at horse farms piling up sawdust/shavings mixed with horse manure,
shaping the pile, innoculating it with finished compost from previous batches, and turning it every week or so until it could be used directly as a soil amendment for food gardens and landscape plantings without risk of loss of N from the soil. After the pile had gone
through a heat and had cooled down you could see threads of fungal mycelia running through the outer few feet of material in the pile. Shaped properly these manure/sawdust piles could also be called Huegelkulture.

That's a great idea. Add finished compost ("black gold" and/or horse manure. This will be aerobic material containing an array of aerobic microbes necessary start the breakdown of raw materials and green materials in the Huegelkulture bed.

"While the pH would tend to be less acid, making P less available to plants, "

I think it is the other way around, phosphorous becomes more readily available in a lower pH soil.
It is OK to add wettable sulphur (lowers pH and add elemental sulphur, a micronutrient) to soil to facilitate the breakdown of rock
phosphate to release plant-available phosphorous.

                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

To those building Huegelkulture beds in big trenches, extending way above ground in finished form:

Do you allow for drainage of these trenches? What happens when they are dug in heavy clay or impermeable soil and
they fill up with water during heavy rain? Wouldn't this make the whole process go anaerobic, turn the materials
putrefactive, and take forever to break down into compost/soil?
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I did build my hugelbeds on a slight downward slope to allow for some drainage for the reasons you speculate about dirtfarmer. I can't answer for the clay issue because the soil  in my hugelbeds is fit for a sandbox.

My understanding is that at least for the first few years, there are so many air pockets between the branches and trunks, that it keeps things from going anaerobic. Not sure though.
                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Travis Philp wrote:
I did build my hugelbeds on a slight downward slope to allow for some drainage for the reasons you speculate about dirtfarmer. I can't answer for the clay issue because the soil  in my hugelbeds is fit for a sandbox.

My understanding is that at least for the first few years, there are so many air pockets between the branches and trunks, that it keeps things from going anaerobic. Not sure though.


the slope's the thing and is important.

The air pockets are probably vital to HK working normally as expected. In a trench during heavy rain they would be filled with water; cycling between anaerobic and aerobic; would slow things down and reduce efficiency and quality of end product, I would think.
If you were going to dig big trenches for the beds, say on a slope and across the grade, I would, instead, use the excavated dirt to
mix with and cover the wood in HK beds at existing grade (i.e. on flat ground) on the downhill sides of the trenchs, with the HK beds running parallel to the trenches, obviously; I would also allow plenty of width between the trenches - this would give you just the right amount of excavated dirt for the HK beds (calculate it out) and a trench for drainage and storage of rainwater to provide  moisture wicking up into the HK beds, very useful during drought.

See this photo collection to visualize how Niels' trenches & beds could be adapted to a different HK construction method:
Niels Corfield - nocompost
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nielscorfield/sets/72157619780442000/
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
How does one tell if the beds are anaerobic? 
                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Ludi wrote:
How does one tell if the beds are anaerobic?   


the beds will be wet, waterlogged, soggy, poor drainage conditions, little or no leaching or flushing off site of the
non decomposing, possibly putrefactive materials

the material will turn darker in color or black, might smell putrefactive, plant growth in or nearby will cease,
stuff will sit endlessly without breaking down swiftly as it would under aerobic conditions
aerobic = "with air" or aeration, i.e. aerated

"without breaking down swiftly as it would under anaerobic conditions"
was changed to read as you see above.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Thank you!
Paula Edwards


Joined: Oct 06, 2010
Posts: 411
This thread is interesting, however too long to read it all!
Huegelbeet might be a solution to our gardening problems.
Which are poor drainage, poor soil and tons of twigs.
My question are: Does it work with twigs as well? Or do you need logs?
Do you remove the topsoil first  together with the lawn?
How thick do you cover the twigs with topsoil?
Do you clip the twigs to a certain length?

Edited: meanwhile I read a bit about the concept, only to have even more questions.
First our vegetable garden is caged and wouldn't it be impractical to built a hill bed in a cage (9 x9 meters)? Then they say that you dig out on (sometimes they tell 2) spades deep out. Then comes the timber/branches.  they might sit in the water f it rains too much. Then they recommend putting the soil back in and the they want to see 25 cm of  leaf mold.  This would be really nice to have we would have to BUY this! And afterwards they use trailer loads of compost. Our soil is crap and I know that we have to buy stuff, but the amounts mentioned would be a fortune.
What would you recommend? We might get grass clippings from mowing contractors.
john smith


Joined: Aug 14, 2010
Posts: 70
Location: western u.s.
ediblecities wrote:
Our soil is crap and I know that we have to buy stuff


I see no reason why you'd need to buy anything for filling the trenches.
However, I did purchase a nice drainage spade yesterday. 

I'm in the process of digging trenches and drainage holes, then finding whatever is available to fill them, which must be free stuff.  The soil here is hard compacted clay, going down 2 to 3 feet, then a softer layer underneath.  A tree trimming fellow said he would drop off a huge truckload of tree trimmings, which ranges from leaves and twigs, up to 2x12 inch pieces that would be suitable for burning in the winters.  I have not decided on that route yet, as it might be way too much material for my purposes.

Another option is having landscapers drop off their trimmings from lawns, bushes and small trees.  Such clippings are more likely to contain pesticides, and also would probably break down too rapidly.  In either case they have to pay to get rid of the trimmings, and should be glad to drop them off here for free.
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
ediblecities wrote:Do you remove the topsoil first  together with the lawn?
How thick do you cover the twigs with topsoil?....I know that we have to buy stuff, but the amounts mentioned would be a fortune.
What would you recommend?


I'd like to second other commenters in saying: I wouldn't buy anything that isn't expected to grow.

The basic idea is to collect as much organic matter as is practical, then cover it with soil; it can be more elaborate than that, but it usually works as simply as that.

Whatever condition the soil is, choose plants appropriate for that to begin with, and plan for it to improve. Peas, beans, small grains, and some common garden vegetables are adapted to low-fertility soil, and will produce something, plus supporting the soil ecosystem with their roots, while the orgainic matter breaks down.

The consensus from this thread seems to use wood in whatever size and shape can be handled easily. If you want to get elaborate, the strategy is to put wood at the bottom (often in a trench, but start from ground level if you worry poor drainage will make this go sour), then pile on anything you worry will sprout, like sod or weeds with seeds. If you have the materials for it and have built an intuition for compost, then build a cold compost heap or sheet compost on top of this, followed by subsoil and finally topsoil.

One strategy to keep the twigs well-drained enough would be to trench between the beds, to whatever depth you trench to add the wood:


[Thumbnail for hugelbeet.PNG]

Paula Edwards


Joined: Oct 06, 2010
Posts: 411
Sounds good. As I have to remove the lawn sods anyway and dig through he whole crappy soil putting stones and rubbish out it might be easier for us not digging trenches and leave the paths rather than digging the whole stuff out to a certain depth, say 30 cm and building it up once again. And then putting maybe the stones back in where the paths are. And if we are very neat we even put in some string lines.
                                      


Joined: Sep 25, 2010
Posts: 39
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:


Good one Joel, thumbs up! Great drawing. I think the border between ground level Hazelip type raised beds and Huegelkulture beds is becoming blurred in some cases. For some responding in this thread just constructing an ordinary raised bed might be a more direct approach than trying to build a Huegelkulture bed for growing vegetables. Double dig the bed, excavate a path/drainage trench (furrow) between the beds, apply and mix into the top 1' depth of soil: rock dusts , nitrogenous materials, compost, cut weeds and grasses and or aged sawdust or horse manure, etc etc etc. The Hazelip method is very reliable and productive as are the Jeavons and Chadwick methods.
See this document for more information:
http://www.ibiblio.org/ecolandtech/documents/gardening-hand-tools.faq
[Eventually I will revise and html'ize this work, include external links,  pics and more. This is my favorite subject: soil quality.]

I posted this related information for ediblecities in the other thread on garden beds; I would like to explore how this procedure could be integrated with adjoining Huguelkulture beds on site.

dirtfarmer (LFLondon) writes:

You are in luck if there is a rock quarry anywhere near you and you can hire a trucker to bring you many tons of siltation pond fines (finely ground rock dust). If the material is clean and the rock does not have toxic components then you are good to go.

Excavate your garden beds (just the beds, nothing else) to a depth of no less than one foot and no more than two feet and create little drainage outlets to prevent standing water. You can use the excavated dirt to build Huguelkulture beds for other types of food gardening and/or landscaping. Fill these wide trenches with the rock dust your trucker brings you. Pile the rock dust in these beds to at least one foot or more (16-18" is great) above existing grade; it will settle out later on. Mix in rock phosphate, azomite, maybe hi-cal limestone, maybe dolomitic limestone, maybe aragonite, maybe limited quanities of wood ashes, greensand, alfalfa meal, granulated seaweed, compost, manure, aged horse manure, organic manures of any kind, aged sawdust or shavings, aged hay, woods mold or earth and