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hugelkultur in hot ,arid climate

sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
Here in Tucson we're taught to build sunken beds, 2 feet deep, for harvesting and conserving water. Hugelkultur beds could be built starting at that 2 foot depth but would then become raised beds, even if the bed were just 3 feet high. Do the advantages of hugelkultur outweigh the disadvantages of having raised beds in this desert? Are there any modifications to standard hugelkultur beds that could be made?
I'm going to try it in one of the beds here, but it'd be nice to know what others have to say about it.
C.J. Murray


Joined: Dec 02, 2011
Posts: 92
Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
There is a lot of input from others on this thread: http://www.permies.com/t/17/permaculture/hugelkultur I'd suggest reading all of it and gleaning what applies to the hot and arid location you are in.

I too struggle with keeping things moist and I am going to try several different strategies incorporating rotting wood including raised bed, level bed and burying the logs below walkways to, over time, create a noncompactable walkway also capable of absorbing/storing moisture. As it is now my walkways become hard deserts and I'm sure this impacts root growth on adjacent plants.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I dig a trench 18 to 24 inches deep and put my materials in it:










Last year I installed these buried wood beds throughout one half of my kitchen garden; here's how it's looking today:



Idle dreamer

sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
C.J. Murray wrote:I too struggle with keeping things moist and I am going to try several different strategies incorporating rotting wood including raised bed, level bed and burying the logs below walkways to, over time, create a noncompactable walkway also capable of absorbing/storing moisture. As it is now my walkways become hard deserts and I'm sure this impacts root growth on adjacent plants.


I worry about the walkways too. Good idea.

Thank you for the pics. It looks like only a small amount, less that a foot, of soil is going atop the branches? Do you take care to get soil in between the branches or are air pockets desireable?

Thanks
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I try to sift soil down among the logs and branches as I fill; otherwise as the material settles, plants can collapse into holes that form... I want my beds to settle down to about level with the surrounding soil, so I don't build them very high, a foot or less over the surrounding level initially, and then they settle quite a bit.

In the picture above of the kitchen garden, the entire area is buried wood, including the paths. I can't decide if I want to do the other garden that way or leave the paths just soil....
sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
Tyler Ludens wrote:In the picture above of the kitchen garden, the entire area is buried wood, including the paths. I can't decide if I want to do the other garden that way or leave the paths just soil....

Wow that had to have been alot of labour. An area of each could serve as an example of benefits/drawbacks of each. That would be interesting.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Last summer the half of the garden which I hadn't improved with the buried wood, but only used sheet mulch, died out completely even though I was irrigating both areas. Another test will be when we get flooding rains, which we will eventually. But I think I'm going to go ahead and bury wood in the other half of the kitchen garden without waiting for the flood test. If it becomes over-saturated, I'll probably build raised beds on top of the buried wood, to provide better drainage if needed. Because we get both killing drought and catastrophic flooding here, it's tough to figure out one gardening method which will work for all situations. I think the best thing will be to have a variety of environments for plants to grow, and maybe some will survive!

Mike Dayton


Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
I do the paths as well as the main garden area. My thought is that I want water to be able to flow freely between the different areas of the garden. Water will seek its own level so I want it to flow back and forth as needed between beds. At least that is what my thoughts are about the issue. It is alot of work, but by improving the path areas you give the plant roots more area to expand. The roots don't know that it is a path and that they should not go there. I have never lived in the desert, but I have read that the indians used to make small raised walls around each small bed to protect the small plants from wind damage. Once the plant was more established it would grow over the short wall and be harty enough to survive the drying winds. With that information I am thinking that you do not want to raise your beds very high above the basic ground level. If the beds do end up being slightly raised because of all the extra material you have added maybe you could do what the indians did and make a low raised wall around the bed to protect your seedlings entill they get established.


Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world,  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Formerly pa_friendly_guy_here
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
You make a good point about the movement of water, Mike. I think I will go ahead and improve the entire area. The great thing is it only needs to be done this way once, as far as I can figure, afterward materials can just be added on top as in any other mulched bed/path system.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I, for one, would love to see this in practice in my semi-arid climate. I'm sure it works great for folks that have plenty of trees they can cut down, but we can't afford anymore deforestation in the name of agriculture here. Without wood, does it work? Are there alternatives to wood?

So, how can we implement these methods on brittle/dry lands (the vast majority of the world's land)?


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Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 990
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    5
Abe Connally wrote:I, for one, would love to see this in practice in my semi-arid climate. I'm sure it works great for folks that have plenty of trees they can cut down, but we can't afford anymore deforestation in the name of agriculture here. Without wood, does it work? Are there alternatives to wood?

So, how can we implement these methods on brittle/dry lands (the vast majority of the world's land)?

i am in a SEMI arid area but the main thing for me is that there are not very many native trees in my area, all the ones existant are PLANTED by people
my solution is to, instead of cutting a new tree
collect firewood from people who don't want it anymore, if theres any in your area
collect pallet's from shipping yards and such, break them up and remove nails and you got soemthing there
offer to cut down dead trees and remove them(stump not included) for free

basically just use whatever wood you can get your hands on that doesn't have chemicals from paint and stain etc in it, just my idea to gather wood for hugelkultur
also i don't know if anything else will work too well, but i supposed you could use any organic material as it all will gather some moisture, just not as good at retaining water and releasing it at a controlled rate

NOT a proffessional and haven't done a hugel bed as of yet, though i plan to, so this is advice from learned knowledge, not experience and nothing more


Current Cheyenne, WY project
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Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Abe Connally wrote:
So, how can we implement these methods on brittle/dry lands (the vast majority of the world's land)?


I think it might be worthwhile to try it using other carbon-containing materials such as grass, Opuntia, branches from shrubs, etc.

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
those are good ideas for scrounging wood, but are those sources suitable for hugel beds? And what is the performance of those types of beds in arid climates?

While I can see hugel beds being beneficial in wet climates, I have yet to see them in action in dry climates for an extended period of time. I think there are more things to consider here than just adding organic matter to the soil.

Burying a large amount of debris could have an affect on the soil's ability to retain moisture in a dry climate, but for specific cases only. If you have a lot of mulch on top, or clay soil, I question the ability of desert rainwater to penetrate the pile down to the debris for storage. I'm not saying it doesn't work, just that i haven't seen it work.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I'm not sure how long a test would qualify to show it working. I know the buried wood beds worked for me last summer and continue to work today. I did irrigate, but not nearly as much, and the plants lived versus the unimproved half of the garden which was also irrigated, but died.

I'm not in a true desert, rather in a semi-arid area. Soil is clay.



Kay Bee


Joined: Oct 10, 2009
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
How long does wood in contact with the ground take to show significant rot? For our area, it is quite a few years. We get plenty of moisture in the cool season, but it is dry enough in the warm 6 months of the year to prevent much organic matter from breaking down and building humus in the soil. This is especially true for any south-facing slopes.

I expect the wood buried in my hugelkultur trenches to still be somewhat intact 10+ years out for some of the larger pieces.

If you have any slope to your property, combining the grubekultur (trenches) with swales slightly off contour should allow for penetration into the soil. It has worked for our clay loam so far.


"Limitation is the mother of good management", Michael Evanari

Location: Southwestern Oregon (Jackson County), Zone 7
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Tyler - that is the kind of experience I am looking for. Someone that has had a benefit from these in a dry climate.

Now, if we could have 1,000 more people like you, we could have some good data to review!
sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
I haven't seen one either that's why I'm doing my own test.
In areas without many large trees you take what you can get, wood is wood as long as it's not treated or something like cedar, or walnut. Pallets are sometimes made of very hard woods that could take longer to decay.
I've put the word out for tree trimmings despite much of it being rather small. I can stomp it all down though to get as much of it in the bed as possible. We had an Indian Fig (like a huge prickly pear) go down in the yard so I'll use that too. I got a truckload of leaves and will probably cram some of those in too.
The bed's already dug to about 2 feet and I'm hoping to fill it to 2 feet above ground level. I'm concerned that the above ground soil will lose too much moisture, but we'll never know till we try. The possibility of not needing much irrigation is just so appealing.
Our soil is very clay, I mix it half and half with manure. That way the soil is looser and holds water better. I'll do the same with the hugelbed.
Abe, in what specific cases would burried wood prevent the soil from absorbing moisture? All I can think of is that the hugelbed would absorb so much moisture that less would be available for the surrounding soil.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
sheryl hansen wrote:
Abe, in what specific cases would burried wood prevent the soil from absorbing moisture? All I can think of is that the hugelbed would absorb so much moisture that less would be available for the surrounding soil.

It shouldn't prevent the soil from absorbing moisture, but it has to have moisture to absorb. So, the little rainfall that is received must make its way down through everything to get to the wood. This may not be the most appropriate thing in a dry climate. Even clay soil on top of the pile would prevent some absorption.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I think in an area where heavy rain can't be counted on, one might be safest to thoroughly water the hugel/pit while constructing it, as one would do with a compost heap, to make sure the material is completely moist all the way down. This might take a lot of water initially, but since it will be covered, it wouldn't be wasted as repeated surface irrigation might be.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2


this is a picture of Sepp Holzer's work in spain. Looks like a hugelbed to me.

for many more pics go here http://www.krameterhof.at/Fotoalbum/spanien_2006/index.htm


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Mike Dayton


Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
Well Abe, I am sure that you can think of a Thousand reasons why it Might not work. Water is in very short supply in your area, the clay soil may stop it from going down into the soil etc. My advise is to try it and see. If you are digging out the sub soil to put in the wood, what ever wood you can find, then you have to opertunity to improve the soil as you back fill. Add grass clippings, mulch, leaves, poop of any kind to loosen the clay and allow the water to perk down through. What do you have to lose? Maybe it won't work, maybe it won't work 100%, but even if it does not work your garden soil is Greatly improved and your plants should do better than what they did in the hard packed clay alone. Just my thoughts. Good luck with what ever you choose.

PS. It is ALOT less work not to try. Do what ever you think is Best.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Marianne West wrote:

this is a picture of Sepp Holzer's work in spain. Looks like a hugelbed to me.

for many more pics go here http://www.krameterhof.at/Fotoalbum/spanien_2006/index.htm

wow, those trees in the background are beautiful!

I'm not saying that it won't work, just that I haven't seen it work in semi-arid areas like mine. I would love to see it work here, but again, I don't have the wood to invest in something that "might" work.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
The picture does not look like a "desert" to me. That looks a lot more like our area than like yours, Abe! Plus Spain is WAY far north compared to you. People just don't appreciate the importance of latitude to the issue of rainfall and evaporation. Much of England gets around the same amount of rainfall as Central Texas. Seems like I hardly need mention Central Texas does NOT look like England. What you and I would like to see, I bet, is someone successfully practicing these techniques in North Africa. I'm at the same latitude as Cairo, Egypt, and you're south of me.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Tyler Ludens wrote:The picture does not look like a "desert" to me. That looks a lot more like our area than like yours, Abe! Plus Spain is WAY far north compared to you. People just don't appreciate the importance of latitude to the issue of rainfall and evaporation. Much of England gets around the same amount of rainfall as Central Texas. Seems like I hardly need mention Central Texas does NOT look like England. What you and I would like to see, I bet, is someone successfully practicing these techniques in North Africa. I'm at the same latitude as Cairo, Egypt, and you're south of me.

Yeah, that's right, something in North Africa would be very useful. We were part of the same drought that hit, you, too, so things that work for you usually work for us.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
Abe Connally wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:The picture does not look like a "desert" to me. That looks a lot more like our area than like yours, Abe! Plus Spain is WAY far north compared to you. People just don't appreciate the importance of latitude to the issue of rainfall and evaporation. Much of England gets around the same amount of rainfall as Central Texas. Seems like I hardly need mention Central Texas does NOT look like England. What you and I would like to see, I bet, is someone successfully practicing these techniques in North Africa. I'm at the same latitude as Cairo, Egypt, and you're south of me.

Yeah, that's right, something in North Africa would be very useful. We were part of the same drought that hit, you, too, so things that work for you usually work for us.


i strongly suggest you go to Sepp's side and check it out. The whole point is that it didn't start out that way. his project in Spain has about 12" of rainfall, the one in Portugal 3". he has done the technique in all kinds of climates. Again, go to the side and check it out. You don't need to understand German to understand the pictures - to see how the environment changes year after year after year.......

Also, you can get Sepp Holzer's permaculture book in english and he writes about his experience. By the way, he started doing what he is doing about 40 years ago and everybody around him said that it can't be done (in his location). guess what, it worked.....
But in the end, it doesn't matter what you choose to do. if you want to dig and do it that way - all the power to you. I myself am lazy. I would try it first piling things up on top, follow the other advice, like to plant perennials from seed on the location so their tap roots develop long and strong - and if after a couple of years nothing grew: Start digging. just how I would do it - not saying that that is a better choice.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
Abe Connally wrote:
sheryl hansen wrote:
Abe, in what specific cases would burried wood prevent the soil from absorbing moisture? All I can think of is that the hugelbed would absorb so much moisture that less would be available for the surrounding soil.

It shouldn't prevent the soil from absorbing moisture, but it has to have moisture to absorb. So, the little rainfall that is received must make its way down through everything to get to the wood. This may not be the most appropriate thing in a dry climate. Even clay soil on top of the pile would prevent some absorption.


it says to pile it up with organic materials, compost and gardening soil - so, if clay it should be mixed with lots of well rotten organic material and absorb just fine.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Marianne West wrote: his project in Spain has about 12" of rainfall,


12 inches in Spain is probably double the "rain value" of 12 inches in Mexico. Like I said, people don't appreciate latitude. The difference in evaporation and transpiration is huge.

I'm hoping some of these techniques will enable us to improve the water holding capacity of the land, hopefully lessening the evaporation anyway. Nothing we can do about transpiration, the plants still need to deal with the much more intense sun we get down here.

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
12 inches in Spain is probably double the "rain value" of 12 inches in Mexico.

For sure, cause we don't have huge forests like that down here, yet we receive closer to 20 inches a year.

Thanks, Tyler for your example. I will try like that and see what happens. If it works for you, it has a great chance to work for me.
sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
It might be worth specifying the type of rainfall an area gets. In the low Sonoran desert we get rain that falls steadily over hours and causes no flooding and we get monsoon rain. Monsoon rain tends to be fast and short, like 3 inches of rain in one hour, it can cause serious flooding. In between the two is rainfall that creates moderate sheetflooding, this can be directed with swales to a hugelbed. That bed would get plenty of water to hold. I'm already diverting sheetflow to basins just to have more water stored onsite.
Water catchment can be made by forming the land around the bed to be sloped towards the base of the bed. With the clay soil we have here even lighter rains would flow to the beds base and into the wood.
North African hugelculture is exactly what I'd like to read about! I'm appreciating having access to what other's are doing and thinking about the subject, thanks.
C.J. Murray


Joined: Dec 02, 2011
Posts: 92
Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
I’ve been spending a lot of time asking myself the same questions Abe has. I decided there was a simple test I would implement in strategic areas to see where subsurface organic matter addition would be of the most use. I’m going to learn from it and let it educate me. I’ve been looking around as I travel to see what natural areas and areas disturbed by man are telling me. Even with the low rainfall we receive here, unless it is an area that is simply bare clay, the disturbance I see creates places where water collects and enhances vegetation.

I decided to create swales on a limited basis and see what simply slowing the water down would result in. If the swales are actually catching water which otherwise will run away and be gone then I should see a change in the vegetation fairly quickly. I should see a more vigorous green strip. I’m not talking about huge swales. I’m talking about something I can dig by hand for 20 feet in multiple areas. If I see the change in the vegetation then I will know burying the wood will probably only enhance this process. The hand dug swale I envision will be a narrow trench with the dirt removed being on the downhill side.

If there is a lack of wood I think the only thing one can do is create his own organic matter. It’s not going to be as fast as an area with more rainfall. But all I know to do is go to work at it. Russian Olives grow here easily, some say invasively, but I view them as a gift; a nitrogen fixing, fast growing gift. Look for fast growing items which can be planted next to a narrow trench swale and begin the process. See if there are plants which will grow and thrive right in the swale. A narrow trench will be a perfect place for grass and leaves to get stuck. Nature sure doesn’t wait for me around here so I tend to think a little help goes a long way.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
Since you were all so concerned about latitudes and wanted to see something what would look like Egypt - again, go to Sepps website. The project in Portugal is at 28 degree latitude, Egypt is from 23 to 34..... (gets 3 " of rain). To me, that sounds pretty dry. Also, the trees you are admiring in the Spain project - they were all dying. The are stone oak which live 100s of years and they were dying because the area was turning into a desert.
I don't know where Abe lives, but there are pics of projects in Ecuador, Brazil and Columbia...
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
the dryness of a climate is not just about rainfall. There are lots of others factors at play.

Elevation can be a big factor. We are at about 6500 ft elevation, and we get a LOT of wind. Wind has a significant drying effect.

Latitude - lower latitudes are exposed to more sun, and have greater evaporation rates.

Sun days per year - we virtually never get a full day without sun. Yeah, that's right, we have close to 350 sun days a year. That means that the sun is out causing more evaporation for most of the year.

Wet/dry seasons - we get no rain between October and June. We get all of our yearly rain between July and September. sometimes it comes fast and hard, other times slow. But, whatever falls in that time must last a long time.

The project in Portugal is at 28 degree latitude

Portugal is 37-42 degrees.
I am 29.

Also, the trees you are admiring in the Spain project - they were all dying. The are stone oak which live 100s of years and they were dying because the area was turning into a desert.

That is too bad. They looked great in the photo.
sheryl hansen


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 24
Location: Tucson, AZ
    
  10
Marianne, does Sepp have a site that explains what he does in english? His pics are nice but it'd be more useful if they told how it was accomplished. I intend to read his book(s) to see if there's information that'd be helpful. Maybe your point is simply that it's doable?
Abe, sounds like you have the same rain patterns as here, we're at 2500ft though. What's a normal morning low for you in winter and daytime high in summer?
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
normally, we have 35-40 in the morning in winter, and up to 95-100 in the summer
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
The project in Portugal is at 28 degree latitude
Portugal is 37-42 degrees.
I am 29.



You are right. I got the Spain project mixed up with Portugal. It is in Tenerife at 28 latitude.
And yes, you are much higher.

it seems that what we are learning here is that we just have to try it out and share what happens. We already know that the sunken ones seem to work well - don't know how a raised one would have done in the same area. looks like only one way to find out - doing it.....
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
yeah, I am going to try both, a sunken one and an above ground one. Any suggestions for making in terms of size, plants, woods, etc?

I've got some juniper trimmings I could use, and I might be able to find some other wood down near the river (poplar, cottonwood, willow). I think Tyler's suggestion of wetting it down is a good one, but I might have to wait until rain season to make it.
C.J. Murray


Joined: Dec 02, 2011
Posts: 92
Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
The juniper will take forever to break down. I'd stick with the other three.

Honestly, given the amount of wind you have and the long dry season I'd stick with something level or only slightly mounded on the uphill side to act as a water catchment. Unless you are planning on irrigating in some manner to establish well. If you are not going to irrigate I think it will take a different plant regime than if you are. What do you want the bed to become?

Size will depend on your desire and how much wood you have. I'm going to be placing single large fireplace lengths buried and slightly mounded in selected areas so I can easily ring and cover with plants and see what happens. I think a season or two of observation will give one a lot of information and confidence.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I hope to use the beds for growing rabbit food, and little to no irrigation will be best. Sunflowers, clovers, grasses, etc will be fine for this.

I'll start off small, like maybe the size of a truck bed, just to get going.

Juniper takes a while to decompose here, but it's what I have most of. If I can find other wood, I will use it.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Personally I'd go ahead and use the juniper. I use juniper - so far no problems. I use it as the bottom layer.

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I'll probably use the Juniper and anything else I can find!
 
 
subject: hugelkultur in hot ,arid climate
 
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