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Termites and Hugelkultur

Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
I haven't had any dealings with termites ever. The only termites I've ever encountered have been preserved and dry specimens in collections.

However from what I've read about them they prefer to travel under the ground in tunnels and then collect and cellulose rich material, they tunnel into houses and chew on the studs in the walls. It seems to me that a huglebeet of the type advocated here would be like termite candy, the termites then get in there and export all of the woody organic matter from the bed, or at least for the first few years before it has rotted down sufficiently. So I was thinking about this problem and figured I'd ask what there is to be done about it.

Two thoughts that spring to my mind are to char if not the whole piece of wood at least the surface (morels anyone?) and to use not wood but small woodchips or sawdust and mix that with clay silt and sand to make a cellulosic loam, which might not be worth while for the termites to export from your huglebeet.

Thoughts?
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
i wonder if termites would benefit a hugel. it might not last quite as long as a hugel perse but i would think it would improve the composition of the soil to break down the wood
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
I was thinking that what you wanted long term from the hugle bed was the carbon in the soil to act like a sponge, since termites respire the carbon leaving behind at best termite manure rich in macro and micronutrients and at worst nothing because they have carried it all away to their nest which is not quite as conveniently placed or as easy to find as your hugle bed. It's not as if we have an infinite supply of trees to bury with no negative consequences.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Emerson White wrote:
I was thinking that what you wanted long term from the hugle bed was the carbon in the soil to act like a sponge, since termites respire the carbon leaving behind at best termite manure rich in macro and micronutrients and at worst nothing because they have carried it all away to their nest which is not quite as conveniently placed or as easy to find as your hugle bed. It's not as if we have an infinite supply of trees to bury with no negative consequences.


yes i suppose this is true if they are taking it away from your property or like you said where its not really useful to you. for me building hugels is a bit about getting rid of some wood i have no other uses for. and like you said also might of the nutrients are just being broken down. those termites too are able to be consumed by other organisms in the area.

i think if it is a land where the hugel is entirely needed (arid?) then the termite population will probably not be there. if it is in an area where it isn't neccasary but merely useful then the worst case scenario is your nutrients walking off to nearby property.

i also doubt that the termites will do so complete a job as to completely strip the hugel? i

interesting to think about
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
I was thinking that Arid regions had even larger termite populations, I'm thinking about the termite mounds on the african and australian savannas when I say that. As I mentioned before I really have no experience with termites.
gary gregory


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
I'm thinking they wouldn't find the wood if it was completely buried. 


Gary
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Emerson White wrote:
I was thinking that Arid regions had even larger termite populations, I'm thinking about the termite mounds on the african and australian savannas when I say that. As I mentioned before I really have no experience with termites.


yea the way i was thinking is that in desert there are no trees or few trees so what would termites be doing there
Saybian Morgan
volunteer

Joined: Apr 22, 2011
Posts: 580
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
    
    8
A couple of factor's not to forget about our good friends the termite.

- In the tropic's termite are the worms that create soil.
- Termites make better compost than you do
- Termites eat mushrooms/fungus that fruit off that compost.

If the marriage between the lattitude's where hugelkulture predominate and where termite and ant's dominate soil creation, you have one of the main reason's for hugelbeet bed's gone wild.  The hole structure and layering of the bed is dedicated to being able to keep a frost free core to the soil year round.  If nobody was home in those mounds because we wanted to save our carbon for I dunno what, Sepp wouldn't be harvesting potatoes in February.

On the topic of termite's emptying your bed of carbon and leaving you with a great hole, I can't see how it would work that way, in the temperate to frosting subtropic's you would simply be attracting the entire colony to move into your sweet warm food everywhere pad. Benefit #2 you would rapidly be converting that carbon as the termite's would be composting on your behalf 24/7. In the tropic's I don't need the heat, but I would love to turn a stump into soil in 6 months.
In the worse case if I'm complete wrong and they are hugelrobbing, pen off some chicken's with the hugelbeet bed and kiss feeding them grain goodbye.

One of the main way's to feed poultry in the tropic's is to bury a 55 gallon barrel with wet newspaper give it a few good gashes in the side first, then shovel out termit's by the bucketload's for your chook's till your out of paper. Rinse and repeat, ok don't rinse just add more carbon.  I wish I had termite's working on my behalf in the temperate, i'd seed them into my bed's if I could, look at the size of their ventilation system above ground. The unruly micro climate heat coming out of those underground chamber's is lawless, I would plant a high durability timber tree right through their colony and let the root's down into that compost.

Very Durable 25+ year's in the ground untreated.
There are plenty of termite resistant timber's dead or alive, my problem to date is in jamaica 90% of my mound's are Arboreal so I have to encourage to chicken height with a machete, ground mound's chicken's will scratch themselves.

Jonathan Byron


Joined: Apr 16, 2011
Posts: 225
    
    1
Candy for termites?  When wood falls to the ground, termites and other organisms go to work on it. But even the most manicured and polished 'clean' lawn will have lots of wood underground when trees die. Removing the downed limbs or trunk is seen by many as necessary to prevent termites, but how many termite-phobes dig up the top 30 feet of their yards to remove many tons of roots after a tree dies? It is mostly an 'out of sight, out of mind' issue ... such people only worry about the 'problem' that they can see.

Termites need to have access to the wood in a house before they can chew it up. The real key is to properly build and maintain a house. If any structural wood is in contact with soil, that is an access point for termites. When wood is not in contact with the ground, termites have to have tunnels to reach it. If the foundation forms a barrier, they can't generally get in ... some species can build mud tunnels on the outside of a house or in the crawl space, but these are visible to inspection and can be dealt with. If a concrete slab foundation has cracks that extend up to wood elements, that is a persistent entry point, and it is a problem regardless of whether someone has a hugel bed or not.

Does all the organic matter quickly dissipate? No, some does, some is more resistant. Archaeologists routinely map out remnants of wood foundations from hundreds or thousands of years ago, based on soil color and chemistry.  

One important fact - termites and the bacteria in their guts digest celluloses in wood, but not the lignins. The lignins are excreted, they are a rather resistant form of organic matter gets dispersed in the soil around a hugelkultur bed. Eventually, the lignins will either be chewed up by other microbes or converted to even more resistant forms of organic matter. But that process feeds the soil.

Biochar? Yes, that cuts right to a resistant forms of organic matter residue. Half or two thirds of the wood is immediately lost to the air. If char is produced and heat is used for cooking or heating, the process can be very efficient.  Even if the heat is not utilized, char is a high-quality soil amendment. Is char better than hugulkultur or composting? I don't know.


Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
I was thinking not of the extra termites created, but of their thieving ways. In the podcast paul mentioned that he likes to build Huglebeds in land because if you build them out in a coastal zone they run out of juice in 10 years rather than lasting for decades and decades. They will leave behind lignin, but lignins do not have the water holding capacities of cellulose, which is what you want the wood for in the first place. Additionally thee are not as attractive to fungi as the cellulose. I just suspect that a termite ransacked hugle bed would be more like a raised bed made with garden compost than a hugle bed.
            


Joined: Jun 21, 2009
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
This is pretty cool, it never ceases to amaze me when I read yet another way that nature and its creatures work to continually make soil, especially out of our garbage.
Great info on the termites, thanks for making it available.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
im not sure about everyone else, but my hugelbeds get hot pretty fast and stay warm for some time after building the pile. i would think this is anti termite territory. and after that the wood is pretty decomposed so its more fungal food now.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
My hugelbeds have carpenter ants.


Idle dreamer

Jonathan Byron


Joined: Apr 16, 2011
Posts: 225
    
    1
Emerson White wrote:
I was thinking not of the extra termites created, but of their thieving ways. In the podcast paul mentioned that he likes to build Huglebeds in land because if you build them out in a coastal zone they run out of juice in 10 years rather than lasting for decades and decades.


Yes, many factors (including insects, microbes, rainfall, temperature, oxygen levels underground, etc) all affect how fast nutrients cycle in the soil. This is worth considering for planning purposes and for adapting techniques to different environs, but I don't think of it as 'thieving' per se.
Joseph Fields


Joined: Feb 23, 2011
Posts: 162
Location: Berea, Kentucky
    
    1
When I was breaking camp at camp Bucca in southern Iraq. Our wooden tent stakes were chewed up with termites. No trees around for 20 miles. I wonder what else they eat? Nothing there but sand and more sand.
Mike Turner


Joined: Sep 23, 2009
Posts: 154
Location: Upstate SC
    
    1
In dry climate regions without trees, termites vacuum up any form of cellulose they can find; mostly in the form of dead leaves, dried grass stems, dead roots, etc.  If there is any plant growth present, termites will find and scavenge the parts of the plant as they die.
allen lumley
pollinator

Joined: Mar 16, 2012
Posts: 3135
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
    
  50
- i think we need to get an expert to weigh in here, by rumor i have heard that the Termites here in America like their wood wet,
and directly know of a store front in Grand Rapids Mich. that had flooding problems in their basement with all the wood on the 1st floor
ruined without touching any wood on the 2nd floor !

Also termites turn your wood into their new house nesting where there food is, they literally eat themselves out of house and home ! Allen L.


Success has a Thousand Fathers , Failure is an Orphan

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