I’ve been experimenting with hugelkulture in Northern California for nearly five years now, though with a very different climate and soil to yours. Poor soil that’s too high in either clay or sand alike seems to take 2-3 years to really look great, but it gets there. This is basically what Paul said in his old hugel article. You can speed it up with beneficial mulches and compost top dressing. The first year really seems to perform about as well as the soil you are putting on the wood would have anyway, but with improved drainage for anything on the clay side and moisture retention if it’s sandy. It’s key to check for holes and wood sticking out the first couple years and have some soil or compost to remedy these asap or it will wick out a lot of moisture. On the other hand, here where we can have winters with 100”+ of rain, that dynamic can be used to get a month earlier growing season when other gardeners are looking at muck. Once it gets dry enough to plant in the spring, I cover holes and sticks that have appeared from settling.
I also agree about going down in dryer and more extreme temperature climates, and going up in wetter more temperate climes like mine. Nature does this with its carbon and life, just look at the deep rooted soils of the grassy plains and the shallow soil of the forested temperate west coast.
Xisca, your point seems right on to me. I don’t have ruminants, but putting mulch through animal systems also works with birds like my chickens and muscovies. I have mulched with straight woodchips and straw with good results, especially when running duck pond water over it after applying. I think it’s even better though to use woodchips or other mulch material as bird bedding and all around their run, then use it as mulch after breaking down, or set up your drainage to send any water running off the animal areas to gardens. I use my paths between hugels as humus catchment basins that are full of woody debris and topped with chips. This can also be flipped up onto the hugels periodically as it breaks down to humus.
Nice project! For mosquitos I use BTI (bacillus therengensis israeliai (sp?)). Kills the larvae and is non toxic, making your pond a trap for any egg laying mosquitos in the area and the end of their line. It also does the same to many biting flies in the mosquito family.
Just finished a week with a 5ton excavator. Got about 2500 sq ft of 4-6ft tall hugel beds done and a similar amount of swale/path and four smallish (500-2000gal) ponds.Oh and it was one handsome pup’s birthday!
It looks small, is likely very hungry this time of year, and you have provided food. I have no bear problems since getting my LGD, even with productive fruit trees and fowl in a bear heavy area. I have heard of success with a radio being played under fruit trees to deter them, and would bet motion activated sprinklers would also help startle them. I agree with others that you should not let a problem bear go on unchecked, but you can also do more to keep it from coming to that. Throw rocks and sticks at it and act like an incredibly loud, crazy person if it comes anywhere in sight. I have been a backcountry ranger in some of the densest black bear habitat on Earth, have seen over a dozen in a day, and have had to walk past some within just a few yards, including a mama with cub that i did not see until too late to do anything else. They do not want to mess with one of the three animals that hunt them (the others being cougars and larger male bears). In the spring they are hungry (not for you) and will ignore you until you make them turn away from their food of choice (often bear grass and grubs this time of year), or just let them do their thing and you do yours. You are still much more at risk any time you get in a car than from that bear...also, do you have a friend or neighbor who could lend you a big dog to scare it a few times at your property? They have very good memories for food and fear. In this part of NW CA, I have met bear hazing dogs and their trainers, and you could try to find one in your area.
I am so glad you are there! I went to and worked at Camp Colman summer camp nearby for over a decade, and love that area deeply. I also got to work for years in Olympic National park and just was talking to a friend about hiking recommendations. They are too numerous to pick one (and I can’t advertise my favorites publicly but pm me for recommendations). in the summer especially, that part of the pacific nw feels like as good a place to be a living thing as anywhere I can imagine.
I am lucky to have a 2nd generation organic Willamette Valley vintner as one of my best friends since childhood. They have 13 varietals of grapes, 9 for wine and 4 table. I like pretty much all of them fresh while picking, and I eat them like a bear, but two that stand out are Muscat (taste a lot like fruit loops) and Mars (like grape soda). Maybe this reveals my childish taste, though I do love Pinot Noir and Mueller fresh too. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I would be surprised if someone who I helped pick hundreds or thousands of pounds for didn't welcome taking home as much as I could eat fresh (they only last a week or so).
Is the passage of water from soil to root to leaf and out through transpiration technically a type of siphon? If so, then my hugel beds and catchment basins between filled with woody debris extend that siphon down deeper into the soil.
Thank you for this thread Erica! I am working on a presentation/demonstration at the Del Norte county home show this Saturday (6/1) on ways to make soil instead of smoke with woody debris from fuel mitigation practices. I am focusing on hugelkulture and wood filled trenches. This information will be a great addition to what I have. Thanks again
The short answer is that soil life like worms will pull mulch or other surface amendments down with them as they feed on it. The more appealing the mulch is to that soil life as food and shelter, the faster it will be integrated into the soil. Water will also carry organic matter down with it.
You are definitely in a different climate than I am used to, so take my ideas with a grain of salt, but the trenches can be shaped and optionally refilled many different ways. Slope could be used to aid water retention, diversion, or it could be flat for a swale. It could be filled with woody debris and compostables and topped with wood chips. Along the bottom of the trench underneath all that, one could run a drain pipe with perforations for extra drainage and soil aeration. This could all carry water from somewhere you don’t want it (near structures) to somewhere you do (ie a roof-pond-garden-wetland series)
Slope and variation in the landscape create varied microclimates, the edges of which the greatest biodiversity and biomass production. Also, cool and hot spots next to each other stimulates gentle but constant air circulation that is good for many plants.
I’d look at your local landscape and it’s native and naturalized succession process in the wildest places nearby and then facilitate something that mimics that with tweaks to suit your needs and tastes. Where I am, hugelkulture going right on top of undisturbed ground with dug out paths refilled with woodchips gets me above a high winter water table but holds a lot of water in wood for into the dry summer. That and wood is plentiful and easy to divert out of burn piles around here I would not do the same thing where that was not true. Also, I mostly can’t do true swales in flattish places because of 100”+ of winter rain some years. Definitely consider the geographic context of any technique, but this has worked for me.
Those are good descriptions Hugo. I figured a snaking path would not work so well on my narrow property with tree roots in a lot of places. So in watching one of Paul's rocket mass heater videos about inversion chambers under benches that catch rising heat and then allow overflow to be exhausted , I flipped the idea upside down for diversion basins branching off the main stem that will stop and drop sediment between raised beds. I'd describe it as like an alder leaf's veins.
That does look nice. I only skimmed the video but it seems the main cost would be the wood posts, no? I am thinking a free alternative would be 8’ long, straight Redwood/cedar/locust poles about 4” thick, which can be found for free around here. Cut stave points on them for driving them in, and basically follow the first couple steps of a junk pole fence/English dead hedge, but instead of filling it in, finish with a wire run through the posts like in the video. Thanks for the idea!
Hugo, I surrounded the pipe in the trench with woody debris (up to 3” thick), and then topped with 6” of woodchips for a path. Duck pond overflow runs through it during the wet winter season. About two years out and it’s beginning to look a lot like compost. I would like to try it using less pipe and just see how the wood drains on its own.
If we learn to utilize something, including weeds, we tend to find that we don’t have too much of it after all:
Too much yarrow?(!) First, it’s a dynamic accumulator up there with comfrey. It attracts beneficial insects, especially predatory and pest parasitizing wasps and flies (ones not dangerous to humans). It makes a great cold and ache remedy in tea. It’s a great compost and compost tea activator due to its chelating powers. It also holds sandy soils together with its fibrous roots.
Jay, it seems you have compacted acidic clay soil rather than sandy erosive soil from your weed description. Around here that would be shown by dandelions, plantain, and dock, which all draw calcium and other easily leached minerals from the subsoil (upwards of 12ft down at times). This helps balance the surface pH and mineralizes the
In response to the C:N ratio question, it seems like a very small amount of high carbon material would balance out even the Nitrogen fixators:
Good idea! One way to reduce your time and effort is to use unchipped woody debris on the bottom layer, then chips on the top few inches. You can also divert runoff from buildings and ideally animal housing into the woody debris path basins. best of luck!
Most grasses will die if sufficiently shaded, but I’d consider what you want to replace it with in determining how to deprive the plant you don’t want from getting light. You could deep sheet mulch , 3ft deep or more to really knock it out, or 12” and be ready to pull any sprouts. Or, solarize (wouldn’t be my preferred option, as it kills soil fungus). However, I believe that almost any plant is better than bare soil unless you have seeds, starts or saplings to put there instead at that moment. Grass is holding the soil, reducing runoff, and building organic matter as it puts carbon in the soil with sugars that are traded with other plants through soil microbes. Every time you mow and leave the clippings you are essentially chopping and dropping, not only adding the 10% nitrogen tops of the plant, but also the roots die back proportionately and in doing so effectively inject compost. Ideally, I’d get rid of grass like natural forest succession does, grow other plants, especially woody perennials and trees, The shade combined with fungally dominated soil life will suppress the grasses.
This is about 1/3 of what’s been made so far, and I am guessing I have half again more to make. A few mistakes I will try not to make again are:
I have often put too much material and seed in each batch I roll in a masonry basin, or tarp if I have help, and it reduced the rolling surface to volume ratio and made things go slower than it had to. When rolling, I would start with just enough to cover the bottom of basin, and set aside an almost equal amount of dry clay to add in alternation with water (I’ve used willow water).
In hindsight I would also have set aside at least as much dry clay as I had in the base clay compost mix before starting, for adding as it all rolls. The rain obviously helps with germination, but I underestimated how much dry clay I would need to add and how much the humidity would encourage germination within the balls that were harder to dry. About 5% of the balls have already popped roots in 24-36hrs. Those made up a large part of the 3/4 acre or so at the college I seeded today, and the drier ones I brought inside with a dehumidifier went to the food pantry today or will go to the Margaret Keating food forest as soon as possible. I’d recommend asking your local seed sellers, small and big box alike, for any year old organic or non gmo seeds they could give away. It makes seed balls much more economically feasible.
Got a big batch of seed balls started today with a couple of helpful colleagues. The Crescent City Food Forest I am helping develop received a good amount of donated, mostly year old, seeds this winter. What may be our last rain of the spring is here this week. We have already sprouted and given away hundreds of starts, and have far more seed than we could start individually. So I decided to make seed balls with a mix of everything season and site appropriate we had multiple packets of, though I saved 1-2 packets of every varietal I could. This amounted to hundreds of seed packets of dozens of species of vegetables, flowers, and beneficial companion plants, as well as 25lbs of bell beans and handfuls of native nw wildflowers, sunflowers, peas, and other legumes. It includes many three sisters combinations, and much more that could work well together. I think I will stretch the remaining batch with more clay and compost (8-1mix), as the one I made today has multiple seeds per ball. These will seed the food forest site at College of the Redwoods Crescent City campus, at the Margaret Keating site in Klamath, and be given away at our local Pacific Pantry. It’s a good amount of work but for this amount of seed it’s worth it if my experience with the fall cover crop is any indication. We will now have over 100 plant species on the CR site, including 50+ edible ones. I also think how the plants show differences in various locations will also be a good educational tool:
The more macro your micro climate, the better it will work. It’s a matter of thermal mass to surface area ratio and exposure to heat loss to the atmosphere. If you are in the middle of an open plain with no windbreaks, you are correct that a small pond and rock pile will do little in mid winter once it’s stored heat is mostly spent. However, if those same features were surrounded by established evergreens except for an opening for the sun path, they would lose their heat much more gradually. The forest floor in old growth conifers of the nw is on average 20f warmer on winter nights and 20f cooler on summer days, and 30% more humid. Microclimates do in fact occur and are easily observable, just go to any west coast (of North America) mountain range, or the Bay Area, and look at the vegetation. However, we can’t expect to small features vast open spaces to have an outsized effect. One might say that it takes a long time to reestablish conifer forests, and I would say that is part of why it’s called permaculture.
I agree with all plants suggested above. I am working on a food forest at College of the Redwoods in Crescent City, CA (the SW of the NW) and will enjoy learning from your experience. I also would strongly recommend researching and experimenting with hugelkulture (soil on woody debris), and deep mulching with wood chips. These mimicks the native ecosystem and utilize an abundant wastestream of wood that often is burned one way or another in the nw. They both can inexpensively improve your soil immensely, reduce water usage and irrigation, sequester carbon and reduce fuel loads in forests. Also, combined with food waste from your cafeteria and coffee from the faculty lounge and local coffee shops, you are in a great situation at a school to compost by combining these with woody debris and leaves. All these things are great educational opportunities for science, math, social studies and even English classes as well as a way to spread knowledge of soil building and food production in the community. Well done getting this far and good luck!
Potatoes would love it in that pile of woodchips. You could also dig down to where it looks like soil/compost and start planting starts or seeds there, like Paul Gautchi ("Back to Eden" videos), and likely go without watering for the summer. I generally build hugel beds with my neighbor's abundant brush and wood (and you need to use unchipped wood for hugel beds due to how keeping surface area-volume ratio low is key to reducing nitrogen lockup from the high carbon wood) and then mulch with wood chips. I'd say your effort required would go in the order they are mentioned, but I think the latter are worth it for the benefits of increased planting area due to the geometry of steep hugel beds, their drainage/absorption qualities, and the long term increasing fertility of them. Given you have the wood already chipped, its up to you to choose but I think you have a good start. Also, those willow branches can be soaked in a bucket of water to use on starts to help their root growth and vigor.
I agree about going for it with a excavator if you can, but mainly just wanted to point out that I have seen hugels smaller than 7ft and done by hand pay off very well. They have essentially paid off my small property. I have built about 10,000sq ft of hugels averaging 4ft high by hand. However, while it was better than a gym membership, I agree with Paul and encourage anybody who can afford it and has a site that it will work to get an excavator on their hugels and go big as you can with your space. I got the equivalent of a year's hand labor done in 8hrs on a relatively small excavator. However, even if you cannot go that big, or have access problems for your site, in my experience it is still worthwhile to make virtually any raised bed a hugel bed if wood is available and you fully bury the wood.
I would reiterate a prior post questioning the need for frames entirely, and even if you do have wood frames rot, isn't that just fungal inoculant and soil buiding? I like frameless beds because you can grow on the sloped sides and these slopes are often ideal for many plants like strawberries.
I would find some 3-4ft welded wire fencing, untreated pallets, or whatever the largest-gapped material you can find that will keep the dogs out. Then make an enclosure for the plants of whatever shape you want. If you can’t afford soil make it a compost bin first, with a mix of free materials like leaves, grass, food waste and coffee grounds, woody debris etc. When the compost is done you can spread it further around and expand the plant area or just plant right into it. You could also grow potatoes right away in a leaf filled enclosure or anything that won’t heat up to much. You could shape the enclosure to increase edge, look good, and the dogs will actually enjoy having something to run around.
Permaculture and keyline design put the fallen rain through many lifeforns and uses before it runs off, and it should run off quite clean if done properly. The diverse polyculture, especially the canopy trees, will actually increase down stream flows into the dry season while reducing flooding by slowing rainfall as it happens. The shade reduces evaporation. On the other hand, pumping ground or river water up onto your topsoil will concentrate its salts, however minute, in your topsoil as the water evaporates. This salts your soil. The common methods of Mary Jane growers have been shaped by inflated prices due to prohibition and incentivized unsusstainable methods, both in overfertilization and in how plants need to be spread out to allow maximal airflow to reduce mold pressure. This increases evaporation. This unsustainablility is not necessary though, and I have. friends who do permaculture in their growing practices, with catchment water, duck ponds and keyline design, but they are not the norm. The main thing is that the Hopi were right, when we pull water from the ground the clouds dry up and our soil is salted.
I did desert wilderness restoration in just these types of places because arroyos are common places for illegal ATV use. A common seed adaptation strategy in the desert are seeds that float easily and tend to congregate in places where water settles. This naturally stabilizes soil with taprooted plants that can withstand remarkable extremes from dry for years to submerged in a torrent. If you were to create or exagerrate such locations that deposit these seeds with gabbions and depressions to slow and disperse the water, and make it travel farther while still having somewhere to overflow, you will get naturally adapted seeds deposited for you in silt that drops where water is slowed.
I agree that’s the best way to do a big hugel, and that your book would be a great resource for the world, especially the American west that could use wildfire fuel reduction for source material. Of course this is permaculture according to Paul, so its your call to make, but I was mainly thinking of how much harder doing this all by hand gets when you go above the wheelbarrows maximum dumping height (about 4ft above grade). That and teenage boys I often teach or supervise who love to see how high they can jump from until they break a leg.
My family is doing a rare big collective trip to the big island of Hawaii (based in Kona for a week), and my wife and I will be there for another few days on either end (3/19-4/3 overall). I was thinking there must be some great food forest and aquaculture sites out there, as of course the native island cultures of Hawaii are a key resource of knowledge for subtropical-tropical island permaculture. However, I am sensitive to how catastrophic colonialism has been in the south pacific and do not want to tread where not welcome. I got into permaculture on my Pacific Island Studies study abroad program in Samoa and Fiji, which had a one week orientation to the South Pacific at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and around Oahu. Got a lot of Hawaiian history there, some fascinating linguistics lessons, and went to a site I'd call high level permaculture if memory serves. That School for International Training (SIT) program was based out of the University of the South Pacific Agricultural Campus in Alafua, Samoa, and was fantastic, and I have missed that immersion in Polynesian culture in the decade+ since. I know it's short notice, but insights and recommendations from anyone who knows the big island well would be much appreciated. My wife has thru-hiked both the Appalachian trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and we met while both hiking the latter, so I think its safe to say we like it rustic, remote, and outdoors, and we are both interested in getting away from tourist traps. PM me if you'd like to talk without broadcasting your favorite places. Thanks for any help you can give, I hope to return the favor if you ever come to the Wild Rivers/Redwood Coast!
I know the reasons to go big, but I think a seven foot minimum is a bit excessive. I have built thousands of square feet of hugel, and in a place with almost no summer rain for 4-6months. I think the tallest is 7ft from the bottom of the path that the base soil came from, but that was with an excavator. Going taller than 4-5ft almost requires heavy equipment to be safe and efficient. The work it takes to keep going up beyond 4-5ft with wheel barrows and people with hand tools is not entirely safe (I work with high school and college interns as well as little kids and retiree volunteers that I feel obligated to keep safe), and that same work could get 2-3x as much volume of shorter hugels in. If you have the space, I’d go out before going up above 5ft in this climate. I have seen my 4ft hugels go unwatered all summer (though it’s not very hot here) and have happy trees and perennials. I do have humus catchment basins filled with woody debris and chips for paths around them, so that adds 1.5ft to their effective height, but still I think a 7ft minimum is not necessary, discourages people from trying hugelkulture, and can be unsafe if the job is done by hand without careful staging. I love the badge bit idea and thank all those working on the PEP programs, this is just my two cents on an aspect of permaculture I have spent several years working on and observing.
"Bryan, I dont have photos, sorry.
I have built many homes etc and I dont think I have a single image!!
I study and research, use a note book and steadily get the task done.
At 70, after 45 years of building and drawing plans, I dont think I will start.
BUT, if you send me some images I may be able to talk you through what I do.
Essentially I make sure all rooms will have an ability for air to come in a window, a doorway and through the ceiling.
I build at the top of a stair area or tall ceiling a column facing the prevailing winds.
The exterior windows are louvres that can be openned and closed to suit the climate. I tend not to adjust them each day, just seasonally.
Grand designs that English show designed a beauty for a development.
Chase me up if you cant find that.
Anyway the wind tower exit is at the tallest part of the house.
I always build small homes, so the tower does not need to be very big.
I aim at 10 % of floor area as the opening size.
I have since read that in the middle east, they work on 20 % of floor area. But the climate is different so my experiements may prove Ok for my area."
Am I understanding you correctly in envisioning the wind tower as being like a chimney for exhausting heat? Would it help for it to be black to aid in creating a thermosyphon? Thanks!
A few tips I haven’t seen posted yet (but haven’t read every post thoroughly):
Carry a backup emergency kit in your vehicle.
- heavy blanket or sleeping bag,
- rain jacket and warm layer or a winter coat
- boots and wool socks
- calorie dense non perishable food
This can help even if you are not stuck in the snow, whether you just get I invited on a spur of the moment hike or camping trip, or if you have to sleep one off when you really ought not drive.
On the original post by Raven, I grew up in Seattle and remember the once every couple years snowpocolypse that overcame the NW when we got over 2” that stuck. All rules of the road seemed suspended. Adults and children existed in polar opposite universes. With seattle’s hills, getting to work could risk the adult’s life on the unplowed double black diamond runs that were previously roads, while children reveled in a day off shredding the slopes on sleds, saucers and shovels. I saw multiple multisection busses skid down hills towards me as a kid as we played on the very road it was attempting to traverse. It was a perfect situation to fall in love with the snow and never have so much as to get sick of it.
Spending a week slogging through 4ft of snow in the Siskiyous over a very slow 60 miles cured me of that notion. A torn groin and frostbite makes the snow less fun when you can’t get out of it. If you have a vehicle to carrry what you need to be comfortable enough no matter what, it seems worth it even if it prevents you from feeling the need to drive or hike through really bad weather or road conditions.
I just noticed what look like wood stoves embedded in the base of the terrace wall. What a brilliant design, where you can warm yourself, your coffee and lunch with the wood stove while working in the garden in the winter, and warm the soil at the same time.
Phylloxera is often transferred on the wheels of vehicles that drive anywhere around vineyards, like on a winery-vineyard tour that you have people taking all the time in the adjacent Willamette valley. Limiting vehicle traffic on vineyards is one of the key ways to control the introduction of phylloxera. I grow grapes near enough to a road to possibly get it transmitted, but I dont live near a major winegrowing area that is infested with it.