Birds are major phosphorus transporters in many ecosystems, so their manure would be helpful. Long term consider providing bird habitat. In the short run some seabird and bat guanos are great tea additives. For your bioavailability, I’d make a tea with the above, some of the best compost you can find, worm castings, kelp, and oats or barley for microbe food. This will make any nutrients already there more usable for plants and add a little bit of everything plants need.
I am sorry to see your bad luck. I agree with Marco and would look to harvest that excess of protein and frass with birds. I doubt you could really do anything about the swarm itself and protecting your garden seems a lost cause. You should have some great bird song and fertile soil soon though!
I agree that the land is still quite abundant here, hence my living here. I just want people to realize they better know their shit and that native peoples here were extremely knowledgeable about the local ecology of their time (which has changed greatly), and had complex cultural adaptations to that ecology. It’s a much more forgiving and productive environment than almost anywhere, but even in slow pitch softball we can hurt ourselves pretty badly with the bat we are swinging.
I’d add some more compost and sugars (oats or barley work), aerate it another 12hrs and use it as usual if it smells good. I also think the current old tea would just feed the active compost microbes, and diversify the pile. Which seems good to me. That or put in on a woodchip or mulch pile.
Of course don’t grow lettuce or strawberries there, but it’s some of the best fertilizer you can get. Comfrey, sunflowers, squash and other heavy feeding plants could catch that nutrient load and convert it to safe mulch/compost for leafy greens.
I identify with your ambitions, and have dug a pond for ducks and used the overflow to passively fertigate my gardens below. I would be concerned about well contamination though, especially for such a shallow well. A deeper well would have more filtration through the earth, but could still be contaminated by overstocking of any animal around it. Ducks also don’t really use water deeper than 1m, and really like the areas below .5m that they can get their bill down into the muck while having their butt in the air. My experience is with muscovies, which are great in my opinion for many reasons, one of which is that they don’t really need a pond, just a clean tub they can submerge themselves in to clean off. Of course they love a pond, but if it’s a matter of the person feeding them getting dysentery and becoming unable to feed them, I think they’re happy settling for some kiddie pools, or a lined pond. It’s not my ideal either but I am in similar situation, with a pond that I’d love to have ducks in but it is above my spring that is my drinking water. I wouldn’t risk it without some serious filtration designed into the system.
Welcome Anne! Perfect topic, especially now with the need for natural medicines and forest conservation/regeneration being so great. I definitely need to up my medicinal plant knowledge to apply at the food forests I manage and my own 25acres in NW California, which seems to share some climatic similarities on the coast to your region.
One question that came to mind, does English ivy have some medicinal use that would make me feel less inclined to eradicate it wherever possible? It’s the only plant I can think of that I have absolutely no tolerance for, but if it were some kind of medicine, then pulling it wherever I see it would be one less chore to do! Thanks for your book and sharing your knowledge on this forum.
I'd consider strategically retaining the largest trees so I wouldn't have to start over with the weed succession cycle. The shade and leaf drop of large trees will reduce most weeds establishing here, and probably be beneficial for you and the other life you hope to steward in the Alabama heat.
I’d do willow and mulberry side by side in the same planting slot. I just take a spade, drive it into the ground, lean the blade back to open a slot in the soil, and slide in a couple cuttings. Sometimes this is two willows, or it may be a willow and some other native wetland plant I want to grow like hazel, thimbleberry etc. The willow root hormone will help stimulate rooting in the other plants around it just like it does in a gravel bar that’s been scouted by flood. I got this idea from Sepp Holzer, and there is a video about dam edge planting where willows are planted with I believe chestnuts or hazelnuts.
I agree with the posts above suggesting both and more diversity as you can get it. Willows are great for stimulating roots of any plants around them, and you can water your starts with willow water, which has simply had whips soaked therein. I also like the idea of using the willows as retaining wall support! The mulberry roots, with the top being coppiced, will actually help many plants as well as they decompose proportionally to the amount taken off the top, leaving a loose cavity of compost behind them. They also attract so many birds that they will weep fertility downhill, but I would bet that spot is plenty fertile after thirty years of chickens! On the other hand, I believe mulberry can take plenty of nutrients due to their high protein production and adaptation for hosting birds’ feasts and eliminations of waste thereafter.
I don't know if it is fair to critique a method when we don't actually follow it to the letter, especially if we omit a major step (like running woodchips and green waste through chicken run first). When people misinterpret my advice, I think it is partly on me the teacher to communicate better, but regardless it does not disprove the theory I described if it was misapplied. I have not followed Paul Gautschi's advice to the letter, but have done close enough to see how different components interact and play out on their own. I have done both straight woodchips on beds and also have run massive amounts through the chicken-duck run, and I agree with the posts above for the most part. Straight chips are great for perennials, but are difficult to plant in. They are also not all created equal, as redwood chip mulch is much harder on young plants than red alder, which seems to have more immediate benefits as it breaks down quickly. After spending 6+ months in the bird run, the material at the bottom of the bedding of chips/straw is just fantastic humus rich goodness. I like to age it if possible to make sure it won't cook anymore, but seems to work great as mulch right away around estabished plants. I haven't started many seeds with the processed woodchips immediately out of the bird pen, I generally spread it around small but established plants, but I would bet squash will take off out of it. Here is a picture of my old garden at the place we sold in April, with some pretty happy rhubarb and tree collards on hugel beds that had been mulched heavily before the birds inevitably kicked it off:
If you set them free and they leave, they were never really yours in the first place...
But seriously, I would put them in a place where, if the worms escape, they will be beneficial regardless. I think connecting to the ground has more benefits (biodiversity, water and temperature moderation, leaching into the garden), than cost (possibly having worms leave bin). If we give them food, water, shelter and space, in moderation and from diverse, organic sources, they will reproduce prolifically. I think the main challenge is balancing moisture, and having adequate carbon rich material can help greatly with that.
Good thread Dan. I would differ a little from the previous posts but not greatly. Mainly i wouldn’t be to stressed about it all. Air stones can work fine, but are not ideal long term due to the clogging potential mentioned above. Good compost, good water, lots of air, and microbe food and you will be fine. I even add weeds, yarrow, comfrey, horsetail or other dynamic accumulators to my teas for their chelation and nutrients. If it smells good, it’s good tea in my experience. I would agree about mulching before applying the tea, as the mulch will become inoculated and provide food and shelter for the soil microbes. I also inoculate my woodchip piles before spreading if I can. I would also think that a bacteria rich worm tea would be a good start, as the is would create a food base for future fungal dominant teas. I like to use duff and decomposing wood from old growth forests nearby for my fungal inoculant. If possible, I also base it all on fish or duck pond water for nutrients and microbes abound in it. It is hard to go wrong with an oxygen rich environment with diverse biota and nutrients (and you don’t need much of any one thing, just a little of everything).
I’d encourage any permies interested in Southern Oregon to check out Del Norte County just across the CA border. The town of Crescent City is not as cool as Ashland or Brookings, but it’s close enough to them via beautiful drives, and in my opinion the scenery is even nicer here. The weather is similarly varied as you go from coastal rainforest to Mediterranean as you go inland. Choose your own weather in the summer between 55 and 100f. The Smith is the best swimming river in the west in my opinion, and I’ve hiked all over. The land is generally cheaper than in southern Oregon as well, and many great off grid spots that were overpaid for in the green rush have come back down to earth (We got our place on 25acres for less than 2/3 the peak asking price). Again though, these will have to be bought cash due to lack of bank financing options off grid. Rogue Credit Union is trying to help finance such places in this region, but if permits aren’t all perfect, they can’t help, and fully square permitting is rare in this area. Good luck to you!
Many plants will change their leaf position when water stressed to reduce sun exposure. In my opinion (shared by many, including those I learned this from), the best time to water is when they show mild moisture stress, pointing their leaf tips upward “praying for rain”. If they begin to droop this is a sign of extreme water stress that is not beneficial, but if you get them when they are “praying” it seems to encourage deeper rooting.
We are looking to replace our old gas range. We aren’t looking for many extra bells and whistles in a new one, and especially not if they require much electricity draw.
Anyone know what a gas range with a digital clock, and possibly a convention fan would pull? It’s hard to reckon based on what the specs tell you online, which generally focus on the gas usage and BTus. My wife’s main complaint about the design of the current range is the broiler being on the bottom, but it seems that the ones with the broiler on top of the oven require a fan, which pulls electricity, but how much?
We have 2400w of solar panels, a single 4-string of lead acid batteries, and a diesel generator for backup power, which was all set up when we bought this place in December 2019. Basically, plenty of power when the sun shines, but not much battery so diesel power at night if it’s cloudy all day.
It’d also be nice to have a burner that can run somewhere between off and burning the hell out of everything. My wife is a great cook, and I like to cook as well, so something that is enjoyable and easy to use would be ideal, but it’s not like we are going to start a commercial kitchen. Also, getting away from a pilot light seems like a safety plus. My aesthetic choice would be a big old black cast iron beast, but those seem hard to find and probably had challenges of their own for the user. Thanks for your thoughts and recommendations.
I have hundreds of apple seedlings growing from mash covered with woodchips on a hugel bed, all off our 2019 Crescent City Food Forest harvest festival apple pressing. These came from gleaned fruit and apples brought by the public. Inspired by Sepp Holzer’s books, this seems to work for a prolific amount of seedlings to select from. I will get some pictures shortly.
Does anyone have experience with comparing a gorilla cart with a two-wheeled wheelbarrow? I find the latter to be so much better than a single wheeler that it is not really a comparison. The single wheel’s only benefit is on very narrow pathways, which I avoid designing now anyhow. The two wheeler needs only one hand to move most loads, doesn’t require arm exertion for stability, can be pushed or pulled, and turns on a dime. The main benefits I see to a gorilla cart are the flat surface for moving plants or buckets of liquids, and the potential attachment to a tractor or atv. However the big one weighs 87lbs! Am I wrong for thinking unless you plan to tow it the gorilla cart is a heavy, costly redundancy to a two wheeled barrow?
Anyone else forget what these were called, then started typing in "Russian hoe", only to realize just before hitting enter that I was on a work computer and this was going to get a lot of unintended search results?
Hi Tara, hope all is well and again, welcome to the site.
Don't tell any non-permies, but far NW California (Del Norte County) is on the warm side of the NW climate, and has the cheapest land and water in CA. I have been up and down the west coast as a PCT hiker and park ranger/restorationist/educator/trail crew member, and there is a reason I settled here. The world's tallest trees, highest biomass forests, greatest biodiversity of soils, largest undammed river in the lower 48 (Smith) with the best swimming holes on Earth (IMO), an amazing rocky pacific coastline with 7000ft peaks in view therefrom, the Siskiyou Mtns, and the lowest population density in the lower 48 as well.
When I first moved here, I was warned its "Calabama" or, "Caltucky by the sea" culturally and politically. It can be in good ways (something resembling what I have heard about southern hospitality, and earnestness, as well as a great DIY culture) and bad (remnants of the now unviable resource extraction economy, racism, idiotic protests and politicians, and the laziness of thought that accompanies these things), but I have made many friends and we have a great little community of permies and outdoors people. We have even started the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild, which is chugging along while trying to respect health concerns at this crazy time. SW Oregon is included in this guild, and is also full of beautiful places, but the land seems slightly pricier. If you are relatively insulated from this economic crisis, at least enough to still be looking, this would be a great time to buy around here or anywhere else. Good luck.
Wilson, my Pyrenees-Akbash drove a bear off just yesterday, as he has done dozens of times since he was 6-months old. I thought Collies were large herding dogs, no? While a bit neurotic in my experience, they are large enough to scare most bears, and they’d seem to be a decent breed for your situation if raised with the birds. On the other hand, I cannot speak highly enough of our cross of two ancient LGD breeds. Their main downside is a desire to roam to any fenceline to patrol and obliviousness of cars being dangerous if they come within that perceived perimeter. If it weren’t for cars, I’d just let Willie roam, protecting the innocent:)
It has also occurred to me, why do you need swales with so much water? I also imagine in the tropics, that water comes more evenly than in my climate (where 90% of rain occurs in winter), but I should ask, what are your longest dry periods, largest rain events, and general seasonal variations in moisture? Here we have large enough rain events (24" in a day back in 1964, 10" day in 2016) and so much deforested and hardscaped land that I would not do true swales (on contour). I just make the water meander around hugel beds that are almost entirely above the water table, with ponds catching that diverted water on its way. I will also fill any relatively straight standard (desertifying) drainage trenches with woody debris to make the water travel further in contact with biomass. This was done all the way back in roman times, and evidence from its use back to the Roman age in Britain shows these maintain drainage longer than pipes, gravel or virtually any other method. I think the basic idea is, do not build a half-assed beaver dam where it can wash out and destroy other people's stuff.
I read that article awhile ago, and it is pointing out a key mistake to avoid, but in my opinion it is also making a straw man argument based on the worst possible application of the combination of hugelkulture and swales. Its like saying flight is impossible based on observation of my attempt to build an airplane when I was 9yrs old, planning to have my 5yr old brother fly it first, "cuz he's lighter." It was just poorly conceived, not a proof against concept, and Mr. Spirko's semantic dance around the terminology distracts from the more important point about doing your math and backing up your systems when it comes to earthworks and engineering.
Of course we have to account for 500yr rain events, overflow, and have multiple backup drainage sills! However we need that whether we have wood in the berm or not. Maybe we differ in the definition of hugelkulture, and I would defer to Sepp Holzer, but Mr. Spirko also outlines ways to do what I see as effectively hugelkulture (soil on wood) in the berm of a swale or a terrace in this article and in an online pdc video series. So do Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, and Bill Mollison in the Big Black Book and other publications. It can be done in multiple ways (wood buried into the hillside like a key, or being placed above the drainage sills' elevation), and the design must be based on climate, watershed placement, soil and other contexts. The basic thing though, is to give water a place to go passively, even in massive flooding beyond any you have experienced, before it can wash out your berm. This is important with or without woody debris in it.
The main, and virtually only time the wood is at risk of floating off, like in the story, is immediately after being built, as it is often built with dry wood. Using dry wood makes it much easier to move, so it is natural to do. However dry wood is like a dry sponge, it will float in a flood. If the wood is waterlogged and spongy from decomposition, surrounded by roots and fungus embedded into the subsoil, and you are not sending a wall of water at it with no place else to go, it will not just float away. This is one reason to water your hugel heavily when building it. Wet the sponge, and in a large enough hugel the wood will never dry out again.
Regarding the settling concern, I am not convinced by any of the arguments I have read, and have yet to see problems relating to that two years into the food forest project down near the coast which I have worked on. Fruit trees generally are better off planted too high than too deep, and exposed root flares are a good thing. Also, as the soil settles, the roots will stabilize the hugel and go into the subsoil to the water table. In our flood prone winters, fruit trees need to be 2-4ft above the water table, which can be a couple inches above the original grade of the once flat site. So I built 3-7ft hugels, starting at grade level with wood, using the crappy soil I excavated from the pathways/driveways. These pathways are far more sinuous than the original straight drainage trench, but they all either grade downstream and/or have a level sill to overflow smoothly downstream at about 1% grade from the input coming of uphill hardscape. One major drainage trench absorbs offsite flows of 150,000+gal/inch of rain (about half of what we get), and is filled with woody debris. This leads into a seasonal pond with a wide level sill leading into pine forest and a stream. The rest of the flow onto the site goes through the path/driveways and down the preexisting drainage trench, which has now been rock armored and provided a cascade where it had once been an eroded incised gully.
I do not want to encourage anyone to do anything that could be catastrophic, and a 1-meter in a day, 1000yr rain event could well make an ass of me, but I think all this needs to be considered in context. Forests grow on fallen forests. Trees fall on steep slopes, creating berms (almost always off contour). Observe how things work in your native ecosystem when undisturbed, and help enable those conditions.
Oh, and don't just take some jackass from half-way around the world's advice without checking it against your own logic and broader research!
I don’t remember ever hearing that about avoiding large trees on hugels. What reasoning have you heard for that ? I would make sure drainage and slope is accounted for to keep them from floating the first wet season. Maybe the reason for the no large trees theory is that Sepp Holzer uses the hugels as compost after 15-20yrs? Is it believed that they are not stable enough for large trees? I am not sure what the reasoning is, but I notice that the worlds tallest trees grow largely on their own fallen forebearers, and can live for 2000yrs+ in that manner.
I like your thinking and ambitions. I would use woody debris in your berms for the hugelkulture benefits of improved drainage, which is what I use in a temperate and summer dry-winter wet climate with a similar amount of rain all in the winter. I see it as a merging of hugelkulture and chinampas. Best of luck!
Seems like we are in similar contexts. I am in the Siskiyous of NW CA. While we get weather a bit wetter and milder, our zone 0-1 is also bedrock, but in our case its largely serpentine. I have done hugels with moderate success on pavement before, so I figured it could work here to bury woody debris in this bed for moisture retention. We used primarily fir bark because that is plentiful and seems to be the best part of the tree for hugels in my research and experience. We layered coffee grounds on the bottom just above the first wood layer, and on top of the bed as mulch. We also added some Wilson fur (our Pyrenees-Anatolian in picture) in the bottom layers for nitrogen and possibly rodent deterrence (or maybe it'll attract them as nest material!). We also mixed in liberal amounts of oyster shell for calcium that is deficient in our soils (not that we have any right there). We filled in the rest with reused potting soil that has been stretched with sharp river sand. It will need to be irrigated in summer, but I am hoping the adjacent rock jack and rock frame to the bed will help condense a good amount of moisture, and we will keep it mulched or densely planted with herbs and shallow rooted veggies. It also received roof runoff just uphill, so when it is wet it could get too wet, and hence we had to balance drainage and moisture retention, which the wood is great for. Best of luck!
Ants can add 50tons of organic matter per acre per year (Mollison). Their tunneling increases water infiltration, soil aeration, root penetration, and they control many problematic ground dwelling species. They also probably help clean up fallen fruit to reduce disease and wasps. They are ultimately doing jobs we probably don’t want to or cannot do yourself. If they are not nasty biters or aggressive, I wouldn’t worry about them. We can even use some species to process meat waste. I’ve seen a deer skull stripped to bone in a week on an ant hill.
Go for it. Your first year will be about as good as the soil you have on top, so if that’s great it will do great (following instructions above), if it is horrible clay, it will only be slightly better than that if nothing is added on top. Regardless it will get better every year thereafter for as long as the wood you added took to grow.
I have seen pill bugs on strawberries, but they are almost always working away in bites that look like they came from slugs, snails, birds, or weevils. I have also never seen them on strawberries without the other species present and clearly doing damage themselves.
I speculate this is another way that the "Paul Gautchi/Back to Eden Method" requires running the wood chips through a chicken and/or duck run before using in order to be fully successful. The chickens substantially reduce the starting population of pill bugs, as well as slugs and weevils. It would be an interesting experiment to run separate beds with chicken run woodchips vs unprocessed chips. I am doing one unscientifically in the food forest I manage remotely, where domesticated birds have not been practical to keep, vs my old property where most chips went through the chicken and duck run. I am seeing drastically higher slug/snail populations, as well as many more pill bugs (though those are mostly under larger woody debris).
I am trying to replace the chickens and ducks with wild birds and amphibians I provide habitat for on the site, and they are dramatically increasing with their songs all around to show for it, but the slugs and snails are still insane right now. I pulled 50lbs of terrestrial gastropods off 2000sq ft of hugel beds in one week! I was able to drop them at my friends' places who took on my old birds, but it is really hitting our greens harvest, and it feels like I have slugs tattooed to my eyelids at night. I am inclined to think the pill bugs are just finishing their leftovers. On the bright side, my birds loved them even more than slugs.
I don’t have any answers, but I thank you for the great question! I am considering a solar water heater system myself, and you details will help others like me to translate it to our contexts. Best of luck and thanks for the answers all.
Another consideration in location is elevation and convenience of spreading or adding to the bin. For elevation, it can be very beneficial to have your compost above your garden (even on top of or embedded in a raised bed). This makes any leaching a free fertigation of your garden and the micro/macro decomposers will go in and out through the mesh, improving the biology of your soil on their own. Convenience may be obvious in regard to having it between your kitchen and the garden, but I find when I make a job easy and quick, I am much more likely to do it in a timely manner and enjoy doing it.
Anyone have planting suggestions for hugel beds around these rock jack gate posts I'm working on? I will be doing grapes over an arbor that I will build over the top, watering for the first year to establish them in new beds and then weaning them over a couple years to just roof runoff and deep mulch. I am looking for diversity around them that can handle the rocky/bedrock subsoil below the beds, which unfortunately can't be too very high (18" or so) due to my dog being able to jump anything less than a 6ft fence, and that fence is largely to keep his unfixed wandering out of the road. This is right outside my door and as you can see near and above the pond for pumping water if irrigation or fish fertilizer is needed, so it can be fairly intensively managed and any runoff goes to the pond. I try to get as close to dry farming as I can, but this is a hotter climate than the coastal one I am used to and I am just starting over with a new place. We are in what I guess is zone 8 in the Siskiyou Mountains of NW California, at 1700ft, about 15 miles from the coast. Based on locals' input and my own experience I'd say annual lows are around 15-20f and record lows are probably above 0f. Annual highs are probably around 95-100f and record may be 105-110f. Winter has felt a lot like where I grew up in Seattle, but much sunnier. When it rains, it can really pour with us being close to the highest ridge-line this close to the Pacific, and we get an average of 80-100" according to neighbors and weather data estimates I have found. 90%+ of this rain comes from late September-April. The summers are reliably dry, and where I am much sunnier than just a few miles west. I don't know anywhere that would have an exact analogue for a climate, maybe the Basque Country, South Africa or New Zealand. Thanks for any input, and we have plenty more rocks to work with if you have ideas.
What has worked for me in getting wood to break down quickly into great compost is using it in French drain like trenches. Ideally, I’d out these below livestock runs and fish/duck ponds, and running those trenches around hugel beds as pathways, with some flat areas for sediment drop but ultimately with positive down hill flow to avoid flooding structures or floating hugels here where 10” rain events in one day are not unheard of. This has gotten woodchips (red alder, shore pine and Sitka spruce mostly) to break down into great, finely textured compost in 18months or less while serving multiple functions (water absorption and filtration, pathways, drainage, aeration, adding fertility and organic matter) while doing so. It’s not the fastest compost, but in natural systems, generally slower decomposition retains more nutrients and carbon. The ends of this spectrum are epitomized by coast redwood forests that can have trees decomposing for twice as long as they grew (upwards of 2200yrs), in contrast with fire, which gases off more nutrients and carbon the hotter it burns. I guess I don’t understand how the apparent miracle that is the Berkeley method works (18days with little loss of mass has never happened for me yet but I never do it perfectly), but it usually is light on the wood products as I understand, and that’s what we have in greatest abundance here.
I’ve done hugels in similar situations and never had termite problems. I do wonder if wood frames on any raised bed wick moisture like wood sticking out of a hugel bed. I’d imagine it would be less problematic since the wood on the exterior frame is not embedded in the middle and therefore isn’t pulling as directly from the wettest place, but I imagine it still has some effect. If this does not work well for you, I would blame the concrete not the wood though!
Welcome Juan! Not sure where you are in the vast expanse of what people call “Northern California”, but I invite you to join the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild. All our in person stuff is on hold right now, which is unfortunate because we were having some great work parties, but we are still doing zoom meetings monthly. We have a great array of people, skills and knowledge to share about what we’ve learned in practicing permaculture on the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast. We’d love to learn from your experience as well as help. Look us up on FB if you’d like.
I am also just starting out on a new property, after upgrading from a much smaller spot near Crescent City. I am happy to share my experience, though up here in Del Norte County (“Caltucky by the sea” some call it) it is a bit of the Wild West when it comes to regulation, with crooked and incompetent contractors and regulators out numbering the good ones, who are swamped with work. In my experience, if I am sincerely trying to help my neighbors (including non humans), I have been successful at getting forgiveness in lieu of permission on the “trellises”, “diversion drainage basins”, and other restoration projects I do.
With your slope and location in the Alps, I’d recommend reading up on Sepp Holzer. It seems like you’ve got a great plant collection started and many of the recommendations above are sound. The plant I have not seen mentioned that has helped greatly with my compacted clay soil in the past is daikon radish. The root makes kimchi, the leaves are good cooking greens, and the flowers and young seed pods are sweet and spicy with a nice crunch. I just leave most of the tubers to rot in the ground, making a nice hole of compost punched into the clay.