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Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur article thread

 
Posts: 92
Location: New Mexico USA zone 6
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paul wheaton wrote:Got the following in my e-mail [14 years ago] and he said I could post it here:
... I tell my students that every unit of carbon incorporated into soils can
hold 4 units of water....
Keith



Is this statement still true today?  If so, I'd like to find out more.  

Our Forest Service is hell bent on burning slash piles, and here in the Southwest USA between the on-purpose burning and the wildfires there is hardly a day that goes by from early spring through early winter when the air isn't smoky.  I'd like to put forth a proposal to the USFS for a test site where volunteers use hugelkultur for the piles to show that hugelkultur is better for the soil and eventually the flora and fauna, for air quality, and ultimately the whole planet, than burning slash piles.

Any resources that could provide hard data on anything at all supporting a hugelkultur treatment of slash piles on public land would be appreciated!
 
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: North Idaho
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I have never heard of this before, but am quite fascinated with it.  I have many times over the years gathered up my brush and laid it on the ground and then covered it over with some soil and then planted potatoes and whatnot in it just as a means of dealing with the brush.

I have forty acres with about 20 acres of timber, I have an impressive amount of old rotting wood and create more all the time with wood milling.  I am pretty certain that I could round up with enough time and effort probably 40 or 50 tons of material laying around my place.  Plenty of material to work with.

My garden is situated below the dam of one of my ponds and has about 6,000 gallons of water draining through there everyday, I originally built that for hogs and then eventually made it a garden.  I figured the running water seemed to melt the snow off earlier and that I could use that to my advantage.  It took a few years to get enough plumbing in the garden and build the garden up high enough to deal with the excess water running off, but as of this year I have my entire garden worked by the first week of March as the snow melted off quickly.

Just today I was looking out the lower side of my garden thinking about how I could make use of the area there with all that water running through.  This might be an answer to that situation.  If I stacked wood in there in piles like this the water could run through and around while the planting area stays high and dry.  As for nitrogen, the snow melt water running through has nitrogen as well as the run off from my pond which is full of catfish.

Do you think this would work well in a wet runoff area?  Could a person maybe pound in stakes at the sides and pile up the branches and rotting logs vertically inside of the stakes and make kind of squared off planting boxes covered over with the soil?

I was looking for a new gardening project for week after next maybe this is my new project.  As luck would have it I have a 10 year old slash pile literally right next to where I want to do this and I have piles of topsoil out in my hay field from the building of the five ponds on my place 30 years ago, so no shortage of soil to work with.
 
Lif Strand
Posts: 92
Location: New Mexico USA zone 6
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Roy Long wrote:I was looking for a new gardening project for week after next maybe this is my new project.  As luck would have it I have a 10 year old slash pile literally right next to where I want to do this and I have piles of topsoil out in my hay field from the building of the five ponds on my place 30 years ago, so no shortage of soil to work with.


Not only should you do it, but please share reports and photos with us!
 
Roy Long
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: North Idaho
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I have been gathering soil from my southern forest the last few days to use in my gardening.  I have brought in about 10 yards of material into the garden so far this year.  

In the process of gathering soil I have been clearing branches on the trees up to a height of about 6 to 6 1/2 feet high.  From the last 7 1/2 yards of soil I have pulled out over the last 4 days I have generated probably 1 ton or more of branch piles to clear.  Whenever I do any work in my forests I try to clear branches and pile them up in neat piles.  I was thinking today about just how many of those piles I have stacked up over the last 8 years, must be a hundred truck load sized piles. Then I started thinking of all the branches I have yet to clear in the 12 acres or so of forest I haven't even worked in yet and I realized that I have an amount of junk wood that is almost beyond my ability to describe.  This hugelkulture idea would be quite the handy means of getting rid of all that garbage wood sitting around.

I walked down below my garden this afternoon with my son Ted and was describing to him my idea for this hugelkuture, the whole time we are standing on the dam to my sewer pond and I was looking at the ugly falling down barbed wire fence.  I realized that this might not only be a means of getting rid of a bunch of junk wood and not just a means of expanding my garden, but I could actually put in a circular hugekulture "fence" around my sewer pond.  I realized that this could actually be used for beautification/landscaping as well as the getting rid of the wood garbage and growing veggies.





So far I am thinking that I will start by cutting the large ends of the branches off and pounding them into the ground at about 12 inch spacing.  Then I will come back and weave branches through those with opposing weaves each layer.  Then I can drag in my branches and maybe halfway up go ahead and tie a jute cord from side to side every few feet to help hold the entire thing together and keep it from spreading apart at the top as I pack in branches.  Run the sides up to maybe 3 feet high and aim for about 3 feet wide and then lay in a few inches of pine needles then about 4 inches soil on the top and then mound it to maybe 8 to 10 inches in the center which would allow for the soil to drop into the wood a bit as it all rots down.

As I was standing in the yard after that I was looking over the pond next to the house and the 140 foot long dam and I realized I could something similar on the upper dam slopes as well.  I could do a small 3 foot wide hugelkuture system on either side of the dam and leave an 8 foot walking path in the middle.




I will have the main garden done and planted by the end of next week, at least done planted until May/June anyways when I will be able to plant my warmer weather plants anyways.  So on to some hugelkulture beginning of next week then.  I will just run around and collect some of the easily reachable piles of brush and what not for the first bit of work and clean up the junk laying around the work areas and the house to start with but as the summer comes on I will go ahead and start gatheriing all the junk wood from around the place and see just what we can in the way of cleanup/ hugelkulture/landscaping/gardening/tree farming/logging this year.   I have to keep my forest in decent shape for it to qualify as timber land which has a deferred tax here in Idaho.  I don't have to pay any taxes on the timberland until I harvest and sell the timber.  

I don't actually sell my timber as I own a sawmill, I just selectively log my forests and then mill lumber for my own use around here.  This leads to a great deal of garbage wood and firewood as I clean up the forests.  No one has ever cleaned these forests over the last 40 to 50 years so there ahs been a great build up of material over the years from dead and fallen trees, old stumps and loads and loads of branches.  I have been been half heartedly working at cleanup over the last 8 years but I haven't accomplished a whole heck of a lot of the cleanup as yet.

This hugelkulture idea could really make my overall forestry operation far more efficient.
 
Roy Long
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: North Idaho
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I have been watching a number of videos on this and I have seen the complaint several times now on voids in wood not being easily filled up and this causes varying levels of collapse over time.

I gathered together about 80% of the branches and brush near my sewer pond yesterday and laid it all down into the space between the sewer pond dam and my garden fence.  It is full of open gaps and whatnot and would drop a great deal over time.  I could go in and cut the stuff up a bit and pack it in tighter, but that would be a fair bit of time and a great deal of effort.  

I was thinking maybe just filling all of those voids with wood chips.  My friend Geof owns a tree trimming business and bought 40 acres 3 miles down the road from me, he chips all of his smaller tree trimming and tree removal waste and dumps probably 50 to 100 loads a year at his place.  That should work just as well as brush and branch wood right?  I will see if I can get ahold of him and have him dump off a dump truck load of chips at my place to use for this purpose.

While I have to say the garden aspect of this cool, quite honestly the part that I am finding the best is how much easier this make my wood cleanup.  I spent an hour and half dragging that wood over and dumping down in there filling up that 6 feet of void space.  Ordinarily I would have had to load it all on the trailer in about two to three trailer loads and hauled it all over to my brush pile out behind the barn and shop and then unloaded it all.  I would have been a good four to five hours into that cleanup and still had an ever growing brush pile.  I will be able to pretty easily deal with large quantities of this brush in a much more efficient manner now.  Yall are far underrating the usefulness of this idea in the area of making cleanup easy.  I am seeing crazy cleanup potential with this.
 
Posts: 2
Location: Northeast Ohio
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Hello, so I've just recently come across the concept of hugelkultur and I love it. I happen to have a lot of woody debris on my property I've been wondering what best to do with it, and then it clicked!

Now, I've been reading that pine is a less desirable wood to use due to tannins. I'm wondering though, should I let that stop me? I have mostly White Pine branches and another species I haven't identified yet. Will the tannins significantly limit what will grow well? Should I focus on growing perennials that grow well near pines?

I am in NE Ohio, zone 6.
 
gardener
Posts: 2112
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Daniel Losch wrote:Hello, so I've just recently come across the concept of hugelkultur and I love it. I happen to have a lot of woody debris on my property I've been wondering what best to do with it, and then it clicked!

Now, I've been reading that pine is a less desirable wood to use due to tannins. I'm wondering though, should I let that stop me? I have mostly White Pine branches and another species I haven't identified yet. Will the tannins significantly limit what will grow well? Should I focus on growing perennials that grow well near pines?

I am in NE Ohio, zone 6.



Hello Daniel and welcome to permies! Great to have you here!

As far as pine and hugelkultur beds it can work fine. It really depends on a couple factors. You mentioned you have a lot of woody debris on your property--if that woody debris is already starting to rot then just go ahead and use it in a hugelkultur bed. It should work fine since the decomposition process is already well on its way.

But if the wood is more fresh and not starting to decompose then the question is this--how quickly do you want the hugelkultur bed to be in full production? Using fresh white pine wood will likely mean the hugelkultur bed won't be super productive for at least a few years. Though you can speed that process up by adding nitrogen rich material to the beds. Regardless I would make sure the wood is fully buried with soil well mixed in around the wood so the wood stays in full contact with soil. This will help keep the wood moist and speed up the decomposition.

Overtime the beds will settle so if you don't mind waiting a few years for full production then you don't have to be so careful to get the soil in all the cracks and spaces between the buried wood.

Observing what is already growing near the pine is a great way to pick some initial species--though any species that grow naturally under pines should do fine. I would include some nitrogen fixers too. I would also experiment--try some plants you think are safe bets but also add some that your less sure about. But just a few of those "risky" plants--some of them may surprise you and do great which will help you figure out what else to plant.

Good luck and again welcome to permies!
 
Daniel Losch
Posts: 2
Location: Northeast Ohio
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Thank you Daron for your welcoming and advice, I'm happy to have stumbled upon permies!

I'm also wondering the best positioning for a hugelkultur bed in my yard. I'm in a small city lot, about 140ft x 80ft. The house is situated far back from the street and the front yard has a slight downward grade toward the house, which is square on the west side of the property.
If I uploaded some pictures, would you be able guide me on positioning? I imagine there's a lot of flexibility, I'm just very new to gardening in general and I like to think things through before I do something, I'm very aware of my ignorance. I know where the water flows to, where my sun is coming from, I have a lot of shade. But I'm not sure what I should prioritize, a deeper mound for water retention? A larger one for wind block? Should I orient it perpendicular to the slope or along with it? I'm also considering multiple smaller mounds vs one big mound or maybe one long, shallow mound. It might be nice to redirect water flow around the house as well. So many factors to consider!

 
Roy Long
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: North Idaho
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I called up mu buddy Geof who owns a tree trimming company and asked if he might have any wood chips in the near future that he might be able to drop by my place.  He mentioned he didn't have any but he could come by on a weekend with his chipper and dump truck and chip all my branches for me in trade for a weekend of myself and the boys going over to his place and helping him thin out the small trees in his 20 acre forest.

So now to get all the branches gathered here in rows to run through the chipper and arrange a time to get over and thin out his little forest...  Great trade out, this will chip all my current branches up and give me a few dump truck loads of wood chips to mix into the branches that I trim through out the spring and summer.  This should make for some great hugelkultur trials.

Now if it would just stop snowing....  I woke up to this yesterday morning and it is still snowing and apparently going to continue for much of the next ten days, but it is looking to warm up at then end of that on the 14 day forecast...  Finners crossed...

 
Posts: 126
Location: Washington DC area (zone 7a)
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@Lif, your suggestion of using slash piles for hugelkultur is interesting and while there might be a few places where it would be applicable, I seriously doubt that the USFS would go for it as a general rule.  The problem is that as it breaks down it nutrifies the soil.  In some places you need that, and in many places those extra nutrients  can provide conditions which promote invasive weeds.  I once worked on a project where they used to push the slash to the edge of the site, and those areas were now totally hammered by invasives, while the center of the areas were nutrient starved and promoted a a lot of natives, a couple of which were rare and/or threatened and only grew in nutrient poor environments.  As a note, I worked with the USFS in New Mexico and Utah fighting fires, wetlands restoration, and ecological modelling.
 
Posts: 5
Location: Perry County PA
hugelkultur trees woodworking
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And, not doing my due diligence in researching further I feel I have screwed up big time. ugh. Two years ago I I had two large oak trees felled. The one was 5ft in diameter. Chewed up a chain due to an old unknowing fence line straight through the center of it too. The larger split-able stuff was given to my dad for his fireplace.
The branches: some made it to the chipper, some a pile down below the bank from my house, and some into a pit three feet deep by 4ft wide by 12 feet long i dug in my garden as an experiment. Only I think I may have messed up. I keep seeing mounds now instead of pits. This year I got a mower with a bagger after i realized how much i can do with the grass and added some to the top of the pit to kill off the weeds that accumulated last year over the dirt filled pit. Thinking here was replenishing the nitrogen the wood sucked out of the dirt and stuff.
SO my question is this.....do you think i can still grow plants on top of this pit even though it isnt a mound, and  to mound over the grass what type of soil should i put on top to heap it up for growing?
 
Brian Clugston
Posts: 5
Location: Perry County PA
hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Also on a side note: I know walnut trees have some sort of chemical that kills plants off. is the wood still good for beds or not?
 
Posts: 36
Location: Limburg, Flanders, Belgium
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Hi folks!

I've been spending days reading this thread (am about halfway through now and finally signed up) and I'm soaking up the knowledge!

I live in Belgium (the south-east of Flanders, the Dutch speaking part) near the Dutch border. Our soil is mainly sand. We are very lucky to have the use of a large (by Belgium standards anyway) plot of land (it's about 20 by 30 meters) that we are allowed to garden on. In fact, my in-laws gardened there for about 30+ years, and since the last 5 years or so, we've been taking over. I've been slowly learning about permaculture principles and try to incorporate more and more of them as we go along. Our summers have been unusually hot and dry for the last couple of years, and in my quest for a water retention solution, I found hugelkultur.

Now, our garden is owned by a neighbor and although he doesn't mind us being there, we are unable to make any structural changes that normal people would consider weird My in-laws gardened here rather traditionally (although pesticide free), and the soil is rather poor. We've been improving with mulch and compost but it's a slow process, especially since we're still learning along the way.

I've built three beds that could basically be called baby-hugels. They are about 1,5 to 2 meters long (so 4 to 6/7 feet I think?), 1 meter (3') wide and 2' high. I dug a trench about a foot deep before putting in the wood, so overall height would be 3'. I covered the wood with twigs and branches, cuttings from hedges, half-rotted compost and horse manure, then put the top soil back on (well, soil... the sand, that is), mixed with compost. I mulched with hemp and flax which is normally used for horses stalls. I didn't have anything else at hand and I didn't need much since the beds are quite tiny compared to what I see here. I planted zucchini, peppers and tomatoes on top, and nasturtium all over (because I love it and so do the bees, and it seemed like a nice cover crop). The last bed I made I plan to put some brussels sprouts on top, to compare them to the ones I planted in the regular beds (sprouts tend to be very small here).

I know my little beds might not last as long, but I don't think we'll be here in 5 years so I wanted to get some of the benefits and less of the work, and also less change to the landscape. I'm very excited to see what they will do!

And now I am going to finish reading this thread and dream about our future homestead in which we can put al this wisdom into practice!
 
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