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World's laziest hugelkultur

 
pollinator
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Hey all. I've been amassing a huge pile of partially rotten logs, thanks to my befriending the local arborist. It's like this firehose of woody material has been directed at our place and it's awesome. I've got some nut trees that are pretty drought intolerant (chestnuts and hazels) in a dry section of the property where some greedy eucalypts on the council reserve suck up all the moisture. I want to get lots of carbon into the soil in this area and I think that I can use this rotting wood around the trees.

Problem: I am both time poor and lazy. I don't want to dig and bury this wood, because a) it will disturb the tree roots, b) take a lot of time that I don't have right now, and c) I just don't want to do that much digging.

So, I'm thinking I will just chuck the logs around the trees, maybe arranging them a little or maybe just making some piles. I think that as they decay the earthworms will start moving the material deeper into the soil (better them than me) and in the meantime they are acting as mulch, fungal luxury resorts, and nutrient pools.

Has anyone else here done this and have reports on how it worked out?

 
gardener
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Hi Phil,

I have done this to a certain extent, and yes, I think it can work.  

Agree that you probably don’t want to disturb the tree roots by digging around the tree to bury the wood, even if you did have time and energy unlimited. In my case, I had a lot of rotting wood on the surface, as the previous landowner logged much of the property and left the slash.  In order to clear certain areas to start to develop some pasture, I needed to do something with it, so I often just piled it up around the nearest stump, many of which were regrowing - tulip poplar, oak, etc....

Anyway, the chunks of wood will of course decompose over time, and work to preserve moisture for the tree roots, and create that rich black gold underneath the wood. One downside is it will be a brambly jungle under the tree for a long time, which may actually be an upside if you have deer pressure - a bit harder for them to get into the tree you are trying to grow.  
 
pollinator
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I'm putting rotten wood around all my baby trees, hoping to emulate a forest floor in my food forest.
 
pollinator
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If time isn't an issue it will work for sure.  It's not necessary to put the piles right next to the trees as the roots will spread well beyond the canopy of the tree.  I have dug hugels and piles of wood. The dug hugels are easier to plant on top of but if you aren't using the hugel as a bed it's a non-issue.  The piles may take longer to degrade but they will keep in moisture and draw critters.   I have enough room to leave piles all over the place.  I do the same with weeds, just stack them in a pile and two months later they are gone.

Log piles are great habitat and will attract everything from frogs to mice.  I suffer from planting and placing things too close to my seedlings.  I think wow that's a lot of space and then two years later that baby black locust is touching the apple tree.  Just pile them up, you won't have a problem.  Be careful around the base of the tree as you don't want too much moisture, it may cause issues with the trunk.  I have an apple tree that I overplanted around and it leads to trunk rot.  I guess what I'm saying is don't plant or pile up against the tree trunk.
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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Thanks for the feedback. I am leaning toward making piles in between trees, and maybe along the paddock fence. I mow with a scythe, so I can keep the piles from going completely feral...in fact, I may cover them with some of the rank grass that I tend to cut in the late spring when it's too early to make hay.
 
gardener
Posts: 1959
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I've got a big pile of rotten logs and branches too Phil, planning to do the same thing soon.
 
gardener
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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I recently ran across an old camp site with what looked like a rock wall covered in moss under the canopy of the forest.  As I got closer I realized that it was someone's long ago abandoned woodpile.  I wish I had had my phone to snap a picture as it was quite amazing.  Couldn't help myself, I stepped on it a bit just to confirm....it was a giant sponge, springing up and down easily under the weight of my foot.  Effectively it was a composite mother log.  Very beautiful and very full of water.  We have a humid environment here in Maine with snow cover all winter and 50 inches of rain annually.  With that and being under a forest canopy it couldn't dry.  I bet it was a great mushroom pile earlier in its breakdown.  Throughout its time I'm guessing it has housed much life.  If I dug into it I'm sure it was full of roots coming up to access it.  

Anyhow, very best wishes on your project.  Please do post pictures over the years to show how things progress!
 
pollinator
Posts: 270
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Chuck them around your trees, but if possible, throw something over the top to help break them down. Even a sprinkling of soul, compost, some leaves, or whatever, will shade them and keep them a bit more moist to aid the breakdown. I've done this sort of hugel long before I knew what it was.
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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Great minds think alike, Priscilla. I've begun piling the logs and it occurred to me that I don't really want a lot of deep gaps in between them when it's time to gather nuts. So I'll spread some of the partially decomposed shavings and bark chips over them to fill gaps, then top it with a layer of dirt and put long grass over it when I mow that area later in the spring. Photos later when the weather is a bit less gnarly.
 
pollinator
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Priscilla Stilwell wrote: Even a sprinkling of soul...



Probably a typo, but I love it!
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Mk Neal wrote:

Priscilla Stilwell wrote: Even a sprinkling of soul...



Probably a typo, but I love it!



Ha. Sounds like song lyrics to me!
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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It fits, because I am putting my heart and soul into this little chunk of land. Blood and sweat, all the organics....
 
pioneer
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Logs are broken down by fungi, and fungi need constant humidity. If your climate isn't humid enough you would have to grow ground covers (even if they are weeds) and get them to trail over the logs. Otherwise you could throw something over the top of them, like free hessian coffee sacks from your nearest coffee roasters :)
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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Hi Ben, no problem with humidity here for at least ten months out of the year. Jan-Feb can get a little dodgy But I will be putting lots of long grass over the piles, and there is a healthy amount of red clover and lotus that go rampant in the summer...I expect that they will climb over everything and keep it shaded.

Oh, and I decided that this is where I will plant my pumpkins in about six weeks.
 
Phil Stevens
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Here's the progress so far. I've still got a few more trailer loads of logs to haul, and someday soon I may get another delivery.





Next step will be to throw some inoculated biochar in between logs, then shavings and bark chips, and finally cover the whole mess with a layer of topsoil. More photos as that happens. Don't hold your breath.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Oh yes. That will do nicely!
 
Phil Stevens
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I got a nice Sunday afternoon to do some more work on the hugel project. Here are the logs with partially rotted shavings, bark chunks and manure filling the gaps:



And here is the covering of long grass:



Finally, the layer of dirt on top. Ran out of daylight, so I will have to finish some time later this week if the weather and my workload permit.



I think that I can safely say there are lazier ways to do hugelkultur (like finding a pile of rotting logs and planting into them) but this sure beats excavating.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Looks great! I never quite understood why it was important to dig down. I know that provides access to more moisture, but if the idea is to mimic nature, seems that your process is more than sufficient!
 
Joseph hackett
pioneer
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Seems like a good method, you wouldn't have to do all the hard work in one go, you could just add materials as they become available to you.
 
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Priscilla Stilwell wrote:Looks great! I never quite understood why it was important to dig down. I know that provides access to more moisture, but if the idea is to mimic nature, seems that your process is more than sufficient!



I think it is only important to dig into the ground in arid environments, I think that it really helps connect the roots with the water table and can eventually build irrigation free systems.  if you are in a wet environment i would suggest against it as the roots will benefit from more drainage.
 
pollinator
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I would love to see the progress on this hugel-thing!  I'm a big fan of rotten wood.  It's under my woodchips in my nascent food forest, it's at the bottom of my raised beds, and it makes up the bulk of the debris "berms" on my steep hill.  

New pictures?
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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I'll try and get out there today and take a few, Anne. I should have grabbed a photo of the flush of endemic Pleurotus that came out of one of the birch logs back in March. They were tasty.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2002
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Looks great Phil. Please do send some updated pix. Always fun to look at hugels!
 
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Did you end up growing your pumpkins on the piles, Phil? My landlord (and, I think, the previous owner) left a big mess of piled-up logs that I've been mining for a hugelkultur mound, and it occurred to me the other day that it would be so much easier just to transplant some squash right into the log pile. I'm still finishing my non-lazy mound because I want it as a windbreak, but I am increasingly eyeing my too-abundant squash seedlings and the pockets of soil in the log pile...
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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OK, here we are about 7 months later. We've had quite the drought...out of the last six months all have had below normal rainfall and some were 50% or more down. The pumpkins that I planted around the edges pretty much folded up without doing anything and that was a bust. Now, since we've gotten some decent rain the past couple of weeks, it looks deceptively green.

There's a smattering of life taking hold atop the logs. Mostly tough colonisers like dandelion, plantain, cleavers, lotus and a few honeywort (I scattered some seed during the summer to encourage these). The climbing ferns attached to a few of the larger rings are still growing and looking healthy. No major mushroom activity apart from the oysters that I picked back in March, but fingers crossed.

I tried to move a few of the pieces and they don't want to be dislodged. This is a good sign, as it means there's a good "suction" where the wood and the soil meet and hopefully a lot of mycelia knitting that interface together. Over the winter I'll pile some more chunks as they arrive and spread more biochar and wood chips over the whole mess.







 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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So this past week we came out of level 3 lockdown and my arborist mate got busy grinding some big stumps. Six truckloads of stump grindings arrived and I have a lot of shovel and rake work to do, but here's a good start at least. I occurs to me that I can't call this the world's laziest, because that was a freaking workout spreading a couple of piles. But a nice sunny autumn day makes for pleasant grunt work, so I will grunt contentedly.

 
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My garden is fenced with wire to keep the horses and alpaca out.  I haven’t had time to deal properly with the All wood that collects every year from pruning, windfall after big storms, etc. because I am working to convert to no till. I have been piling it all up along the garden fencelines (inside - dont want any horse mishaps).  When I clean the barn, I dump it on the wood.  I add newspaper for the flies.  I throw weeds on it, grass cuttings, whatever turns up.  It doesn’t really rain in the summer, so everything pretty much stays put.  One day it will turn into something good.  In the meantime, the dogs have stopped trying to dig under to play chase with the big boys.
 
Phil Stevens
pollinator
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Update on the hugel. Warm spring rains have been here and I discovered a flush of Pleurotus on one of the logs this morning. Garlic butter will be involved in the sorting out of this issue.

 
Phil Stevens
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I can confirm that the mushrooms in the previous post were harvested and sauteed in garlic butter and THEY WERE AWESOME.

There are clusters forming on several other logs.
gift
 
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