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Not meant to have a hugel ?

 
gardener
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Location: N. California
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I built my first hugel this summer.  I was so happy with the results, and excited to see what came next.  I planted pumpkins and they did amazingly well at first.  Then things went down hill, the leaves started turning yellow and the pests came.  I don't know why this happened, could be lots of reasons, but I forgot the water on one evening, and didn't discover it until the next evening, so I believe I probably washed away most of the nitrogen, and other nutrients I put into the soil.  Before I found out if I was going to be able to fix the problem the chickens dug the hugel to the top wood layer.  Since then I have lost count of how many times I have put the soil layer back on top of my hugel.   I even made a chicken yard, so the chickens could be out without access to my hugel.  Put the soil back on my hugel and planted bush peas, and threw in some chrysanthemums I have rooted from cutting.  Finally I was going to get my hugelkultur established.
The chickens can get out.  Once those little buggers figured out they can fly, there is no stopping them.  I keep adding things to the fence, and gate, but so far the rooster and a hen or two get out a couple times a week.  
Last night I went to see if I could see pea sprouts emerging yet, and I find a bare hugel.  The only thing that seems to withstand the chickens are the two lavender plants (I planted them when I first planted the pumpkins. For some reason the chickens don't mess with them.)  Part of me thinks the universe in sending me a message, I'm just not meant to have a hugelkultur.  I'm just to stubborn for that.  I don't know how I will keep those (insert curse word of your choice) chickens off my hugel, but I will find a way.  Hind sight is 20/20.  Before I fenced the chickens in, a 4' fence kept them out of my veggie garden, now they get into that too. If only I had just fenced the hugel, instead of the chickens.  There is a part of me, the tired and broke part of me that says give up, but so far the part of me that loves to garden, and can't wait to see what the hugel will do that says keep going!  I think it might be hard to hold my head up if I can't out smart a chicken.
 
pollinator
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Chickens love piles, as you have discovered.  They also love wood chips.  Mine dig wood chips and anything that is in a pile until they absolutely can't dig farther.  Apparently level = heaven in chicken brains.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2007
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Maybe this was the year of the rampaging chickens? Mine rarely bothered gardens until this year. Built them their own garden late in the season & that helped some. They still scratch up the ground level hugels. I intentionally feed them snacks at the base of a tall hugel & they don't bother going uphill on that. Yet. They were digging too close to some newly planted walking onions so I poked many sticks into the ground to prevent damage. Ugly but very effective. Seems like sticks around a hugel would be a good deterrent.

Besides growing food hugels are excellent carbon sequestration. Don't we all deserve the benefits of that?
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thanks. I did have some stick around the plants I planted, maybe not enough.  Maybe I need a porcupine hugel, it would be good for a laugh even if it doesn't work.
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2007
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Porcupine sums it up nicely.
porcupine-Egyptian-onions.jpg
[Thumbnail for porcupine-Egyptian-onions.jpg]
 
gardener
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Robins and some other wild birds do the same on my hugel beds. I have started using logs to make little mini-terraces so more of the mulch stays on the top of the beds. But the wild birds are a fair bit smaller than chickens. You might also focus on perennial woody plants. Perhaps those plants would manage better with the chickens? Especially if they were already at least 2 feet tall.
 
pollinator
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Armadillos attempt to level everything I build.

bulldozer.jpg
armadillo
armadillo
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I put a fence around my hugel.  It's only 4' high, so the chickens can fly over it, but they don't fly into my veggie garden that only has a 3' fence.  If I leave the garden gate open they will invade.  They do fly over their yard fence which is 6' high, but they use other things to fly on and then fly over, So I will try to cover or block there step stools so to speak.  They were watching me from the coop, so who knows what they are plotting.
I pulled the weeds, put the soil back on the hugel.  Today I will Finnish putting the soil on, and put on a layer of straw and cross my fingers the chickens find something else to do.  I would really like to try growing veggies on my hugel this year.  So far the chickens have won the battles, but I'm determined to win the war.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I'm so excited the fence is actually working.  It makes no sense because the fence is 4' high, and only a few feet on the out side of the fence is a wood chip pile about 8 to 10 feet high I haven't used yet, I was afraid even if the chickens didn't fly over the fence, they may cruise over from the wood pile.  I plan today I hope, or soon anyway to cover all the soil with straw.  Then let the planting begin.  I have already planted a bell and a hot pepper plant.  I'm having second thoughts about there placement.  I planted them on the top.  My hegel is actually two , because I wanted to see if there was a difference using English walnut verses other wood.  The Hugel runs east west.  With a path between.  I may replant the bell on the down ward slope of one of the east sides.  In the past I have had to give the bell peppers a bit of shade from the harsh afternoon sun, the hugel will do this naturally.  
I'm can't wait to plant this baby and see what happens.  I finished it about September 2019, and we had no rain to speak of this winter, so I figure I will have to water it like everything else, but my hope is in a couple of years it will give me hugel majic.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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So far so good.  I can't believe it worked.  I have planted a tomato on the top, now I need to decide what else to plant.  I noticed some volunteers popping up.  I know it must be gourds.  I planted gourds with my pumpkins last year and I was so frustrated with the chicken situation I just left them out there.  I hate to pull anything out, but I don't want my hugel taken over by gourds.  I also have a grass like thing sprouting hear and there.  I covered the hugel with straw.  I have a feeling the straw had seeds in it.  I thought it must be Johnson grass coming through already, but when I pulled  it there was a little seed at the bottom.  the fun never ends.
I was thinking about a little bit of everything on my hugel.  I already have 2 type of peppers and a tomato, lavender, and a borage transplant.  I thought maybe a squash, zucchini, and some melon, maybe a cucumber, and there must be flowers.  I have raised bed veggie garden, so it means I can have fun with the hugel and see what does well, and what I should avoid in the future.  I'd love any suggestions, and or comments.  Thanks.
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2007
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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I'm guessing the armadillos didn't grow? ha

The same sticks shown in the pic posted above are now located around the base of a tall hugel. Working very well except the day I threw some buckwheat seeds around. Apparently that was just too much temptation for chickens but other than that they are staying off the hugel.

The general recommendation is to plant mostly nitrogen fixing plants the first couple years. Peas, beans, clover, peanuts, etc. I followed that advice that but am also planting a little of everything else. Like you said, to see what wants to grow there & what doesn't. At the moment it is mostly various brassicas & onions that overwintered but some early spring plantings have sprouted & look like they'll be happy.

Borage? Good one!!! I like flowers in & around gardens too. I think one of today's tasks will be adding some borage & yarrow to the hugel wildflower area.

Rather than pulling the gourds out I suggest chopping & dropping them to leave the roots in the ground. Maybe add some comfrey for future roots & for future chopping & dropping.


 
Jen Fulkerson
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The fence works, if I close the gate all the way.  I didn't realize the gate was open about 3".  Clearly this was an invitation.  today I have to go save my tomato plant and put the dirt back on the north side of the hugel.  I guess I will have to double check that gate.  I am grateful I only lost a couple of plants.  This year the hugel is just getting all the unlabeled starts. ( I call it the mystery hugel.  I started a lot of seeds this year, and as time has gone some markers were lost, or I didn't mark it when I re-potted it, so I ended up with some things that weren't labeled.) It's no big loss, just irritating.  
 
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Be careful with borage. I threw a few seeds near my mound and they took over my yard. Then the next year I planted a single fennel plant, not the bulb kind. I wanted the fennel pollen, I'm kind of chef-y. The next year I had enough fennel pollen to supply 30 restaurants for a year and this year I am trying to dig it out from all the many places it hid. I must have pulled up at least two dozen fennel plants. I thought I had them all but I walked the Garden today and saw at least 10 more. Live and learn, sigh. I have had similar run-ins with mint, chives, lemon balm, and horseradish.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I had to totally redo one of my raised veggie beds because of mint.  I still have it all over in the garden paths. I don't mind it there, but I have to make sure it doesn't climb into one of the beds.   Then not only do I yank it out, but keep pulling until it is quite a way from the veggie bed.  I know what you mean about borage, but I don't mind it, if it comes up somewhere I don't want it, I chop and drop it, or pull it out.   Mint taught me a valuable lesson. If it says invasive,  take it seriously!  Thanks for the warning.  I have had one issue after another with this hugel. I just hope after a couple of years it will do what it's supposed to do.  Then it will all be worth it.  Thank you.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I'm glad you mentioned lemon balm, I just bought seed to plant it.  Should I plant it in a pot?  
 
master steward
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One thing I used to do to keep chickens off a garden, is to lay fencing on top of the garden. They can't scratch and peck, so their fun is greatly diminished. It keeps cats from making messes, too.

Plant the lemon balm in a pot! And maybe try to cut the flowers off before they go to seed. I planted some in my herb spiral years ago, and now it's finally reached the invasive stage. I found lemonbalm growing under my peach tree, a good 20 feet away! It seeded there! I gotta do better this year at cutting it down before it seeds!
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I covered the top of my little raised bed I have on the outside of my veggie garden for flowers with chicken wire, it did the trick.  I have never had trouble 😬 with chickens like this bunch.  A flower dug up once in a while, but for the most part they spent there day in the walnut orchard next to us.  This flock stays in the yard, and are very distructive.  If it isn't fenced it's fair game.  They seem to have a special kind of radar for an open gate.  If I forget to shut a gate, or don't get it totally closed I will pay the price.  The funny thing is they fly over a much higher fence to get out then any of my garden fences.  The day they figure that out I'm doomed.
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