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How can I tell if an abandoned hugelbeet is ready for planting?

 
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I'm in an intentional community that has been operating with a skeleton crew for a few years now. Someone had made a bunch of huglebeets, some still have rosebushes or daffodils in them, but most are empty. one is completely eroded and the wood core is exposed. None of them are very tall.
I am brand new to gardening as a whole, forget about permaculture, so I have kinda been thrown into the deep end here haha.

I was wondering if y'all could tell me anything about restarting huglekulture. Tips, books, videos or anything really would be so appreciated. I have poked around Pinterest and a couple of blog posts, but honestly, I am feeling pretty overwhelmed.

TIA
 
steward
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Sweet! I love hearing about intentional communities.
 
gardener
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Whats the condition?

If you dig down a few inches  is it moist? How does the moisture compare to the ground a few inches deep?

The exposed wood, is iy showing signs of  rotting? Will it break apart with a knife?
 
Teddy Smith
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wayne fajkus wrote:Whats the condition?

If you dig down a few inches  is it moist? How does the moisture compare to the ground a few inches deep?

The exposed wood, is iy showing signs of  rotting? Will it break apart with a knife?



The wood does not break apart with a knife, there are some sections that *look* (to my untrained eye) as though they are rotting.

The upper levels of the soil is a light brown, and kinda dry.

The deeper sections are a darker brown (firmly brown not black) and when I squeeze a handful of it, it does clump and hold its shape- but crumbles very easily. So I am going with lightly moist?
 
wayne fajkus
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Pics might help, but if it has any slope with nothing growing,  i would seed something to stop erosion.

Throwing seed on it, then covering with a light mulch would work.

If the community has any seed packs available, blitzing it with whatever is not a bad idea. Let them fight it out to see which plants want to grow.
 
Teddy Smith
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There are def things growing.

The attached picture is the best-looking huglebeet, the rest are just a little less full looking in terms of the hill mound, and a few outright just exposed logs. But all the ones with dirt have green things growing.
DSC00351.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSC00351.JPG]
 
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Beans and potatoes.
I would plant beans and sweet potatoes from the grocery store  plus white seed potatoes , on all of it.

Where it's just the exposed wood,  I would cover it with any kind of soil available,  no matter how poor ,and plant into that.

Unless you live in a rainy place,  like I do, and maybe even then, soaking the mounds is probably a good idea.

You might get  some kind of yield,  but even if you just ignore it,  you will probably improve soil of the mounds.
 
wayne fajkus
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You should be able to plant what you want. The issue with exposed wood is it can work in reverse. Instead of absorbing and holding moisture, it can allow it to evaporate out. If you have ample rains that may not be an issue. If you have long dry spells, maybe try to cover them back up.

 
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Youngish hugels can soak up a lot of nitrogen as the wood decays. If you still have a bunch of not very rotten wood, nitrogen hungry plants may be less than thrilled..

The solution IMO is urine, more than you think!
 
pollinator
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If you can let some chickens run over it and then flip the soil they kick down back on top, that is a pretty good prep that greatly reduces weeds, leaves a nice soil texture for planting, and you get fertilizer as a bonus. I have some beds that my chickens will fly into unless I pen them completely all day. I can’t do a broadcast planting as easily,  but when I protect any given area on my hugels for a particular plant, it goes nuts with very little weed pressure. The chickens also take out many pests as the to grow beyond the cage I build for them into where the birds have access. Otherwise, we must do the chickens work.
 
pollinator
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You might need a season to get to know the soil better. Your idea is to plant vegetables, right? Flowers and fruit bushes are usually less demanding, can do with poor soil, but veg is more demanding.
I find certain vegetables are better than other in telling how the soil is:
Broad beans can grow into tall and lush plants when the soil is really nutritious, but they can also stay very stunted in poor or compacted soil. Brussels sprouts are also very good at telling a story: if the sprouts stay very small and compacted, the plants won't have had access to a lot of food. If they grow big and fluffy, there was too much of it. You want something in between; the sprouts growing to a reasonable size, but still staying compact.
I would grow these veg and many more, to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the soil. Obviously amount of sunlight, competition of weeds, presence of pests etc. all can be make or break factors, and there's no book that can tell you in advance exactly where you stand right now.

From what you describe the layer of soil seems too thin, as others have said, and I would fill that up, so that it's not all sticks and lumps of wood with little soil between. But the soil in the Hügels as you describe it does sound good, and the fact these beds haven't been cultivated recently is not a negative - all sorts of organisms have been able to work in peace with the organic matter present, improving the soil. The type of weeds now growing on top of the beds will probably not be the most stubborn ones.
 
Teddy Smith
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J Grouwstra wrote:You might need a season to get to know the soil better. Your idea is to plant vegetables, right? Flowers and fruit bushes are usually less demanding, can do with poor soil, but veg is more demanding.
I find certain vegetables are better than other in telling how the soil is:
Broad beans can grow into tall and lush plants when the soil is really nutritious, but they can also stay very stunted in poor or compacted soil. Brussels sprouts are also very good at telling a story: if the sprouts stay very small and compacted, the plants won't have had access to a lot of food. If they grow big and fluffy, there was too much of it. You want something in between; the sprouts growing to a reasonable size, but still staying compact.
I would grow these veg and many more, to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the soil. Obviously amount of sunlight, competition of weeds, presence of pests etc. all can be make or break factors, and there's no book that can tell you in advance exactly where you stand right now.

From what you describe the layer of soil seems too thin, as others have said, and I would fill that up, so that it's not all sticks and lumps of wood with little soil between. But the soil in the Hügels as you describe it does sound good, and the fact these beds haven't been cultivated recently is not a negative - all sorts of organisms have been able to work in peace with the organic matter present, improving the soil. The type of weeds now growing on top of the beds will probably not be the most stubborn ones.



Yes and no to the planting of veg, some of the huglebeets are fed with greywater from the kitchen, so no foodstuffs will be grown on those ones, but there are several that have some fruit trees planted that can be used for foodstuffs in another area. I think the greywater beds were intended to create a bee friendly environment for harvesting honey. They also had roses for making rosehip oil, but if you can't eat veg from those beds why would putting the rose oil on your skin be ok?
 
Ben Zumeta
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I’d say 1/3 wood in a hugel is ideal, anything over 1/2 is too much in my experience.

Regarding grey water, what is being used that is precluding edibles? A small amount of natural soap is fine, and the septic enzymes I use seem very similar to bokashi (I use that instead when I make it). Maybe avoid root vegetables and low growing greens if it’s around a septic, but otherwise I don’t understand the concern about grey water and veggies. Especially if it’s something where root-fruit barrier is a factor.
 
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