Ok, after quite a bit of mulling over hugelkulter for a while, I'm starting to see some potential, but I need some input specific to my site. Let me start by describing my site.
Much of the 20 inches of rain falls in the form of snow across 4 or 5 months, a significant portion also falls as rain in the spring, but killing frosts happen all the way into early June. Summer, or the season that has no killing frosts, lasts sometimes as little as 80 days and brings an average of 3 inches of rain, temps in the 80's and 90's and humidity in the teens. Fall, the time between the first killing frost and the first snow is about 6 weeks long.
The ground is an former farm field. Over 400 feet it only drops about 10 feet toward the south. There is about 12 inches of sandy alkaline topsoil on top of about 40 feet of sand and gravel. There is no clay! Sure I know somebody out there is just itching to tell me that vast majority of all ground has clay in it, but I'm telling you now, we dug a hole big enough to see from space next door and there was no clay. Over the snow season the top soil turns into frozen mud that is the consistency of brick until early spring when in turns into pudding until the thaw completes. Once the thaw completes the water quickly vanishes into the ground.
I'm currently growing a lot of Knapp weed as I keep forgetting to water my garden. I working on dividing up the property into paddocks for chickens as their acidic manure is good for alkaline soil. I am also working on some Honey and Black locusttrees.
Now given that Missoula has a very similar, if less snowy, weather pattern, I know I should benefit from hugelkulter, but:
Should the hugelkulter beds go east and west? North to south? Up and down hill? Cross hill? I was thinking of running the hugelkulter beds eat and west cross hill with little bends on either end to catch run off.
Do I still get a benefit if I strip off the top soil, put down a foot of wood debris, and then put the top soil back on? Or is my soil so crappy I shouldn't worry and I should go ahead and pile the sand onto the hugelkulter beds?
We have a lot of lodge pole pine in the area that nobody seam to care about much, so I may be able to get some of it cheap. Any foreseeable problems there?
ok to clarify I live in clay wet area so my advice is definately as far from expert as you can get on this forum....
I would say ..from common sense..that I would put some shallow swales cross the hill either horizontally or at some slight angle, and maybe even a herringbone style with each one down the hill sloping at the opposite angle??
This would allow the moisture that does run off to go to the next and next..but my guess is that probably horizontally completely would be the best bet..I would try that first.
I would fill each swale with whatever organic material you can come up with..see if there is any industry in the area that has organic waste that you could get..or just use the manure and hay and pine boughs..(don't think I'd cut the trees though)..or rake up the leavings from the pines..needles, bark, etc..that is on the ground, but fresh boughs could be cut off bottom branches as well.
those would somewhat acidify the soil..if there is a coffeehouse nearby as for their grounds..(that is what I mean by an industry with organic waste)..
If you have some other wood product parts that you could put into the swales all the better, and if you have access to some non alkaline topsoil, you might see about tossing some of that in the mix on top as well..but that is likely too expensive to do much for you..
My guess is the swales and organic material will give you some planting areas..then I would plant some fruit trees or nut trees to start out. They generally will take much more alkaline soils than some other garden crops will, most prunus, pears, etc will do fine on alkaline soils..and wont' mind the gravel..you might be able to come up with some clay kitty litter to add some to the soil, but avoid the scented or clumping kind, just get the plain clay kind..and apply it quite widely broadcast..
After your fruit trees have grown for about 4 years (if they are smallish) or 2 or 3 years if they are bought at the 5' or so heigh originally..you will begin to get some leaf litter from them that will help to build the soil..I also would plant, same time as the fruit trees, some legumes for nitrogen and some comfrey or rhubarb or swiss chard with the fruit trees to bring up nutrients and provide you some mulch materials..and allow some insectory plants to grow to bring in your pollinators..and beneficial bugs..
After say 5 or 6 years you should begin to have some decent fertile soil around the area to be able to plant pretty much anything you want, except maybe blueberries and potatoes?
Bloom where you are planted.
Another industry to look for,organic waste wise, is brewing. Small breweries are often glad to have someone come and haul away the spent grain/hops/gunk from the brewing process and it's full of nitrogen. You can feed it to the chickens first or you can just turn it into your compost pile as long you have enough brown to go with all that green. I have heard of people sheet mulching with it as well. The one warning is that if you do not mix it into the compost well or spread it out fairly thinly it sticks to high heaven. Although it would be interesting to see what would happen if it was used on top of the logs in a hugel bed, under the soil that is so the smell can't escape. Might alleiviate the nitrogen grabbing by the logs somewhat.
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
I just spent a hour driving my new used tractor home. I saw so many tree and tree limbs laying around it was ridiculous. Apparently I'm the only one who sees a use for them. Now I just need to figure out how to collect some of it without getting arrested or shot.
So I don't worry too much about my crappy top soil, just plant a high mix of fruit and nut trees in at least mildly stacked hugelkulter beds. I imagine the trees would do well in the bottom of the beds while veggies on the southern side, and grains on the north side. Or am I missing totally?