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Hot Mess to Hugelkultur - help?!

 
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We bought a property that had about 100 austrees along it's perimeter around it 13 years ago. Every year we would take out as many as we could, based on which ones were in the worst shape. The trees were about 15 years old when we purchased the house. For those that don't know austrees have an average lifespan of 10 to 30 years with 30 years being a really generous estimate given there is not a ready supply of water for them. We recently had a storm that just missed our area with 80 to 100 mph winds. If it hit here, some of these trees would have made it to my neighbor's houses.

We got it down to only about 30 trees remaining, but since they were becoming dangerous faster than we could get them down. We paid pros to get them rest down. They chipped everything small enough and piled the rest in our yard. I tried to explain layering so that they would decrease the total amount of holes but they didn't really care in the end.

I'm trying to figure out an optimal way to get the voids filled given that for the most part we cannot move the large stumps.

Does anyone have any ideas? My goal is to plant native pollinators. My worries are keeping it stable and functional enough that it doesn't offend our HOA


I attached some pictures but I didn't know anyone really want to see... I appreciate any insights you can share.

Thanks!
Christine
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master steward
Posts: 6568
Location: southern Illinois, USA
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Hi Christine,

Welcome to Permies.
 
steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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My suggestion would be to add what you might have on hand, such as veggie scraps, grass clippings, and leaves.

Also sometimes folks can get free coffee grounds and wood chips.

All that wood looks like you might need to start scouting the neighborhoods for bags of grass, etc. And lots of dirt.

Here are a couple of threads that might be helpful for you or others:

https://permies.com/t/50120/Tricks-Dirt-Sliding-Hugel

https://permies.com/t/184385/Venting-hugels
 
Christine Panus
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This is epic! Thank you so much! I will start hunting scrap immediately! I'm excited to do what I can to get native habitat back in our little piece of the world.
 
pollinator
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Location: BC Interior, Zone 6-7
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Plants grow in dirt, not wood. So I'd keep that in mind, whatever you end up doing. If you put eight inches of soil on top of all that wood, that's all the plants have to work with.

If the logs are fresh they won't be soaking up that much moisture yet. Even when they are nice big sponges, they're only going to release moisture to the soil they're touching. If you only have dirt on top of them, that contact area is the only place that will benefit from the moisture in the logs, and only the top layer of logs.

If it was my wood pile, I'd tear it all apart and layer it properly with soil, so the plants can get roots deep into the pile and take advantage of the moisture in all the layers.  But I already have a few dry, useless hugel beds with way too much wood in them 😁
 
gardener
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I build a lot of "hugels" but none without sides.
Basically all my raised beds are compost piles with wood at the bottom.
If you hide the wood with nice looking raised beds you might avoid some HOA trouble.
If you cannot move the wood to properly layer it, consider adding lots of nitrogen,  so it will break down faster.
That could be anything from chicken manure to alfalfa .
Given your location,  grass clippings might be your best bet.
I would include the chips in the mix unless you want to use them elsewhere.
Some red wriggler composting worms, and  active compost could help.
I would plant it with alfalfa or  beans and also potatoes, and not worry about getting a yield.
Potatoes generally winter kill , which adds nitrogen to the soil, while beans/alfalfa also add nitrogen.
All 3 of them are pretty easy to get, and cheap, so you can sow them with great abandon.

It  occurs to me that retaining "soil " moisture might  be the  biggest problem.
It might be worthwhile to tarp  or cardboard sheet mulch the bed , even if it means not growing any plants in it for a while.



 
Christine Panus
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Exactly my concern with the wood pile (that I'm not going to have enough contact). T quehey just kind of threw them all together so I can't really restack them. Definitely could throw the wood chips in with it. That's a great idea! I'd love to get some soil in there and I'm planning on a general call out for grass and such. I thought coffee grounds might also be good for added nitrogen and we have a Starbucks nearby that uses garbage bags to hand them out so that might work...

If we could restack it we would. But the pieces are huge... What kind of vendor would help restack wood? We definitely couldn't do it ourselves. Some of them are hundreds of pounds. It's totally random... two logs that look mostly the same on the outside may be light as a feather or solid as a rock. Some logs have had so many carpenter bees through them that they're almost hollow or have housed termites or ants or something to and they are not structurally dense at all.

I don't care about crops or yields on these, at least not in the short term (next several years)... I mostly care about stability,  native biodiversity, and it not falling and hurting anyone.

We are hoping to create keyhole beds around the perimeter of the yard. That is where I hope to plant food and such. I wouldn't mind a few fruit trees between the first and second piles of wood.

All I need for the wood is to cover it, and have it be palatable to the neighbors and beneficial to the native species that are losing habitat around here.

Thanks for all the answers so far. I'm making a list of the plants I can use next year and the things to ask for in the near term.

Do I just stuff every crevasse I can find with any brown or green matter I can access? Should I try to put in worm tubes?

Thanks!
Christine
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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A hugel with with lots of voids makes for great habitat for wildlife, in fact that is usually considered a big problem!
Vines and brambles do well on and around hugels.
Grapevines can provide a lot of visual cover, food for wildlife and huge volumes of green biomass.

Looking into it it turns out these are hybrid willow trees.
That makes me worry that they might sprout from the buried trunks, and start your tree troubles all over again.
They are not great for burning either, but they could still be processed as firewood.
A contractor that can process firewood, might be able to deal with this pile.
Once it's firewood sized it could be burned, buried or made into biochar.
 
Christine Panus
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Re the chance of willow sprouting, could I cover it with clear plastic until end of August and solarize it? I wish I could redo the piles, but I had back surgery about 9 months ago because apparently I broke my back as a child and didn't realize it.

I keep telling myself I have an ugly mess in my yard, which the HOA will hate, but no one is dead and these trees were scary. They had 2 come down in unexpected ways and they are pros. I am sure there are places these trees are appropriate for, but they were scary in my yard.
 
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Location: zone 7
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after the willow is cooked you could throw liquified soil at it. or build weeping forms, hire a concrete truck or two full of soil slurry, and cast the wood pile in soil.
 
Anne Miller
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Christine Panus wrote:Do I just stuff every crevasse I can find with any brown or green matter I can access? Should I try to put in worm tubes?



Yes, having voids or crevasse will cause problems later on.  

I don't think worm tubes will work unless there is enough dirt for them to live in.  Later as the wood and other organic matter break down as compost then the worm tubes might work.
 
gardener
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Location: East Beaches area of Manitoba, Zone 3
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As far as restacking the piles go, anyone with a strong back and muscles could do that. You could advertise for a labourer in your local FB group and supervise the way you want them piled. It would give someone a few hours work and it's done. If you don't want it to be such an eyesore, you could make the piles less tall and shaped like raised beds. Then after you add your other layers (leaves, coffee, whatever), pay for a big pile of soil and hire the same guy to come and cover them with dirt.
 
William Bronson
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I just realized we might be missing the forest for the trees...
These logs could form the sides of raised beds, and the chips could fill those same raised beds.
This would still require hired labor, but a lot less in the way of purchased materials.

 
gardener
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You might get some good information out of the recent Podcast of samantha's consultation with paul.  they talk a lot about hugelkultur.  check it out:  https://permies.com/wiki/223861/Podcast-Samantha-Consultation
 
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