This tuesday we are set to rent a backhoe for a week and do as many hugelkultur beds as we can. We're also going to dig some swales and a couple of ponds but the main reason we're renting the machine is for the hugel. I'm wondering if any of you have done large scale hugelkultur and if so, could offer some advice/lessons learned, since you now have hindsight.
I've made a few hugelbeets before but nothing to this scale. I have the help of a fellow who has made a few hugelkultur beds with a tractor and bobcat before so we're not total novices but I've never taken on such a large project. Space is not a hinderance as we're on 100 acres of land with at least 20 to play with. The problems will be time and efficiency.
We are planning to mostly do 50' X4' beds running north-south, with 3 foot parallel paths, and 10 foot wide east-west paths. The height of the beds will be about 3-4 (maybe even 5) feet high. The 10 feet is so that we can drive a tractor or truck through if need be. It may seem like overkill but its a lot easier to make the beds longer than shorter, after the fact. This will be done inside a 200 foot wide suntrap. Do these dimensions seem sound? Or should our beds be wider to accomodate the approximate 4 foot height?
At the north end of the suntrap we'll get a bit more fancy with the bed shape if we get that far but we'll probably only get the rectangular grid sections of the suntrap done.
We have laid out logs in hte area for the first bed, with plans to dig a trench for the bed next to it, and use the trench soil to bury the first bed already prepped with wood. We'll keebacking up this way, putting the soil from each trench, on top of the previous section of trench. We will cut more wood and have as much manure and organic matter piled in the area ahead of time. Right now we have cut enough wood for about three to five 50 foot beds.
sonds like you are well on your way...we have buried a lot with a tractor too, makes it a lot easier..and we are renting a backhoe over labor day weekend to deepen some ponds and move some dirt around as well..so we'll be busy here too..wish you luck with your projects
Bloom where you are planted.
The beds should be as steep as possible: less compaction, it's also easy to reach the top of the bed without stepping on the bottom...
70 degres is maybe about the ideal, or ''when the soil is almost falling!''
The top of the bed should not be too flat because water can accumulate and compact the bed.
It's possible to walk on top of the bed where a 1-2 foot path is naturally created I guess just by walking, Don't walk on the sides as you will just push down the soil.
Maybe we can just create a path at the beginning of the beds and at the end to get on top, we can more easily broadcast seed all over the bed and also harvest the fruits (if there is trees planted on top.)
There is no problem in using alive trees, taking out of the forest 1 part on 40 is what we should do to keep an healthy forest.
Not tu put manure/compost with the wood in the trench but on top of the bed, maybe under a mulch.
It's possible to build a big bed at the edge of the garden as a windbreak (and plant something big on top), so we can consider others factors like the shape of the field, or just a special design (circle, spiral...) for the hugelbeds.
The beds are ideally as highs as the farmer.
How long they last depends of what materials they are made of: Big materials provide a regular source of nutrients and heat for a longer period, 10 years or more depending of what wood, what size the beds are etc.... Small materials should be only one forth of the soil of the bed, otherwise it might just give too much nutrients too fast. It's a good thing to use heavy feeders during the first years on those kind of bed.
It's a good idea to think with what equipment we want to eventually remake the beds so we can make the pathways wide enough for that purpose.
Trees/shrubs can be planted in the middle of the pathways. To get more sun we lower the density of the planting, and increase this density in the opposite case, planting the fruit trees on top of the beds would help to make even more shade. I think it's good to plant shrubs only on the pathway, not on the beds. (except if the beds are 1 or 2 meters high only) A good idea could also be to plant shrubs at the beginning\end of every beds.
Pigs/duck/chickens might be the good animals to let in the beds during a limited time depending of the size of the garden/number of animals. Pigs can be directed with food, maybe letting them once or twice a year. Broadcast seeding after the pig worked the soil is the best.
Another idea is to let enough room between every bed to sit a manure pile, (and ideally adding biodynamic preps) then spread the compost over the sides. By growing the most diverse things all together and by creating an almost permanent no till\no irrigation beds we give nature the best chance to improve the quality and the structure of the soil, but adding some compost once in a while can't do any harm.
The sod can be put upside down on top of the wood. The humus should be collected and spreaded over the top so at list the last layer of soil is kept at its supposed place.
The trench digegd up can be as deep as possible (1-1.5m). The width of the beds is about 2-3m wide for a bed higher than 6 feet. While piling the logs keep in mind the goal is to make the sides as steep as possible and no flat top, this is what will greatly influence their definitive form.
It's good to have a rough soil before broadcast seeding as the seeds will fall in the holes and be protected from the drought while sprouting.
There must be no stones on the sides of the beds because they might pull down this soil that we want to keep step. But on the pathways or also some huge ones at the edges of every beds would look nice and provide habitat for worms, accumulate heat.
It's a good idea to broadcast seed right after the beds are created to prevent erosion.
We postponed the backhoe rental as we realized that we had to cut and pull a lot more wood than we first thought. We also have had to work around our weekly CSA and market harvest. We're almost finished and will hopefully get started on the hugelkultur by sunday.
Tel; I was thinking about a swale but the hugelkultur spot on is fairly flat land so I'm not sure it'd be worth the time.
Brenda; thanks for the good will, and same to you.