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making a quick 7 foot tall hugelkultur

 
master steward
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This is a quick drawing, but will visually represent what I have told people about fifty times.

Start with plain ground ....
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paul wheaton
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add logs
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paul wheaton
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add soil
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paul wheaton
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add more logs
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paul wheaton
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add more soil
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paul wheaton
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add more logs
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paul wheaton
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add more soil
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paul wheaton
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keep doing that until done
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paul wheaton
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The moral of the story is that the bottom half of your hugelkultur is probably double the mass of the upper half.  And the upper half is pretty full of wood, so your shovel work is probably cut by 65%.  

Of course, if you cut the shovel work, then you don't go as deep to make the paths between the hugels, but ....   Maybe it is fair to say that if you did all this with a shovel, the shovel work might be 80% less than you might think.

 
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I've only made small ones on contour before.  I'll try this and see how long it takes me to make one.
 
paul wheaton
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On contour....   in my area, on contour would create frost pockets.
 
Trace Oswald
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My food forest area is a few acres on top of a hill.
 
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I'm going to try this soon using this big pile of branches that I've been collecting for a while. This will be my first hugelkultur, and I was reading in the other thread that poplars work really good, and its about 80% poplar. It started at about 8 feet tall and has dropped down now to about 5 feet tall. It's been sitting there for over a year, and I'm guessing the ones on the bottom are the softest and most rotten. Is it best to put those towards the top of the hugelkultur since they are the most broken down with the least broken down at the bottom?
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My big pile of rotting wood. :)
 
Trace Oswald
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Steve Thorn wrote:I'm going to try this soon using this big pile of branches that I've been collecting for a while. This will be my first hugelkultur, and I was reading in the other thread that poplars work really good, and its about 80% poplar. It started at about 8 feet tall and has dropped down now to about 5 feet tall. It's been sitting there for over a year, and I'm guessing the ones on the bottom are the softest and most rotten. Is it best to put those towards the top of the hugelkultur since they are the most broken down with the least broken down at the bottom?



That sounds like a lot of extra work to me. I would just bury it.  Poplar breaks down quickly when it's in contact with soil.
 
Steve Thorn
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Good point Trace. It wasn't in the perfect spot, but now that I'm thinking about all the work it will take to move it, I'll probably keep it there.
 
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I have a dumb question.

The last time I built a hugelbeet, I dug the trench first and the bottom layer was layered logs, subsoil, hot-composted organics needing a finish, and composted manures. I essentially built a lasagna layer atop this using finished compost, topsoil, subsoil, and composted manure, and planted into it as a garden bed.

The dimensions were something like 7' from the bottom of the hole to the top of the bed, 18' long and 5' wide.

Now I had no problems, and I will soon be excavating it (we're renovating, and the machines need access), allowing me to check out the decomposition.

My question is this: what is the reason for having the wood at ground-level, and not at the bottom of the trench?

-CK
 
paul wheaton
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There are lots of reasons.  At the top of the list is the many benefits of adding texture to the landscape.

Here is a much bigger question:   what is the reason for having the wood at the bottom of the trench, and not at ground-level?

 
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Chris Kott wrote:
My question is this: what is the reason for having the wood at ground-level, and not at the bottom of the trench?



My answer would be that it is a lot more work to dig a trench in order to fill it with wood than to dig a trench in order to cover layers of wood.  If you dig the trench first you have to move the soil twice; if you don't dig the trench first you only have to move the soil once.
 
Chris Kott
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Yeah, I remember moving that soil twice.

My reasoning for having the wood core go further down was twofold: to extend the hugelbeet's area of influence well into the subsoil, and to keep the processes of wood decomposition and composting away from the root zones of my garden bed.

I'll freely admit that I cheated with the bed structure,  using pallets two feet by three-and-a-half feet wired together as a retaining wall surrounding it, making for vertical sides, so erosion wasn't an issue.

I was also thinking that burying some wood deeper would allow for slower decomposition in the bottom, so the wood retains its water-retaining characteristics.

I could see doing it the labour-saving way next time.

-CK
 
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I would look at your evaporation-precipitation ratio to answer the ground level vs trench question. Another way to look at it is whether or not consistent drainage or soil moisture is more lacking in your system. Hugelkulture will both aid drainage and moisture retention either way. Building it up from ground level will help drain your beds better while digging it down into a trench will add to moisture collection and retention. Where I am with heavy winter rainfall (100+” some years) but almost no summer rain, I still go up without trenching first. Instead I trench under the adjacent path to get soil and aid drainage further, then refill it with woody debris and top it with woodchips.

In the photo attached I had a French drain pipe run through the trench that carries my duck pond/chicken run runoff through between the hugel beds. This makes even my paths productive, soil building and root supporting elements, but in hindsight I would forgo the pipe.

I would move the pile if you have good sun/access/logistical reasons. I’d also deposit my wood piles where you want future hugel beds, but not go deeper than the first layer before adding soil so you don’t get big dry air pockets like I have found when piling the wood layers too deep.

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Tyler Ludens
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Ben Zumeta wrote: I trench under the adjacent path to get soil and aid drainage further, then refill it with woody debris and top it with woodchips.



I like this because it combines buried wood beds with hugelkultur.
 
Chris Kott
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Yeah, I did a similar thing, taking topsoil and some subsoil from my paths and backfilling with woodchips. The worms really love it, so I took to topping the path with spent coffee grounds.

I found that I had to top the paths seasonally with woodchips, as well as digging them out every two or three seasons,  as it would be converted by that point to really great soil and would no longer serve as a path.

-CK
 
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I am in the process of building a bed this way, but my holes are a couple feet away to provide a walkway. I plan on digging ditches to fill at least the hole down hill of the hugel with water to soak in. My bed is a scoop shape facing south. I will eventually make a new thread for this bed.

I have a couple questions:

1) What ground cover should I plant in the holes? Or should I just mulch them?

2) What would be good to plant as I complete the bed in a week or so (early August) to prep the bed for next year? And perhaps get a late crop? I was thinking a bunch of beans and sunflowers.

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Current progress
 
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Hi Justin,

I'm no pro but I find, at least in my area, you can't go wrong with a hugel.  They are pretty forgiving.   You asked what ground cover you should use.  There are those who will suggest soil samples to find out what your soil needs use that information to amend the soil or to pick the necessary cover crop.  

Pretty much everything grows wherever I plant it so I just overseed the tops of my mounds with clover and put down fresh chips every year.   I purchase clover or a deer mix because it's cheap.  I overseed and when the plants get about a

foot tall cut them to the ground and leave the roots in place.  I like the idea of experimenting with cover crops. You will probably get some good suggestions on cover crop mixes and preferences but all I know is the deer mix and clover.

There are so many ways to skin this cat.

Check out this link and click on each type of cover crop.  It information will give you a point of reference for doing research.  Rye, Vetch, Clover and etc.  High Mowing Organic Seeds

For the drainage side I would fill it with whatever type of biomass is convenient and as mentioned cover it with wood chips.  At least something easy to stand on if you plan on standing in that location.  If you don't have much biomass yet just throw whatever cover crop you get for the top and keep it under control.

That mound is almost a keyhole :)  
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Pic of a keyhole from a couple of years ago.
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I went a little overboard with red clover. :)
 
Justin Gerardot
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Here is an update on my new hugel. I planted a bag of 15 bean soup on the front and some bird seed in the back. I decided the path was too narrow and the holes were deep enough to be dangerous, so I filled them in with hay. I then flipped the sod from the edges onto the hay to make a wider and shallower pit. I will add leaves to the top
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Oh to have access to logs to do ANY of that!
 
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Priscilla Stilwell wrote:Oh to have access to logs to do ANY of that!



Try calling around different tree pruning companies in your area?
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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K Eilander wrote:

Priscilla Stilwell wrote:Oh to have access to logs to do ANY of that!



Try calling around different tree pruning companies in your area?



No such thing in Haiti.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:On contour....   in my area, on contour would create frost pockets.



This brought up a wonder for me... What are the possible benefits/uses of frost pockets? Off the top of my head I can think of... Sweeter hardy greens?

I imagine there are more. There are probably things like frost dependant fungi. Maybe even a place to somehow gain benefit from seeds that like frost before sprouting.

Mainly I'm wondering, how can we benefit from frost pockets? They seem inevitable in any mound system
 
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One benefit is a cool place to hang out in the summer.  Another is possibly a spot to plant a tree where you want to delay its blooming by chilling the ground around it.
 
paul wheaton
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Here is ashley demonstrating this technique

 
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Hugel question.

In my location we are on chalk, with a thin (6” to 18”) layer of top soil. The soil profile on chalk is distinctive, because of how the chalk chemically weather, and mixing the chalk from deeper with the soil is generally to be avoided because the plants don’t do well. I have been building soil upward by using thick mulches, and it is going very very well.

I can’t see how I could build a large hugel - if I’m avoiding disturbing the chalk then to get the soil needed I’d have to denude a large area around the mound, which seems counter productive.

A compromise might be digging to the chalk layer, and burying wood at that depth, replacing soil above. The elevation would be less, and benefits likely less significant, but I’m wary of the quantity of good soil needed otherwise.
 
paul wheaton
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Where I live at this moment is what we call "basecamp" - a 20 acre rock that is part of the rocky mountains.   The rock was chiseled away in one spot to put a house.  There was a narrow shelf in front the house that one could try to call a "yard" except that the sparse grasses and weeds were seriously pathetic because there was nearly zero soil sprinkled on the rock.  

We made hugelkultur 11 feet tall and really narrow by importing dirt.

https://permies.com/t/giant-hugelkultur

The moral of this story is that every situation is different.   So if you see a recipe for digging into the subsoil, but that doesn't work for you, then don't use that recipe.
 
Michael Cox
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Just read that thread. 40ft of soil at basecamp. Mindblown!
 
paul wheaton
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Michael Cox wrote:Just read that thread. 40ft of soil at basecamp. Mindblown!



At the lab ...

 
Check your pockets for water buffalo. You might need to use this tiny ad until you locate a water buffalo:
2021 RMH Jamboree planning thread!
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