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William Roan

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since May 24, 2011
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Recent posts by William Roan

Hi Kevin
Being a big fan of permies.com, I’ve watched a lot of videos on Permaculture techniques.
In my own garden I tried to build a Hugelkulture bed without any wood logs. Instead I made cardboard box logs, (box inside a box inside another box, then stuffed with newspaper) and stacked them to form the bed. So if you are up to a little experimentation this is how I would try it.
Dig a 4x4x4 foot hole, because underground Hugelkulture seem to do better in the desert, stack the cardboard logs along the outside walls of your hole like you would build a brick wall. Then start dumping in your kitchen waste, shredded mail, newspapers, human waste, tumbleweeds, creosol weed and any other organic waste you can find. When you go into town, fill your truck with saw dust, grass clipping restaurant waste or anything else you can find. Shovel a thin layer of local dirt on top, after each delivery to kill the smell. Don’t make any special trips to town, but when you do make it worth the trip.
Now you’ve filled your hole with two key garden soil ingredients, carbon and nitrogen. Now you need water to break it all down. In the desert you need to direct your house hold waste water, sink and bath water to the hole. The cardboard will soak up the water and hold it as it breaks down the organic materials. It will take about a year for the carbon materials to totally breakdown. Worms and sowbugs will help.
If you build this site in partial shaded areas, (next to the house, out buildings or rock outcroppings) your plants will probably do better.
You could pipe your black waste water to the bottom of the pit and build nitrogen faster, but it would have to sit for a year before you started planting vegetables.
A pit toilet or outhouse could be built over one of these cardboard lined pits, but you will want to throw down some quick lime every once in a while to kill the smell.
Melons and tomatoes grew best the first year, after I built my cardboard Hugelkulture. But wood logs, seem to still work best, in my observations
Biology Bill
9 years ago
Hi john Muckleroy Jr
I’ve been trying to find someone with a mole or gopher problem. I would like to see if you would be interested in doing an anti-mole experiment?
Take a post hole digger and dig several holes 18-24 inches deep. Cut enough 2” or smaller branches, as long as your holes are deep. Then stuff as many sticks into the holes that will fit. Back fill with mulch and your dirt. Then plant in the middle of your vertical Hugelkulture and see if the wooden framework won’t keep the mole away from your roots.
Then report back to us, what happens. Good luck.
9 years ago
Hey Chris
You made me curious, so I dug 8 holes around the garden and I can’t find any cardboard logs. I may be looking in the wrong places, but they seem to have completely disappeared after a year and a half.
When I started I didn’t have access to dirt and what dirt there was, was scrapped off with an end loader. When the grounds people tried to get rid of the English ivy that had been growing in the garden plot, for the last 30-40 years. All I was given was a large rock, with a layer of gravel and clay.
So for my needs the cardboard and grass clippings have turned into black mulch. If I were to do it again, I would put grass clippings and kitchen waste between each layer of cardboard.
All organic material is going to break down over time. When it does, start all over, knowing that you are enriching the earth.

As a friend in Arkansas said, “When hard times come, people think all they have to do is stick a few seeds into the ground and they will be able to feed themselves. It doesn’t work that way, you have to improve the soil first.”
9 years ago
When I started my garden, I wanted to do Hugelkulture raised beds, but I didn’t have any logs to start with.
I went dumpster diving and collected a lot of cardboard boxes to make my own logs. I folded the lid too the largest box, into the box itself, then slid another box into the first and folded its lid inward.
I continued this until I had a pretty solid paper log. Then I filled any gaps with newspaper and used bathroom paper hand towels. I laid the cardboard logs into the configuration that would best work for my garden and covered everything with grass clippings.

I tried a variety of seed starts but Nasturtiums, comfrey, society garlic, melons, tomatoes and pumpkin type squashes grew the best that first year. Not great, but acceptable for the first year.
I now have access to some wood branches and I cut them into 6” long sections and stack them vertically in the boxes and cover them with kitchen waste and then grass clippings.
In either case the cardboard holds a lot of water, but the branch wood boxes actually push water back up through the mulch and into the plantings above.
While the cardboard box logs hold the water into the center of the structure and the plant roots have to grow farther down to get access to the water.
9 years ago
To kill English ivy in my garden, the grounds people used two sprayings of roundup, it started coming back with in weeks.

When I expanded the garden without permission I dumped a foot of grass clips and wood chips over the ivy, it started coming back at the same rate as the roundup plot. But grew mostly around the edges where the mulch is thinner. Then I over planted with nasturtiums.

In a third plot I asked the grounds people to weed whip the ivy and then I dumped another foot of just grass clippings and planted naturisms. The ivy is poking through at the edges.

In a final plot I got a pick and sholve and dug out the ivy. It’s a lot of work and the ivy will still come back.

With the mulched areas, I pull the little ivy leaf starts and throw them in the path way as a chop and drop.
Nasturtiums and pumpkin type squash will outgrow ivy and can be treated as a food crop, a cover crop or a flower display. They both will grow well in green mulch.

My experience with Jerusalem artichokes is like sunflowers. If you give either of them room and light to sprout, they will grow. But once they grow above ivy they should be fine, until the ivy starts growing up the stalks, then good luck to them.
Jerusalem artichokes don’t grow in green mulch; I’ve found the tubers rots along with the grass clippings.
9 years ago
Hi Judith
Did you read my anti deer stratagy posting under Eric's "Root excavation" entry?
Ever since I put in the boxed verticle hugelculture, they have been leaving their favorite
plants alone.
My pumpkins, crookneck, zucchini and Kabocha are all growing out in the open.
They have to walk through it to get to their favorite plants. They may nip a leaf or two to sample, but thats it.
They don't seem to touch the neem or olive trees either. I have strawberries growing under tomatoes.
They graze the tomatoes but haven't found the strawberries.
9 years ago
Bay area Open city garden, deer make their nightly raids and will sample everything except ginger, mint, nastursum and anything in the squash family.
9 years ago
Hi All
I’ve got my canvas all gessoed up and ready to paint some of my own ideas.
While looking for Eric’s posting of “Root Excavation”, I came across a few postings that I think are related to Eric’s research.
Improving soil
In the past it was suggested to open up clay soil, you could plant root crops like carrots, potatoes, turnips and Daikon. The idea being the plant root would grow down into the soil, the plant would die off and the root allowed to rot. This in turn would open up the soil, with plugs of organic mulch. I tried this system and the results started out promising, but the summer heat came and dried out the clay soil. The clay- cement soil forced the plants to bolt and go to seed and then die off without penetrating the soil to any degree.
So after the rains returned and the soil softened, I made wooden stakes and drove them into the soil to make these vertical plugs. This is a lot of work and would only be practical in well established beds, where you don’t want to do a lot of digging around tree, shrub or flower roots.
Critter control
In Eric’s video, it looks like Hugelkulture might have the benefit of driving gophers away. But Eric tells us it’s more likely the cats, poison and traps that did the trick. Also there is some question as to whether the plant’s roots actively seek out that sweet spot between the inner bark and the wood. Or if by a million to one chance that he planted over the cut branch end and the root made contact only when the root met the wood.
So my thought was, what if you took a post hole digger and dug an 18 inch deep hole, stuffed it with 1-2 inch diameter by 18 inch long branches, back filled with mulch and then planted on top. The smaller branches have more bark surface area then one large stump, filling the same space. If roots are in fact actively searching that sweet spot it would have more choices as to where it grows. But if roots are inactive then the gardener is increasing the likely hood of finding that same sweet spot with the inclusion of many smaller branches.
If the root missed the branch edge, it would still have the benefit of growing in mulch and the protection of the stick bundle.
By having a large bundle of wood surrounding the inner root growth, it would be harder for the gopher to reach the roots. Sort of like a stockade or a vertical timber fortification, surrounding a village.

So with that idea stewing away in my mind, I though why not make the whole garden using this vertical Hugelkulture technology. Using a band saw I cut 8inch long, 1-2 inch diameter branches and stacked them vertically in open topped cardboard boxes. The boxes were located in rolls around my established plantings and then green and brown mulch piled on.
The first benefit I realized was a decrease in vegetable night raids by the local Deer population. I imagine when they stepped on the vertical mulch covered sticks, that their foot slid through and it freaked them out. They still raid the unprotected areas and love my tomatoes plants.
I plan to make more of these boxes to stack around my newly planted fruit trees, but the boxed area will have to be larger then what a deer can lean out and nibble.
I don’t think a gopher is going to be able to dig through that much wood to get to my plant roots.

Todd Parr, I like the idea of opening up the bark on freshly cut green timber that is laid horizontally. I was thinking, take an adz and chop the bark off the top plan of the tree trunk. Thus giving your plant roots a long runway to hit and two directions to follow.
9 years ago
So I have my paint brush loaded up and I would like to explore another layer of Eric Markvo’s video.


Eric dug a trench and filled it with wood of various sizes and states of detreiation.
I would assume that he planted his seeds or plant starts and let the plants have at it. At some point in the season a gopher came in and dug a tunnel through the Hugelkulture. Then something happen that drove the gopher away from the Hugelkulture bed. I am basing this observation on the video footage showing the plant roots growing into the tunnel. If the tunnel was still an active tunnel, I would expect the roots to be eaten or broken off as the gopher passed through the tunnel, while making its daily rounds.

Question: What would cause the gopher to vacate its tunnel?

Perhaps Eric’s continued digging in the garden, fungal or bacterial growth in the buried wood, a moister underground environment, hard objects that the gopher doesn’t like to dig around. It’s possible the roots give off a smell or chemical, while growing in mycelium fungus that the gopher doesn’t like. In some areas the roots grew between the inner bark and the log, it might be the gopher couldn’t find the hidden roots. Maybe the gopher simply gave up on the Hugelkulture area because there was nothing growing in the area when the tunnel was dug and it relocated to a more promising location.
Has anyone else gardening in gopher prone areas, discovered a decrease in gopher populations since they established a new Hugelkulture?
Thanks BiologyBill
10 years ago
Hello Eric Markvo
Thank you all who helped me find your posting again.
Your study is amazing, shall we call it the “Markvo Vegetable root Excavation”?
You have presented three videos and I’m surprised that our fellow permiesers let it drop from view so quickly. I think you present some very intriguing information. In the art world what I would like to do is called, “Painting on someone else’s canvas”. So with your permission let me start painting.
Using the following video as a guide, I decided to put your findings to a test, to study the biomechanics of your experiment.
Creating a carbon sinks
I took three 3500ml glass beakers and three one gallon plastic pots, cut the bottoms off the pots.
For the first study I used an 18 inch, freshly cut cedar log with the bark still placed. The plastic pot slid over the top portion of the log and filled half the pot with the wood log. The setup was placed into the glass beaker, with the plastic pot located at the top of the beaker. There was a one inch air space around the inside of the beaker and the log.
The second study I used a bundle of dead dried cedar branches some with bark on and from the same tree. Again cut 18 inches long and about inch dia. I packed as many sticks into the bottom of the plastic container as I could. Two rubber bands bound the bundle at the bottom so the shape conformed to the same shape as the first setup.
Third carbon sink I used a bundle of rolled up newspaper, rolled hand tight and forced into the bottom of the pot.
Each study was placed in their own beaker and topped with enough potting mix to be level with the top of the plastic pot. I started watering daily with 100ml of water for about two weeks. At first most of the water run through, to the bottom of the beakers. By the next morning the bottom of the newspaper beaker was completely dry and the soil in the pot was also dry. The branch beaker was damp at the bottom, but with little standing water. Using the most expensive and sensitive devise at my disposal, the finger probe. I found the soil located just above each branch end was extremely wet, like water plugs, but the soil between was dryer then the plugs.
The solid log had a one inch high water plug located above the log end, about the same diameter as the log and there was a small amount of water pooled at the bottom of the beaker.
Third week I increased the amount of water delivered to each pot study, up to 200ml. less water seemed to pour through to the bottom of each beaker, but what did was soaked up completely by the newspaper study within 12 hours, again soil is dry at top.
The branch study, the barkless pieces look like wet columns from top to bottom, with about a ½ inch of water pooled at the bottom of the beaker. Again there are the water plugs found just above the ends of each branch.
The solid log has the most water pooled at the bottom, about an inch, since I doubled the water amounts delivered this week. The outer bark at the bottom 3 inches is saturated with water and doesn’t seem to be able to draw up any more water. The bark is holding tight to the wood log.
As fate would have it, a plastic pipe on the new autoclave located above my office broke over the weekend and flooded a small part of my office, the lab next door and all the rooms located below. Industrial sized dehumidifiers were brought in to dry out the rooms. The study is located 10 feet away from a dehumidifier, running 12 hours over night. The two wood carbon sinks are holding its water, but the newspaper sink is still dry at the bottom, on the sides and the soil itself.
Following Eric Markov’s example I took the newspaper study apart, to see what was happening. The inner core of the newspaper roll is a solid column of water, with the outer ½ inch completely dry. There is no water plug located above, extending into the soil.
Observation and predictions
It’s too early to draw a conclusion from the “Markvo excavations” and my small study. But we can make an observation, Eric found plants grown above a solid vertical log with no bark, will produce a matt of roots at the top, with in the water plug. The roots will grow down the sides of the log and grow another matt below.
There is very little root penetration into the wood itself.
The pooling water at the bottom gets the soil extremely wet and slimy.
Plants grown above branches with the bark still on performs best when the wood is situated vertically. The root in one study seemed to have found the niche between the bark and the inner log.
Question: Did the root actively search out that sweet spot on the log or did the seed just so happen to be planted above the exact spot where that branch end was buried? Is there a chemical or fungus that is growing between the log layers that is attracting the root?
Paul claims in his pod casts that a Hugelkulture doesn’t start performing well, until the third year. Does it take buried horizontal logs with the bark on, two years for the bark to breakdown and open up, so the roots can find that sweet spot?
Would a newspaper roll buried vertically attract a plant’s roots or does it lack a chemical or fugal stimulant?
Thank you again Eric for your intriguing experiment.
Your thoughts Biology Bill Roan

10 years ago