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A Hugel-ish Journey

 
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Location: Piedmont 7a
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This may end up as a longish thread, as it will span several years (and may take that long again for me to locate and organize photos), so stay tuned for more and better pictures.

But first, the backstory.  Bought the property in October 2014 - hard to believe it is coming up on 5 years now - and I call it my stump farm. It is a large piece of land with an amazing amount of diversity in soil, flora, fauna, micro-climates, springs, a large creek.  In short, my slice of heaven.  But it was clear-cut 4 years before I bought it, and while I curse those who would do such a thing, felling grandfather oaks for a quick buck, in truth it is the only reason I could afford to buy such a piece of land, and it is also responsible for the fantastic regeneration and explosion of diverse plants, flowers, insects, butterflies, birds, etc...  Thanks to the creek and the springs, the loggers had to preserve a good bit of the older growth as buffer, which I enjoy every day on my walks through the woods.  For those looking to buy land, clearcut property is land at its ugliest, but it is also land at its cheapest, and if you buy some, it will amaze you with how quickly it regenerates, but thats a topic for another thread another day.  One downside worth noting is that if you do buy clearcut land, you own land that is full of (a) stumps and (b) tons of slash (branches and logs).

When I first bought the land, I was only  there on weekends, and I was just itching to get some apple trees in the ground.  Because as we all know, the best time to plant an apple tree is five years ago.  The second best time to plant one is today.  So I found some southern heritage apple trees for sale online, and as I wandered the interweb trying to figure out how to keep them alive without being able to water them on a regular basis, I stumbled across...PERMIES!  Yes, that was my introduction to permaculture, and more specifically, hugelculture.  Now, I am sure I made and am making numerous errors in planning, design and execution along the way, but if someone learns from my mistakes, so much the better.  What I will try to do here is document my hugel journey over the last five years.  So often we see early stages, but never see how things turned out down the line.  This will sorta be the thread that provides a longer term look at hugels in action.  I say sorta, because my weekend farming efforts left plenty to be desired. Things so quickly get away from me and out of hand, and as anyone who has done it or is doing it knows, there are so many fun things to do that taking pictures and writing about it quickly falls to the bottom of the priority list.  

My thought process was (a) I want to plant some apple trees; (b) I have no running water or electricity; (c) I have gobs of stumps in the ground and slash covering it and (d) I really want to keep my apple trees from drying out and dying when I am away.  And so the lightbulb went on, and the problem became the solution.  What if I build some hugels (and please note that I am using that term loosely) sorta on contour using the existing stumps and slash, and let the hugels sponge up moisture when it rains, and slowly nourish my baby apple whips.    

So that's what I attempted  - 6 apple trees went into the ground as skinny whips, were nourished by the hugels, and all are still alive today.  I was also able to grow veggies on the hugels as bonus, and have had decent success again with no watering required.  More pictures to follow.
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Artie Scott
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Apple whips going into the red earth.  I sued a bit of bone meal, lime and some organic fertilizer to give them a bit of an edge.  As you may be able to see, the soil is quite rocky.
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Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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Looks great Artie! Excited to see how it turned out!
 
Artie Scott
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Once the whips were in the ground, I was worried that they might get away, so I carefully caged them.  And it worked!  Not a single one escaped.  Oh, and the deer didn't munch them either.

The following Spring, I began the constructions of the hugel-ish piles, using the downed wood on the ground, and using the stumps to anchor them, as it was on a slope.  My thought was that having them sorta on contour would catch runoff, and soak into the hugels, thus providing a water source for the whips during the hot summer while I was away during the week.  While I can't prove that the hugels made the difference, I can say that they all survived that first Summer without being watered at all.  Likewise, once I planted out the hugels with veg, I didn't have to water them either, so I would call it a success on both counts.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Bear in mind that I really knew very little about hugels (not that I know much more now), and had just started reading about them, but was desperate to find a way to keep my precious apple whips alive while away.  
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Artie Scott
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I continued the build of my hugels in the Fall of 2015.  Using the stumps for anchors and the plentiful downed and rotting logs and tree limbs for building material, the hugels slowly took shape.

Once the logs and limbs were arranged, I covered with dirt.  It is surprisingly difficult to source a large quantity of dirt to cover a sizeable hugel!  No big piles of fluffy loose dirt laying around in the forest for some reason.  I did have a tractor to use, so that helped, but even then, it is a case of having to decide where you are willing to strip away the topsoil on your land, and even once you make that difficult decision, you have to work around the downed logs, stumps, rocks, etc…  So think about where you will get your dirt to cover your hugel – you will need a lot more than you might imagine.  

With the hugels taking shape, I turned my attention to mulch.  Fortunately, I have a hayfield with no spray hay, so I had easy access to plenty of old moldy hay.  I think I knew this as I was doing it, but with hay comes…hay seeds.  And with hay seeds comes…grass!  But, I preferred to know what was going in my hugels, and didn’t think I could find organic straw anywhere nearby, so accepted the tradeoff and the extra work of trying to keep grass from overtaking the hugels.  

All tucked in, the hugels took a well-deserved long winter’s nap, dreaming of Spring to come.
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Moldy hay
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Ready for winter nap
 
Steve Thorn
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Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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Any updates on this Artie?
 
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