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Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur article thread  RSS feed

 
Posts: 1
Location: Lakeland, FL
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I just built my first hugelkultur bed on our property in North Carolina. I used 2 8 foot logs for the base, and then added smaller logs, limbs, and sticks. I built it as an experiment, as we will be moving there and building in 5-6 years. Since the soil there is very clay rich, it sounds as though hugelkultur would be excellent in helping to fulfill my homesteading dreams. If I can figure out how to upload pictures, I'll show its progress.
 
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entrailer Hatfield wrote:Paul and THC,

Thanks for your replies.

Yep, you are right it def does depend.
But what I am looking for is tolerances, minimums.
I am temperate UK, northern.
Be good to get your input generally before I tell you my intentions. Because I don't want to look at this as an individual case, rather one end of the scale; when planting trees/perens on to unrotted biomass.

As for your pics online. I've viewed these many times. However what would be great is if you have any pics of this bed in production over the years since it was done that would be great also.

Thanks again,
Niels



I just built a few hugel dugels in my yard in coastal northern California. I used mostly old lumber that had serious rot issues as well as some old rotty logs. I covered in with an inch to inch and a half of wood chips and then about the same of the thick clay soil we have. Then I dusted it all with some nice potting soil, less than an inch for sure. So far everything is growing decently, I have some huge squash that I transplanted and some sunflowers that are doing well. Greens are growing strong. Beets are struggling and one of the mounds didn't really take well at all and is being taken over by grass. But the point in this context is, the minimum can be pretty small, I have less than 2 inches of anything you could call soil ontop of straight up wood piles and things are growing great out of it.
 
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Hello, I just built my first 2 hugelbeets, each in the shape of a semi-circle, about 3' high and 8-10' around. I'd like to say they're going well since I was super excited to build them, but I'm having a horrible gopher problem (and rabbits, but I think I can get a handle on them). I did not build a trench, but built the hugels on top of the ground and put 1/2" hardware cloth down before piling on the wood. The gophers are climbing right up the side of the beds and making tunnels all over the place. I really do not want to go back and build raised beds, but I also want some vegetables after all my hard work! Was wondering if putting a rock edging may deter them?  Thoughts/ideas??

2nd question: How can you tell how often to water the beds? I know this depends greatly on location (I'm in Northern CA), but I'm not sure how to gauge it since the soil doesn't ever seem particularly dry or wet. I have not had a veggie garden in over 10 years but I recall I watered about 3x/week with regular raised beds.

Apologize if these questions seem silly...have missed gardening greatly and, while I enjoy experimenting, I also want to have a fairly productive adventure! I have 4 more hugels that are ready for the compost/soil addition but waiting to see the yield on the first two before putting in all that work.
 
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Location: Port Townsend, Washington
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Yay for huglekulturs!  Here is a video of our recent planting.

 
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Hi! Newbie to permies.com...found you all after reading an article on Munchies about a man using hugelkultur to grow tropical fruit bearing trees in the Rocky Mountains.

I live in a semi-arid desert area of British Columbia, Canada, and I'm VERY interested in using hugelkultur to improve the soil quality in my backyard. My husband and I just moved into a beautiful 105 year old home in July and I took the summer to make a plan for beds and planting since I want to make the best use of the space. The good news, the yard is completely flat (unusual for my area) and has been untended for at least the last 5-8 years (from what we've heard from our neighbours; I should mention its in a somewhat urban area of town. The sorta-bad news (based on my newbie reading of this thread) there is no sod really to speak of as the land has been taken over by whatever weeds could survive the blistering heat of summer without any irrigation.

My question is....can I use the invasive trees and weeds that we clear from the yard to start a raised bed? I couldn't tell you what species the tree is, but it has leaves sort of resembling a Chinese Elm. I've messaged another group in my town with a picture of the tree in the hopes that someone can help me identify it.

Thanks so much for your help!
 
pollinator
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You can use pretty much anything but redwood or cedar (highly tannic and well preserved). I would make sure those invasives or weeds are truly dead, as I have apples and plums sprouting from my beds regularly after using prunings, though this is not really a problem. For weeds I'd just make a weed tea with them to ensure they are dead and then use them in the bed.
 
Megan Schultz
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Great! Thanks Ben.

I have confirmation on my Elm suspicion, and narrowed down to Siberian elm. I guess my only concern now would be the seeds infiltrating the raised beds....


Ben Zumeta wrote:You can use pretty much anything but redwood or cedar (highly tannic and well preserved). I would make sure those invasives or weeds are truly dead, as I have apples and plums sprouting from my beds regularly after using prunings. For weeds I'd just make a weed tea with them to ensure they are dead and then use them in the bed.

 
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Location: Hot, humid, sometimes hurricane drenched west central Florida
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I've got a 4x12' raised bed that I'd like to convert into a hugelkultur bed. It's already full of awesome soil but I'm all for more awesomeness. Can I just dig down and lay in some Live Oak logs that are halfway rotted already? They're just in the useless log pile now. I don't have much use for firewood here.
 
pollinator
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Yes Leslie, I live in the Sandhills area of South Carolina. I bury wood and compost all of the time.  Many areas here are pure sand and I find burying organic matter the best way to build a good soil.  If you want to help it along even further add some worms to the hole or trench. 
 
Leslie Russell
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Jeanine Gurley Jacildone wrote:Yes Leslie, I live in the Sandhills area of South Carolina. I bury wood and compost all of the time.  Many areas here are pure sand and I find burying organic matter the best way to build a good soil.  If you want to help it along even further add some worms to the hole or trench. 


Thank you so much, Jeanine! Your gardens are beautiful. Years ago I had much the same thing. Trying to make this as visually appealing is a challenge. I appreciate your advice and will take your suggestions. We have very few worms here, at least I haven't found any during the digging several holes into the "soil" of 5 acres. I've imported them and they wander off 😒 but I'll do it again. The raised bed I'll be working on has great soil so I'm ahead of the game there. Thank you for your encouragement!
 
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paul wheaton wrote: I like to plot out the bed, lay on the wood, and then dig down about a foot and pile that on top of the bed.  So you end up with a foot of soil on top of the wood.   If you had a lot of wood, the first year  that bed will be okay.  The second year will be better.  The third year will be excellent.



I do the same.  I set that top soil off to the side of my trench on contour.  I pile in the wood and branches and then I let that pile sit.  It becomes my compost pile for weeds and kitchen scraps.  When I feel like closing out that berm I cover it with the top soil; just like frosting a cake!

I plant my trees and shrubs on it right away.  Then I aply layer of mulch or decomposed straw.
 
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I must say I feel sorta "lucky" here with lotsa dead rotting birch around me. Maybe a sign of the times or maybe a natural cycle -- whichever rotting birch is great for holding water and decidely fits into the garden (by it's deciduousness). I've only made two, thus far. Planned to do more, but after reading this I wanna revamp all but our whole farm this way. Read Holzer but this time it clicked, sunk in....  Much Thanks to & for Paul, OgreNick
 
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Location: Zone 3-4 Top of Lake Superior
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I'm not sure if this has been covered...
1) Does it matter which direction the HK beds are in relation to the sun, or can I just use them as berms along the edges of my property in whichever way that happens to be? I have a lot of overhead sun all summer, and only partial shade on one side.
2) I have red birch coming up through everywhere. Can I smother this with the HK beds, or do I have to somehow find the 60' of rhisome roots coming from the bush next to me and pull it out? Or do I live with red birch saplings growing into and through everything?
3) The forest edge of my property has a short 4' eroded "cliff" into the bush. I'd like to stop this erosion and include this border area into my design. Are HK beds a good choice here, or should I use some other system for containing and strengthening these edges? I am free to meander into the forest here, and any improvements will be welcome, if they are noticed at all. So I can terraform a ways past this eroded edge if necessary.
4) I will likely only be able to build HK beds and start the layout of my land this year, and likely not get to much planting (it's late to start this now anyway). Should I just put all the logs in place and wait until next year to cover them?

Thanks all!
 
James Hoffa
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Imogen Skye wrote:I'm not sure if this has been covered...
1) Does it matter which direction the HK beds are in relation to the sun, or can I just use them as berms along the edges of my property in whichever way that happens to be? I have a lot of overhead sun all summer, and only partial shade on one side.


My opinion sun orientation is not as important as orientation to the grade.  There is always going to be a shady side to the mound, so you plant for the differences. 

Aligning the mounds with the property boundary does not seem too good.  Rarely do property lines favor the topography of the land.  Let the land inform your placement.  Do not let the ill-informed choice of someone from a long time ago, in some office, constrain your best choices.
 
pollinator
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1. You can lay them out in any direction, and some sides will be more shaded than others so plant accordingly. If you plant on or near the bottom of a slope, be aware that cold air drops and the beds can catch/slow that cold air and change the chance of frost too.

2. Does red birch send up suckers from any strong roots, or just from the stump? Or can you cut it at ground level and that's enough to kill it? If new suckers are from just the stool, then you can cut that below ground level a little and then pile the heavy logs on top and bury it, and the new shoots might be killed by that?

3. You could create terraced beds on contour to capture and hold the water longer, and make the bed as simple as a small log that catches soil and turns into a terrace over a season or two, or build it up immediately if you have the time and materials. Hugel beds will certainly use that water but I think you need to slow the water down some. If it's a true 4' cliff drop then I would look at plantings which develop a strong root system which can hold the soil together at the top as well.

4. I would bury the logs now so they can start to break down a bit. Depending on the age of the logs, it can take a year or two for HK beds to break down enough for plants to thrive. If you can add manure in with the soil that's in the middle, that can help speed it up. You could toss out some ground cover seeds to get the soil covered, to prevent rain from washing it away.
 
Imogen Skye
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Thank you James and Mark! I'll start the log piling and see if I can't also pile logs at the eroded edge. It faces northwest and its a bit cool and very shaded there. I'm not sure about the red birch. I've never seen it grow like this; it grows like the willow in the far north- long whips from a base. I've just moved to a new environment and climate and I have no experience with any of it! I'll ask my neighbour; he took me on an impromptu guided tree-tour. I love including humans in the design as well.... Also I like to invite and encourage the native humans rather than leave a vacuum until the invasive kind shows up unimpeded, hahaha.
 
steward
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Over the last five years this seems to be the thing that I am having the hardest time describing to people. 

Please build your hugelkultur beds in layers.  Some wood, then some soil, then some wood, then some soil, etc. 

Please do no make a pile of wood and then heap dirt on top of that.


hugelkulture-layers.png
[Thumbnail for hugelkulture-layers.png]
 
paul wheaton
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attempting to answer "1":   the responses are good.   I think that there are a lot of times where you don't get a choice on where to put your hugelkultur - so you make the best of it.  And when you do have a choice here are the elements to consider:

H400:   make wiggly shapes so that no matter what direction the wind comes, the wind will struggle to get between your beds.

H401:   make your wiggly shapes kinda go downhill so that you don't have frost pockets.  If you have many acres, then go ahead and make a frost pocket or two.  This will end up being a swale of sorts and will be quite cool year round.

H402:  with respect to the sun - make a sun scoop shape once in a while.   Of course, keep in mind that a sun scoop on a north facing slope is a frost pocket.



 
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A different way to see the long term power of hugelkulture.  The affects can carry hundreds of years.

Henge showing in modern field

 
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Location: Oregon, United States
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C. Letellier wrote:A different way to see the long term power of hugelkulture.  The affects can carry hundreds of years.

Henge showing in modern field



Yeah, this is AMAZING and seems almost unbelievable to me.  I am still not sure I even do believe it, because this is like 4,500 years old... and these old buried wooden posts are still having an effect on the soil like this?!!  Wow.  Here's the article I saw:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/drought-reveals-giant-4500-year-old-irish-henge-180969650/

Wow... mind blown. 
 
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Here's the quote that stands out hugulkultur wise from the article that Bonnie linked to.

The henges are actually a series of concentric circles created by placing large posts in the ground. When the henge fell out of disuse or was burned down, the underground portions of the posts rotted away, changing the composition of the soil in the posthole, causing it to retain more moisture. During a drought, while the surrounding crops yellow, the plants over the post holes have a slight advantage.

 

 
Bonnie Gee
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:Here's the quote that stands out hugulkultur wise from the article that Bonnie linked to.

The henges are actually a series of concentric circles created by placing large posts in the ground. When the henge fell out of disuse or was burned down, the underground portions of the posts rotted away, changing the composition of the soil in the posthole, causing it to retain more moisture. During a drought, while the surrounding crops yellow, the plants over the post holes have a slight advantage.

 



Exactly!  Thank you for zooming in on that.  Like, what were the dimensions of these posts and how deep they were buried, that the effect lasted 4,500 years?
 
Bonnie Gee
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Roberto pokachinni
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The people that made these structures knew what they were doing.  So my guess is that they were made of the longest lasting wood that they had available that was of the right dimension.  Probably Oak, and probably very large, but that's just my guess; based, by the way, on not much but a hunch. There may have been better long lasting wood available in ancient Ireland that I don't know of.

I'd imagine that they had them pretty deep, so that they would stay standing up for a really long time.  They may have even burned the bottoms (or the whole area of it that would be in contact with the soil) to stop rot for as long as possible.

Because there are so many sites that have been discovered near this location (The River Boyne), and so many that have not yet been excavated, it is unlikely that this new find, which is on private land, and under a crop field, is going to be excavated for archeological or any other purposes.  We may never know about the details of these particular posts.  It is possible, though, that the guy in the video that C. Letellier shared might be able to shed some light on what has been discovered at the henges that have been excavated.  One could ask around.  Somebody gotta know something.  :) 
 
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This is the blog of the people who made the discovery: https://blog.shadowsandstone.com/. They made these aerial photographs because they were already excavating in the area, so I'm guessing excavations will go on and possibly intensify. That they had permission to fly with a drone over this land may be an indication.

In many places in Europe ancient landscape features could now be seen due to the drought, but you're not allowed to take a drone just everywhere, so this is hampering efforts to make these kind of sightings.   
 
C. Letellier
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Longest lasting may not equal best result should be remembered here.   The simple point is that this isn't simply a short term gain.  Whether it lasts 20 years, 100 years or thousands it changes the world for the long haul.  This simply shows that we can in a clear cut demonstration covering some real history.  It may be that to get best affect you want it to die off in just decades.  Or maybe it will be good for 100 years.  This simply shows the long term power under some conditions.  And this may have been forested in the mean time so what you are actually seeing is generations of tree roots taking advantage of that little better moisture and in the process adding their own material to the longevity of the process.  But any way you look at it this isn't a short term fix.

 
Bonnie Gee
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C. Letellier wrote:Longest lasting may not equal best result should be remembered here.   The simple point is that this isn't simply a short term gain.  Whether it lasts 20 years, 100 years or thousands it changes the world for the long haul.  This simply shows that we can in a clear cut demonstration covering some real history.  It may be that to get best affect you want it to die off in just decades.  Or maybe it will be good for 100 years.  This simply shows the long term power under some conditions.  And this may have been forested in the mean time so what you are actually seeing is generations of tree roots taking advantage of that little better moisture and in the process adding their own material to the longevity of the process.  But any way you look at it this isn't a short term fix.



Yes, I think that is part of what was so remarkable to me about this story, that the seemingly simple act of sinking a wooden post into the ground can have profound effects that ripple through thousands of years.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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the seemingly simple act of sinking a wooden post into the ground can have profound effects that ripple through thousands of years.

  Certainly.  That is the key take away lesson!  I'm grateful for the information. 
 
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I just wanted to publicly declare an intent to use a hugel-like structure made of downed trees, trimmed branches from bushes and trees, and assorted yard waste, layered with dirt, to try to direct water so we get fewer standing puddles in the middle of the yard. I picture this structure planted with elderberry and maybe some vegetables in the spring. I figure the mound will act as a dike, and the absorbent nature of the hugelkultur would help manage the water. It is likely to be less wood than other types of material, but even so it should be a really big compost pile, right? Any advice or words of wisdom are welcome. It seems like a fun experiment either way.
 
paul wheaton
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a bit about the big hugelkultur at basecamp.  We start off with some simple berms, but end up with the hugelkultur stuff.

 
stephen lowe
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Just want to follow up on my post from last year about the minimum size of hugels. My tiny mounds are really coming into their own this year, everything we have put in them is growing gangbusters despite the fact that settling has been extensive enough to expose some bits of wood. When I am planting in them I often encounter fungal hyphae and the mushroom activity all around the mounds is significantly increased this year. Overall the mounds that started out no more than 2 feet above grade are still mostly 18 in + above grade and it seems that some mechanism (I'm guesssing worms because they are super prevalent) is bringing soil up from below into some of the cavities. There are many pockets that mysteriously have significantly more soil than I ever added.
My conclusion is that for a person with a small garden, even in a rental if you plan to be there for more than a year, a very modest hugel can be a great addition to your garden space without requiring obtaining and moving a monstrous ammount of wood or dirt. Ill try to attach some pictures some time after I get my new phone figured out.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:a bit about the big hugelkultur at basecamp. 



Beautiful and encouraging!
 
paul wheaton
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Roberto pokachinni
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Great video Paul. 

I can't remember if you had said in one of the earlier videos in this thread that you didn't have water nearby.  If that is the case, is that why the one rhubarb died, do you figure?  If that is the case, then this is true STUN (Sheer Total and Utter Neglect, for those who don't know).  I would think that with a little water you might have a lot more going on on that bed.  But maybe that is just the point, to make this bed work with the hugul's natural water retaining influences which build over time, the plant roots that can and do survive, and the mulchy bits that are added?  Great stuff anyway !   
 
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Paul, just wanted to say thank you for all the great work you guys (and gals) do up there.  It's really inspiring stuff and it's been fun to watch people think outside the box with nature, planting, and how we as people can exist on this earth.
 
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Paul, first of all thank you for all your Hugelkultur content on richsoil.com and here on permies!  I’ve been doing weeks of reading to build our garden here in Northern California.  In short I’ve spent the weekends this summer building a 25ft. long terraced / raised bed veggie garden (to defend against the multitude of rodents everywhere around us) along the contour of a pretty steep slope.  Now it’s time to fill it Hugelkultur style and I’m running into issues - can you help?

We live right in the redwood forest, which is beautiful but all the recommended wood for Hugelkultur are in scarce supply naturally for acres in each direction.  And the local firewood companies only sell Oak, Almond, Walnut, and Eucalyptus.  The same goes for the litter/branches/twigs layer - most tree company cuttings are California Pepperwood, Oak, Bay Laurel, or some sort of coniferous tree.  All of the above are highly allelopathic, which is the challenge I’m facing.

So far I’ve managed to find a few dead Maple limbs but that’s all, and logs on the forest floor that are well decomposed so I collected them thinking they’d be OK, I think most of them are Oak.  I’ve resorted to putting freshly felled Oak logs on the bottom, then the decomposing maple and oak logs.  Am wondering if that will produce fertile soil for vegetables?  or will the Oak stunt all our plant growth?  And what should I use for litter?  I have a truckload of woodchips from a local tree company that’s been decomposing for 1-2 years, it was “green” (with leaves) which they said was a mix of oak and other trees.  Nothing grows out of the pile though...but I do see strands of white fungus mycelium growing to a depth of ~6” and the twigs deep down have moisture and easily break in my hands vs. “snapping” or being sharp like fresh woodchips.  Would this be a good next layer for the Hugel bed?

Or can I use the overly abundant redwood litter?  We have a 2 year old compost pile (about a cubic yard) but the brown matter has largely been redwood litter (we were not aware of allelopathy until this summer, and besides we don’t have any other brown matter around).  Is it a good idea to add this compost on top of the wood and litter layers?  I would remediate 50/50 w the clay soil I dug up from the postholes and then use purchased topsoil.

Would greatly appreciate your expert thoughts and ideas!  Anyone else who’s on the forum, we’d also welcome your feedback!
 
Westley Wu
Posts: 5
Location: Northern California (Marin); Zone 9b/10a
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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Here are some photos of the setup, I filled it w what I described before but can change based on feedback.  Next would be the 1-2 year old mostly oak woodchips, then compost + clay soil in a 50/50 mix, followed by topsoil.
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