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fixing exposed wood bare patches in a new hugelkultur -- sandy/rocky glacial till

 
pioneer
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First time hugel builder here. I'm doing it by hand with some alder and a shovel in sandy/rocky glacial till. Its currently 5-6 ft tall and the sides are nearly vertical. The problem is, I am having trouble getting dirt to stay on the sides of the mound. Is the answer going to be to just keep adding more and more and more soil until it's covered? Should I put some type of mesh on top of it like chicken wire so that it holds the soil in place better on the steep sides? Should I take it apart and rebuild it as more of an equilateral triangle instead?
 
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Wow Trisha, you are ambitious!  That sounds like a lot of work by hand.

No expert, but before I tore apart and rebuilt, I would think about widening the base. Maybe add two logs wider at the bottom on either side, then one on either side on top of those?  Might soften the angle enough to hold the dirt.

You could also stake some horizontal poles to keep the dirt from sliding down.

Not sure I would use chicken wire - might make it difficult to plant/harvest/weed?

Good luck, and post some pictures if you can!
 
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I don't understand why it is recommended that the sides of a hugel mound be steep? What is the advantage?
 
master steward
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Trace, the advantage, as I saw it at Wheaton Labs, is that you can fit many more plants in the same area if the mound is steep.  Their hugels next to the house are crazy tall and steep.  I think they were 12' high and about 12-15' wide at the base.  Unimaginably steep.  So they had 24' of growing space by having it steep vs the 12-15' that the flat ground had provided.  Plus the significant height created strong microclimates.  North side was cool in the summer for cool season crops.  South side was warmer for sun loving crops.  The height also blocks out your naked hot tub parties from the neighbors.

Tricia, I build one tall and relatively steep hugel this summer with a tractor (My post about it).   The only way I could get it taller than 5' was to take pine boughs and lay them across the top and also stick them out of the sides to catch and hold the dirt in place.  My hugel was as wide as it was long (pyramid) so I had the added challenge of not being able to put long logs and branches in the top of the pile.

Vertical would be great but don't worry about having some slope to the sides.  I'd lay some logs along the bottom to convert it into a steep triangle and cover those with dirt.  And weave pine boughs in amongst them to knit the dirt together.  And seed it out immediately with stuff and mulch it to keep heavy rain from washing it away in the first couple weeks.

I don't know much, I only built one, so hopefully the real experts will show up soon and give you even more advice
 
Dj Cox
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Thank you all for your generous advice. I feel silly because I just realized this topic has been covered before in other places here. Sorry for polluting. I ended up seeing a different problem I had created in trying to add more dirt to the mound...

I ended up taking dirt from uphill of the mound. I think I ended up creating a high erosion risk. I was going to contour the dirt so water wouldn’t pool behind the slope but... no I wonder if I would be better off to fill in the whole with some of the logs in my pile and just make a 15’x15’ hugel bed that is about 3 feet tall. I added some pictures but they all look 2-D to me.

Any advice whether I should tear it down and make a ‘huge’lbed or keep it as an erosion risk and a properly shaped mound?
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Artie Scott
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I think you are looking pretty good there, Tricia!  I would probably add some more dirt to the end to cover the logs so they don’t dry out, mulch and then plant the mound (and the uphill slope).  Once you observe how that one functions, your next one will be even better!
 
Mike Haasl
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Ditto what Artie said.  Looks pretty good to me if you can get a bit more dirt to cover up those exposed end grains.
 
pollinator
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I have really sandy and rocky soil as well, and am also building hugels by hand. My biggest one is about 35' long and anywhere from five to eight feet wide. I'm doing mine in layers, mostly just cause it's too much work any other way, but there do seem to be benefits to it.

Last year, I got it about three feet tall and seeded the sides with mostly rye. The top got a wide mix of seeds. I'm starting to do a second layer now and all the vegetation on the sides is really helping keep the sand in place.

Edit:

Oops, forgot you can't read my mind ;)

So my point is, maybe plant the sides with a quick, rooty cover crop and use that in the fall or next spring or whatever to help with the shape you want.
 
pollinator
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I think Jan has the right idea, building in layers over the course of a couple years instead of trying to do a tall hugel at once.  I also have soil (fine silty stuff) that just does not "stick."  I can't hill it enough to even keep the tops of beets covered as they grow.  My only attempt at something like hugelkultur (I did not know this name then) was half-buried hill of branches and compost, the above-ground was a bit more than 2 feet high by four feet wide.  A covering of inverted sod provided a fine enough matrix to keep some dirt on the surface, but I am not sure it would have worked on a higher or steeper.

After one growing season, the "hill" had flattened and the wood had all basically decomposed into the ground.  It is still my most productive part of the garden, but no sign that it was ever a "hugel" if I did not remember building it.  
 
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Looks good DJ. I agree with the others who suggested covering the big logs. If you want to go taller try adding some vertical sticks with small branches & corn stalks or something similar laying horizontally to form small ledges to catch the soil. Here's a link to my tall hugel construction. Maybe that will help.

I think a small trench on the uphill side of the hugel is a good idea. Hugels need a lot of water the first year or two. Not enough to form a lake but enough to keep the logs wet. That will be the last step in my project.
 
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I just finished my first hugel, so who knows how it will turn out.  I had the same problem on the end of my hugel, and I had a few pots of plants that died before I got them planted, and I used the soil with root in front of the wood that was exposed, and in a few other places.  Then I made mud.( I have clay soil, so I added sand to the mix, you might try the opposite). I packed the mud where I wanted it to be.  Then I put compost and more soil, and finished off with wood chips for mulch.  The mud part took some time, but did the trick.  It was worth it just to see the look on my 19 year old son's face when he see's his 50 year old mom playing in the mud.  What ever you do I would not start over.   I'm sure you can make it work. I wouldn't worry about it being "perfect" as long as it works for you.  Good luck.
 
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