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do I need to cut up this big tree before I build a hugel?

 
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I have a very large cottonwood that was struck by lightning over a year ago. Does this need to be cut into smaller pieces before I can begin building a hugel over it?

 
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Nope, not necessarily. You should be able to just proceed from there. And if you cover it really well it should hold water beautifully. Cottonwood is fantastic for breaking down quickly and holding water well.
 
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I saw some pretty massive cottonwood trees when I was a kid growing up in Kansas.  Some of them were 6 or 8 feet in diameter.  Crazy big.

How big are you talking about?

A variety of sized limbs is best, as they all decompose at a slightly different pace.  If you just put a massive tree trunk on the ground that was 4 or 5 feet across, and buried it in soil, I don't really think you'd get too many of the benefits of hugelkulture.  But trying to split that sucker or even cut it into rounds would require a he-man sized chainsaw with a 4' bar (or longer).

Pictures?
 
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Thinking about this a bit further, if you have a massive cottonwood tree trunk that would form the bulk of your hugel, would there be a way that you might drill holes in it, or at least take a chain saw and slash it in multiple spots?  Then, inoculate the holes/slashes with a fungal slurry from another piece of decomposing cottonwood.  Yes, fungi would eventually find its way to that buried log, but buy directly applying the fungi and helping it to penetrate the wood, you will substantially speed the decomposition process by years.

Cottonwood is a very soft wood.  My hunch is that by drilling holes in it, you would find it completely riddled with fungi within 2 years.  
 
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