I am planning on experimenting with hugelkulture in the coming season, but don't have access to very many large logs. On the other hand, I have 10 yards of mulch that just got delivered, and I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do with all of it. After applying it to my entire front yard, and since I only have a few woody plants in the back right now that will need mulching (although I am hoping to change that once I've built up the fertility), the only other uses I can think of are for footpaths and for the veggie beds, although from a soil microbiological point of view, I know most annual veggies prefer bacterial domination in the soil, which means that they prefer cellulose (straw, leaves, newspaper) rather than lignin (wood chips) as a mulch, so I'd prefer not to use it there.
However, I was wondering if I could just use the mulch as the base of a sheet mulched bed, sort of like a hybrid of sheet mulching and hugelkulture. Maybe even mixing the wood with high N material like seaweed or manure or veggie scraps. Do you think this would work out ok? My main concern is since we have such sandy soil, I'd like to keep the beds as water retaining as possible, and hugelkulture could definitely achieve this for us, but like I said, I'd like to use what's readily available. From a logical perspective, this seems like it would work out just fine, if not better than traditional hugelkulture, since it incorporates sheet mulching as well, which leads to rapid soil creation, and counteracts the effects of nitrogen leach so common in hugel beds.
So, any tips or thoughts on this idea? Will it work, or are large logs of wood required for a truly effective hugelkulture bed?
Short answer is no. Would chips should not be mixed into soil, unless you are trying to hide them and don't plan on growing in that area for a while (2-3 years).
Check out the movie (click on stream in the home page article) and FAQ page short video clips on the Back to Eden website. This will explain it all in detail.
Basically Sepp's hugel beds work because the wood is thick, not chipped, so it breaks down slower, tieing up nitrogen less, holding moisture and supporting plant life more than it takes.
Chips on the other hand, mixed into soil, want to break down fast and so they rob to much greatly deterring plant growth.
Logs in soil - Chips on top
Check out Back to Eden for great tips on chip use,
I've seen that movie, and I do recall that moment. Upon doing some research of that topic after seeing it, I found that people suggested that a high nitrogen material was added to hugelkulture beds to compensate for this. I wouldn't be mixing it into the soil, but rather mixing it in with high N material like manure or veggie scraps or maybe even bloodmeal to compensate for the potential N robbing that is expected to occur. Having clarified this, do you still think it would be a problem?
Fifteen years ago I had a dump truck full of chips delivered and I rototilled them into the soil with lots of fresh chicken manure and 50 lb. of lime. Topsoil was added on top of it all. It worked out well. Within 3 years the chips were completely decomposed. It was placed on very hard ground. Eventually it became easy to till deeply as the worms mixed things up.
You can give it a go, I wouldn't, but you can. To me it's not how I want to go about my agriculture.
We (humans) can always 'force' an issue. There are to many examples of this now days.
This idea of pushing things runs counter to permaculturephilosophy, which tries to work with Nature and not in spite of. However, we are all FREE to learn our own ways of doing it, in that spirit I say go for it. And if you do, then do all that Dale has mentioned to help mitigate the issues of burring chips.
I see what you're saying Jamie. Perhaps I'll try it in an experimental plot, and compare it with a traditional cardboard lined sheet mulching bed, and then again with a traditional log lined hugelkulture bed. Thanks for both of your inputs. Any additional insights would be appreciated.
Rob, we heat with firewood, and between us and our son and his garage we go through more than 30 cord a year..which leaves a LOT of loose bark and crumbly stuff that we sweep up for the garden.
I have used it for both mulch and for hugelkulture beds..and it works spectacularly..
I have also used chips from alder and aspen trees in both situations quite well, they do rot faster than the whole logs so they also feed quicker, and they do hold a lot of water when buried..
You MIGHT want to make sure you put in some nitrogen either in the hugel or on top..regularly for a while to keep thenitrogen levels up..
I didn't build my beds HUGE like Paul recommends..but I did kinda do it in reverse by digging ..piling on the wood etc..and then piling the soil on top..so far the hugel beds I did that way have been used for a few years and they really have produced well with everything I have put on them..I even have two dwarf apple trees growing on two of the beds done that way (bark and compost buried) and they are doing great.
potatoes also did really well.
Bloom where you are planted.
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