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mini hugel beds..

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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well I was digging the jerusalem artichokes out of some of my beds (5 of them) and trying to eradicate them and then rebuild the beds..2 of the beds were pretty well free of JA's so I thought I'd try an experiment. I dug to the hardpan under the beds, put an armload of aspen cordwood in each 2x2 area, one at a time, until I had the entire areas redug ..setting aside the soil. I did 5 2x2' areas today, putting in about 18" of aspen logs and then refilling the beds with compost, worm castings and the soil I removed...and watering with pond water.

I'm not sure if they'll work well or not but this will be an ongoing experiment. I have 4 other beds that have to be redug, filled with aspen logs, and then refilled in and planted yet..it is a lot of hard work by hand with a shovel..and the beds are small..so they aren't getting "raised" very high.

The second bed I was working on was a 4x8 bed that already had asparagus, onions, a dwarf cherry tree, iris, anthemis and comfrey on one side (2'x8') so the trenches that I was digging were on the otehr 2'x8' side behind the sweet cherry tree. I got several armloads of aspen logs buried in the trenches and refilled and then transplanted 3 gooseberries and 2 honeyberries onto the newly filled bed and mulched with horseradish, clover, milkweed and goldenrod weeds..

I know that hugelbeds are supposed to be HUGE and TALL..but I am trying with these smaller beds to see how they'll work. I have done smaller beds before with branches and bark buried under them and they really grew plants well, but this is the first one with real LOGS..so I'm not sure what to expect.

4 more to go, but I'm tired so they'll wait.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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I have done some really small beds with pretty good success so far. As a matter of fact I have started to bury wood in any hole that I am planting in. I used to just throw in what ever fresh kitchen trash I had at the moment but now I am adding wood as well.
 
neil bertrando
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Location: Reno, NV
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I'm interested to know how the C:N balance works just throwing wood into any hole. I'm guessing if the chunks are large enough it will be fine, but if it's fine materials, you could get some very undesirable effects. please keep us updated.

regarding the small hugels, my understanding after taking a course with Sepp, is that the shape of the hugel is of paramount importance. very steep sides (greater than 1:1 slope). Then the bigger ones work better since you don't have to rebuild them as often and you get more surface area per acre of growing space, and they can soak up more water and give more microclimate diversity...that said...shape and access seem like the key, then variation on a theme by size and layout.

best of luck

ps. several of mine are not of desired architecture and I will have to rebuild them in the next year or two. Although I'm looking forward to seeing the difference in performance between the 'properly' shaped ones and the flatter, squatter mounds
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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Jeanine, I had the same thought yesterday. There are some areas that are planted and until harvest I really couldn't dig under them, but, I did think I'd keep some aspen chunks on hand near the garden, so that when I do dig an area that I could drop in a chunk before refillinig it.

As for small stuff..I have built several beds burying bark and branches and they all did just fine, had no nitrogen problems. I have also used wood chips and mulch to no ill effect.

I have never done the larger pieces of wood though, so this will be interesting to observe.

As for the very high beds, being partially disabled I believe they would be both a plus and a minus. The plus would be not having to bend down to plant and harvest, however, I belive that very tall would just be too hard for me to build and to care for. We live in a very wet area, but we do have some spring and summer droughts most years, so waterholding is important to me, but not as important as it would be in a very much drier area like the desert, etc. Our land is mostly flat, so we have no concerns about erosion or things going downhill like Sepp does. Here it more feasible for me to dig a deeper ditch to fill with the wood materials and refill and have lower beds than to pile everything on top of the ground and then try to figure out how to get the soil up on top of it.
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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How do you get the soil to stay put with very steep slopes? I'm not sure how to build it that way without some kind of retaining wall, which would defeat much of the purpose.
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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@ Petra,

Paul has created an article on hugelkultur here: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

Or, in Sepp's own words (translated, thankfully), try here: http://www.krameterhof.at/pdf/presse/permaculture-pm68.pdf

Sepp states that hugels should be 45 degrees at a minimum, preferably steeper.
The article gives a lot of insightful info, and answers many common questions.


 
Peta Schroder
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Location: Australia
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Thanks for that, Paul's article was what lead me to this forum in the first place. I like Sepp's even better though!

I still don't understand though how the hugel beds maintain such a steep angle without erosion though. Specifically when building the bed, before planting on it. Most of the pictures I've seen on here are considerably flatter than 60 degrees so I guess other people are also having trouble with that idea. I asked here because of Neil's comment, so I guess my question about slope was to him.
 
Willy Kerlang
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I have one hugul bed about fifteen feet long, maybe 2.5 feet high or so, with pretty steep sides. I was wondering about the angle too when I first put it in. What I did for the first planting was to sprinkle some daikon and clover seeds on the top ridge and let those that wanted to stay there, stay there, and the others kind of roll down the slope and stop where they would. This seemed to work out okay. I will try to take a picture tomorrow and post it here. In fact, I was going to do that anyway because so far I am thrilled with how this bed has worked out. The daikons growing there are twice as tall as they are in other non-hugul parts of my garden, even though they spend a good part of the day in shade. This jibes with what Sepp pointed out about one of his neighbors, who planted hugulkultur beds on her property and has done very very well with them, even though her entire acreage is north-facing and north-sloped.

The soil itself seemed to stay put as long as I didn't mess around with it. We've had several heavy rains since I put it in last year and it hasn't eroded. I can't really explain why not. Obviously now that I have some plants established they are doing a great deal to help deflect and absorb rainfall.

I find this whole thing fascinating, and I wish I had known about it ten years ago when I started my gardens, because I would have done the whole thing completely differently.
 
neil bertrando
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Petra Smirnoff wrote:Thanks for that, Paul's article was what lead me to this forum in the first place. I like Sepp's even better though!

I still don't understand though how the hugel beds maintain such a steep angle without erosion though. Specifically when building the bed, before planting on it. Most of the pictures I've seen on here are considerably flatter than 60 degrees so I guess other people are also having trouble with that idea. I asked here because of Neil's comment, so I guess my question about slope was to him.


Here's a couple pictures of beds built at the workshop with Sepp. not the best pics. hopefully other's got more, my camera had no batteries, so I only got a quick run-through of shots.

Sepp spoke about the need to stabilize the soil on heavy clays and sterile sands using a brush mattress technique from bioengineering. We used any branches we could find on site, laid them on the beds with the branch crotches facing up and pegged them down with wood cross bracing and wooden staples/nails we build on site with branches. the branches catch soil and form little planting pans, in addition to shading/mulching. At my site, I'm using desert peach (prunus andersonii) because it's what I have. I'm hoping it will also keep the quail and rabbits from eating the seed and little sprouts.

This was done after planting perennials and direct seeding/planting the large seeded crops, tubers and bulbs. then Sepp spread a huge mix of veggie seeds by broadcasting them within a few days of building the beds (Planting immediately is important).

Once the plants, seed and brushmattress were in place, we spread straw mulch , or any mulch we could generate.

these beds are ~6' tall. although they seemed bigger while working on them.

basically plant roots keep them this tall in the long run, but the branches and mulch stabilize the soil for now.

one can also use rocks, I'm adding rocks to my beds before the brush mattress.

let me know if you have other ?'s. I'm still trying to figure this out myself.
Montana 5-2012 86.jpg
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hugel, pond edge bed and pond
Montana 5-2012 123.jpg
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in the hugel maze
Montana 5-2012 124.jpg
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fresh hugel with rocks before planting
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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Oh wow thanks a lot. I LOVE the piccie with the rocks. I think that will work really well in a Mediterranean climate, as dry heat tolerant plants like scrambling over rocks.
 
Peta Schroder
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Location: Australia
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I had a thought last night as I was drifting to sleep that someone could keep a hugel bed of any size with steep enough sides by packing branches into cardboard boxes and then building a structure like a pyramid to the intended height, with a 60 degree incline all around. Once the structure is in place the soil and upside down sod could be added. Could make very mini hugel beds like Brenda's with branches packed into just one or two cardboard boxes and soil added to the right angle on the sides and top!
 
neil bertrando
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Petra Smirnoff wrote:I had a thought last night as I was drifting to sleep that someone could keep a hugel bed of any size with steep enough sides by packing branches into cardboard boxes and then building a structure like a pyramid to the intended height, with a 60 degree incline all around. Once the structure is in place the soil and upside down sod could be added. Could make very mini hugel beds like Brenda's with branches packed into just one or two cardboard boxes and soil added to the right angle on the sides and top!


this sounds reasonable...kind of like the raised bed hugel hybrid approach I saw in another thread, but interior form rather than exterior.

One revelation I harvested from Sepp's course through conversations with other participants is that high levels of Oxygen seems to be a consistent strategy with Sepp's work.

I have two concerns...though neither should stop you from doing it...just keep them in mind

-the box may block the rooting action of the plants and not allow access to the logs for nutrients, water, gas exchange, soil contact, etc.
-it may make it even more difficult to plant into

i guess a third concern would be the whole 'to cardboard or not to cardboard' dilemma. we each take responsibility for our choices in this space.

that said, if it works for you and makes your beds more user friendly awesome. I'd love to see the results.

another option for gaining steep sides is to layer more branches as you gain height

cheers,
Neil
 
Adam Gulliford
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Heres another pic. You can see on the right how the inside of the hugels looked. The dead trees from the wetland we were replenishing.

IMG_20120505_161059.jpg
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Peta Schroder
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Location: Australia
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Those ones don't look so mini...
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://permies.com/battery
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