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Drum/Barrel Hugelkultur-like Raised Bed

 
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Hello everyone! I am planning to start some taller raised beds drawing inspiration from hugelkultur. The land that I live on is not mine, but I got a small patch (20ft x 70ft?) with excellent southern sun that I can do with as I wish.
I am hoping to get my own place in the next year or two, but I would like to leave behind an easy to use garden for the owners. They don't apply any pesticides to the area (aside from the occasional Roundup on poison ivy, but that is far away from my area) and most of the lawn is grass that they cut regularly but do not apply any chemicals or fertilizers to.

The soil is a hard clay, and seems rather inhospitable for the most part. Dandelions do well as a weed, and thistle seems to love some parts of the land but not others.

The area I got is a mix of bare soil and moss, along with some stumps from bushes that were growing there. The area was used as a junk heap for pallets, old machinery, and so forth - but other than the weird bits of blue plastic in the first 6in of clay, I think I can work with it.

Given the short time period and the small amount of land I can work with, my plan is to do the following:
1. Remove the bush stumps to create a flatter area, and mulch the entire area with wood chips to make it walkable while also offering a long-term amendment to the soil.
2. Set up 55 gallon barrels, with both the top and bottom removed, to use as raised beds. (I can get washed drums that only had food-safe plastic urethane in them for free)
I'm not sure how many I can get or have the time to set up, but I am hoping to get at least six and place them three feet apart from each other.
3. Start filling the drums - initially with a 1in-2in layer of food scraps (including meat), followed by some decomposing logs (which won't rob nitrogen if they're already decomposing? they're lightweight when dry), and leading upwards with sticks and twigs alongside more food scraps.
I'll be using the native clay to fill the gaps in between the wood and scraps, but for the top 12in of the barrels, I am planning to use an organic potting soil so that I have something to work with as soon as the beds are ready.
4. Once the drums are filled, and the top layer of potting soil is added - then I'll mulch it with wood chips.
5. I'll let them rest for about a month (I have to wait for things to warm up anyway) before I plant, which I believe will help things start to decompose and hopefully encourage worms and other beneficial creatures to move in.

The only monetary expense I'll have is the potting soil, as the barrels are repurposed instead of being thrown out by the company I'm getting them from, the woodchips are from Chipdrop, and the logs are from the woods nearby.

Does anyone see any issues with my plan or have any suggestions for how I could improve it? My main criteria is just something that I can get up and running quickly (preferably without chemicals) and something that's high enough where it won't cause back pain for the owners after I leave the garden to them.
I am hoping to plant different types of edible plants (currently only planning swiss chard and ground cherries) to harvest later on.
 
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I'll be very curious to see how those play out. I don't know that I've ever seen such a tall, narrow raised bed. The only issue that pops out to me is to make sure that all the woody layers are packed well with clay/food scraps filling in major air holes. I could imagine settling/decomposition of the wood causing some serious internal collapse mid season if there's not a good amount of support that wont be decomposing.

I also wonder about air availability in such a tall bed. Is there a risk of anaerobic conditions arising? Could you cut little "pockets" along the height to  tuck  some soil and small plants in? Something like this https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2Fa4%2Ff2%2Fe7%2Fa4f2e7ba13bc0ff2c1aad5ac7eee237a.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F731694270687499757%2F&docid=BTY-OJk-wCljGM&tbnid=GiHzUGPMYjrphM&vet=1&source=sh%2Fx%2Fim
?
 
Logan Byrd
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I'll try to pack it as best as I can - the logs that I am planning to use have been sitting out in the rain (and other weather) on bare ground for 5-7 years, so I'm hoping that they'll stay sturdy enough.

Do you think it would be better to mix some fresh logs into there or use just fresh logs?

Regarding air availability, I'm not sure. I believe that the worms attracted to the scraps will do a good job at aerating the soil for me, but the drums are made out of some type of carbon steel or stainless steel, and unfortunately I don't think I could convince the company I'm getting them from to drill those - they normally remove just the top, but they were also willing to remove the bottom as long as I sent them pictures of the finished garden.

The idea of logs and sticks and such in a tall raised bed should work though, since I've seen other people do it, like in this video:
 
s. lowe
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Ah ya if they're some kind of metal it probably isn't worth the hassle of cutting more holes. The worms and other soil life should do the work. I don't think some fresher wood would hurt but as long as you pack it well so that the settling is more gradual I don't see any real major problems. It sounds like it will make a great garden for people that don't do well with bending over. Definitely try to share some pictures,  I'd love to see the process and how they turn out
 
Logan Byrd
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I would be happy to share my progress! I'm still at step 0 (moving the junk) but I will be sure to update this thread with pictures and comments.
 
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I use drums as wormfarms and they work really great. I put wood at the bottom, then a layer of twigs and small branches up to about half. Then fill with dry grass, sand, green grass, household waste, a handful of horse manure, and top with a layer of good soil and plant in it. The twig layer provides areation because the worm castings can pack solid otherwise. Plus the worms really seem to like nibbling at them when nicely rotted.  The level will sink as the worms eat so you have to top up regularly with dry grass or leaf mulch and maybe more small twigs. It is amazing to plant not only in the top, but also around the parameter of the drums. It is an ideal place to get trees or shrubs off to a good  start, or simply more vegetables. If not, be sure to mulch deeply around the drums because you will get lots of plats wanting to grow there.  For my climate it serves the purpose of using the same water three times, but does of course require consistent care.

I empty mine out and refill about once a year because I need the castings. Would be curious to see how this works as a permanent system.

Very jealous of your free supply of drums :) If I had that my whole garden would look like this:
drumwormfarm.jpg
[Thumbnail for drumwormfarm.jpg]
 
Logan Byrd
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It's inspiring to hear that you've had success with a similar model!

Have you tried reaching out to local (or distant if you can get a bunch at once) manufacturing and machining companies to ask about it? I was originally calling around and looking for pallet collars (which seem useful for making raised beds at your choice of height) when a company brought up that they had drums they recycled/scrapped all the time.

At least in my area, it seems like there are a lot of companies that have them to give away, but I had to make a few calls before I found one that didn't have something toxic in it before.
 
Natasha Abrahams
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You are welcome Logan! I look forward to seeing your progress. Thanks for the advice, I sure will.
 
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I've done something similar, but different.

I get the plastic barrels, because that's what's available - I try to get the black ones because roots and worms like it dark.

I cut them in half around the middle, so I end up with two beds from a barrel, each about 17" high. I make sure the bungs are in tight, so they don't leak out of the bottom, and then about 2" up I drill 4 holes for drainage giving me a small reservoir at the bottom. I put lots of punky wood at the bottom, but I don't worry about it taking nitrogen from the plants because I use good homemade compost at the top with amendments like homemade biochar, eggshells, etc. The punky wood acts as a sponge so I only have to water every 3-4 days during our summer drought.

Because the plastic barrels have been getting wimpier, I get free bike rims from a local bicycle shop and cut them to fit the top of the planter to keep them round and easier to move if I need to. I have to admit that as I've gotten older, I rather wish I'd put them up on salvaged breeze blocks or similar for a bit more height. I've used these in spots where it wouldn't have been easy to build a regular garden, but there's sun, which is in short supply on my land.

I've since gotten access to a different area for gardening, and am building 30" high raised beds out of over-sized pallets. They're a *lot* more work and probably won't last as long, but I've made two with the planting area 4'x4', and two more 4'x 6 1/2'.
 
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I grow a lot of things in barrels, but I've never used them without the bottoms.
This sounds fantastic.
I may barrel grown plants overflow their containers quite a bit, so much so that a 3' space  between containers might shrink to a 1' space between plants.
 
Logan Byrd
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After 6 or so hours, I finally got all of the junk cleared out and the bush stumps torn out. The one stump had a root with a two inch diameter!

I think I will be cleaning off the stumps and burying them upside down at the bottom of my barrels in addition to the logs.

Next steps: moving the stumps out of the way, and mulching the area. Also, I still need to get the barrels.
 
Logan Byrd
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The hardest part is done! I borrowed a tractor to move the woodchips, and since I was using a tractor anyway, I tried to flatten or level out the ground, with a slight slope so that water runs away from the building.
The landowners stopped by and gave me permission to expand the area a little bit!

One entire Chipdrop delivery as mulch later, and I am pretty happy with the result.

The yellow barrel is a batch of Dave's fetid swamp water homemade/organic liquid fertilizer (in progress) and the small shelf is something that a local had set by the road as trash.
a3lkvk.jpg
Area after mulching
Area after mulching
 
Logan Byrd
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I picked up three 55 gallon barrels from car washes, they each previously contained one half of a biodegradable soap solution. I'm still planning to get the original barrels, but there have been some delays on the company's side so I wasn't able to get them as soon as I wanted.

I removed the top and bottom from all three barrels and rinsed them out. I started filling one of them up with the following layers:
1. Raw meat scraps covered with a light layer of woodchips.
2. Expired breakfast bars. One was moldy.
3. Kitchen scraps (lettuce, egg shells, potato peels, etc)
4. Sun-dried tree roots and a stump (upside-down)
5. Mud from the native soil.
6. Decomposing logs. (with signs of fungal activity)
7. Slop from liquid fertilizer / anaerobic compost barrel.
8. Leaves and misc. plant trimmings from a raked area.
9. More decomposing logs.
10. More kitchen scraps.

I took a picture of each layer (except the first) in case anyone wants to see any layer in particular or see the way I built it up.

I'm going to leave it as-is for today, but soon I will dig up more native soil and water it in to fill the gaps between the different materials. I might add some more kitchen scraps as well.
 
Jay Angler
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That sounds good Logan! I will mention with kitchen scraps, just as how your compost "shrinks" a lot while decomposing, the same will happen with the contents of your barrel. I just topped up a raised bed I made last year, which had sunk 6 to 8 inches out of 26 inches from decomposition and settling.
 
Logan Byrd
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Jay Angler wrote:That sounds good Logan! I will mention with kitchen scraps, just as how your compost "shrinks" a lot while decomposing, the same will happen with the contents of your barrel. I just topped up a raised bed I made last year, which had sunk 6 to 8 inches out of 26 inches from decomposition and settling.

I am definitely expecting it to shrink down, but I am going to stay optimistic and hope that most of that happens over the winter
 
Jay Angler
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Logan Byrd wrote:

I am definitely expecting it to shrink down, but I am going to stay optimistic and hope that most of that happens over the winter  

I expect it will happen gradually - if anything, composts are more active in the warmer months. This is not a bad thing - you're building healthy soil. I don't know what you're planning to plant in it, but I would plant something like a tomato that will grow and tumble over the edge and if its base is lower than the barrel edge, it won't be so shaded it won't grow. Similarly some medium height beans. In fact, most plants will grow towards the light, it's just that something like butter lettuce may be encouraged to bolt if it has to grow tall rather than wide.
I mentioned it mostly because having some compost/dirt mix ready for early next spring to top up the barrel would be a helpful thing from my experience.
 
Logan Byrd
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One thing that I definitely want to try in one of these barrels is a ground cherry plant. I had one indoors and the plant became 2' tall and roughly 2' round, despite the lack of light and the lack of nutrients. I'm eager to see what one could do with proper soil and light.
 
Logan Byrd
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The first barrel is ready to go! I've started working on the second, but it is still a bit too cold here to direct sow.
7x56ri.jpg
[Thumbnail for 7x56ri.jpg]
 
Logan Byrd
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The second barrel is done, and the third is in progress!
i5hro2.jpg
Third barrel
Third barrel
 
Logan Byrd
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The third barrel is done, and I planted in the first barrel! I placed ground cherry seeds in the middle, self-harvested Tom Thumb Pea seeds in a circle around that, and self-harvested French Marigold seeds in the outer edge.
I covered the seeds with a very light amount of woodchips (maybe half an inch?) just to keep moisture in. I figured that if weeds can grow through a few inches of woodchips, then the seeds I plant should be able to grow through a small amount (or at least enough for me to notice and move the mulch away).

I am hoping to direct sow as much as I can, although I may pick up some seedlings from a local family-owned nursery just to support them.
photo_2021-05-10_19-07-47.jpg
Barrel #1
Barrel #1
 
Logan Byrd
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The second and third barrel are planted! I checked the local nursery and did not see any seedlings that appealed to me, so direct sowing everything is the route I will take.

For the second barrel, I planted Lemon Cucumber seeds in five places to make a plus sign shape, and then I sprinkled a cut flower mix and a wild flower mix throughout the entire barrel. I'm hoping that the variety of flowers will provide a reason for pollinators to come visit (and feed the local bees!).

For the third barrel, I planted four Bradshaw's Birdhouse Gourd seeds in the middle and sprinkled Sweet Italian Basil seeds and Dark Purple Opal Basil seeds around that. I want to provide a home for birds to live in, and someone said that they would be willing to pay me in exchange for fresh basil for pesto, so this barrel is an opportunity to do both.

I also have a fourth barrel that I'm experimenting with - instead of filling it up with logs, I'm filling it up with alternating layers of soil, woodchips, and food scraps / roadkill. They're not clear cut layers so things can intermix, but I'm interested to see how the soil from my impromptu compost-like barrel compares to the hugel-like barrels.
 
William Bronson
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Hey, how are things growing for you?
 
Logan Byrd
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Things are going well! I was honestly expecting this to be a disaster when I decided to direct sow everything, but somehow I'm getting better results than I do when I start seeds indoors. Going forward, aside from something that I simply don't have enough days in the growing season for (like celeriac) and cuttings from indoor plants (like some tomato cuttings that I transplanted elsewhere) I will direct sow everything.

The first barrel is doing the worst out of the three, but that is mostly due to my inexperience - it settled more than I expected (in under a week) and I ended up adding more seeds because I got impatient and thought that the seeds weren't going to come up. I didn't have any more Tom Thumb Peas to spare, so I planted Austrian Winter Peas instead - which (as I should have expected from the name) do not like the heat.

For the second barrel, all of the cucumber seeds germinated and so did the flower mixes - more than I expected. I suspect that there are some weeds mixed in there, but given how many different flower varieties I planted, I have no idea what is a weed or what isn't. I'll be pulling out anything that looks like it could be grass, though.

For the third barrel, all of the gourd seeds came up as well. I thinned it down to just one and added a nice layer of mulch since I took the below picture. None of the basil seeds came up, although whether that was due to the age of the seeds or the lack of watering is anyone's guess.

The logs seem to be doing an amazing job at keeping the plants hydrated. Aside from a gallon of water when I replanted the first barrel (to ensure the seeds had water), I have not watered these barrels at all. Even with a week of 80F-90F temps and no rain, the plants still look great.

Here are some recent pictures.
photo_2021-06-14_16-41-28.jpg
Barrel 1 (french marigolds, peas, ground cherries)
Barrel 1 (french marigolds, peas, ground cherries)
photo_2021-06-14_16-41-32.jpg
Barrel 2 (cucumber in middle, flowers elsewhere)
Barrel 2 (cucumber in middle, flowers elsewhere)
photo_2021-06-14_16-41-35.jpg
Barrel 3 (birdhouse gourd)
Barrel 3 (birdhouse gourd)
 
Jay Angler
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Great update, Logan! Your plants look happy, but I can see in the photo how much the first barrel settled. In a perfect world, I'd suggest you build new barrels early fall, and plant anything that might overwinter or at least survive part of the winter (like those Austrian Winter Peas!) and then plan on having some fresh compost for topping up in the spring before planting. At least one old book I read recommended that every bed should get two inches of fresh compost every year if you're cropping it heavily. It is amazing how much compost it would take for even a small number of beds! Doing some chop and dropping and mulching would reduce that need I expect, because both support the microbes that you need for healthy soil.

I suspect that there are some weeds mixed in there, but given how many different flower varieties I planted, I have no idea what is a weed or what isn't.

I am finding more and more, that many "weeds" rather than competing with your desired plants, actually support and shade the soil, so like Fukuoka does, I'm much more inclined to only weed stuff that *really* invades (that would be creeping buttercup in my ecosytem) and I'm even known to transplant dandelions! Many more "weeds" are edible than I used to know, and some that aren't edible are still medicinal in small quantities. That said, in a small space, there are times when snipping plants off at the ground, or a little higher up so you knock them back but not kill them, to give other plants more space is a good thing.
 
Logan Byrd
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Jay Angler wrote:Your plants look happy, but I can see in the photo how much the first barrel settled. In a perfect world, I'd suggest you build new barrels early fall, and plant anything that might overwinter or at least survive part of the winter (like those Austrian Winter Peas!) and then plan on having some fresh compost for topping up in the spring before planting.

I will definitely be doing that over the following winter! I wasn't expecting to have a dedicated garden area (outside of the few potted plants I have around here) but if I had known ahead of time, I would have at least 12 barrels here full of logs and food scraps ready over the winter. The amount of settlement in the first barrel was my fault - when I placed the raked up lawn debris (leaves, dead plants, small twigs, etc) under the soil, I did not pack them down, so the rain-heavy soil quickly did that for me and sunk things down.

Jay Angler wrote:At least one old book I read recommended that every bed should get two inches of fresh compost every year if you're cropping it heavily. It is amazing how much compost it would take for even a small number of beds! Doing some chop and dropping and mulching would reduce that need I expect, because both support the microbes that you need for healthy soil.

Do you know if it would be fine to add scraps and plant material directly over the winter instead of adding compost? I was thinking that I could either shallowly dig them in, or place them on top / under the winter's mulch. At the moment, a traditional compost pile is not an option (due to the landowners) and something like a tumbler is more expense than I am willing to spend at the moment.

Jay Angler wrote:I am finding more and more, that many "weeds" rather than competing with your desired plants, actually support and shade the soil, so like Fukuoka does, I'm much more inclined to only weed stuff that *really* invades (that would be creeping buttercup in my ecosytem) and I'm even known to transplant dandelions! Many more "weeds" are edible than I used to know, and some that aren't edible are still medicinal in small quantities. That said, in a small space, there are times when snipping plants off at the ground, or a little higher up so you knock them back but not kill them, to give other plants more space is a good thing.

I agree! I am not sure what types of weeds are good or bad here due to a lack of experience, so I am erring on the side of caution and leaving some that I like the look of. The bottom left and upper right of the first barrel's photo has some wild lambsquarters that seems to be doing well. The only ones that I know are an issue here are the grass (which spreads fast and makes it hard to plant) and the wild carrots (which grow tall and wide, with a tendency to outshade the plants I want).
 
William Bronson
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I'm glad to see your grow drums doing do well!
I would encourage you to add carbon heavy waste to the tops of your drums over winter.
The nitrogen heavy stuff,  I'm not so sure about.
I would worry it would build up and not decay much till spring came.
Maybe set aside new barrel for "active" composting ,a mix of greens and browns, and heavily mulch the established drums.
I use rabbit bedding on mine.
Here's one that was tented all winter:
16237101483156376821908901313739.jpg
The tomatoe was added later. The radishes are starting to bolt.
The tomatoe was added later. The radishes are starting to bolt.
 
Jay Angler
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Logan Byrd wrote:

Do you know if it would be fine to add scraps and plant material directly over the winter instead of adding compost? I was thinking that I could either shallowly dig them in, or place them on top / under the winter's mulch.

I would put it under the mulch and I would consider putting bags of leaves around the barrel as insulation if you can get away with that with the land-owner, and possible clear plastic over the top, so that at least on warm sunny days, the dirt in the barrel would get warm enough for some decomposition to take place. The trick will be to keep the quantities fairly small, and if it's mostly veggie scraps, you may have to add something dry mixed in, like chopped cardboard. The issue will be the tendency for it to wait until spring to suddenly shrink down, and you'll find the soil level dropping after you seed, but so long as it doesn't drop so much that the plants don't get light, is that really a problem?
 
Logan Byrd
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Thank you very much for all the advice!

William Bronson wrote:Maybe set aside new barrel for "active" composting ,a mix of greens and browns, and heavily mulch the established drums.

I currently have a fourth barrel that I've been throwing greens and browns into, although it has a bit of a fly problem at the moment due to putting too much meat in.

Jay Angler wrote:I would put it under the mulch and I would consider putting bags of leaves around the barrel as insulation if you can get away with that with the land-owner, and possible clear plastic over the top, so that at least on warm sunny days, the dirt in the barrel would get warm enough for some decomposition to take place. The issue will be the tendency for it to wait until spring to suddenly shrink down, and you'll find the soil level dropping after you seed, but so long as it doesn't drop so much that the plants don't get light, is that really a problem?

I don't think I would be able to put bags of leaves, unfortunately - but I think I could pack snow around it to keep the heat in. A drop in soil level won't be too bad, I can always add some more in the spring, and I think that they would get enough light even if the soil level drops a bit. Since the soil level has already dropped in the first barrel, I think that would be a good barrel to study and measure where the light reaches in it at different times of the day.
 
Logan Byrd
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Here is another update! In the first barrel, the Austrian Winter Peas seem to dislike the heat, and the one pea (bottom-most) must be a Tom Thumb, since it is doing well and has a different leaf shape.

The second barrel seems very healthy overall, which I am surprised by given how many plants are in there. I thought that they would have started competing for resources by now, especially with the cucumber plant in the middle.

The third barrel is a fun one - after I gave up on the basil seeds, I added lentils and a layer of woodchips as mulch. But now that the lentils are coming up, all of the basil is as well...
I have been trying to "weed out" most of the lentils now, since I wanted (and prefer) the basil. I'll leave a few lentil plants in there for variety.
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I like your idea and I am glad you are having success.  Last fall I made a tall planter box about 10" wide and about 8 feet long for under a front window of the house.  I filled it with wood chips and composted horse manure, repeating those layers until mostly full then topped it off with organic potting soil and watered it until it was completely soaked, several times.  This spring it began settling, probably about 4" over a couple months but the plants are doing well as long as I keep them watered.  (desert environment dries it quickly)  
I think in the future if you prep the barrels in the ball and water in the dirt and other stuff so it works its way in between the logs it will settle well over the winter and spring and if you top it off before planting the future settling will be much slower.  I have a supply of several food grade barrels and I am considering trying your idea this fall to prepare for next spring.  Not having to bend over to tend the garden will be helpful.
 
Logan Byrd
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If you do try it out, let me know how it goes for you! I still have yet to water any of these barrels, and no slug or other plant-eating insect issues. There are definitely slugs hiding on the ground though, since I've caught them eating my honeydew melon seedlings...

I have been pulling out some of the weeds down on the ground that grow through the 4in-6in of woodchips, and I can notice the difference that not bending over makes. Although, not having to water or worry about pests in the barrels also helps!

I think that over the winter, I'll set up some barrels (either here if I am still here due to the insane housing market right now or wherever I move) since I can easily continue to add scraps and set up new barrels despite the snow.
 
Logan Byrd
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Here's some new photos! All of the plants seem to be happy, although deer (?) ate a good amount of the flower barrel shortly after my last update.

Still no watering or fertilization, although I have added some extra woodchips when I see bare spots.

I really like how the flower photo in this post turned out.
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Barrel #1
Barrel #1
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Barrel #1, Ground Cherry close-up
Barrel #1, Ground Cherry close-up
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Barrel #2
Barrel #2
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Barrel #2, Zinna close-up
Barrel #2, Zinna close-up
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Barrel #3
Barrel #3
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Barrel #3, with chickens
Barrel #3, with chickens
 
Logan Byrd
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I'll grab photos of the other barrels tomorrow, but the flowers in the second barrel have started to die back. Interestingly, the lemon cucumber (that I thought had died after the deer ate from the barrel) made a full recovery and is now going strong.
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Logan Byrd
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I keep forgetting to post updates, so here are some updates.

The barrel with ground cherries and french marigolds has stopped producing ground cherries. I got 50+ cherries of different sizes off the one plant, and while I didn't like them as much as I thought I would, I will try some other cultivars and see if I like them better. I am planning to try "Mary's Niagara Ground Cherry" next year. The french marigolds are still going strong, but I've been taking the seeds from the dried/dead flowers and spreading them around in hopes that they'll reseed throughout the yard next year.

The barrel with the mixed flowers and the lemon cucumber plant has produced a few cucumbers so far with more to come. I've also noticed something interesting about the barrel - it seems to be a haven for tree frogs, most likely due to the variety of insects (food) attracted by the flowers and the safety from snakes. I've attached a few of my favorite pictures of them.

The barrel with the birdhouse gourd needed to be loosely staked in place - we have had an unusual number of storms this summer, and each time it stormed, the vine would be thrown into a different direction and all of the fruit would be lost. In the future, I think I would run the vine across dirt so that it can set down roots rather than running it across the woodchips. One gourd is particularly large and there are three others that are starting to grow as well.

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A bumblebee enjoying the marigolds
A bumblebee enjoying the marigolds
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First Lemon Cucumber
First Lemon Cucumber
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A tree frog with some contrast
A tree frog with some contrast
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Two tree frogs catching some sun
Two tree frogs catching some sun
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A birdhouse gourd for a future harvest
A birdhouse gourd for a future harvest
 
Logan Byrd
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As far as the rest of the area goes:

1. Three more plastic barrels were filled up with logs, food waste, and woodchips. I transplanted a year-old Habanada Pepper bonchi into one, and while the plant is growing very well and producing many flowers, I do not see any peppers on it. I never got any peppers when I originally grew it indoors as well, so it may be bad genetics or a variety that requires outcrossing? Either way, I am expecting nada from it.

2. A few days ago I placed three spinach varieties into one of the barrels, with around 15 seeds for each. Noorman, Old Dominion, and Securo. There's nothing to report so far for germination, but this is my first time trying a fall crop so I am hoping it does well.

3. On the ground, there was a honeydew melon plant that self-seeded from some scraps I dropped, although it looks like the soil was poor there since it hardly grew. There is also a watermelon plant that I intentionally planted using David The Good's melon pit method, and it is doing very well, although I fear I started it too late to get any melons from it.
 
Jay Angler
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Logan Byrd wrote:
1. Three more plastic barrels were filled up with logs, food waste, and woodchips. I transplanted a year-old Habanada Pepper bonchi into one, and while the plant is growing very well and producing many flowers, I do not see any peppers on it. I never got any peppers when I originally grew it indoors as well, so it may be bad genetics or a variety that requires outcrossing? Either way, I am expecting nada from it.

Some peppers have evening low temps that stimulate them to set fruit, and some seem to need to be a certain size. My friend had given up on her Thai Dragon, and now it's got fruit, so don't give up hope!
Congrats on getting more barrels filled - "creating" that much volume of "pre-soil" is harder than it sounds, but having filled several large raised beds this year, I have great appreciation for the work involved. That said, they will produce food for many years with little top-ups as well as the learning experiences of what grows in your ecosystem.

2. A few days ago I placed three spinach varieties into one of the barrels, with around 15 seeds for each. Noorman, Old Dominion, and Securo. There's nothing to report so far for germination, but this is my first time trying a fall crop so I am hoping it does well.

I've heard that spinach is easier to grow as a fall crop, so please keep us posted.

3. On the ground, there was a honeydew melon plant that self-seeded from some scraps I dropped, although it looks like the soil was poor there since it hardly grew. There is also a watermelon plant that I intentionally planted using David The Good's melon pit method, and it is doing very well, although I fear I started it too late to get any melons from it.

Even if you don't get fruit, you're getting roots and biomass, so let them enjoy their life. If you get a chance to see a Bumble bee that's had a pollen-bath in a squash flower, I expect you'll at least smile - funniest looking yellow ball I've seen in a long time!

The barrel with the birdhouse gourd needed to be loosely staked in place - we have had an unusual number of storms this summer, and each time it stormed, the vine would be thrown into a different direction and all of the fruit would be lost. In the future, I think I would run the vine across dirt so that it can set down roots rather than running it across the woodchips.  

I made some specific wooden trellis panels that fit a barrel, although they've died of old age now. They fit around the "back" of the barrel (north in my case) and provided a place for climbers to grow. If your barrels are in a line close together, you could train it to run along the back of three or four barrels, putting down roots as it goes?

I got 50+ cherries of different sizes off the one plant, and while I didn't like them as much as I thought I would, I will try some other cultivars and see if I like them better.

My son loves them fresh, but I'm not so keen. However, we both love them in muffins or mixed with apples in apple-crisp, and they freeze well, so if they produce well for you, you may just need to think of other uses for them.

I'm so glad you've got happy frogs! Frogs are suffering with loss of habitat, polluted water, toxic insects and so many more issues, that if you've made a happy place for frogs, that's awesome!
 
Logan Byrd
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Jay Angler wrote:Some peppers have evening low temps that stimulate them to set fruit, and some seem to need to be a certain size. My friend had given up on her Thai Dragon, and now it's got fruit, so don't give up hope!
Congrats on getting more barrels filled - "creating" that much volume of "pre-soil" is harder than it sounds, but having filled several large raised beds this year, I have great appreciation for the work involved. That said, they will produce food for many years with little top-ups as well as the learning experiences of what grows in your ecosystem.

I won't give up on it, but I don't think I will attempt to bonchi it again and carry it forward into another year. I have been very happy with the barrels overall - I will definitely be replicating this once I have my own place, although I do not know if I will be here next year to see if the barrels perform even better the second year.
I also have been sneaking some pits from stonefruits (peaches, plums, and nectarines) into the barrels - hopefully one of them will result in a dwarf fruit tree next year!

Jay Angler wrote:Even if you don't get fruit, you're getting roots and biomass, so let them enjoy their life. If you get a chance to see a Bumble bee that's had a pollen-bath in a squash flower, I expect you'll at least smile - funniest looking yellow ball I've seen in a long time!

I will! I don't like removing plants that I've intentionally planted, since even a late planting will give me experience with watermelon plants for the next year. The only exception to this rule of mine is if a plant starts to endanger other plants or structures, like a vine that slips into house siding or something among those lines.

Jay Angler wrote:I made some specific wooden trellis panels that fit a barrel, although they've died of old age now. They fit around the "back" of the barrel (north in my case) and provided a place for climbers to grow. If your barrels are in a line close together, you could train it to run along the back of three or four barrels, putting down roots as it goes?

That is a good idea and something that I will try. My current setup is a grid-like pattern, so a barrel, then a gap the size of the barrel, then another barrel, and so forth. My initial idea behind that was that I could grow plants in between the barrels, since over time the rain would wash nutrients from within the barrel down to the soil below it. I didn't get a chance to see if that would have made a difference this year, but if I haven't moved, I'll try that next year.

Jay Angler wrote:I'm so glad you've got happy frogs! Frogs are suffering with loss of habitat, polluted water, toxic insects and so many more issues, that if you've made a happy place for frogs, that's awesome!

Frogs are one of my favorite wild critters here - I've also noticed that leopard frogs seem to be hanging out wherever I put down woodchips (including the pile of woodchips that I have been slowly using) although I am not sure why they do so. There's a pond on this property that is very loud in the summers due to the sheer number of frogs that live in it, but tree frogs are more of a rarity so I am very happy to see them enjoying my garden as much as I do.
 
Logan Byrd
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A month and a half later, here's an update! We are approaching the end of the season here, and while the plants are still alive for the most part, the cooler temperatures are taking their toll.

The barrel with the french marigolds and ground cherries has come to an end - the ground cherry plant is dying back, and the french marigolds have more dead flowers than not. I thought about snipping the plants at the base so I can top off the barrel with more compost items before winter comes, but the bumblebees love the few marigolds that remain so I do not want to take those away just yet.

The barrel with the lemon cucumber and assorted flowers produced the last few cucumbers and there are not many flowers yet - although the Love Lies Bleeding is doing well and stands out amongst the rest. I took the second to last cucumber today and decided to save seeds from it - I haven't had luck with fermenting tomato seeds in the past, but I took the innards out of the cucumber and added a bit of water. It will be interesting to see if it does well, but if not, I have the last cucumber still on the plant that I can save seeds from without fermenting.

The birdhouse gourd barrel is going strong and (surprisingly) continuing to produce new gourds. There are three full-size gourds that I think will be harvestable once they harden off, but there are two small gourds growing and many immature gourds on the vine. Ideally I want to harvest the full-size gourds before the first frost (to prevent any damage to the seeds), but if they do not harden off in time then I will leave them until the rest of the plant dies back. I won't be counting on the smaller gourds to mature in time but I will be happy if they do.

The habanada pepper barrel still has not produced any peppers - I wonder if it has an odd genetic quirk where it requires cross pollination to fruit?
 
Logan Byrd
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As for other plants in the area:
There was a barrel that I planted three varieties of spinach in (Noorman, Old Dominion, and Securo) and the Old Dominion is doing great. The other two did not come up, but this is the first time that I have gotten spinach to grow successfully!

The watermelon plant produced one watermelon, but I came out one day and it was broken into pieces. I'm not sure what would have smashed it, but I picked the pieces up and put them in one of the work-in-progress barrels to compost.

There was one morning glory flower, from an indoor plant that I had thrown off to the side in the spring! Somehow the plant survived and grew enough to put out one blue flower.

No melons from the self-seeded honeydew melon plant, but the bumblebees love it.
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Morning Glory
Morning Glory
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Honeydew & Bumblebee
Honeydew & Bumblebee
 
Logan Byrd
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There have also been some random sunflower and corn plants that have come up - I believe thanks to seeds dropped by birds that took them from a nearby bird feeder. I haven't bothered with pulling out any of those plants since they have fairly narrow profiles and don't negatively affect the birdhouse gourd in that area, but I got a good picture of three bumblebees on one sunflower.
photo_2021-10-13_23-43-17.jpg
Bumblebee Social Hour
Bumblebee Social Hour
 
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