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Where to start Permaculture @ 6500'?  RSS feed

 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Hi All, I am new to the forum. We recently moved to our forty acre dream farm. We ran water lines, built a barn for our horses and donks, added sheds, made a fenced chicken yard and are finally ready to set up raised garden beds...I think. My question is this, our soil is basically decomposed granite, there are grasses and weeds that grow, but there is no top soil to speak of. What would be the best route to follow to make raised beds for next years planting season? I read about Hugelkulture and that looks great, but we have no dead wood anywhere to speak of, only some downed aspen trees. Any thoughts and ideas would be really helpful.

MEWolf
 
Milton Dixon
Posts: 36
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It really depends on what resources you have available to you. I would absolutely make hugelkultur beds with the aspen trees or any other wood available, fresh or not. It'll be dead once you cut it, perhaps you could even inoculate it with mushrooms.

With the grasses and weeds I would do a chop and drop, perhaps mowing three times and leaving the clippings in place. I would consider adding a legumes to the mix in the spring. Also any water harvesting you could do with keylining or swales would be helpful.

Milton

 
Lisa Niermann
Posts: 37
Location: Colorado, ~5700', Zone 5b, ~11" ann. precip
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Hi Margaret,
Congratulations on your venture!

Before I moved to the Hotchkiss/Paonia area (~5500') I lived on the front range west of Boulder at 9200'. To say that gardening was a challenge would be an understatement, but I did have some successes. I'm guessing that your weather will not be so extreme as to have a 60 day growing period and hurricane force winds in the winter!

Anyway, I had to deal with decomposed granite there, as well. If I had known about Hugelkultur then, I definitely would have used it! You will have to bring in materials for planting. I tried to dig down about 2' if I could, made raised beds of the plentiful rock , filled with topsoil, manure, and compost, and always had a thick layer of straw on everything. Our compost consisted of food waste and chicken manure and bedding from our chickens. I found niches among rock outcroppings and by the house where I made small growing areas for more frost-sensitive plants. I used row cover on nearly everything as my 60 day growing season was nearing its end. I had great success with a hoop house and a cold frame. My dear one built a tiny greenhouse out of reclaimed materials, but I only got to use it one season. It was tricky because everything got too hot in there. I didn't have enough time to tweak my methods with that.

For cultivated plants, I had pretty good success with seeds from high altitude gardens, and Botanical Interests. I also bought native plants from the county extension's plant sale in the spring, and those usually survived.

The aspen will be great for your Hugelkultur, but it will break down quickly as it's a very soft wood. As for the weeds...they could be useful...even at 9200' I was surrounded with medicinal/edible plants!
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Hi All!
Today DH and I scoured our 40 acres for wood for our first Hugelkultur bed. While we found a whole truck bed full of wood, unfortunately most of what we found was some old fence posts (have no idea if they are treated or not), some ancient salt cedar (there is an seasonal arroyo on our property) and a bunch of Aspen branches and logs. My questions: Is all of this wood fair game for the bed? Should we line the bottom of the bed with the salt cedar and fence posts? We will be filling the bed in with horse manure, hay and dirt. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

MEWolf
 
Matt Middleton
Posts: 6
Location: Monument, CO
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Margaret, I'm a bit west of you in Monument, but there is a good source of hugelkulture wood here that will only cost you fuel and effort. El Paso County operates a free slash mulch program in Black Forest that's open to all county residents. It's mostly ponderosa pine and spruce wood, but there's usually a decent amount of hardwoods as well. From what I understand it can be somewhat hit or miss as far as the size of material - usually smaller branches. However, they have no problems with you loading up the un-mulched branches and logs and hauling those away. They're open well into September, so you've got about a month left this year. Good luck!
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Hi Matt!
Nice to chat with someone close! Thanks for this information! How do I go about finding out more about this program, location, times, etc.? Would it be on the El Paso County website?

MEWolf
 
Matt Middleton
Posts: 6
Location: Monument, CO
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Go to the program's website: http://www.bfslash.org

It's located off of Shoup road about 1/4 of a mile east of Black Forest Road. Pretty easy to get to.
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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A HUGE thank you to Matt Middleton for pointing me to the Black Forest Slash and Mulch Program. Not only is it an awesome source for wood for my Hugel beds, they are just a darn nice bunch of people. I volunteered there today, and came home with a pick up truck bed FULL of all kinds of wood for our next two beds!!! What a great lead!

MEWolf
 
Jay Vinekeeper
Posts: 77
Location: Northwest Lower MI
3
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Margaret,

Can you estimate the rainfall there?

So much relies on the need to generate mulch/compost from the site itself for all the beds and plots you hope to develop. We can't sustainably continue to import organic matter from off site ... unless its falling down the mountain to you.

There's a question: What lies above you? Are there stands of trees that might produce litter that could be skidded or dragged on site? Are there wood chips or other organic waste from not-to-very-far-away that could be stockpiled on future bed sites?

Hence, the rainfall question. How much do you have to work with and could some form of mulch be grown on site? Comfrey, sunchokes make good biomass per volume of land. Can you grow hay? Maybe alfalfa. For me to haul enough material from nearby pine plantations in a region with an average of 30+ inches of rainfall and dense layers of forest litter all around, it takes about 200 pickup loads to adequately mulch one acre. Start hauling ... and hopefully conditions will allow you to keep hauling for a long time. How far to the source?

So many questions, so little time.

be well
vinekeeper
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9691
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I think I already posted this in another similar thread, but here it is again. Rocky Mountain food forest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehBQUJJwQpE
 
Matt Middleton
Posts: 6
Location: Monument, CO
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Glad to help. Enjoy your upcoming shovel time.
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Hi Jay,
Our garden area is currently 525 sq. ft. fenced, we also currently house our chickens in that area as well. We hope to start our with four Hugelkultur beds for planting next Spring. Our average annual rainfall is about 13" and average annual snowfall about 43". The Black Forest Slash and Mulch is approximately 25 miles from my home. I do not feel badly "importing" wood and mulch from there because I did and will volunteer each time. Working for a great cause is never a bad thing, even if it does not benefit one directly, although this time and in the future it will benefit us directly. In addition, since where we live on the Eastern plains where there are few to no trees, it is a given that we will have to import trees, bushes, mulch, etc. to establish our property. We just moved to this property in June and it was 40 acres of grassland with a house; one mature and half a dozen immature Aspen trees on it; and a seasonal arroyo; it is a blank slate. We are literally starting our homestead from scratch. There several of bushy outcroppings around the arroyo, but I would not disturb those as they are bird and bunny habitats. There are several meadow areas, and there is some moisture in the arroyo, although in out drought situation, we will have to rely on groundwater for our gardening until our beds are established. We have since added cross fencing for out livestock, a fenced garden/chicken area, an 84'X24' barn/with hay storage for our horses and donkeys, and two sizable sheds, one for the garden and one for my husband's tools and his reloading area. We do not have the equipment necessary to grow, tet, and bale our own alfalfa or hay. We are hoping that through hugelkultur we will be able to grow much of our own food and introduce some type of food forest. Our animals will be managed through rotational grazing once we add a bit more cross-fencing. We will most likely always need to bring in hay, but for the first time in the 20 years of owning horses, we will not have to purchase hay except for the winter months.

MEWolf
 
Rick Freeman
Posts: 103
Location: NW Montana, Hardiness Zone 4b
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Hi Margaret,

You will NEVER regret every bit of time, energy, and resource that you expend up front to build your hugelculture beds. The more the better. Be sure to dig them deep enough to get plenty of soil to cover them. I prefer at least 16 inches -- plenty deep enough to plant bare-root shrub stock. It's s a simple geometry calculation to decide how deep to dig. The more wood you have in there the more energy and time you will save watering in the long run. The importance of this consideration cannot be over-estimated.

Also I agree with the above post that you can effectively use cover crops -- like a field pea, vetch, oat or rye mix -- to build NP and K into your soil as well as carbon content. Also, be sure to inoculate your trees with arbuscular ecto-mycorrhizae for long-term soil carbon build-up. I wouldn't till more than once if at all.
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Thanks Rick! I am definitely looking at it as an investment in our future. Starting from scratch can be a very positive thing on many levels!

Margaret
 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 704
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
18
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Hi Margaret,
I was wondering how sloping your land is?
I ask because it might be wise to look at adding some swales out in the pasture, and seeding them with cover crops. in theory the swales will help the grasses grow as the soil holds more of the water, although i have actually tested it in your area.

i am just trying to think of ways to keep the hay bill down in winter, as last year hay was up to $13+ in my area (fremont county) due to drought.

if/when you are ready to layout the swales, i would be glad to come help with locating/staking.

sorry im not more help with huglekultur beds.
 
Margaret Wolf
Posts: 12
Location: Calhan, Colorado
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Hi Kelly,
Sorry I did not answer you before this! The back part of our property is quite hilly. I have no idea what the slope is though. We have some of what look to be natural swales on our property, although they could also be man made to prevent runoff damage. There are several meadow areas on either side of the arroyo. We have been told by neighbors that the arroyo does run after a substantial rainfall. However because we are in a drought, there is no standing, let alone running water in it now. I do know there is one area that has cat tails growing in it and there is a bunch of horsetail grass...which leads me to believe there is water not to far under the surface.

I would love to have someone else look at our property and give us some suggestions.

Margaret
 
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