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No-work hugelkultur with tree roots

 
Ben Stallings
Posts: 149
Location: Emporia, KS
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I'm a hugelkultur skeptic, but after viewing Eric Markov's video I'm starting to think it might be worth trying. Trouble is, I work mainly on small urban lots with heavy clay soil, so digging -- either with earth-moving equipment or shovels -- is going to be a really hard sell. And 8-foot-high raised beds are out of the question for most urban lots! (My skepticism has more to do with the theory than the practice, though -- all that carbon needs to be balance with a lot of nitrogen, and most people don't appear to be doing that; the purported benefits are supposed to be 10 years down the line, but people are proclaiming success after a year or less; and aren't there better things we could find to do with wood anyway? Maybe I'm just uninformed.)

Anyway, it occurs to me that we don't have to bury wood -- trees are in the business of burying wood. Could we just grow a fast-growing tree on the location, cut it down after a year or two, and use its decomposing roots as the foundation of the hugel bed? Or am I missing something?
 
Paulo Silva
Posts: 30
Location: Country: Portugal. City: Tomar
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Ben Stallings wrote:I'm a hugelkultur skeptic, but after viewing Eric Markov's video I'm starting to think it might be worth trying. Trouble is, I work mainly on small urban lots with heavy clay soil, so digging -- either with earth-moving equipment or shovels -- is going to be a really hard sell. And 8-foot-high raised beds are out of the question for most urban lots! (My skepticism has more to do with the theory than the practice, though -- all that carbon needs to be balance with a lot of nitrogen, and most people don't appear to be doing that; the purported benefits are supposed to be 10 years down the line, but people are proclaiming success after a year or less; and aren't there better things we could find to do with wood anyway? Maybe I'm just uninformed.)

Anyway, it occurs to me that we don't have to bury wood -- trees are in the business of burying wood. Could we just grow a fast-growing tree on the location, cut it down after a year or two, and use its decomposing roots as the foundation of the hugel bed? Or am I missing something?



For us with heavy clay soil the Hugelkultur benefits begin from day 1, the nitrogen problem can be reduced by adding horse manure and/or coffee grounds, urine would also be helpful.

I found that planting plants that fix nitrogen is the best way to start any Hugelkultur, when you harvest them leave the roots on the Hugelkultur with all the fixed nitrogen.

That tree roots idea won't work, first because with heavy clay soil they grow very slow (it's hard for them to expand) and the roots go all the place but mostly near the top where it's softer and richer in organic matter.

There are many animals that like to dig holes, give them a nice home and they will make your soil better.
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Tree roots will work once they are dead and decomposing, but it takes years to get em to rot like that.

Inocculating with mushroom spore will help, and so will symbiotic rooted plants.

Digging is good for all soils after 7-8 years anyway.

We dont build up out west, we dig down, and use the buried wood as water sponge cachement.
We throw in lots of fresh manure, or even "gasp" fertilizer out here in the desert. I have started pouring in boric acid powder too. Don't want a termite feast before the plants get to it.

Piles break down well where it is wet, and stays damp. Keeps the plants toes dry too.
Technique was started in deep forest.
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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Ben Stallings wrote:(My skepticism has more to do with the theory than the practice, though -- all that carbon needs to be balance with a lot of nitrogen, and most people don't appear to be doing that; the purported benefits are supposed to be 10 years down the line, but people are proclaiming success after a year or less; and aren't there better things we could find to do with wood anyway? Maybe I'm just uninformed.)


because the wood is not mixed up with the dirt, but just sits underneath with relatively little surface area, the nitrogen-binding problem is not as acute as one might expect. as the wood slowly decomposes, it acts as a sink for moisture, nitrogen, and other helpful things. the plants still have access to the nitrogen in the top soil that isn't in contact with the wood, but nitrogen that might otherwise leach downward is captured in the wood. deeper roots then have access to the moisture and nutrients made available as the wood breaks down. deeper roots aren't necessarily in the business of finding nitrogen anyhow. that's a more important function for surface feeder roots.
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
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I am interested in the line of thinking in this thread...I am seeing a dramatic difference in two pie cherry trees that I planted here late winter. One I planted as usual in a small hole with a basin and then mulch. The other I planted about four or five feet out from a white oak stump (one of several 100 year old trees that are dying from a fungus) also a small hole , a basin and mulch. They both survived our hot dry summer with a minimum of water but the one at the stump has been sending out beautiful new growth also all summer. The oak tree had been dying for several years so I assume some roots had decomposed already. I plan to set in more fruit trees at each white oak stump...some are almost thoroughly rotted.

I am also wondering how deep to bury wood under a new tree planting. It seems as though you would want some pretty deep so that the tree roots would extend downward for water.

Morgan, I would worry about boric acid killing good insects along with the termites and also benificial fungus since I thought it was also a fungicide...Maybe termites in the garden would only help the process.
 
tel jetson
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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Judith Browning wrote:
Morgan, I would worry about boric acid killing good insects along with the termites and also benificial fungus since I thought it was also a fungicide...Maybe termites in the garden would only help the process.


fungicide, insecticide, and herbicide.
 
Matthew McCoul
Posts: 68
Location: Southeast Michigan
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This is an old post, i know, but still relevant to people reading it for information.

One of the best things you can do for dense clay soil is let the weeds grow tall then hand scythe them (less compacting than mowing) then leave the stalks as a mulch

This takes a year or two, but there's a reason behind it. Most of what we call "Weeds" have long, deep taproots designed to break up the soil and draw nutrients from deep down up to the surface.
If you let them develop these deep roots then cut them, the roots mine nutrients from below, rot in the broken up soil, and the tops compost the nutrients back into the upper layer.
What you end up with is way better soil than you had.

Comfrey, alfalfa, and yellow clover are great for this for many reasons you can read up on.

But common dandelion, chicory, thistle, red clover, etc will do the same.

Afterwards, you can simply add more mulch over them to kill them off wherever you want to garden.
 
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