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hugelkultur after Forest fire?

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Hey All,

I'm wondering if anyone has an opinion on using forest fire wood for hugelkultur beds. I figure with all the forest fires in the west it might be a great way to obtain some land cheaply and rehabilitate it with materials already in a state of decay. I know how quickly and robustly vegetation grows back after a wildfire, would this land also make for good gardening, or does the burning process make the soil composition unfavorable for edible foods?

I'm very new the permaculture thing, but I'm trying to do as much research as I can, but I haven't found much information on this topic. Any help would be appreciated?

Posts: 3601
Location: woodland, washington
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seems like a reasonable idea to me. you would want to be sure to include some pretty serious fire breaks in your design, though.
Posts: 4665
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Depends on the fire. The Hayman fire in Colorado was so hot that it burned the soil itself in some spots. It is an amazing thing to see. Erosion took out a lot of top soil too. If you get the right area, one were the fire moved through fairly quickly, you would probably be OK.
Posts: 130
Location: Hamilton, MT
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Hi, I posted a similar discussion on the HugleKulture forum using both forest fire recovered timber as well as seasonal burn pile. The following is the quick recap of that comment:

Tim Southwell

Joined: Nov 07, 2011
Posts: 28
Location: Hamilton, MT
posted August 12, 2012 1:30:55 PM MDT

I would be interested to hear comments expounding on thoughts about burnt timber in a hugel bed...

I have 160 acres of heavily forested pine trees in SW Montana in the Bitterroot Mountain Range. For the last 10+ years, I have used capital and muscle to institute major fire thinning practices, thereby opening the canopy and inviting native grass / shrub growth, etc, etc. As part of this process, I cut, piled and burned a number of piles of fallen pine (easily 100+ piles). Last year, I learned of Permaculture, acquired my PDC, and am now working to bring a positive transition to the property for decades to come (no more burning!).

Understanding the importance of observation in Permaculture practice, my focus has brought me back to the burnt piles of fallen timber, and what has developed on and off over the last decade. Most of these burnt piles are littered with the knobs of rotten, burnt logs that did not fire completely, a mound of left over dirt / debris, as well as an over abundance of 'lambs ear', 'thistle', 'mullen', and a few other 'weeds'. The question I pose is, can I use this to my advantage?

The idea is to plant 1 tree in each pile while guilding it with synergistic plantings. I was thinking of taking a shovel to the heart of the pile. Moving unburnt timber away, ripping up all the 'weeds' (green manure) then digging a 2' hole in the center. I would then back fill the hole with the unburnt timber (now rotten) while layering in the recently pulled 'weeds', and completing the effort with planting a fruit tree (or other). I then top dress with mulch, straw, winter rye, etc and let it go. I would then top seed in the spring with synergistic plantings to aid in moisture retention, nutrient accumulation, pollination attractants, etc, etc.

What do you think?
Will the soil elements already present, be in-line with fostering growth? I figure the companion plantings would aid towards any soil amendment needs... or do I need an immediate injection of something else?
Has anyone else tried this before?

This is a project for September, so I would appreciate any / all insight on the theory for pushing this forward.

Thanks in advance,


Tim Southwell


Chris Kott

Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 216
Location: Toronto, Ontario
posted August 12, 2012 7:10:43 PM MDT
As to the charred wood content, I think it would it would act in the same way as biochar. The chunks or layers where all the volatile compounds were burnt away will break down last, which I would think would preserve soil structure longer. The only thing I can think that you might want to do is take a complete inventory of what has seeded itself in the areas in question. There are threads here on this forum if I am not mistaken that deal with assessing soil quality based on what "weeds" grow there. If you think adding something is necessary, I think you should consider seeding a soil improvement guild to enhance the choices nature is already making with a view to running chickens on it to manure it. You could do this on an ongoing basis, and as long as you follow what you know of guild design, your soil will only get better. I believe there is a podcast where Paul talks about a few major components of a guild to forage feed chickens the whole year round, something you could transition to if chickens were on your long-term plan. If you chose mainly shade-loving species, you might not have to cut too much mature lumber. For instance, mulberries are an understory species and drop fruit for three months a year. Chicken feed! Sugar maples are a taprooted species that engages in hydraulic lift, also loves the shade, and when they drop their seeds, guess what? More chicken feed! You get my point, and Paul's list is much more extensive.

So, check out HK forum as well as the Woodland forum for comments back. I have just built my first HK bed last week and will be seeding it this next week with some winter grasses to get her started. Lastly, I am hoping to build a few dozen more this fall around previous burn piles while also planting some fruit trees alongside. Good luck and I'll look forward to further insight from the panel.

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again, depends on the fire.

If there has been a lot of fire suppression for years and fuel loads were high before the burn you can get really hot severe burns that can really wipe out soils. And it can be followed by a lot of erosion in steep country.

If there has been more frequent fire on the landscape it can have a much more positive effect.

There can be quite a bit of nutrient leaching and loss immediately after a burn.

On the plus side, if it's burnt at least the fuel load has been reduced so you can start from a good place with your management for that.

learn about the forest type and what the natural fire frequency is...there are some ecosystems /climatic zones like chaparral that are less than wise to inhabit as they are going to have frequent burns...just asking for trouble, and the more years you get away with suppressing fire the worse it is when it does happen

and be super careful in burn areas if there's a lot of dead standing trees. it's a terrifying experience being a few miles into an old burn when a big wind comes up, there will be stuff coming down everywhere. living in a burn area you'd really have to take some of the hanging death down in order to be at all safe..

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