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Slow evolution into Hugelkultur: WWYD?

 
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TL/DR: My chickens got to my new hugelkultur bed and I don't know what to do before I lose this growing season, too!

I have been here for almost four years and worked my way up to a Hugelkultur bed,  I tried to make mine 3' tall (using only woman power here!) BUT, as you'll see, I had a hard time getting enough soil and the chickens loved digging out all the worms and critters out of the compost layer.  In September 2021 I almost died - literally - spending 6 weeks on bedrest as our hospitals were overwhelmed and my husband was providing round-the-clock care.  4 weeks in PT to be able to walk out of my house.  It was January before I could "clean up" my chickens' coop and the fall garden chores didn't get done.  My hens went from rotating patches to free range - and destroyed my new, true hugelkultur bed.  Somehow, my volunteer peach tree (that I found in the chicken run last year!) is surviving!  We recently had an Alder tree cut down and I want to make REAL 4' hugelkultur beds this year. . . and I have already lost much of the starting season!

My Dilemma:  Do I dig up this bed and start over with my new alder logs, transplanting the peach tree?  Do I make it longer, with the peach-tree in the middle? Do I just leave it as-is and 'redo' the chips/compost/soil?  
Bed4HollyHockAndPeachTree.jpg
This is facing north, the hollyhock was planted last year, I just noticed it's coming out.
This is facing north, the hollyhock was planted last year, I just noticed it's coming out.
Bed4PeachTree.jpg
My favorite thing ever! A volunteer peach tree that grew from a peach pit. It survived snow, puppies, chickens, and frost!
My favorite thing ever! A volunteer peach tree that grew from a peach pit. It survived snow, puppies, chickens, and frost!
Bed1234.jpg
Here you can see my four "beds" and evoloution - 1)In ground; 2)Raised/hugel-layers with Lovage, kale, mint; 3) almost hugel (too shallow) and 4)newest hugel post chickens
Here you can see my four "beds" and evoloution - 1)In ground; 2)Raised/hugel-layers with Lovage, kale, mint; 3) almost hugel (too shallow) and 4)newest hugel post chickens
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 3225
Location: Gulf of Mexico cajun zone 8
1515
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What state or USDA zone are you in? How much soil do you have available?
 
gardener
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Location: N. California
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It sounds as though you are well, and that is the most important, everything else can wait.  I'm so sorry about your chicken demolition crew.  I have lost track of how many times that has happened to me.  My hugel is in need of repair right now. I fenced mine and that took care of the problem, until I left the gate open one day.  
As far as your dilemma, yes to the option that suits you best.
I personally would never deconstruct my hugel.  I'm way to lazy, and it's way to much work.  Between sinking from time and the chickens my hugel is much shorter then I want.  I happen to have a bunch of tree trimmings. I'm going with a strange and unconventional repair.  I'm going to pile those branches on the sides and on top, try to fill all the empty space with soil, then do a load of wood chips and then, all of my chop and drop from my winter garden is going on, last I'm going to dump as much compost and soil on top as I can get my hands on.  Then I'm going to plant a bunch of veggies on it and see what happens.
You may want to ask yourself, Do you want to start over? Do you have time to start over?  Will you be happier starting over?  If the answer is yes, then you are made of sturdier stuff then me, and you should start over.  If your up for the work, and want more growing space and have the room for another hugel, then dump a bunch of soil, compost, what ever you have on top of your existing hugel and build a new one.  If time or your health are an issue, you can do what you can for the hugel you have, use it and set the wood aside for when you have the time.
As for the tree if you are happy with where it is, leave it.  If it will keep you from growing your veggies, move it.  I would try to move it as soon as possible.  Its best if you move it when it's dormant.  Or the sooner the better.  I always worry about moving a tree.  I know it's done, its how we get bare root trees, but its a gamble.
I'm sure what ever you decide will be great.  Good luck to you.
 
Briana Great
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Mike Barkley wrote:What state or USDA zone are you in? How much soil do you have available?



I am in Western Washington, Zone 8, and we have excess soil I have been 'borrowing' from the front lawn, it is very sandy and needs LOTS of amending which is what usually holds me up - we don't produce enough compost waste ourselves =)  
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Location: N. California
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When I was building my hugel I stopped at Lowes as often as I could. Broken bags are sold at a reduced price.  One day I asked the garden manager how much a bag of reduced organic soil would be. I ended up explaining what I was doing. She was interested, asked lots of questions. From then on when she would see me, she would help me find broken bags, and give me the best price she could.  I didn't have to spend much, and it helped finish the top of my hugel.
Another tip, not for now, but the future. If you have an area you can spare for a year or two, see if you can get free wood chips from a local tree company. Let them sit for a year or two, and not only will it be a perfect soil additive, but the soil under the pile will be amazing.
Good luck
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 3225
Location: Gulf of Mexico cajun zone 8
1515
cattle hugelkultur cat dog trees hunting chicken bee woodworking homestead ungarbage
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Then I think in that case my recommendation would be to add some soil to repair the existing hugel & replant it. Then use the new logs to make wood chips to build some future soil.
 
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Don't move that peach tree or disturb the bed.  That peach tree has survived because it's strong and healthy where it is.  Besides, spring is a bad time for transplanting trees.  I think you should add on to the bed.  Then, to keep chickens from digging in the bed, cover it with chicken wire or some other sort of wire mesh.
 
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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I see all kinds of wonderful litter in that picture, I am assuming scratched around by the chickens.

If that were my yard I would find an out-of-the-way corner to rake that into and start a compost pile.  Continue throwing all scraps that don't go to animals, coffee and tea ground, yard clipping, leaves, chicken house bedding, etc.  I would also put up a piece of chicken wire making that area a triangle so chickens will stay out. Soon all that stuff will turn into compost.
 
pollinator
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I agree with Jen. Don't deconstruct the hugel as 1) that's a lot of work and 2) there's probably already some decomposition and good stuff happening in it.  I do understand having a shortage of soil and the recommendation to stop by garden centers and see if you can pick up torn bags at a reduced price is a good one, though I'd steer clear of stuff with chemical fertilizers added.  

I am glad you're feeling better..  Right now we are dealing with some medical issues and are making several 200-mile round trips to the hospital.  Fuel isn't cheap now and I hesitate to buy anything that isn't absolutely necessary.   So if I were dealing with rebuilding a hugel bed, I'd probably start adding shredded leaves and grass clippings as both are readily available.   If you can get your hands on some free wood chips that would work as well.  Basically anything that will break down and fill in the gaps.

 
Briana Great
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"leaves and grass clippings are readily available" - they actually aren't!  We have a shortage of both because so much of our "yard" is growing food and trees and chickens!  

We do have composting going.  And we have a TON Of wood chips now that we had a tree cut down.  I have stuff to build a new hugel bed - I have to find time and energy :-/
 
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