This topic may seem contradictory, but I think there are situations where wood is scarce, contaminated by chemicals or too time/energy intensive to gather in sufficient quantity.
I am wondering what can be done onsite by growing your own organic matter to incorporate into the beds. I am thinking of a rumor I heard where Sepp ran out of wood building hugelkultur beds and planted potatoes instead. I think it was during his visit to the US earlier this year? Bamboo also comes to mind as a quick growing woody substitute that could be buried into a raised bed as it was harvested.
I am thinking that building a raised bed, steep and tall as possible, Sepp style, with only the stuff that was growing on the ground would still be better than planting on a flat piece of land as is the traditional method.
So any other ideas on how to grow your own hugelkultur materials instead of importing?
He digs holes, adds organic matter (straw, manure, ash, compost) and there you have it. Simply digging the hole will help gather water. Placing any absorptive material in the hole will increase water retention. I see no reason why bamboo would no work, though I would personally make sure it was thoroughly dead first. In this film, he uses stalks from corn and various grasses -- so I think bamboo would also work.
I've heard of Potatoes. Lots of potatoes. You eat some, you leave some, and the ones you leave magically become "potato-wood".
Lambsquarters, I just found out, if you can get it to grow a 1 inch stem (not impossible, I did it) becomes very woody. And it probably has a lot of near-woody root matter.
Black locust is incredibly invasive but if you can keep it small and under control it will put carbon into the ground. And nitrogen.
I think a key to this approach would be to make certain that there is plenty of carbon in there.
Limbs and trunks are mostly carbon. You would want to mimic that as closely as practical.
Too much "green" would just begin to rot vs decompose. Without the staying power of woody pieces, the pile would shrink rapidly. The branches and limbs also provide plenty of air space between them, which helps maintain an aerobic breakdown.
I like the idea of designing hugelkultur that grows itself. I really like the potato idea because it seems to fit very well with permaculture principles - i.e. minimum effort, maximum effect. Seems there is no easy way to skip the whole piling up dirt and soil step, but growing the woody bits in place would save a lot of work and petroleum.
William mentioned lambsquarters for root organic matter. I wonder if daikon would also be good. Also what other plants could be good to build up large masses of 'wood' type stuff in the ground.
I suppose hypothetically if you had some ground and no wood or machinery you could mound the dirt as high as practical and plant lots and lots of potatoes, other roots crops and lots of legumes to feed them all. Then you could either chop and drop all the potato leaves or bury them completely with more soil and start over again the next year. Over time a solid base of organic matter would accumulate. Also maybe rodents could be encouraged to tunnel in the garden and aerate the soil.
It depends on your climate. With potatoes or daikon you have to sheet mulch them to death as they're very vigorous and have lots of root energy to use growing through your mulch. I wouldn't expect either to just die. If you can grow them, F1 daikons are great; they'll self seed and the second generation gives you giant mutant rootzillas.
I would recommend against using black locust or honey locust, as both of their wood is extremely rot resistant and can spend 100 years in the ground before even beginning to break down. Not to mention their wood is some of the highest quality (only second to redwood, really) for lumber that you can grow in North America. Every time someone buries a locust or suggests throwing it in their fireplace, I cry a little inside .
I've also thought about using bamboo for making hugel or supplemental biochar, but again it depends on your climate. Obviously you don't want to plant some kind of bamboo that will take over the whole property after a few years. I couldn't imagine trying to homestead without bamboo, though.
I too am weary about burying that anti-fungal wood that takes millennia to break down.
On the other hand, I've had good success at chopping and dropping the small stuff. Everything seems to break down pretty well and supposedly there's nitrogen in there. I figure if the plant is still in it's green, non-woody stage it should break down pretty easy.
The other thing to note is that yes, fungi have a hard time with Locust, but on the other hand (at least in theory) the fungal composition around that piece of wood is much more complex, since it takes a huge biodiversity of fungi to break it down.
Knowing all that, I'm still weary about using Locust in contact with the earth. I certainly wouldn't build a pile with strictly black locust and soil. I think that would be a disaster. But if you have a good diversity of wood or non-wood organic material, the anti-fungal properties of Locust might be able to be mitigated.
You might be able to do the same with sumac, which might be less of a fungi problem and just as invasive and woody.
If you want to be on the safe side, just use potatoes and daikons and strive to get them as big as possible and keep a bunch in the ground as decaying matter.
Mullein also has lots of root material that could help you out. All you need to do is find one wild plant and you're set for life with the seeds.
Fodder beets have been around since the 1400s if not earlier. These beets were prized as nutritious animal feed that was easy to store. Fodder beets are hardy, adaptable and palatable. They are ideal for planting in late summer for use as a winter and spring crop.
Red Mammoth Mangel Beets produce an incredible mass of edible beet leaves and a large root up to 20#s or more in size! These beets prefer deeply tilled, free draining, sandy soil to achieve full size. Simply allow your animals to graze on the tops, cut the tops for feeding or harvest the root.
1940 Oscar H. Will Pure Seed Book says...
"The heaviest yielder and most popular of all Mangels the light red roots are pinkish fleshed and grow well out of the ground. Yields run as high as fifty tons to the acre."
This is a sure way to put away enough food for your animals as they face the cold winter. Leave them in the ground and harvest as needed. Unless you are covered with snow, then I suggest you root cellar them.
We are going to experiment next year with feeding the tops and roots to our rabbits. Supposed to be really good for them and a excellent source of nutrients the homesteader can grow.
Also, a great use for these amazing root vegetables is for home brewing! Many fruit beers or wines utilize the sugar content to create the alcohol. With lots of sugar in them they can make a fine old fashioned beer as this guy shows"
Destiny's powerful hand has made the bed of my future. And this tiny ad: