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Keyhole/Hugelkultur layout questions

 
Brandis Roush
Posts: 37
Location: Central Minnesota
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Last year I set up a hugelkulture bed in a keyhole shape and planted potatoes... lets just say it was a learning experience. I didn't put enough soil on top of the wood, and the soil was far too sandy. Then I neglected the bed because to get to it I had to go around my fenced annual veg garden. But I'm going to remedy those problems next year (more soil, ammendments, and a gate...).

Anyway, my plans are normally bigger than what I actually accomplish, but I'm planning on adding 2-3 more keyhole (maybe hugel, but I have to do all of the digging and log moving by hand, myself, so we'll see... if not hugel, they'll probably be raised) beds. Anyway, these keyhole beds will be in a row with the entrances facing East, and they will be lined up with the garden fence to their west. This will leave little roughly triangle shaped voids in my design, but I was thinking this would be the ideal place to plant some shrubs and perennial mulch/biomass crops (like comfrey, I still haven't gotten around to planting any comfrey...).

Yeah, I'll get to my questions now 1) can I plant potatoes in the same hugel bed again? (keeping in mind I'm going to seriously add to and amend the soil, probably after I let the chickens have a go at it after the snow melts).

2) Suggestions to plant in the voids- I was thinking siberian pea shrub, but they get taller than I want. As I said, it's along the East fence of my veg garden. My veg garden already has a row of full grown fruit trees to the West, so I don't really want to create significant shade on the East side. Perhaps some sort of perennial plant instead of shrub?

3) I'm working on getting more permaculture elements into my annual garden. I'm completely changing the layout from rectangular raised beds to a more nautral, leaf vein type pattern with swales for pathways. But as I said, I do this all alone and by hand. I find digging with a shovel kind of soothing, but after a while and especially when it's hot or humid that wears off pretty fast. Is there a peice of equipment that might make some of the work easier? A tractor is out of the question, but like a wheel hoe or something?

4) What about plantings on the swales- instead of mulching them, could I plant a non-invasive low growing something in them to keep weeds out? The garden is low lying and flat, not to mention sandy, so rainwater permeating fast isn't really a huge issue. Orchard grass? Clover? Alfalfa? Alfalfa gets really well established, and I could occasionally cut it to feed my chickens, but is it hardy enough to walk on, and would it spread? I'm trying to come up with a way to make my pathways as zero maintenance as possible- nothing makes me more insane than spending hours weeding freakin' pathways. Feels like such a waste of time! I've just been mulching them (I tried landscape fabric and wood mulch before, didn't have much luck). So any advice on achieving this would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
6
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As for question 2, do you want a food type shrub? nitrogen fixer? Combination? I believe Aronia might be a good choice as it doesn't get as tall as Caragana. Berries are highly nutritious for wildlife and humans. What about autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata). It fixes nitrogen, doesn't get more than five or six feet tall to the best of my knowledge (limited!) and the berries are nutritious. What about several species of currant/gooseberry(Ribes)? Again, not overly tall and highly edible for us and wildlife.

As for question 4, have you considered white clover (Trifolium). Don't know the species offhand. It is a perennial, low growing and will spread. So what if it spreads a bit into your beds. It's relatively simple to chop it back. Orchard grass forms fairly large clumps making it perhaps a bit more difficult to walk over (it'll build your ankles!). I like alfalfa but again it grows in a bunch so maneuvering yourself and/or wheel barrows or garden carts might be a bit more difficult than it could be otherwise. Remember that white clover is a common lawn "weed" in some areas but fairly aggressive and would possibly cut down on your needing to weed the pathways. You may have to mow it in your neck of the woods but it would be like mowing sod. Bees love it, too.

Good luck. I'm still in the developmental stage (year 2) with my hugel beds. I had a similar problem in a few spots where the soil cover was a bit too minimal. Welcome to the club.
 
Allan Babb
Posts: 63
Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
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Brandis Roush wrote:Anyway, my plans are normally bigger than what I actually accomplish

I know exactly what you mean...


1) can I plant potatoes in the same hugel bed again? (keeping in mind I'm going to seriously add to and amend the soil, probably after I let the chickens have a go at it after the snow melts).


You should rotate plant families(Solanaceae, Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Brassicaceae, Amaryllidaceae/Alliums, etc.) to avoid the build up of pests, especially in the soil. The more rotations, the better for annuals(some say as much as 7 seasons, though 4-5 is more of a norm). Google crop rotation for more info.


2) Suggestions to plant in the voids- I was thinking siberian pea shrub, but they get taller than I want. As I said, it's along the East fence of my veg garden. My veg garden already has a row of full grown fruit trees to the West, so I don't really want to create significant shade on the East side. Perhaps some sort of perennial plant instead of shrub?


For me, I'd put in chop and drop mulch plants(now's the time to plant that comfrey!) with maybe a nitrogen fixing shrub such as goumi(Elaeagnus multiflora). Goumi can get up to 8' tall, but you can also trim it for some woody biomass. Gouomi berries are edible and birds love them.


3) I'm working on getting more permaculture elements into my annual garden. I'm completely changing the layout from rectangular raised beds to a more nautral, leaf vein type pattern with swales for pathways. But as I said, I do this all alone and by hand. I find digging with a shovel kind of soothing, but after a while and especially when it's hot or humid that wears off pretty fast. Is there a peice of equipment that might make some of the work easier? A tractor is out of the question, but like a wheel hoe or something?


I was looking at cheaper alternatives to a backhoe and came across this. I've done no real research on it, but I thought it was better than an all out front end loader with a backhoe attachment. Of course, if we're talking about a back yard scenario then it's overkill.


4) What about plantings on the swales- instead of mulching them, could I plant a non-invasive low growing something in them to keep weeds out? The garden is low lying and flat, not to mention sandy, so rainwater permeating fast isn't really a huge issue. Orchard grass? Clover? Alfalfa? Alfalfa gets really well established, and I could occasionally cut it to feed my chickens, but is it hardy enough to walk on, and would it spread? I'm trying to come up with a way to make my pathways as zero maintenance as possible- nothing makes me more insane than spending hours weeding freakin' pathways. Feels like such a waste of time! I've just been mulching them (I tried landscape fabric and wood mulch before, didn't have much luck). So any advice on achieving this would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!


I'll have to agree with the white clover(white dutch clover Trifolium repens). Nitrogen fixing, insectary and a low growing ground cover that can take walking on. You can probably get some free seed out in the wild, though it's not terribly expensive to buy either.
 
dj niels
Posts: 181
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Brandis, we made some keyhole beds last year, but made them squarish, instead of round, so there are no unimproved corners. Because we are in a dry area, we have learned not to use raised beds, but to sink them into the ground. So we dug them out, with pick and shovel, about a foot deep, and filled in with a lasagna-garden type sheet mulch, then planted spuds in the mulch. They did OK, but this year I want to dig them deeper and add wood so they hold moisture better. Eventually they will develop into beds of perennial shrubs, trees and ground covers.

Egyptian walking onions, perennial bunching onions, chives, daylilies, strawberries, hollyhocks, parsley, dill and other perennial or self-sowing annuals provide food for people, and habitat and forage for beneficial insects etc.

If your keyholes back up to your garden fence you could try beans, peas, squash, etc and make use of vertical space.

djn
 
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