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Hugelkultur in containers

 
Gerry Power
Posts: 33
Location: South coast MA, Zone 6b
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This spring I will experiment with Hugelkulture in my containers. They are 20 inches deep and I plan to use vertical fire wood about 8 inches long. I will fill in around the wood with composted manure. The holes at the bottom will be sealed and I will drill drain holes around the sides about 4 - 5 inches high to control moisture. The rest of the container will be filled with last years soil that has been mixed with compost, bokashi, straw, and perlite.

My real question is about the need for nitrogen for the first year or two. Should I consider blood meal or urea in the soil mix I add above the wood?
 
Rion Mather
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I'm interested to see the answer. I have been doing hugelpots for about 6 months. I use them for everything now. I even have them set up here indoors. I'm wondering how these are going to turn out over the long term.
 
Gerry Power
Posts: 33
Location: South coast MA, Zone 6b
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Rion,

What kind of wood did you start with? How has it been working for you?
 
Rion Mather
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I picked up wood from the hardwood forests that surround me. They are mainly made up of various oaks. It is working great for me so far. I started by layering the large branches but this Spring I am going to switch to all vertical hugelkultur for the containers. My largest containers are only 5 gallons. I started with a dying strawberry plant and once that rebounded I started using hugelkultur for everything.

I would love to get input from others since I am new to this.
 
Shane McKenna
Posts: 49
Location: Utah
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I too, am very interested. We are building walipini greenhouses this summer, and want to use hugelkultur beds in them. The beds will only be open on one side, so much like a container, less breathing available to the beds. I can't foresee any issues, but don't know what if anything the reduction of open side exposure will do.
 
Gerry Power
Posts: 33
Location: South coast MA, Zone 6b
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Here in New England everything is a tad soild this time of year. However when I start working on these containers I will document, with pix, what I do.

Unless I hear from folks here that its a bad thing, I will surround the wood I put in the containers with a mix of manure and blood meal.
 
garrett lacey
Posts: 72
Location: Edmonton Alberta
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All my containers this past summer had a goodly pile of sticks & raw compost taking up the bottom third or half of the pot. Everything seemed to work out just fine... saves on potting medium too! There was a cucumber in one that I watered only once or twice. (And it's real dry here). I think you're on the right track in terms of adding something with some N to it.
 
Rion Mather
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Ok, I hit a snag. Soil bugs that really love these containers. I'm curious as to how my mini beds will turn out this Spring. It has been about 8 months that I have been trying hugelkultur.
 
Judith Browning
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Rion, by soil bug do you mean pill bugs (sow bugs, rolly polies). I get those in the bottom of any outside container but they usually stay in the bottom. I know they will eat roots and stems.
I started some vertical wood HK pots last fall...old bits of firewood...some undone compost...leaf mold. I think they are maybe ten gallon planters...I've been adding the pee bucket to them some over the winter. I don't know what I'll plant in them yet. Any recommendations? something that does especially well in the pot because I have a lot of garden area for most things.
I just wanted to try them after Eric Markov's experiment.
 
Rion Mather
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I have been growing or started growing peppers, alpine strawberries, new zealand spinach, cherry tomatoes, & mini eggplants indoors with the pots.
 
Rion Mather
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Yes, some are pill bugs. I figure they are drawn by the wood.

I also tried to grow a cucumber plant indoors. I lost it Friday. Made me sad over that one.
 
Eric Markov
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9
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Rion,

I got lots of pill bugs in my hugel containers last year. At first I tried picking them out, but too many. So instead I decided to keep and work with them . Used leaf mulch in the container which gave them something to eat and also caused them to multiply.

Only planted larger seedlings in the containers. The pill bugs did eat some of the lower leaves, but didn't kill anything. So no real damage.

Pill bugs in my ground garden have always been voracious. In my dry climate, mulch is necessary. I use wood chips as mulch.
The pill bugs will kill small seedlings and even larger ones.

For seed planted poles beans, I remove the mulch until the plants are at least a foot high, and I overplant by 3x, and I pick slugs off by hand. This has worked for years.

The pill bugs always leave my tomato seedlings alone, so don't do anything special for them.

Squash and cucumber seedlings need extra protection. After planting them in the ground, I put a cardboard 1/2 gallon milk containers (with the bottom cut out) around the plant. This keeps most of the pill bugs away. A few will climb the milk container and get inside, but not enough to do any real damage.
around the outside of the milk container I sprinkle crushed egg shells (or oyster shells), this keeps slugs away.
Once the plants are larger the milk container can be removed.


They do cause extra work, but they also help improve the soil.



 
Rion Mather
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Thanks for the encouragement but I am ditching the practice. I lost plants to the bugs and it is not worth the effort. I am now treating with regular doses of soap insecticide on every hugel container that I have indoors. I had a terrible time with bugs and squash last year so there is no way I am using hugel beds for them. I am crossing my fingers that my root vegetables survived the winter in the outdoor hugelkultur beds.

Honestly, I am finding a lot of problems with many aspects of permaculture. The bad hugel bugs were the nail in the coffin. Good luck to you on your experiments.
 
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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Rion Mather wrote:Thanks for the encouragement but I am ditching the practice. I lost plants to the bugs and it is not worth the effort. I am now treating with regular doses of soap insecticide on every hugel container that I have indoors. I had a terrible time with bugs and squash last year so there is no way I am using hugel beds for them. I am crossing my fingers that my root vegetables survived the winter in the outdoor hugelkultur beds.

Honestly, I am finding a lot of problems with many aspects of permaculture. The bad hugel bugs were the nail in the coffin. Good luck to you on your experiments.


Hi, Rion, I think insects are there hugel or no hugel and indoors there is no way an insect predator can just show up to keep things in balance. Outdoors something usually shows up when the number of bad bugs get out of hand...just late sometimes.
I always have problems with squash bugs and now I grow squash every three years to avoid their overpopuation. All bugs aren't equal...it's worthwhile trying to identify as many as you can...some may be benificial...just not very quick. I loved having a bug collection in gradeschool...now I am trying to take pictures and name them before I squish or encourage as the case may be.
 
Rion Mather
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I understand, Judith. I don't want to draw an excessive amount of bugs to the outside plants. This year is different. I can't risk trying something that will jeopardize the yield.
 
Tyler Ludens
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My experiences with pillbugs/sowbugs/slaters: http://forums.permaculturenews.org/showthread.php?13092-Sowbugs-indicate-plant-stress
 
siu-yu man
Posts: 99
Location: zone 6a, north america
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Rion, as someone who has done "hugel-pots" for 2 years now and whose garden is the home of a large battalion of pillbugs, i would echo the title of Tyler's link.

"sowbugs indicate plant stress"

questions: is the soil you grew your squash in last year and you used for your indoor pots sourced from the same area? if so, have you done a soil test?

 
Rion Mather
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The squash were on a different end of the property. The issue is that it wasn't only pillbugs. I came home to find a bug had eaten another pepper plant. The bug was sitting there smiling at me. I was not a happy camper. Nobody messes with my peppers.
 
Que Lawrence
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Hello Rion,

Do you have ducks or chickens? I ask because this winter we let our ducks and chickens into the front yard for 3 entire months (Nov, Dec & Jan). That is where all my raised beds are. The beds are all filled with wood and covered with compost & hay. Why do I bring this up? There is NOT a bug in sight. Seriously. There isn't any grass left either and the chickens have scratched all through our wood chip mulch but that is ok.

In comparison, we have a small area in the backyard with three raised beds. Same type of setup. There is a noticeable difference in the bug population.

I am planting now so I will see how different things will be this spring & summer but for now, it really is incredible. We don't mind the bugs too much but like you, we don't want them eating everything


 
Rion Mather
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Hi Que! I don't raise animals...I am all about the plants. But thanks for posting that suggestion for others that use hugel beds.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Rion Mather wrote: The issue is that it wasn't only pillbugs. I came home to find a bug had eaten another pepper plant. The bug was sitting there smiling at me. I was not a happy camper. Nobody messes with my peppers.


Pests in general indicate plant stress, in my opinion. I don't have pest problems unless my plants are stressed, so there might be something about the soil or watering which is causing stress to the plants, triggering insect attack. I've noticed bugs get on my plants mainly when they are too dry, but being too wet might be a problem in other locales. Or there may be too much or too little nitrogen or other nutrients.



 
Paulo Bessa
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Hi Gerry!

Great idea!

I also had this idea the other day in January (and I did build a container with poplar wood and branches into it). I thought no one had this idea before, I guess I was wrong

Anyways, I sown some salads and brassicas just to see how it goes. The winter is still dark and cold here, so the container is indoors and seedlings are still very slow.

It is a flat 100cm per 50 cm wide metalic drawer from a bedroom (!), actually recycled with cardboard and a plastic bag, which was filled with one large piece of poplar wood, many small branches, dead leaves, compost, sand, peat and soil.

I will report what happens on this huegelkultur container later on the spring. Only trouble so far is some molds growing in the soil surface; guess that was predictable.
 
drew grim
Posts: 49
Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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Any more thoughts on the need for nitrogen?
It seems like in a container the decomposing wood is going to suck the nitrogen from the compost. I was always under the impression that woody materials break down by using nitrogen from surrounding soil.
 
Eric Markov
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9
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These definitely will need a larger initial dose of nitrogen fertilizer. But will need less than expected overall.
I had a couple of these containers last year. They actually needed less fertilizer over the season than some regular containers.
Whenever the plant leaves look yellowish, just add some fertilizer.

Sealing the bottom drainage holes and then using holes 4-5" probably will cause a swamp in the bottom, especially if you put these in a location that gets rain.
I did this one year for eggplants (in a dry climate) they did ok, but it was clearly too wet.

Wood holds a lot of water & if you then use compost and manure, aeration will be critical.


There are pictures of some hugel pot preperations here:
http://lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.com/2013/02/rose-hugel-pot.html

And here are end of season pictures of roots in hugel pots:
http://lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.com/2012/09/eggplant-stump-branch-pot-comparison.html

Also if you have mold on the indoor pot soil surface, you should get a fan on it right away. This will kill the seedlings. At least it did kill all my seedlings that I planted in January, in compost, leaves and sticks.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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