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Hugelkultur- Economic Viability?

 
Zj Frank
Posts: 5
Location: Des Moines, IA, Zone 5a
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I recently read sepp holzer's Guide to Permaculture (loved it!) and was struck with his hugelkultur u-pick berry plan/diagram. Does anyone have any idea if a U-pick berry farm using hugelkultur beds would actually be a profitable endeavor? Or is there anyone out there that knows someone who uses the beds for profit? I'd love to use his methods and can't get the U-pick idea out of my head, but I'm not sure if I could make a profit off of it (which I'd like to do).
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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i found it interesting also as I have sold berries off of our property in the past..but I picked them and sold them from a stand
 
R Scott
Posts: 3304
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Thought about going down the U-pick path, but decided we really didn't want that many people trampling around our place.

If I can feed my family, that alone is a HUGE financial advantage for me.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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A U-pick CSA instead of open U-pick, might be a way of limiting the number of people who come to trample, and knowing who they are.

 
R Scott
Posts: 3304
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Tyler Ludens wrote:A U-pick CSA instead of open U-pick, might be a way of limiting the number of people who come to trample, and knowing who they are.



That is a great idea.
 
Tracy Lee
Posts: 49
Location: NW Arkansas
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I am very interested in feedback to that question also. I am in the planning stages of planting close to a half acre of blueberries and blackberries for sale in conjunction with other veggies as a CSA. It will be fall before I have the berries planted and next spring would be the first pickings. i would like to plant the berries on top of hugoculture beds buried in the ground a couple ft with berries basically ground or slightly above ground level. I havent found any information on it so its good to know that Sepp talks about it in his book. I will have to get the book and take a look. I will be investing alot of money in the berry plants and a lot of time to make the hugo beds. I think the benefits of the logs under the berries long term would be tremendous but I am concerned short term that it could be a detriment to the plants if the logs attract slugs and other bugs that could harm the berry plants until a balance is reached. Is this something I should be concerned about?
 
Tracy Lee
Posts: 49
Location: NW Arkansas
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From my research, if ran correctly and berries are producing well a Berry you pick-it is almost always profitable. If one can afford 2-3 yr old plants, should see a return on total investment in 2 yrs barring crop failure or something of that nature. Research indicates that people will easily drive over an hr to out the way places to pick berries. as one berry guy put it you are selling an adventure for the family. the whole bit, the journey, getting lost, finding the farm, communing with nature, spending time with kids. Very well put I thought. Also healthy things are the thing these days and you cant beat berries for antioxidants. One has to enter this with a business mindset to be profitable. So I am confident that going with berries is a wise move business wise for our property and i will be doing it. However what I am still undecided on is if i should do all the berries on top of Hugelculture. I will not for awhile anyway have enough water to have a drip line so I will need to be able to retain moisture somehow. Got plenty of wood and a backhoe to dig the trench so can do all of that myself.
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Hi Tracey. I am new to this forum, but have been reading about and trying out permaculture for a number of years. In gaia's garden, by Toby Hemenway, he talks about planting blueberries and other plants on top of a trench filled with wood and covered with soil. This imitates the way plants grow in a forest on rotten wood; the wood is like a huge sponge sunk into the ground that soaks up and holds soil moisture; the roots infiltrate the wood as it decays and drink from this source during a drought.

I buried wood wastes under several of my garden beds last year, and the plants survived the drought much better, in a new garden I am starting as a market garden which I hope will eventually evolve into a Food Forest. I "only" had to run the sprinklers and soaker hoses every other day on my beds (1/2 hour for some with small sprinklers, 1-2 hours for the ones with soaker hoses), and got a bumper crop of veggies. Meanwhile, the town was running giant sprinklers every day to keep the parks and cemetery green). The previous summer I tried growing corn, beans, and squash in small spots i dug out and added compost to, and they all dried out so much I didn't get a harvest at all! It was just impossible to water them enough to grow. Last spring I put in a fedge/windbreak with some gogi berries and bur oaks along the west side of my garden to filter the strong west winds. It is not very big yet, but most of them survived. I am spending a lot of time this winter watching videos and reading books and forums and planning the next steps in my garden. I don't have access to large equipment, so every thing we have done, and each bed we have dug/made, is done with hand tools--shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, etc. It is a slow process, but we are moving forward.

I do have a small food forest at my 1/8 acre home property, with a few fruit trees not yet bearing, some shrubs and understory layers. I got my first harvest of nanking cherries, currants, and rhubarb last year! (Plus lots of comfrey, marshmallow herb, amaranth, and other greens for us, for mulch and compost, and to feed to our small flock of chickens.) My row of sunchokes aka Jerusalem artichokes provides a nice root crop in the fall, and made a beautiful summer privacy hedge along the back alley.

I think it is very important to include a range of ground-cover plants between and under the berries, especially nitrogen fixers like clovers, and dynamic accumulators like comfrey, plantain, dandelion, and others people sometimes call weeds, as well as flowers, to provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects and birds, etc.

It is also a good idea to interplant the berry bushes with other kinds of shrubs and other plants to reduce the effort needed to fertilize, mulch, and do pest control. Siberian Pea Shrub is a great plant for that. A diversity of plantings, along with the buried wood and contour swaling, etc, means that eventually the plot becomes more self-maintaining with less work. At least, that is my goal for a productive ecosystem that will provide a living while providing me and my family a better life.

I wish for you, peace and prosperity
djn
 
Tracy Lee
Posts: 49
Location: NW Arkansas
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Hi Dj,
Thanks for the info. That is exactly the kind of tidbits that are helpful. Any other suggestions on plants to intersperse with the blueberries? I was one the fortunate few anymore that grew up on a small farm, we grew alot of our own food without chemicals, meat, milk, made cheese . However it was the more monoculture, traditional row gardens. Several yrs ago I picked up a copy of lasanga gardening and so started my journey on a different style of gardening. Since then I no longer till, have had very succesfull raised beds done lasagna style built on top of hard packed ground. Last spring I happened upon permaculture and hugelculture and it has been a tremendous eye opener. Ecspecially fasinated with hugelkulture as we have recently moved to some land that was spot logged 2 yrs ago and there are tree tops everywhere. I havent been able to bring myself to burn them so now I have a good use for them. Last fall I built 3 large hugo garden beds, 4'x 16' . Dug a trench in the ground about 2 ft deep filled it to ground level with rotting log bits, edged it with big logs to define the bed and filled up to top of logs with old hay, leaves, horse compost, and top soil from the area underneath. We have also had an extremely dry hot summer for 2 yrs now so I am excited to see how these garden beds do this spring and summer. Here is a couple pics of what I did. Since the depth of the side logs are about 15". I think if i do another one like that it might be more beneficial to fill it up half way so roots of plants can reach the wood better. These beds will have veggies in predominantly for the next couple yrs while I design and set up more beds to start adding perrenial plants.
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Beginning of bed. Trench filled with rotting wood to ground level.
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Finished beds
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 462
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I am currently working on having the city council grant me permission to rehabilitate 5 acres of old parking lot that was part of a now dismantled hospital.

My plan is to put hugel beds right on top of the concrete and have it open to the community.

I can't see why a set up like that wouldn't work as a pick your own berry farm. It would be urban, therefore centrally located, and the concrete supports a high amount of traffic without disrupting the soil.

I live in an area where blueberries grow wild, and I have found that the best places are where an area has been recently logged, and bulldozers have buried the stumps / branches, soil, and other logging related biomass. They tend to make a thick blanked rather than a mound but it is similar to a hugel bed in principle.
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I saw a you tube video of a group which built raised beds, really just piles of compost and soil, on top of a paved parking lot, and grew great crops of sweet potatoes. For bushes, I would think a much greater depth of soil would be necessary, but the hugel beds might work well. I would probably start with one or two, maybe 6x20 or so, to test them out, before investing too much effort, time, materials, etc. I know Mel Bartholomew talks about making patio beds 6" deep for veggies, but berry bushes would need a good depth of soil, maybe several feet, so a tall hugel with large logs at the bottom might serve in that way, once the wood starts to break down.

I think it would also be valuable to grow a lot of green manure cover crops, N-fixers, Dynamic Accumulator plants, etc in the first couple of years to build up the soil. But a lot of the success possibilities would have to depend on rainfall or irrigation, planning the way or ways to get water to the beds to help break down the wood, and help the plants to get started; maybe putting wood chips on the paths would help to absorb water and not just have rain sheeting over the lot, and prevent possible overheating off the pavement, etc.

If a project like this is carried out in a high-rainfall area, there could be enough natural rainfall for plants in a semi-wild area which has access to the groundwater, but still might not be enough, or at the right times, to keep raised beds on pavement, without roots sunk deep into the ground, watered enough for plant growth without added water from a hose or water-collection devices.

The bulldozed wood piles described do show a good example of how plants grow on fallen trees in the woods, but those areas are not on sealed ground. I have seen areas in western Washington where new trees grew on top of old, rotten trees. When the rotten tree was totally decomposed, the roots of the new tree were exposed, still reaching around and through what had been the old tree, sinking deeply into the rich, moist soil underneath that is partly composed of the old, rotten tree that had become soil, organic matter, mulch and humus. But, as those "tree nurseries" were in the woods, the old trees and younger ones were shaded, so were not exposed to the hot sun reflecting off a pavement, and had a rich, deep humus layer on the forest floor to absorb and hold moisture and nutrients for the young trees.

Lots to consider. Hope it works out well for you. Let us know your results. It is great to learn from one another.

Tracy, and others. I would be very surprised to think one could plant perennial anything, but especially shrubs, in the autumn, and get a harvest in the spring. Everything I have read suggests that one not expect or even allow fruit to form the first year, and not pick perennials the first year, so the perennials and shrubs etc are allowed and encouraged to form strong roots before being stressed by producing fruits. Most fruits that I know of take 2 to 3 years or more to really make a harvest-able crop. Unless perhaps, living in an area that grows year-round; I have never been in a situation like that.

Example: I put in a couple of Nanking Cherries 4 to 5 years ago, and got my first harvest last year. So far, I have not been successful in getting strawberries or raspberries to grow at all. I know I am in a colder climate, with a shorter growing season than many of you, but that has been my experience everywhere I have lived and gardened.

I do think it is important to test our methods and crops, and specific types of gardens and plants for our region and climate, on a small scale, for family use, before trying large scale plantings of anything. I believe that is why Bill Mollison emphasized in many of his writings to start with a nucleus, and get a small area, close to the house, or to the center of the design, under control, and then gradually expand from there after observation of what works and what doesn't, for that specific region, climate, and garden.

Also, my understanding of permaculture is that we try to grow a variety of species, as many as will grow and thrive in our specific area, and not engage in monoculture farms of one or a few species. As Paul Wheaton states in some of his podcasts, Polyculture 20 or 40 instead of polyculture 2 or 6. So, a large area devoted mostly to berries with maybe a clover groundcover, is not really permaculture, based on my reading of many books on the subject. As a teen I picked strawberries in a huge field of berries, on Vashon Island, Washington, and have seen many monoculture orchards of one kind of fruit or nut; My hubby picked blueberries in Maine in large monoculture fields. That is not permaculture. That is what permaculture is trying to get away from.

Perhaps Alley cropping, with rows of various trees on contour, and alternating rows of fruiting shrubs, with an understory of perennial herbs and ground covers, might also lead to a economically viable farm, more like Mark Shepard's discussions of savannas and farm forestry, and could provide cash income from a variety of crops, so even if one crop had a bad year, others might still do well.

It is not cheap to buy large numbers of plants, and put in the work to grow them, soil prep or hauling in organic matter, etc, especially if they all die because not adapted to the climate or able to get enough water, etc to grow. So I think it is wise to spend some time experimenting first on a small scale.

djn
 
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