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The Anti-Hügelkultur

 
Joe Hoffman
Posts: 16
Location: Shenandoah Co., VA USA
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Running through the middle of my land, there's an easement for the local sewer system. Last time they replaced the sewer pipe, (8 years ago?) the previous owner told the crew not to bother removing all the debris. So now there's a long berm, 3-5 feet high, running a hundred feet along the base of the cliff. (My grain field is at the bottom of the cliff.) The berm is made of tree stumps, broken bits of pipe, and dessicated grey dirt.

When I first read about Hügelkultur, I thought I'd found a use for that land, but no such luck. It grows nothing but burdock and Johnson grass. Is there any way to turn it into a decent bed, or do I have to rip the whole thing out and start over?
 
kadence blevins
Posts: 595
Location: SE Ohio
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hm... maybe just hollow it out a bit, add logs/wood and all into the middle and then recover with the soil you pulled out. put manure/compost over the whole thing and mulch and plant heavily. probably something that will heavily shade to compete out the burdock and johnson grass.

first thing i think of would be a 3 sisters garden on it. plant corn, when it gets a few inches tall then plant beans around the corn stalks and it will vine up it as it grows. once those are settled in then plant pumpkins or other squashes or vining plants like that. should completely take over and shade enough to keep out the things you dont want.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Posts: 8975
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Joe Hoffman wrote: It grows nothing but burdock


You can eat it! http://www.eattheweeds.com/burdock-banquet/
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I've not yet had to take this approach, but I think any situation where only pioneer plants grow is less problem than message. If only pioneer plants grow on it, then grow pioneer plants. Find out what burdock and Johnson grass indicate about the soil, and then choose a full population of pioneers that make up a guild with the purpose of soil-building. Maybe I'm a little paranoid, but I'd also see if I could plant ones good at sequestration of stuff you don't want in your food, and then you can use whatever you grow for a season or so for a non-food, non-feed purpose. To be honest, if there's any doubt as to the soil safety, I'd transition the guild from a repair/recondition/sequestration function to a fruit production function, as I've heard that there are similar barriers to transmission of disease and pollutants from tree to fruit as there are from pregnant mother to fetus. So depending on pH, blackberries/raspberries/cranberries/blueberries, maybe currants, (I don't know what grows well in your area), maybe mulberries, and a spread of taller fruit and nut trees. If the cliff is to the north and gets heated by the sun, you will have a warmer microclimate due to thermal mass and shelter from the wind, but my main concern would be whatever's left in the old sewage.

Good luck!

-CK
 
Emily Brown
Posts: 61
Location: Maine
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If there is an easement there may be limitations about what can grow there, mostly excluding larger shrubs and trees that could damage the pipe or limit access to it. Growing edible weeds like burdock might be your safest bet.
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
Posts: 15
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Whole Foods sells Burdock root 7.99 a lb I've even seen it up to 10 bucks... I buy it because it's extremely healthy. Peppers are half that... It gives you an idea how profitable your bed already is.
 
Erika May
Posts: 14
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What everyone else said: burdock is already profitable. Its an important ingredient in Japanese cooking: if there are any *authentic* Japanese restaurants around I would try to sell to them. Ususally its the higher end ones that bother too use the stuff, but its used in sushi, too. Just pickled. I worked in a Japanese restaurant that made an appetizer with it.

but as someone else said: if there is a possibility its contaminated soil get it tested first to make sure your plants are safe to eat. Nobody wants heavy metal vegetables. Not even Gwar.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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you could probably build up the soil with jerusalem artichokes..or some other perennial plants or deep rooted plants like chard..that won't damage the pipes..but will fill the soil with roots that will either rot or grow
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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If you did something like a berry guild, even avoiding deeper-rooted ones, there would be significant draw for migratory birds away from your other crops, like the grain field right beside it. Even if you didn't eat anything coming off the mound, say for a season or two while you ran toxic cleansing guilds (from what I gather, mainly accumulators that you rip up and dispose of elsewhere in the simplest cases, but hemp, for instance (although not a legally easy crop to grow), which has historically been used for its fibre, is also a voracious accumulator of heavy metals, and you could make cordage, textiles, paper, and a number of things I've forgotten, making use out of waste) while the berry crops grow to their first fruiting, the birds eating the berries and whatever else on the mound would also fertilize the mound with manure made from fruit that, while grown on the (perhaps toxic) mound, was protected from most, if not all, of the pollutants by natural measures built in to fruiting plants that prevent transmission of bad stuff to them, like a fetus in the womb. So the bird poop is clean fertilizer piled on top.

-CK
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 468
Location: Eastern Kansas
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I have no answers: just sympathy. Johnson grass is a horribly invasive weed where I live, and it rows 7 feet tall.

Then again, the burdock roots sound exciting. It could be sold or it could be used to feed livestock. Are some varieties of burdock root tasty? Because, if you need to introduce domestic curdock roots, then they might do well.
 
alex Keenan
Posts: 487
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First get the utility to mark the pipe it you can get it done for free. They may dig again in the future and you may want to dig in the area.
Next, concider vertical mulch. You dig holes like a gopher and create pockets of amended areas for plants to grow out of.
Next, look at deep rooted cover crops like tiller radish, etc. Experiment to see which will grow and which can drive their roots into your soil. You may need nitrogen fixers.
Next, think about hog tractors and poultry tractors. Hogs can really work dead ground and mix their waste into the soil. Chickens can kill almost anything and leave a mulch layer.
Next, find sources of free organic matter to start building a leaf litter layer. You may need to use branches to anchor mulch if it will not stay in place. Also, think about turning your burdock into mulch in place.
Next, concider what your ideal use of this area is. You may need to rethink you use based on the results after trying the above. You may have to start with Pioneer woody plants to provide a nursery of other plants until soil conditions improve.
 
David Goodman
gardener
Posts: 496
Location: Zone 9a/8b
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Brenda Groth "you could probably build up the soil with jerusalem artichokes..or some other perennial plants or deep rooted plants like chard..that won't damage the pipes..but will fill the soil with roots that will either rot or grow"

I second that. We grew Jerusalem artichokes in a piece of rotten busted-up land left behind after the city widened a drainage channel through our backyard in TN. We obtained a yield and didn't have to mess with it after the first year's planting. Tons of tubers there and they covered the ground beautifully, wiping out all competition.
 
alex Keenan
Posts: 487
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I like Brenda Groth "you could probably build up the soil with jerusalem artichokes" then let the pigs eat the chokes.
That ground will be totally broken up like you would not believe.
Then think berry plants.
 
Joe Hoffman
Posts: 16
Location: Shenandoah Co., VA USA
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After years of combing burrs out of dogs' coats, I hate burdock. Perhaps eating it would be a suitable revenge. I'll give it a try.

I like the Jerusalem Artichoke idea -- I've wanted to plant some of those, but could never figure out where. You all may have solved that for me. Tx!
 
Clifford Gallington
Posts: 94
Location: Kansas
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if you have something planted there and they decide to dig it up you may be entitled to a sum of money for the lost harvest and the cost of replanting?
maybe?
 
Joe Hoffman
Posts: 16
Location: Shenandoah Co., VA USA
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The berm I'm talking about is just uphill of the easement. They won't run heavy equipment over it. I do occasionally plant things on the easement, because they don't maintain the pipes every year. When they do run over some cornstalks, that's my problem, not theirs. (And if I don't like it, I can carry my own water and sewage in buckets, as far as they're concerned.
 
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