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Hugelkultur on top of Rock Shield

 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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We own a small Rock island in northern Georgian Bay Canada. The forest section is mainly pine with some cedar, birch, choke cherries and winterberries. Blueberries and cranberries grow too. This coming season I will implement a forest garden and hugelkultur.

In the past I have brought in hundreds of soil bags to fill the rock beds I created. First I used the french intensive method then the squarefoot garden one always with companion planting principles. It's hard to grow anything on a rock and have always loved and found usage in what weeds naturally grow there. I don't have a problem with water since we are on solar and we can just pump as much as needed.

However, I have noticed that their is not much fertility in the soil we have brought in and since we still will be bringing in bags again this year I set out to research the matter further... I believe the answer to my quest is in building hugelkultur. I have looked for examples of people adding biomass on a rock face and have found none so far. I plan on building my first one this spring on a tiny east facing rock slope where at the bottom a big pine tree is growing. Sepp in one of his video said he started at the bottom and built the beds up. So that is what I'll do.

Let's see if I can use the seemingly negatives of our property and turn them to our advantage. 1) No real southern exposure other then the flat top of the rock but much of that is needed for turning snowmobiles around. It does absorb massive heat. 2) No soil. Chance to shape the land using hugelkultur. 3) Serious Pine trees all around can cast shade. A lot of forest edge and wind break.

This is a lovely community and I will share with you my progress.
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The tiny hill is on the back of this rock bed. You can see the pine tree on the left. The flat spot I am talking about is at the top where the snowmobile is.
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In the past I built rock beds to hold the soil.
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Coming at it from the other side of the pine tree where rogue tomatoes grew with raspberries. You can see the grass at the base of the tiny rock face slope. I plan to build the hugelkultur there and work my way to the flat part.
 
Tyler Ludens
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What you've done so far looks beautiful, I think you can only improve it by using hugelkultur. You already know that berries will grow there.

 
Kota Dubois
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Elizabeth, congratulations on what you've done so far. I love that part of the world after having spent the summer as a Junior Ranger on the main land just north of you when I was 17. I've always dreamt of having my own private island, so I'm rather envious. After countless eras of glaciation there really isn't anything on the shield that even vaguely resembles soil. And the windswept pines show just another of your challenges.

My land now is in the mountains of southern Quebec and I have many of the same problems as you do, except that my glaciated rock is weepy shale and not your igneous rock. I've used the pot garden technique, just like you, building up small terraces to take advantage of the slopes to get some depth to the soil which I've also brought in in bags. You're right when you say that bagged soil gets very depleted after one season, but I've found that incorporating lots of biomass during the building phase and surface mulching thereafter really brings the soil alive.

These last couple of years I've been burying lots of wood on top of the rock, and using less store bought soil to get beds that are even deeper than I could build before. So far results are very promising. I'm turning one of my forest clearings into a food savana where I'm building a true hugelkultur which should be being planted this coming summer.

Maybe I'm just rambling, but what I'm trying to say is that in a similar situation as you, using the same approaches as you, I'm having good results; whereas 150 years ago the original homesteaders here, using standard european farming techniques couldn't make a go of it for even one generation.

Good luck!
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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We love our little Ilo Saari AKA Joy Island My husband's family is finnish (many have settled in sudbury and have cottages with Sauna's in the area. I am actually from the north of Quebec.. Alma Lac-St-Jean My parents live in Lenoxville. We love to visit the province of Quebec. The terasses, the festivals, my people. I'm glad to hear of your exploits faced with similar conditions. I am in the process of reading volume 1 and and 2 of Dave Jake's Forest Garden. So I am excited to hear more about your hugelkultur in the forest savana you are creating. I just ordered a buynch of trees from here.. http://www.hardyfruittrees.ca/catalog/permaculture they are from Quebec. I bought all kinds but now I worry that I will not be ready for them. Since reading that one should prepare the area one year in advance. I dream of hosting a permablitz. (doesn't everyone)

Yeah the wind is another issue.. Another blessing in disguise that we are on the north side of the island.
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Tyler Ludens wrote:What you've done so far looks beautiful, I think you can only improve it by using hugelkultur. You already know that berries will grow there.

I just realized that there is a section for project from your signature and I probably should have posted my hugelrock post on that thread. I loved looking through your pictures. Aquaponics is another area I am interested in. I like how you have set yours up. I am thinking of buying a kit... and so many other things.
 
Kota Dubois
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What a small world it is. I've been putting together a list of fruit trees from that guy. I especially like the old ones that he searched out in his area and selected for grafting. If you need nuts there is a guy near Jolliet who does basically the same thing only specializing in nut trees. His site is http://www.lafeuillee.com/index.htm (c'est uniquement en francais).

Lennoxville is closer to my land than Montreal is, maybe some time you're visiting your folks.....
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Kota Dubois wrote:What a small world it is. I've been putting together a list of fruit trees from that guy. I especially like the old ones that he searched out in his area and selected for grafting. If you need nuts there is a guy near Jolliet who does basically the same thing only specializing in nut trees. His site is http://www.lafeuillee.com/index.htm (c'est uniquement en francais).

Lennoxville is closer to my land than Montreal is, maybe some time you're visiting your folks.....


Nice Nut tree site thank you. We'll likely go out east sometimes this spring. I'll PM you. I'd love to see your ongoing projects.

E
 
Kota Dubois
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Sounds good Elizabeth.
 
Daniel Morse
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Great, the place sounds amazing. Have you thought of a greenhouse or beds with the hoops over them. Lots of different ways to do it.

I am intrigued by the rouge tomatoes and raspberries together!!!Are they helping each other out? Raspberries will grow in and fix soil. Just a thought. There could be a symbiosis we are not aware of.

Keep us posted.
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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I do have a green house but I have not used it a lot. It's not really big and it gets really hot. I guess that would be the point if using it in the winter but I also have problems with harding off so this winter I am winter sowing in plastic bottles so the seedlings are already a costumed to the weather since we only go there every other weekend in the winter. I have put a cover on my brassicas in the fall so that I can access the frees all winter long. It works well.

As for the tomatoes and raspberries they came up on their own. I put some of our compost toilet manure under the pine tree last winter and I guess there were tomatoe seeds in there or something. The raspberries grow like weeds here. I am thinking next ear they might bear fruit. By the time summer is full on I have a bunch of little tomatoe plants growing in random places. All self seeded.

Those hoops sounds like a great idea. http://youtu.be/zeDYPXpwvus I went through his whole series and on this one he explains how to use rocks with wood.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Beautiful location, Elizabeth!

I'm an American transplant to eastern Quebec, trying to start permaculture plantings on rock. Glad to hear that I am not the only one facing these challenges. I think we are jointly putting to the test Mark Sheppard's claim that he can farm a rock! In fact, in one of his YouTube videos, he says that he is looking for an island in Lake Superior or somewhere to test his ideas on...!

I do have more soil than you do, Elizabeth, but it is a very thin layer covering slate/shale/schist underlying rock. I am planning to adopt strategies similar to yours and trying to turn challenges into solutions. There are some details on my situation here.

Kota, it is encouraging to hear that hugelkultur is working for you. It is going to be a mainstay for me, I think.

I have been amassing downed trees and branches on my walks around my neighbor's fields, building up a stockpile of very dry or half-rotten wood. He gave us the green light to harvest a windfall of about 20 birch and aspen trees! I also just got permission from a friend to come fetch horse manure, goat manure mixed with hay and straw, and chicken coop bedding in the spring, along with any moldy hay and other organic material that they might want to get rid of. From what she tells me, there is an unlimited supply as she and her neighbor have more than they can deal with on their limited acreages. So rather than having to bring things in by the bagful, I will be fetching trailer loads and applying patience as it converts to humus.

Wind, to me, is as big a limiting factor as soil. It looks like you have some protection from the existing trees, Elizabeth, but it might be worthwhile to reinforce your windbreaks. My strategy is going to be to establish several "belts" of trees and bushes on hugelkultur beds to provide protection for other plantings and for each other. Our existing spruce trees seem to be helped out by the serviceberries and red osier when it comes to trapping and holding snow, so the multilayered forest garden approach seems to be a good idea. I saw a European paper saying that when hazelnuts grow under spruce, the resulting mixed spruce forest is more diverse, so I am planning to put hazelberts under/around all our spruce as a second layer. Some fruit trees will go on the sunny side, with further underplantings of currants and gooseberries.

I'll be using the same sources as both of you for fruit trees and nut trees, but will probably wait until 2014 to order. I want to be sure the beds are in place before going to pick up the trees. Can't wait!

Best of luck to you on the island, Elizabeth! I'll be looking forward to progress reports!


 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Heidi Hoff wrote:Beautiful location, Elizabeth!

I'm an American transplant to eastern Quebec, trying to start permaculture plantings on rock. Glad to hear that I am not the only one facing these challenges. I think we are jointly putting to the test Mark Sheppard's claim that he can farm a rock! In fact, in one of his YouTube videos, he says that he is looking for an island in Lake Superior or somewhere to test his ideas on...!


Hi Heidi, I will google Mark Sheppard. Wow so much of this got me exited.. I am thrilled you are going to get all that biomass from your neighbours. You are wise to wait for your trees. I think I should have done the same but I only ordered 13 or so combinations of the forest tree layers to plant near my edges and help with the wind barriers. I intend to split them between this property and our residential one in GTA.

As you can see in the picture with out cottage in the background, my husband dives for logs and uses them to build. We also burn firewood and have to gather it/ bring it by boat.. So good wood is always in demand in our house. I am now too on the look and have started to gather fallen branches and such but I will need a heck of a lot more to build a 6 foot hugelkultur. (I will likely do a mix of a few things and adapt to my tiny or particular conditions) I wish I had a bigger land to play with but such are my parameters. My husband is not yet a convert. That is also a factor.

I called the local tree removal company and I'll be receiving a truck full of mulch in the spring. You remind me I need to secure some chicken manure. I made a contact last fall. I still need to bring every thing by boat. I do have a compost pile and intend to get a chipper. I am going to go check out your site.

E

 
Heidi Hoff
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For reasons that are mysterious yet wonderful to me, my husband is 100% behind my projects! Frankly, I'm astonished! It certainly has something to do with the fact that we are relatively recent converts to the primal/paleo way of eating, so producing lots of good healthy food for ourselves is a motivator for him, as it is for me. Plus, doing lots of physical work in the yard is part of the primal lifestyle we are trying to adopt.

We have friends who call my husband "un excessif", and he admitted just the other day that, being an "overboard" kind of guy, he is likely to spend the entire warm season building planting beds. I have no objection...

I was just thinking about that photo of the raspberries and tomatoes -- growing downhill from exposed rock in a location where the trees have provided some protection -- and what that indicates about how soil is formed in rocky locations: It seems that one of the keys is to keep any organic matter from being washed or blown away. Windbreaks and hugelkulturs (reverse swales) seem like the right solution.

I like Jack Spirko's rock-walled terrace approach, with the logs laid down first. Before watching his videos, I had already come up with a similar idea. Our land slopes downward toward the northwest, so I want to build a series of hugelkultur beds with rocks on the downslope so that the bed itself can be slightly canted southward. I will leave a narrow path between the hugelkulture-terrace beds, planted with something like thyme or clover, as a sort of surface swale that drains water toward the bed. By doing things this way, I hope to hold both water from the spring snow melt and heat from the sunshine (in the rocks), as advised by sepp holzer, among others.

Rocks are another resource we can get easily (with enough muscles). Our neighbor has to clear field stones from the surrounding fields every couple of years, so there are piles and piles of rock free for the picking everywhere. We already have some, including some massive boulders that were put in place by tractor or bulldozer, but you can bet I'll be fetching more (using husband power, for sure!).

You are certainly working with lots of constraints in terms of resources, transport and manpower, but judging from what you have already accomplished, I get the feeling you'll make amazing progress!

 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Nothing like man power.. and motor power for that matter. Our life seems to keep getting easier every year as projects get done and we get more tools. Plus now that a lot of the main building projects are done I can look forward to my husband getting involved in more "garden" projects... Which I am excited about.

I see that you also have wild raspberries that don't produce too. Do you think there is a way to make them produce? I was hoping to figure out what I could do to help them out. I think you are unto something about the soil building at the bottom of the hill. I like how in jack spirko's video he shows how to make terraces level. Tomorrow I am going to go to home depot and get a few pieces of wood with a string and start to figure out how steep is my slope.

I've heard of the paleo but not of the combo with primal lifestyle. It sounds like good old hard work outdoors. It's great how you two are in sync. When it comes to eating and what to plant I try to follow a mix of blood type diet with a little Weston A Price in the mix.

E




 
Heidi Hoff
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I came upon the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson after my sister read Gary Taube's book Good Calories, Bad Calories. It changed the way I look at food and well-being. We try to give our genes the signals they are waiting for, i.e., the signals they received during our evolution as human beings: fresh air, sunshine, fresh food, lots of movement, occasional exhausting workouts and plenty of sleep. We are still working on fully integrating this into our lives, but the benefits are already clear and tangible for both of us. There is a common basis with the blood-type diet, in that we accept that we evolved to thrive with some foods and not with others. And Sisson extends beyond diet (way of eating, if you please, as this is not a temporary fix) into many aspects of lifestyle. Check out his blog.
 
Emily Anderson
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I'm building woody beds to rehab a rocky slope as well. Hopefully blueberries will like it in a year or two. It will be interesting to see how your solid rock foundation transforms. Thanks for sharing.
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My mom, helping out.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Emily, you know that you just made me turn absolutely green with envy, don't you? What tidy beds and such rich-looking soil! I can't wait to be at that stage, but we just received an additional two feet of snow! Spring seems eons away when you've got gardening plans...
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Heidi,
I looked at the website and could not find the general list or explanation of what you could eat and do. Paleo would be mainly for type O's from what I read. I'm blood type B and Nomad Genotype so wild meats, no chicken and no Tomatos. The idea is that each group reacts differently to lectins in certain foods. It's nice to have a connection to our food sources and our actions be purposeful.


Lately I started Winter Sowing. You should check it out. You plant inside plastic bottles or veggie boxes. It is the first year I do it this way.. I won't have to harden them off since they will start to grow on their own and be used to the weather.

Emily,
Your beds look great. Did you plant in them the first year? When do you plan to put in the blueberries? I am curious to what type of guild you are going to build around them. (just starting this spring to implement the principles.) I too have blueberries but I want to try and help them. So if you have any ideas? I was thinking of putting the mighty comfrey. I think I will buy at least 50 seedling. What are your plans for the trees? Have you thought about planting an under story with all the layers and try to connect them in a forest savana/ garden style? On one picture it looks like you have built your hugelkulturs on contour and the other not so much. How did you decide how to align your beds? On contour, against the wind.. I love how much space you have. Thanks for showing your hard work and that building on rock is possible.

E
 
Heidi Hoff
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Elizabeth, try this page.

I haven't tried winter sowing, although I know from my father's experience that lots of hardy trees and bushes require stratification, so it would be a perfect strategy for them. I did start some Iris versicolor by stratification many years ago, but I waited until spring to plant out the seeds. Come to think of it, I have a bunch of wild-harvested iris, columbine and Malva moschata seeds that winter sowing would work perfectly for, if any of them are still viable...

One of the propagation techniques I have had success with in the past is cuttings, so I will be using that approach big time this year, taking cuttings from all the existing fruit bushes (black currant, white currant, gooseberry, serviceberry) and starting them either in one of the new beds or in pots. Super easy and generally high success rate. There are lots of native blueberries in woods close by, so I will also try starting some cuttings from them.

Plans, plans, plans...

When you wake up in the middle of the night and the best way to lull yourself back to sleep is planning the layout of rocks as heat-sinks, you know that you're terminally infected with the permaculture bug.
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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I love love that visual and know the feeling. It's also when I hurt myself the most (When I am getting too hot and tired of lifting and positioning rocks.

Do you use the rooting powder for your cuttings? I have tried nut it never worked. From how you describe it seems "pas chinois". You take a cutting and then you simply plant it?

You can winter sow everything. My peppers might take longer to come up but they will be hardy.. At least that is the idea.

e
 
Heidi Hoff
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As I recall, my basic technique was to take a 6-8" semi-woody cutting (current year's growth, not the first green shoots, but not yet fully woody), strip the leaves from the bottom half, snip the stem on a diagonal, dip the tip in rooting powder, and plant in 50:50 sand and compost. Keep moist but not wet, out of too much direct sun (full shade worked fine) and wait. I've done this with alpine currants to propagate bushes for hedges, as well as flowering ornamentals like weigela and forsythia.

(I just reread what I wrote and realized that it boils down to "strip, snip and dip the tip"...)
 
Kota Dubois
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Hey girls, the type of cuttings you have to take depend on the plant. Sometimes it's hard wood, sometimes semi-hard and sometimes it's new growth. It's best to research each plant for the kind that's necessary. There is also air-layering which is worth researching since it oft times works the best.
 
Morgan Morrigan
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you can also use steeped willow branch water to root cuttings.

any willow, last years branches. steep in the dark, and leave cuttings in at least 3 days, keep covered, roots won't start unless they are in the dark.


Do the pines "punch" thru the rock, or is it rock all the way thru on the island ?
 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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Morgan,

When I transplant little pine trees on the rock parts I make sure there is a crack. I read that pine has shallow roots. Do you know of trees or plats that punch the rock? That would mean they could get nutrients pretty easily. Thanks for the Willow tip. I have a small one near the water that keeps being cut by beavers. A useful use of the branches.

 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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