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My 1st Hugel

 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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I've got a backyard for the first time in a few years now and have put all my reading into action. One of my jobs with a siding company gave me unlimited 12ft pallets of Douglas fir from Seattle, not chemically treated . I chopped and stacked for a few months until it has been warm enough to dig the ground. And to my neighbors delight finally buried it all. It ended up being about 100 3'x3"x3" chunks and 400 or so 3'x3"x1" planks as well as all the brush from our alley and a few blocks away. I had underestimated the amount of lumber I'd need and had to cut apart another 7 pallets in the middle of the day. There was an existing garden already about 13'x7' with a foot of accumulated potting mix (50% mycorrhizal peat moss/vermiculite mix and 50% coco fiber) that I set aside. Then I chopped down another 8 inches into the clay soil and set that aside. I roughed up the bottom of the hole and put down a layer of the "logs", filled in the gaps, another layer of logs but with a plank in between the gaps, more dirt, all the rest of the planks, more dirt, the brush, and finally the potting mix to finish it off. Overall it's about three feet deep (maybe four) in the middle ridge and tapers down to the cinder block border. I've got it covered with some tarps to wait until I see the trees leaf out and the neighbors start their plantings. Until then I am scavenging as much small brush and leaf/grass trimmings to mulch the whole thing when we plant it out. And now here is the pics (or it didnt happen lol).




















 
Tyler Ludens
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Super!

 
Scott Farmer
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Location: Nevada County, CA
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Excellent! I will be embarking on my own initial Hugel projects this year, and I very much appreciate the wealth of information from my fellow Permies who have already been down that road!

Did those Homer buckets get buried too?
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Howdy Brian, I am south of Denver, any chance I could score some of those pallets ?
 
Lance Bozek
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Nice Job Brian,

We were able to get some of our Hugel beds in place last fall on the farm. We were able to get all of the heavy logs and brush layed down and then covered that with a layer of wood chip mulch. With the heavy snow that we received this season I think we got a lot of water content already sitting in them. Now we just need to cover in a good layer of soil and we will plant into them.

It remains to be seen how much water is in there and how much we will need to irrigate at first but based on common sense I am thinking I will try to always build them in the fall.

I will try and get some pictures of our project up soon.
 
                      
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Location: Alabama
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Nice way to spend a sunny day. I had a few questions. What was the purpose of the buckets buried in the beds? Did you add some of the clay back the the soil for minerals? What will you be planting?

Hope we get some updates as it goes along.

~Joe Prepper ~
 
Brian Jeffrey
Posts: 106
Location: Connecticut
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Scott - The buckets are buried a bit, but they have some planks covering the tops so I can pop the buckets out easy enough when I get my pear trees.

Wyomiles - you sure can I'll PM you the address where I've been grabbing em

Joe - The buckets are placeholders for the BB trees I will be putting in. The root ball needs a good sized wood-free space to establish itself and then "explore" the rest of the bed. I used the clay soil I dug out to bury all the wood except for the topmost layer, however I mixed a little clay into the potting soil layer for no real educated reason, just felt "right". It seemed to me that any mixing of the potting mix into the deeper buried layers would be pointless as the fluffy/loamy qualities would be squashed by the weight of the pile, the deep parts will be improved by root/fungal action as opposed to direct tinkering by me.
 
Martin Coetzee
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I love the hugelkultur and that is a great bed you built but from left field I have to ask: what is the breed of that beautiful dog you have there? I'm in South Africa and I doubt I've seen that breed before.

Regards, Martin.
 
Brian Jeffrey
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^^


Her name is Zen and she is a nine month old French Mastiff / Dog de Bordeaux. The breed is called by both names. If you have ever seen the movie Turner and Hooch it's the same breed. Super chill and smart with a natural guard dog instinct. By far my favorite breed of dog ever. Here is a little Zen puppy princess and a 7 or so month old Zen on the grooming table. My girlfriend and roommate are both dog groomers so we have had lots of experience with breeds to choose from.



 
Martin Coetzee
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She is gorgeous.

We have a Boerboel/Bullmastiff cross. The Boerboel is a South African breed bred by farmers to protect the homestead when they're out working for the day, they're very stocky muscular dogs. She's fiercely protective of our kids and has a gentle nature too. From the Bullmastiff side she has a very physical side to her so instead of attacking someone she will knock them down. Weighing in at 60kg she scares the hell of of anyone without the doctor's bills.
 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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We got almost a foot of snow yesterday! Much needed moisture for sure, but to go even farther I shoveled part of the backyard on top of the hugel to the tune of three times more snow is now compacted down on the bed. Covered it back over with tarps, reflective side facing out. Now I've got almost three feet of snow slowly melting into the bed. I also like how cold the whole pile stays for more than a week, colder temps mean slower evaporation. And in Colorado evaporation rates are insane.







 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Brian, we had another thread going somewhere about trying to harvest snow with snowfences so update us on you observations with your snow on hugel experiment. I would like to know how that goes.
 
Lance Bozek
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I would also love to hear how long you are able to keep the snow around for the slow melt. In Utah we also have insanely quick evaporation. I was focused on other issues this season so did not put any effort into harvesting/saving the snow. But I know that is something that I will look at over the long term. I have also read a little about the ice houses that they have used in the middle east for refrigeration.
 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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I did a similar thing when I had the piles of brush and pallets building up. There was a smaller, maybe 5 or 6 inch, snow storm that I shoveled about 15'x30' of the backyard onto. Covered them with tarps the same way and left 'em. There was still snow in the pile of brush at least 4 days after the snow was all gone in the rest of the yard, the pallet piles melted faster. And when I pulled the pile totally apart to make the hugel, the brush in the middle was still wet. It was not sopping wet and mushy, but wet none the less. I'll keep a more accurate eye this time to see how much longer the snow lasts under the tarp.

I am not sure if this idea is scalable upwards very much. I could see snow fences and hedgerows making eddys in the wind to build up a mass of snow, but the difficulty would be in moving large tarps over large areas on a somewhat regular basis. The tarps are key to reflecting the sun and slowing evaporation/sublimation.
 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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It also leads me to the questio0n of snow protection. Zen caught a drifter after my snow piles today!





 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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Ok so a little late for a snow report, but . . . The South side of the hugel melted just as fast as the rest of the yard. The North side however had snow two days longer than the north side of the neighbors fence, and it stayed colder than other shaded parts of the yard for another couple days. I think the brush piles held the snow for longer because they had more of a loft under the tarp, like a sleeping bags down fill. Maybe a two layer shade block with a few inches in between would take the piss out of the sunshine. But at this point any spring snow is unlikely to hang around with the temperature creeping up.

Yesterday I happened upon a power line trimming trash pile, and grabbed a full carload of logs and branches to make another hugel. The smaller brush piles were refilled a few days earlier. Everyone in the house wants to have raspberries, albeit maybe next summer, so I had some help digging down to make an almost ground level hugel bed. It ended up between 2.5' and 3' deep and about 20" wide to a bulge at the west end. With the extra hands helping we got the whole bed dug and filled yesterday, and planted a starting ground cover crop this morning. Just trying to use stuff at hand we planted white clover, a dry land flower mix, mammoth dill, cilantro, beets, radishes, catnip at the back, and three winter squash seedlings about 4 weeks old. Judging from the rest of the yard I will have dandelions in force too, which is fine as I can put their unending flowers in the bee watering station daily. After the weekend the raspberries will get put in, maybe even finding some with year old canes already for more $$. I mulched with a vine mat a neighbor pulled off his chain link fence, I made bundles and chopped 3" bits off with my miter saw. And on top of the woody mulch I put down chopped straw. Watered a bit since it wont rain/snow until Monday or Tuesday. If it snows I'll have to bury the three squash plants in straw on top of their nightly fabric blanket.

















I tried to make the far corner I would never get into again, into a bug hotel. I drilled lots of holes into the border logs and added dry grass bundles and twig bundles and dirt sprinkles, plus more flower seeds. I hope it's bursting with spiders and other bugs at the end of the summer.





And here are my two helpers. Me on the left, Aaron in the middle, and my better half Marnie on the right.






I hope you all enjoy!
 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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Finally a beautiful day I had free.

The big hugel bed soaked in a lot of snow over the past week. Its North side still has snow and is frozen a inch-or-so deep. Since it is still a week or two until I am going to plant out everything, I covered it back up with the tarps. This time I piled branches and twigs loosely over the soil to add the loft, I hope, that will help insulate from the sun. I even added a little stick bundle at the top overlap to try and vent out any hot air that might build up. Also poured in about 15 gallons of grey water saved from the kitchen sink, I kept the highest corner of the big hugel just rocks and wood for about one cubic foot. So I can pour any extra water from around the house straight into the big logs in the deepest part.

I found an old bag of potatoes in the garage while cleaning. So using that as an excuse I decided to plant them and a cover crop mix in just one end of the big hugel. I had some white clover, a few flower mixes, and runner beans. As well as a bacterial innoculant power and a soil microbe fertilizer, which I mixed with the seeds and a little water. Digging the potatoes in I noticed that the initial wood lice explosion had subsided, which is good because I was worried about them feasting on all the seedlings that will be popping up soonish. The wildflower mix in the big bag has fertilizer pellets in the mix, which I was able to get about half out picking through it by hand. I am hoping the bit that is left will not kill off all the microbes I just added. Finished it off with straw mulch and a light watering, fingers crossed!

The other dug in Hugel has been holding its snow nicely, getting shade from the fence next to it. The clover seeds from the initial planting are just starting to come up. I can see them pushing their little first leaves up through the straw. Too small to snap a clear picture of sadly.

So here is a couple shots from planting the potatoes, although I forgot to take a picture before they went in.









Enjoy!
 
Brian Jeffrey
Posts: 106
Location: Connecticut
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And here is a sneak peek at the sunflower and herb (basil, dill, cilantro) tray, and the already growing strong veggies and other veggies waiting to pop. The usual suspects like tomato, cucumbers, beans, peas, squash, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. I still need to get more herb seeds, like mint and mustard, plus quinoa.



 
Brian Jeffrey
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Location: Connecticut
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gotta bump for a pic of the first ground cover clover and herb seedlings greeting the sun.


 
Brian Jeffrey
Posts: 106
Location: Connecticut
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PLANTING DAY!!


As usual everyone had other places to be except my other three amigos who live with me. I had a bacterial inoculation lying around so I soaked the seeds in that and warm water, leaving me with a big bowl of big seeds and a smaller pile of little seeds. The big one had Sprouts 10 bean soup with extra pinto beans, sunflower seeds, peas, winter squashes, and corn. The little one was a mix of lettuce, tomatoes, flowers, white clovers, quinoa, and herbs. Plus root veggie seeds to be put in sectored off areas, so I can learn what they look like above ground to know what's underneath.











So we ate a big breakfast, got a six pack, and went out back to plant. We were ready too! Me and Marn, and Chelsea and Aarron.












We all started with the big hugel, broadcasting big seeds then littles, watering, mulching, watering, planting the seedlings (zucchini/tomatoes/cucumbers/peppers/eggplant/peas/squash/sunflowers), then a final watering. We moved on to the in-ground hugel, putting in the same mix of veggies. And ended with the West facing herb/pepper bed. I am hoping the harsh heat and stress there will make for some stronger plant protecting terpenes, therefore stronger flavor.

First plants of the year (forgetting those three doomed squashes from late winter), with the best kind of Permaculture enthusiasts....girls!
















And a happy tomato with his terribly expensive wooden tomato cage.





We still have lots of seedlings waiting to get big enough to be planted. Lots of zucchini and peas and herbs.






It looks like a cloudy rest of the day, letting our little plants settle in and get their roots deep as can be. The next few weeks I am going to supplement with watering every two or three days as needed, but I aim to see if the water reservoir I've been building up can support the hugels 100%.

It all went smoothly aside from my other friends not getting here for another hour or two. . . just in time for my cooking but not to work... hmmmmm.... I would have to say if I was alone in the sun doing this all myself it would not have been as much fun. I put the plants where I wanted them planted and everyone else dug in. Banter and hose shenanigans were a natural output from the input of good people.

I hope this will inspire others to get out there and bury some wood. From here on out I'll be putting updates and future stuff into the project forum where my ongoing projects belong


 
Tony Teolis
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Way to go man! Get in the habit of only hugelkultur. Here's how my first bed was built hugel bed building Tony Teolis
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