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The plan so far... gigantic hugelbeets in Central Ontario.

 
Derick Greenly
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G'day g'day g'day

Just joined the forum, folks. I thought I'd start right away with my intentions for the coming spring (if for no other reason than to start a little brainstorm between knowledgeable folk), and would appreciate any tips, advice, praise or warnings you could offer. I've also posted an invitation to interested and able-bodied permies/wannabepermies in the Canada board, which is integral to the success of this thing.

So here's the plan:

4-6 terribly large hugelkulture beds with a core of long-dead and partially rotted wood (some big ash and poplar trunks, some unidentifiable old deadhead and widowmakers from the woods, plus lots of manitoba maple trunks and brush). How large? 5 feet wide by 3 feet high, with a slope of about 50 degrees and a length of around 180 feet.

These will be planted as follows:
2 beds of Sable strawberries in an ad adapted matted-row system, spaced around 2 feet apart and left to runner like the devil (this will equal about 450 plants per row, so an order of 100 will leave me a few extras to use as ground cover elsewhere. I will interplant a few marigolds and other beneficials here and there, and likely plant a saskatoon shrub at the North ends of the hills. The north and south face of the hills may be planted with comfrey and a few alpine strawberries, for the fun of it all.

2 beds of asparagus, with 15 to 18-inch spacing. Buying a batch of 1250 crowns, this will equal 600 crowns per bed, with 30 feet extra left for other fruits and perennials. I expect haskap, rhubarb, comfrey, raspberry and alpine strawberries will make up the bulk of this. Basil and marigolds with be broadcast everywhere, for good measure.

The other bed will be an experimental realm of mostly annual market goods, to educate the observer on its usefulness as a vegetable growing technique. Melons, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, peas, basil and other delights.

Since I've neither the time nor the patience to clear beds and allow them a year to suppress weeds before planting, I'll be building this from mere sod (sprayed 2 or 3 years ago by the hand of another, so burdock and thistle HAVE been minimized-for now).

I want the logs to be slightly lower than flush with the ground, so I aim to: cut the sod with a sod ripper, roll it up, dig trenches, apply cardboard, apply manure and coffee, apply wood until heaped high, apply more poo/coffee, fill in some of the big gaps with soil, apply flipped-over sod, add more topsoil from elsewhere on the farm, then plant and mulch like the dickens.

Am I nuts? I plan to have lots and lots of help on hand for this, so the work should at least be within the threshold of the realm of possibility.

Questions for the masses:

-Would it be a savings to just use a (freely available) tiller to rip the sod into oblivion, instead of renting a sod cutter? or am I begging the weed gods to smite me? Is it ludicrous to imagine we could tackle the sod with manpower and spades?

-Could I use the freshest wood at the bottom of the heap, capped with really rotten stuff to further dodge Nitrogen robbery? I think coffee grounds and composted manure will pretty well flatten this phenomenon, but who knows.

- Would installing a few watering reservoirs (upside-down jugs buried in the crest of the hills) be prudent for starters? Irrigation is for chumps!

-Will 2-foot pathways/spaces between be sufficient for working on the beds once they are as lush as everyone promises them to be? Alternately, I might leave 5-foot alleys and line them with fruit shrubs in the future. This system would make it a cinch to net the whole shebang from birds if need be.

-Should I space the plants any less? I'm basing my thoughts on flatland spacing, with a littlle leeway given for vertical space, but could I take more...

-Should I maybe make 2 90-foot beds instead of one 180-foot one, with a teeny walkway between?

-Can you forgive me for so closely flirting with monoculture?

-Wanna help?

Thank you too much! Shoot any questions off to me as they happen upon you. Photos to follow in April.
Derick
 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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Hello Derick,

It sounds like you have big plans for your spring. I hope you can get it all accomplished.

I have 2 hugelkulturs both about 4-6 feet wide. One was built on grade and is around 350 - 400 feet long and 3 feet tall (after settling). The other is dug-in about 2 feet below grade, is 4.5 feet tall (overall) and 200' long. I love them and use them for water harvesting as well as to control run-off during the spring and fall rains (we have a high water table). I haven't watered mature plants in 2 growing seasons (not even during the drought)!

I do water my transplants until they look like their roots are set. Other than that, I haven't needed to water anything. I would recommend at least 4 foot spacing between the hugels. You can not imagine how not fun it is to carry a couple of harvesting baskets down a 2 foot path and if you have more than one person tending the hugel it can be tough to work around each other when the isle is small.

Good luck on your projects!

 
R Scott
Posts: 3304
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I rented a bobcat to cut the sod and build the trench. Time is money and getting them started before the spring rains was worth the investment for me. I got 250 foot of on-grade beds 80% done (wood, backfill, straw and compost--but no topsoil yet) and the trench dug for another 100 foot buried bed in a day's rental.

I was right at the edge between DIY and hiring a contractor money wise. Any bigger and it would have been cheaper to hire an EXPERIENCED operator and a trackhoe. A bigger machine and a good operator would get it done WAY faster for less $$, less fuel, and less tearing up of surrounding ground.

They are call bobcat skid loaders, but they are more like feral hogs in the way they tear up the land.
 
Tom Davis
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I would suggest building them to shoulder heightish (easy pickings, more water retention/less irrigation), steeper sides.
Curvy shapes for the beds
c)
with varying heights might work too, microniches and such will then be created and giving you more opportunities for a wider variety of plants to thrive.
"weeds" will only sprout given the right conditions, use them as an indicator of what might work for plantings i.e. I wouldn't worry about burdock and thistle too much b/c they like compacted soils, you are going to be uncompacting them on the hugels. Also, they are good plants for some things.
I am not sure how "watering jugs" isn't irrigation? and it might prove helpful.
Sounds like fun and I am sure you will have some great success and glorious failures with the plants you choose -- that's the funnest part for me.
Trees will pull moisture from deep, drip it onto plants underneath during heat, act as dew collectors and such. I would include some trees too black locust, fruit trees.
Nitrogen fixing ground covers might be usefull.
I would opt for full ground cover, so close spacing, the strongest will survive and thrive.
Root vegetables?



 
R Scott
Posts: 3304
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Far enough apart to walk with a garden cart or wheelbarrow minimum, AFTER canopy develops; just enough space for a small tractor could be nice.

There is a relationship between the size of the hugel and the space between for how it forms microclimate, but I don't remember the rules
 
Derick Greenly
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Amazing, thanks for the help, folks! Yeah, some machinery will be used. I have a tractor and a tiller at my disposal... I suppose the meat of that question was whether or not I should keep the sod in soddy clumps or chop it into oblivion, which would be much easier.

Regarding height....As you said, time is money (though I have the mindset) for a market garden, thus I'll have a method down pat by the time the second bed is done, and I can realistically judge how long it takes to build a hugelbeet by foot. Shoot, I'd love to build 'em TOWERING overhead, but if it's going to take until June, I'll opt for short, more attainable beds and a fuller season. Live & learn.

I do intend to cover all the ground i can without compromising my "preferred" crops (asparagus and berries), but I can mulch until then and appraise my options once I see how much runnering the berries do and how much spread the asparagus commands.

I see what you mean about the spacing. Perhaps as much as 5 or 6 feet would be wiser. Gives me a lot more soil to toss on top, anyways.

Heh, you got me! Sure, the jugs are technically irrigation, but I see it more as a temporary method to soak the beds until they've matured and hold their moisture dependably. After that-yank 'em out! It would be a bit foolhardy to assume ZERO water requirements for the first year.

My root veg will all go in the fifth bed, in great quantity, don't worry about that. The tomatoes will be undersown with so much garlic, you'll slap yer mama!

Thanks a mil for the kind words and wisdom, amigos.
 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
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Derick,
Man you are ambitious! My personal reflection would say two ninety footers for the ease of management. You might get tired of walking all the way around the 180 footer to get to the other side.

I absolutely second the suggestions about wide enough pathways for easy access for whatever equipment you use or even think you might use (i.e. mechanical vs. hand held wheelbarrows/garden carts).

Yes, you will likely have to provide irrigation at least this first season. I'm in a much drier part of the continent than you so nature may well make your task of getting the beds wet to the core. For me, I have no doubt I will irrigate again (year two) this season. I watered the beds heavily just before the first big snowstorm back in November, but we've had maybe four inches of snow total since December 1.

I had surprising success getting asparagus established last year. Now we'll see if it survived the dry winter- not worried about cold. Poor luck with raspberries but I attribute that to my absence for a while during their planting and early establishment ( I was taking a permaculture design course, wouldn't you know!) I don't think the berries were watered enough at the start. Some survived the summer so again, we'll see how much they sucker and spread. Strawberries were hit and miss. Where they got deeper soil and a bit more early attention they did OK but not a berry. My personal jury is still out on strawberries. I know the weeds were glad to take any space around the strawberries

The weeds on such large beds may surprise you. They were quite "aggressive" on all of my beds and I'm going to be paying the price this year to keep them down and favor my chosen plants. I had the best success with haskaps and currants/gooseberries on the beds where we planted a mixture of flowers to attracts bees and other beneficials. Didn't seem to harm the growth of the woody species in the least. Heck, the soil was totally covered and tons of roots were going into that relatively thin mantle. None of my beds had wood that had decomposed much before being placed into the hugelbed.

AS for grass, I tried a sod cutter and it did set back things BUT the rhizomatous species just got right back to work and reestablished cover, although not as dense as before. I couldn't set the sod cutter deep enough to get under the rhizome layer completely. If you sod cut, turn the pieces over and shade that stuff out! As for "tearing the sod up" if you have rhizomatous grasses you may be doing them a favor and helping them spread. Too often, if those rhizomes come back into contact with the soil before they've totally dried out, they may well reestablish themselves. In the future I will either sod cut and flip the pieces or sheet mulch to shade out the grass.

Absolutely best wishes on your project. Sounds exciting (and exhausting)!!
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I agree with the comments on rhizotamous weeds. I have seen quackgrass and bindweed just snake through the cardboard layers on the bottom of sheet mulch, making a thick mat of roots that looked like spagetti, when I had to pull up the beds to move to a new location. One thing I have found that works well to kill the stuff is to put all those kinds of plants into a large plastic trash can, and fill it with water. After the plants cook for a few weeks, the roots are dead and I can use the dark "weed tea" to feed my garden plants.

I also second the suggestion on shorter beds. Even 90 feet will feel like a mile after a long day if you are on one side of the mound and have to walk all the way around it to weed, water, or tend plants on the opposite side, especially on a hot, sunny day, or if you have several long beds and you are needing to walk around the long beds, to get everything planted and tended. Even on my 40 and 50 foot-long beds, I put paths across, to shorten the walking distance. Of course, my beds here on the high desert are sunken, to save on water, so I just lay an old plank across to make a path.

It is a nice idea to get help if you can, but much of the work will most likely depend on the one who is setting up and maintaining the garden. And even with helpers, the one in charge probably will have to be available to look and decide what needs done, what goes where, etc. At least, that is my experience. Sometimes it seems I spend more time walking back and forth to consult on something my helpers (my two sons) are working on than actually doing the project I have going.
 
Derick Greenly
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True enough...short beds seem like the ticket. I guess I just wonder about a way to build height, and I figured flopping the sods on top of my logs will add about 3-6 inches each. Multiply that by all the sod from the pathways between the beds, and we're cookin'. If it turns out that I've just sabotaged myself by piling almost a foot of rhizome-filled turf a bit under the surface of over 500 fett of hugelbeet, it'll be a bit of a mess. What about if they're lower in the stack? Suppose the sods were all under the wood, or tucked throughout, then covered with mucho mulch, manure, newspaper and topsoil? I have lots of material to work with. I just want to find a balance, making the most of the sod but avoiding a THICK layer of topsoil being lugged into place, negating the wood's benefit.
My beds will be on a VERY slight northern slope, but at the most exposed southern end of the farm. The slope is slight... Maybe a few percent.... and the area is otherwise as well lit as anywhere. Is there any need to compensate by making one end of the bed higher than the other? It'll really only make a difference in the first hour or so of the day, IMO.

Also, one other little thing...I plan to plant asparagus all up and down the bed. Will the slope mess with 'er?



Thanks folks!
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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As I have said before: it depends. How much rain do you get, what kind of soil, is there a lot of runoff that will charge up your berm with water, etc. My new garden I am developing is almost pure sand--immediately after a rain the ground can feel damp, but within a few hours it is dry again, and the rains we do get don't seem to wet the ground more than just wetting the surface.

I just finished a small hugelbeet--about 6 foot diameter or so--and ended up forming mini-swales or terraces on it, because when I watered it, all the water just ran down the sides, carrying the soil with it. With the little swales, some of the water actually stays put long enough to soak in. Anyway, with the mini terraces, the bed looks like a chocolate tiered wedding cake. I tried to get my son to take some pictures, but that hasn't happened yet. Maybe tomorrow.
 
Cal Burns
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Not wanting to steal your thread. This sounds similar-ish to my project. Have been putting in dead peach tree limbs, leaves, compost into a slope with stone wall towards the bottom of it. Is maybe 60 feet long. Main problem I see is finding enough soil/compost to go on top of the branches and woody material, of which I have plenty. Think I'll start off with cover crop of bush peas or other nitrogen fixer before planting some berry and fruit trees. It gets rather droughty here, but hoping that being near the river will alley
A few photos are here -
http://www.permies.com/t/22942/forest-garden/homestead-river#186535
I'll be watching your post to see how it goes. Good luck with it!
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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