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Large Scale Hugel Beds

 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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I'm doing some experimenting with Hugelkultur beds on the larger end of the scale, and I wanted to share my experiences here to get your perspectives. I started all of this last year with a wood core bed that's about 18'x45'. I used almost exclusively red oak with some sweet gum and a bit of pine - all was standing dead and blow downs from the property. I went down about 2-3' and back filled with the topsoil (sandy loam and red clay below that). .

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I started a trench at the back of the bed, filled it with wood and buried it back. August 22nd, 2012
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Then I got into the groove and started a continuious process of dig, fill and bury as I moved back
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RIP old work jeans, you served me well. Even the pair that got cut on the fence when I was knocked out by the big tree is in there. :) They will help hold moisture.
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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I read Jean Pain's book a couple of years ago and liked the idea of walk boards. I have a sawmill and slabs are a waste product, so I used them to create walkways. I used 2" rough cut slabs with a natural edge for the sides to convert it to a raised bed and keep the grass out. I also grabbed some hay that didn't have too many seeds in it from the farm and used that as mulch.

I went with the wild and crazy Sepp method of throw shit out and see what comes up. My mom, the master gardener has been banned from the garden at this point. She is only allowed to do stuff with my expressed permission from now on. (though she is coming around nowadays)
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I lined the edges with 2" rough cut Red Oak planks which will convert it into a raised bed while also holding moisture.
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Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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Here's what it looks like today. The last picture is the pond site I got the topsoil that I added this spring. I converted a gully into a pond. We also piled up stumps there about 10 years ago, and it has some of the densest most lush growth on the farm. The trees that came up out of there look like they are 2-3 years ahead of all the others planted at the same time. This is proof that Hugel beds work, even when you don't pile a lot of dirt on them.
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Just an updated pic of the garden. Still no water. It
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See that dense area in the middle? We piled up stumps there ~10 years ago.
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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The whole thing used to look like the brush on the Left (hugel bed from stumps cleared for a pond) plus a bunch of fence posts and barbed wire. I dug that out, moved a lot of dirt, put in a clay dam at the back, and the next day it rained and now it has 3-4' of water in it. Still needs some finishing work.
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An improptu hugelbeet made when the stumps were pushed up behind the dam of a new pond.
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Here's a rotting stump after 10 years. I would guess it's a pine tree.
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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Currently I'm in the middle of my second Hugelkultur experiment. I've picked out a roughly 85x85' area and put in traditional hugel beds with my hybrid swale/water catchment/silt traps. The beds are 35', 53', 58', and 55'. The 5th and last one I plan to build half buried to pick up the water as it seeps down from the other beds above, and have it only about 3' tall in more of a raised bed design.

Should I keep posting about it below or start a new thread?

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Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Awesome, Sam. I am currently doing something similar, but on a comparatively micro scale. My first hugelbeet from last year I rebuilt this year, wood core and clay/loam and manure fill, topped up with topsoil and triple mix, all organic where I had to bring it in from outside (I'm in a 20'x35' ish backyard), and though it goes 3' below grade and 2' above (and I'm topping it up as I go), it is only 10.5' long and 5' wide.

I was thinking that if I had access to pallets as I do now when I get my land, the larger sized ones could be used as something of a superstructure; pile the core wood/manure into long rows (in prepared trenches) install the pallets as retaining walls (seat the bottoms of the pallets along the edges of the trenches, secured together at the tops, or else to a horizontal brace/spacer. This approach has thus far allowed me vertical sides to my hugelbeet, and if this is as straightforward to implement as I've described, it looks like a system that will provide erosion control and structure to young hugelbeets with excessively steep sides until root systems can take over the structural support of the bed.

I have pics on my project thread of my ongoing stuff:

http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/24218#193612

Please keep us updated. This work is fascinating, and proper documentation and data can help others doing the same. Thanks a lot.

-CK
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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Humm, well I guess I'll just keep posting in this thread. . .

So I picked this field which is about 85x85 to use because it gets a lot of runoff from the roof of the zone 1 structures. Much of it is channeled right under where they surveyor is and I can pick that up and use it.

We laid out the beds using crushed cans (2 colors for up and down hill side) and the painted the outline. Before this I had pulled a lot of good dirt out from the pond site and separated it into topsoil and sand piles. It was about 25-30 cu.yd.
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Surveyor Setup
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Source for the Dirt
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First Beds lined out
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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You can see the nice curves from the contour painted on the ground; You can see where I dug them out (about 20min job for the 2 beds (35ft. and 53ft); You won't wee those nice contours in the final bed. They just didn't translate very well on this scale. Part of the problem may be my use of full logs that are 20" ft long. I found having a few of those in to tie the pile together was helpful., but to follows the shape, a lot more 3-4ft pieces work better.

I also put them a bit to close together which was about 5 ft on the ground, but it turned out even closer in the finished product. I was doing this by myself and did these first two beds in about 1-2 days each.
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Nice curves from the contour of the land
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Digging out the topsoil
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First bed ready for wood
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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Right away one of the problems I had was dumping the logs in the first bed required driving over the topsoil from the second bed. I wanted to get at least the first two in though because driving a 15,000lb tractor repeatedly over an area that's a bit damp tears it up. I probably should have piled it on the downhill side, and then moved it aside for later.

I ended up putting about 4-5 cu. yrds on each 7ft section (bucket width) I put the sand on first and topsoil last. I read the hugelkulture article Paul put together, and had planned on putting the grass upside down on the pile between the sand and topsoil. After about an hour of this, I realized how long it would take. If I had an army of 8 people working on it, or I was doing a small project, it wouldn't be that bad. This however would have taken me probably 2 days of just putting the soil back. It was really not feasible, and I ended up throwing it in and pulling the grass out when it pops up.
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Here's the first layer of wood
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Dirt dumped on top
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Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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Here's the back side of bed number one and you can see the topoil heavily run over at the base. As the beds progressed I was having to go further and further out on the farm to get the standing dead and blowdowns from the various places. I would also have to cut some down, and this really adds to the construction time.
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Sam Dodson
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I was wrapping up the second bed when I heard something that to my ears was like the singing of angels - a wood chipper. That meant the road crews were coming through removing the dead trees. I went and talked to them and they agreed to deliver the dead trees to me for free. I was much closer than taking them into town to dump them, so it was a win win.

That really got me moving on the 3rd bed which turned out to be over 7ft as of now. I also put a lot more space in between the beds and since the contour doesn't really mater at this point, I made it a big curve. I plan to put a small pond (buried stock tank) in the center.

I ended up getting about 12 loads like that while they were in the area, and they kept me hopping.
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Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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The 3rd bed came together quickly, and it's the largest/tallest/longest. I started to run out of dirt which sucked. I also didn't dig out the topsoil for the next two and just placed them on black mud which was lined with tire tracks from the tractor.

While working on all of this I was thinking about Hugel beds and swales. It seems swales are really good at stopping and or moving the water and letting it soak into the landscape below. Hugel beds on the other hand are great at soaking up and storing the water. I had seen Paul's diagram showing the various options, but it wasn't really presented in this light. I put a hybrid swale on the high side of the bed, and I extended the ends of the hugel beds with more of a traditional swale while also making them slightly deeper so they would naturally act as a sediment trap. This way I can scoop out the silt and throw it back on top. I then created an overflow with rocks to fill the trench in front of the next bed.

THe picture below is of the first rain after my first pass on the trenches. It was 1" that came down fairly quickly, and it filled them up, so I enlarged them a bit. 1" is a typical rainstorm, but we get 3-4" a couple of times a year. With total rainfall at around 47" on average, fairly evenly spread out over each month (great for swales)
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3rd bed under construction
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3rd bed almost complete
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Rain!
 
Sam Dodson
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Location: East Texas
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I packed down the ends because they are more of a dam than a swale, but the mid section is loose. I planted it with water loving stuff like melons and pumpkins. The wind comes in from behind the camera and blows down the beds, so I'm planting some big palm liek plants along with others to serve as a windscreen for the rows. The ends are also a great place to let the vines run (hopefully choking out the grass eventually) while still being inside the fence. The water takes about 3-4 days to soak in, and even over 10 days later there are damp spots that show up from watering the flower beds above.

In the green picture you can see the high spot in the trench. After each rain I went back and touched them up, added the rock dam to hold the water in front of the bed, so that only the overflow (and runoff from above) would fill the silt trap. After about 3 passes they are working/looking great.

The bottom picture is after 6/10ths an inch of rain. The wood chips were from an oak I on the front of our property. We just don't have straw available locally, so I used what was available (and free) and dumped it on the ends.
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Sam Dodson
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This is the 5th and last bed. I wanted a different approach for this bed. I figured there would be a lot of seepage from teh beds above running through the clay. So I decided to capture that by digging a 3-3.5' deep pit and burying the logs in the ground. On the top I sloped it back to make it almost a level raised bed., and I'm thinking I'll plant this heavily with fruit trees. I might even putt a small apiary back there.

That bed was finished today, and now I'm working on the fence. I'm going to use a welded wire fence so I can turn the chickens loose to finish off the gardens at the end of the growing seasons. It should also help keep predators out as well.

I hope that helps anyone considering doing something like this. I welcome any comments/questions/feedback/criticisms you may have.
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K. Johnson
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Location: Missoula, Montana
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Sam these photos look good to me. And geez that soil looks familiar. Do they make tiles or pink face powder from it? Adobe blocks? I have some training and experience in decomposer microbes/nutrient cycling and humble gardening. I see lots of good things to point out in your photos. Which I will do when I am writng in the a.m versus p.m. Snoooze.....

Am I right to conclude that hugel 'beets' are belowground or ground level hugelbeds? It seems important that the depth of the big trunk wood burial should be related to available soil moisture - is there enough constant soil moisture from the water table near the surface to actually build the hugel tall, on the surface, without irrigating it? Or would dry soils and hot wind steal the moisture? Iis natural soil moisture so deep into the ground that it's best to make a deep hugel bed/beet so the woody material can pull in natural soil moisture laterally or from below?

Over the first few years, depending on how large the wood diameter, and decomposed the material already is, it could become either a sink or source for moisture, depending on how scarce the ground moisture and summer precipitation is. Of course after the beds are covered with veg the soils temps/root zone will be cooler, from shading, retaining moisture and making life good for plants that need a cool root zone, so the hugel will change over time. Seems like the depth of the hugelbed could be a regional hugelkultur ‘guideline' based on precip plus available ground moisture? Or maybe it is already and I missed it. Anyone enlighten me? Refs? I just ordered Sepps book. For my husband. For his birthday. Ha ha.

Sam - why not keep your project going in the same thread? Easier to keep track of it that way. Is that the "Mom Effect" I see in the photo with flowers and ferns? Very nice.

Need to look at Chris's project yet, too.

Terribly ashamed that I am so new and digitally impaired I've never listened to a podcast. Gasp.

Kathy J. living on structureless pink clay in Montana, rambling
 
Sam Dodson
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My aunt is an artist and says we can use the clay to make Terracotta pottery. The soil is typically 1" of topsoil, 12-18" of sand, and several feet of red clay below that, then Gray below that. There are some layers of Iron Ore rock in the ground as well.

This will answer your questions on Hugelbeets. http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

The terminology is a bit screwy. If I understand it correctly - Hugelbeet is a high bed, above ground similar to what I did in the mounds but with less wood. While Hugelkultur is similar but refers to something more broad in German. That's why I use the term Hugel bed, and when the wood goes in the ground I call it a Wood Core bed. Seems to fit better.

The wood buried in the ground won't create the micro climate, and won't heat up the same way in the sunlight as a hugelbeet. Thought they work on a similar principle. Bury wood, let it break down over time, soak up water and nutrients, and eventually turn into good soil.

Your asking some great questions I hadn't considered on soil moisture, and how it would affect the surrounding soil. When it rains here the water soaks into the sand, and then floats through that layer riding on top of the clay until it comes out into a stream/gully. That's why I buried the 5th hugel bed, my thinking is that it will catch all the water seeping downhill from the other beds and give it a sandy/woody box to fill up before continuing on it's way. Wood core beds hold water really well, and I think the sun pulls on it drawing it up to the surface. My wood core bed the soil has always been moist and much more so than the soil under the grass just a few inches outside of the bed.

The hugelbeets (hugel beds) should be mulched, but there is not much straw available in my area, and I'll have to order a truckload to get it. That would help absorb and hold the moisture. My hybrid swale/water catchment system should help continue charging the bed several days after a rain, increase humidity, and increase light from reflected sunlight. The beds will also be generating a bit of warmth from the decomposition going on in the wood, though in TX heat is more of the problem. We typically have a spring, early summer, late summer-fall growing seasons.

The flowers are there to provide diversity, bring in pollenators, and exchange nutrients below the surface. Mom is a master gardener and always did mono-cropping in rows. She's coming around and starting to get it. She really likes the Hugelbeets after learning more about them. .



 
kobyn schlichter
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awesome scale man
 
janet jacobsen
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I'm really enjoying the photos and the information. Thanks for continuing to post! I look forward to seeing the progression. I have a small urban garden in Ruston, Louisiana, about an hour east of Shreveport. Just so you'll know, I make MUCH smaller hugelkultures and I do flip the sod to grass side down but I still have to pick grass out- it seems to grow through anything. Where in east Texas are you?
 
Chris Kott
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Hey Sam. You're making distinctions where none exist. Hugelkultur refers to the practice of gardening in hugelbeets (literal translation raised bed). There are different forms of the same thing, with different names and slightly different processes, depending on the site conditions and the cultures that spawned the traditions. For example, there were Native American groups in the Pacific Northwest that, because of their use of salmon as a staple, threw the remains of salmon into their mound beds, which probably developped directly from the practice of keeping a midden heap. They probably noticed vegetable staples of their diet growing out of a previous years' midden heap (squashes, beans, and corn, if they used those), and started making them intentionally.

When I started gardening years before I ever heard of hugelkultur and permaculture, I was building lasagna mound beds using kitchen scraps, garden waste, organic manure, and twigs and branches chopped up.

One direct observation of hugelbeets in clay soil (I have a clay loam with some sand) is that if I did sub-grade like three feet, and then build the base of the wood pile with 1'-3' long log sections placed vertically, set in the ground like pilings, and pile everything up on top of that, not only do I get superior structure (no overlarge voids or collapses after the rain), but also, I have noticed much better wicking of moisture to the middle and top of the bed than with horizontally-oriented logs. As a result, I can effectively sub-irrigate my hugelbeet with a swale and small rain/dew collection pond just north of it.

-CK
 
K. Johnson
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Sam and Chris, this project looks really well done to me. I notice that much of the wood has a headstart on fungal rot and weathering, which is likely to make a positive difference in getting the belowground action going. I also notice how tidy the whole op is, condidering the heavy machinery involved. That must take some skill. I assume rubber tires, rather than tracks, are one key to that.

Chris, I think is was me who didn't understand the nomenclature about Hugels. Thanks for the tips.

Great news About the Farm today. The stars must be aligned.
Well noodle kugel to ya then.
Kathy J.

Tune in my head " I learned to drive on those East Texas red clay back roads.........
 
Sam Dodson
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Janet - I'm about an hour the other side of Shreveport. I agree on the grass, turning it upside down is a bad idea. I would dig it out, use the tractor to move the pile back and forth several times (to break up the clumps) and then pull the grass out. I have loads of grass growing, and I spend a little bit of time pulling stuff each time I walk the garden.

Chris -
Hugelkultur refers to the practice of gardening in hugelbeets
that cleared it up. Thank you. I think I saw your post with the comparison beds one vertical and the other horizontal. That was very interesting. If we could graph the productivity of the beds I would expect the shape of a hill. I think by putting the logs in vertically, your going to get the peak of the hill quicker, while it seems like it would break down faster. I think the vertical logs will take longer to get to that peak but may break down a bit slower and flatten out the productivity "hill" in the graph. Getting rid of the voids is a huge advantage of going vertical IMO. I've had to go back and do some pushing dirt in the voids by hand and filling in some gaps with the shovel as I dug the swales on the uphill side.

Kathy - I'm also setting up a mushroom farm as part of my system. I ordered 8 master culture slants which are currently growing out on petri dishes, and will eventually make it over to plug spawn. I plan to nocc up some logs and stumps around the farm. I'll probably put a few in the exposed logs on these beds. It would have been nice to plug some of the logs in this bed before I put the dirt on, but I wasn't ready yet. I'm interested to see if they will produce.

We had a really bad drought 2 years ago, and it's has killed a lot of trees, so everything I've used in these are standing dead and blow downs. So it's fairly dried out and the ones on the ground usually have mycillium growing up into them. As for the condition of the land - The soil is mostly clay over here with very little topsoil and not much sand where the beds were put in. I tried to stay off it after a rain, but it was still torn up a bit. I went back through and did a fair amount of hand work with a shovel and pick axe to clean it up and put in the water harvesting systems.
 
Greta Fields
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In Europe, the forests are monocultures. That is why Sepp Holtzer seems justified in my mind for tearing up the mountain to start over, to get a biodiverse , non-monoculture going.,
However, here in America, we have much biodiversity in our hardwood forests. For example, there are more species of beetles in Kentucky than in all of Europe put together. Many of these bugs have never been studied or named.
It is my opinion that we are not justified in using backhoes to do hugelkulture. My thinking is, it is a radical fix that is only needed in some place like Germany, where the forests were destroyed by two world wars and need a radical fix.
I come from southeastern Kentucky, where giant machines are doing mountaintop removal. It truly hurts to see people said to be in favor of permaculture tearing up the earth like this, using a backhoe, of all things. Some people on this website are posting questions like, "Should I clear everything out and start from scratch or not?" I say, absolutely not. You should start with what is there, observe nature, what is missing, and go from there.
Once you men start using your muscles to make a hugelkulture, your craving for earth moving machines will disappear! I think it is lack of doing things with our hands that makes us crazy in this culture. I have relatives who are college professors, and I think, watching them write etc., "You may as well cut off a man's hands as to take away from him the opportunity to garden."
I have hugelkulture myself. I built big beds using 2 X 12s, but I piled them up my hand. It takes patience. You have to add the top gradually as you cut weeds etc.
 
Chris Kott
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Greta, I don't agree. I have made hugelbeets by hand, digging a 4'x12' hole 3' deep by hand is not a small bit of work, and that is a small bed, by my reckoning. Using machinery to put the land in a position to gather rainfall/tweak microclimates is considered a useful tool by many, including most of those that teach and promote permaculture, including geoff lawton, the current guy in charge where it comes to permaculture, if there is such a one, based on the apparent opinion of the guy who coined the term and wrote the book.

To effect large-scale change, you either need lots of cheap labour, or machines to let few people have the effect of many. If you are talking about adding texture to the land, including earthworks involving large ponds, that's a LOT of dirt.

Also, we live a finite span of years. When I finally get my land, I am going to do as much earth moving at first as possible, as fast as I can seed it. There will be an integrated land management and improvement plan that will gradually build soil fertility from the first paddock rotation, and I will have carefully scaled animal and crop-based income streams to help pay it off faster, provide investment capital for the property, and later provide cash for more land. But you need to fix the mechanisms for supporting the life you plant, without expensive daily human intervention. That means ponds and swales.

Most of what I get from the people interested in permaculture is that the way to make it replace conventional agriculture is to make it more financially viable, especially for the cases of those directly involved, those looking to make a living making good food, and looking for the most efficient way to do so. That includes financial cost. If that can be defrayed by doing the earth moving labour investment quickly by mechanizing it, I would have to go that route.

Ideally, the machines would be electric, or the traction animal. But we don't all have so many options.

-CK
 
Greta Fields
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I still don't get it. They use those giant machines for mountaintop removal too, and sometimes they cover up animals alive. You are covering up small ones that you don't even know are there.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I am uninterested in moving mountaintops. I want to plant all up them. But that means I need to make the water, in most cases, stop going straight down hill and make it take as long to leave the land as possible.

Many more poor little critters get killed with conventional plowing every single year than will be killed in one season of terracing and earth berming, which will eliminate the necessity in the future.

Making note of the fact that we want to use machines to do good things faster, and noting that big bad machines tear the tops off coal-bearing mountains speaks more to the badness of coal than that of people responsibly reshaping flattened land to properly use water.

Treading lightly in the long term may look extremely invasive and intensive in the short term.

If you don't get it, what is the basis of your argument?

-CK
 
K. Johnson
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Location: Missoula, Montana
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Greta, I'm troubled by the disturbance caused by the machines too. I used to work on a crew in a National Park that focused specifically on rehab in sites around construction areas. Native plants were requisite, and soaker hoses were available, and still we had a hard time. It was cold country , but dry in the summer - zone 3 or 4 so our options were quite limited. We set up a whole nursery to learn how to propagate natives by cutting, seeds, salvage etc. Most of the time success was limited because the topsoil was thin to begin with and any soil structure was destroyed by the equiment.

If I lived in a warmer climate, things would be easier. I would look for a desireable grass seed, perhaps something native or at least non GMO, or reliable cover crops, and have some surface dressing/compost ready to go as soon as the project is done, and expect to have to helo it along with some water. I can imagine that in places with shallow tops soil it might be appropriate to get soil builders growing on the damaged area going asap. Also salvage whatever looks like it might work - keep the salvage plants in a low cardboard box with plenty of soil in deep shade. Keep moist. Here in Missoula, exposed, damaged soil often blooms into a knapweed and thistle garden.

There is a plant Catalogue from High Country Gardens that is a reliable guide to desireable plants in western dry mountains - known these days as xeriscapes. It shows whether a plant is bee friendly, deer resistant, drought resistant and more. It's a great resource. They don't sell seeds, and the plants are $$, but I have ordered from them and had great success with their high-quality plants. Order early spring. Anyone who lives in the west should recognize at least some of the plants or their families. Have a look at their website for (for inspiration!) and order their catalogue as a reference: http://www.highcountrygardens.com/request

Regards
Kathy J.

 
Greta Fields
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Thanks for the information. I don't live in that region. . .I am in the southeast, and I don't know much about the plant life there.
I can't see any reason for doing Hugelkulture period, unless you have a pile of lumber you need to get rid of Why are you trying to grow so much food? If each person grew some food, there would not be any need for agribusiness, or hugelkulture business either.
Shrews turned me against earth moving machines, and I was driving one at the time: I had my own front end loader, and I often had a backhoe on my property.
So what if it takes me two afternoons to dig a 25-foot water line? That is better than compacting the earth with one of these machines.
Prior to letting one of these monsters in my orchard, the dirt was so soft it was like walking on a cloud. I didn't know it, but it was because the earth was full of tillers, like shrews. Also, it had lain fallow for 50 years. Previous owners told me, there had been "ten thousand morels" in the yard when the house was first built (1901. There were SIX morels in the yard when I bought it. I did not pick them, and 25 years later, there were SIXTY morels. My father wiped them out in five minutes with the loader. After he graded the orchard lightly, no morels ever grew again. It is still hard, compacted, and that was ten years ago. I don't know how long it will take the shrews to put it back. I got rid of my loader after that.
 
Chris Kott
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I understand and respect your points, Greta, but you are still taking very specific examples of uses of large machinery unsuitable for most permaculture, by the physical evidence you pointed out, and generalizing to suggest that all machinery is unsuitable.

I think that it is appropriate to scale the size of the tools you are using to the size of the project and property. I, for instance, use a tree planting spade, a wider spade, a long-handled "garden claw" brand manual soil tool, and occasionally a sledgehammer if I need to compact soil at the bottom of a small pond or a swale with too much water loss to the subsoil, or if I am building raised beds using pallets as vertical walls and 1"x24" boards to peg them in tight together. But that is in a progressively more intensively gardened 20'x40' backyard space.

If you hadn't the chance to watch the videos Geoff Lawton put out before the registration for his online PDC, it's a real shame. The underlying message is that PDCs teach the permaculture route to abundance from relative lack using tools such as proper water management and harvesting.

The point is, of course great caution should be taken in sensitive areas so you don't lose what is already great. A part of that is observation, the effect of which can be applied much sooner with some applied knowledge and reading of the plants and hydrology. But if the point of earth moving is to create more great stuff, and perennial-based food systems boosted in their early lives by being built on large moisture wicking nurse log-like compost heaps qualifiy in my opinion, I think larger projects are justified using larger tools.

-CK
 
Sam Dodson
Posts: 32
Location: East Texas
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Hi Gretta, I have lots of points to address from your comments, thanks for sharing your views. I think some of your assumptions are incorrect.

Greta Fields wrote:
here in America, we have much biodiversity in our hardwood forests. For example, there are more species of beetles in Kentucky than in all of Europe put together. Many of these bugs have never been studied or named.
It is my opinion that we are not justified in using backhoes to do hugelkulture. My thinking is, it is a radical fix that is only needed in some place like Germany, where the forests were destroyed by two world wars and need a radical fix.


When my ancestors homesteaded our farm well over a century ago, I'm pretty sure it was mostly forest. The timber was harvested, some of the land was terraced (a couple are still visible though now covered with 100+ year old forest), and the heavy clay soils were planted with mono cropped pines. When I was a kid we could go down to the creek in the summer and dig in a couple of spots to see the spring water coming out of the ground feeding the creek. Most of those are gone and the creek dries up for about half the year. The land is leased to a cattle farmer who wants the pastures to be mono cropped for hay. This is how 90% of the working farms in this area are managed. It's VERY much like the examples Sepp points out in his videos (minus the mountains).

Greta Fields wrote:
I come from southeastern Kentucky, where giant machines are doing mountaintop removal. It truly hurts to see people said to be in favor of permaculture tearing up the earth like this, using a backhoe, of all things.


I fail to see what mountain top blasting and removal with machines that have tires bigger than my backhoe has to do with what I'm doing. I also would guess that the amount of land damaged by war in Europe is less than 10% of the total acreage. I think just like here, that so called modern farming practices and human activity is what destroyed the diversity and beautifully balanced ecosystems that existed before human settlements.

Greta Fields wrote:
Once you men start using your muscles to make a hugelkulture, your craving for earth moving machines will disappear! . . .
I built big beds using 2 X 12s, but I piled them up my hand. It takes patience. You have to add the top gradually as you cut weeds etc.


As for using my muscle, I certainly do. All of the swales and trenches were dug by hand. The giant logs don't jump into the bucket on their own. However, the smallest bed is over 20 times the size you built by hand. It's all together over 300 linear feet of 6+ foot tall hugel beds. I moved over 30 yards of dirt to build them and in the process converted a gully that was eroding topsoil into a pond with a swale in front of it and planted it with food. The excavated dirt was over 3 football fields away, and my gorilla carts carry about 1/4 of a yard. (That's 120 trips) Digging the pond by hand, loading the dirt into the cart, haling that uphill over 300 yards to the hugel bed, and then shoveling it out by hand would probably take about 12-18 months. (they were built by myself in 1.5 to 3 days each with my backhoe). The pond is currently re-hydrating the landscape (instead of still being dug) and the gardens are growing food for me, my family, and the livestock, thereby reducing demand from the chem-ag paradigm. The tractor has gone back and forth across the land many times and it will continue to do so carting logs for my sawmill. (Without it I would be doing far more damage dragging them across the ground) Claiming this process is destructive to me doesn't acknowledge nature's ability to jump in with pioneer species to begin the repair and restoration. Observing nature as I do for many many hours every day, I've noticed nature is all about constant creation/destruction cycles.

I put over 2000 sqft of garden and water harvesting infrastructure together in under 2 months. In the process I also converted 4 gullies into new ponds that will eventually be connected with Swales. Had I done this by hand I would be about 10% of the way there as I continue consuming chem-ag products and feeding the petrodollar paradigm. It would take more than a lifetime to complete the farm's transition by hand. Instead I'll be working on the crater garden or the underground sauna/bath house/root cellar in another month. There's no question for me that using heavy equipment for earthworks of any scale is the way to go.

Greta Fields wrote:
I can't see any reason for doing Hugelkulture period, unless you have a pile of lumber you need to get rid of Why are you trying to grow so much food? If each person grew some food, there would not be any need for agribusiness, or hugelkulture business either.


I did Hugelkultur to test Paul's claim that crops can be grown without irrigation, to see if it would work in Texas heat, and to serve as a test site to advance the ideas of permaculture. This wood was all standing dead and blow downs. It used to get piled up and burned. The loads that came from the road crews would have ended up in at a local dump or piled up and burned. Some of the wood was also scraps from my sawmill. Why am I growing so much food? Because I can. Because it's our land to do with as we please. In Today's reality each person is not growing food. Some people decide to be seamstresses, bakers, blacksmiths, computer programmers, and so on. Our lives are more diverse and we enjoy a much higher standard of living as a result. However, on your land you're free to grow only the amount of food you will consume, and even advocate others do the same. In the meantime I'll be creating abundance and setting an example for others which will increase the supply of food which, over time, naturally drives down prices, making food cheaper and more available in my community.

Greta Fields wrote:
Prior to letting one of these monsters in my orchard, the dirt was so soft it was like walking on a cloud. I didn't know it, but it was because the earth was full of tillers, like shrews. Also, it had lain fallow for 50 years. Previous owners told me, there had been "ten thousand morels" in the yard when the house was first built (1901. There were SIX morels in the yard when I bought it. I did not pick them, and 25 years later, there were SIXTY morels. My father wiped them out in five minutes with the loader. After he graded the orchard lightly, no morels ever grew again. It is still hard, compacted, and that was ten years ago. I don't know how long it will take the shrews to put it back. I got rid of my loader after that.


I put some logs on some fresh clay put down while extending a dam. It sprouted native oyster mushrooms. The mycelium and spores were already there, but it needed the wood to fruit. Building Hugel beds creates habitat for mushrooms as well as wildlife. I'm also cultivating them on logs and I throw out colonized blocks of substrate around the farm to fruit and get them going naturally. I also plug the stumps of the trees I cut and the logs that are too small for milling get plug spawn. The stuff smaller than that goes into a hugel bed over a burn pile. In the process of creating the beds it excludes most all motorized equipment from the gardens.

If you listen to the soil scientist's presentation, wood and mushrooms loosen soil as well. Moles are a pest here, eating the grub worms, which are out of control thanks to the mono-cropped pastures. They do lots of damage currently, and my dog lucky gets several treats when she catches one. She also hunts the wild rabbits, squires, skunks, racoons, armadillos, and mice.

I have tremendous respect for all conscious life. I understand that all things contain varying levels of consciousness. I sit with animals whose life I am taking, explaining my actions, and I thank and admire each tree for being a part of our farm before I cut it down. I also observe nature and understand that this physical reality is here for us to learn and grow through expanding the richness of experiences that make up our soul. I do the things I do with respect based on what I think is best given my knowledge and experiences - just as my ancestors did.

I strive to leave the world a better place than I found it, and thanks to my backhoe, the bulk of these changes will be completed in my lifetime to the benefit of many generations to come.

 
Greta Fields
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I did not see Lawson's videos, but I think some of them are still on YouTube. I like the videos on keyline planning for water conservation.
I read a book describing how the Hopis conserved water....now that truly is amazing.
We could argue all day over methods. I hope you keep real good records on what you are doing, so that you can see the long term effects. Time will show the full effects of what we do.
At least you try to grow food and protect water. I heard on the Seventh Generation Fund videos that only 3/10ths of one per cent of surface water is drinkable, and 3% of that comes from the glaciers (which are melting).
I disagree with the whole idea of division of labor into many jobs. I think everybody ought to help put food on the table, and after that, you can divide up the labor that is left. I grew up working on my grandma's farm, and everybody helped put food on the table, regardless of what else they did. I get mad, I can't help it, at people who own a lot of land and still go on food stamps. On the other hand, I know a real poor family living on the river bank, and they have the most glorious gardens. They live in shacks, but I often think, they have a good life there.
 
Sam Dodson
Posts: 32
Location: East Texas
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Yep, the amount of survace water if rather small:

http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/2010/gallery/global-water-volume.html



Above ground water is the smallest ball.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Great thread Sam. And great job everyone for being nice !
 
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