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Unlike PAUL, I have a serious problem with Hugelkulture !!!

 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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It is a matter of height.

As per Pauls advice I did make my hugelkulture bed that I built last fall higher than I had in the past..and thought ..wow I'm doing great with this.

Well I went to plant it this spring and realized..I'm too short for a Tall hugelkulture bed.

No too much of a problem planting the sides with mixed greens for salads, "FAIRLY" easy to reach, but still have to bend some to reach the higher up patches..

I planted a whip of a peach tree seedling on each end, those are doing well and put some spinach and cosmos around those..so far...and some char logs

But OMG the top is a complete another story..

On the very top I have seeded sweet corn and put in some winter squash transplants, broccoli and red and green cabbage transplants..UNFORTUNATELY I had to put ONE FOOT up on the side of the bed and reach like heck to reach to top of the bed (not good) and then it was still very difficult to plant..

I think next time I'm going to stick to doing it like I did on my other beds...dig down about 2' ..fill with wood and or chips and compost and other stuff..then add back on the soil..much lower.
 
Joe Moore
Posts: 18
Location: Breckenridge, CO
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Wow. I never would have thought about shorter people having a problem with HK beds. Will have to remember this.

You say you have a hard time planting. Would Sepp's seed broadcasting method help?
Also, how much do you think stepping on the bed hurts it? Toby in gaia's garden suggests a bad should be able to handle a single foot print per year.
Thank you for the insight.
 
henry stevenson
Posts: 52
Location: Devon, UK
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Thanks for that Brenda. I hadn't thought much about that, but being less than 5 foot tall it's something I need to think about. I presume that you've been having fairly good results from your flatter beets?
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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When building any kind of garden bed, I always practise reaching across during construction at various phases to make sure that every point can be reached from somewhere outside- this applies to width as well as height.
Read the ( I think it's second) article on this page, Sepp discusses some of the basic issues with hugelbeets, he talks about height and angle, and mentions a terrace on the top for really high beds- no picture of that unfortunately, so not sure if he means a path right along the ridge, or a terrace/path somewhere on the side- the latter I think would work well for you, Brenda- maybe a third of the way up....
http://permaculturetools.wikispaces.com/file/view/Hugelkulture%20Raised%20Beds.pdf/290319257/Hugelkulture%20Raised%20Beds.pdf
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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Interesting comments. My bed is not that big..for a terrace..that is.

it is just very awkward to reach the top..not too high..just too far to reach across to the top without bracing myself one foot up..(and yes where the foot went was already planted with cold weather seeds..and the top was gertting warm weather seeds (corn, squash, etc.)..so that wasn't easy at all.

Also finding that it is drying out really fast on the very top so it has to be watered (probably the wind and 90 plus days with a couple weeks of no rain, getting rain now)..

I don't mean to sound difficult here, I do love the hugel bed..but just wanted to let those shorter people know that reaching the top without stepping on the bed could be quite difficult..I haved it planted and am glad to have it done. Still need to mulch after the seeds are all up..which should help with the dryness problem

As for the flat hugel type beds (trenches with wood buried in them ) they work quite well and are much easier for me to access.

Here are photos of the bed that I'm having trouble reaching the top on..when it was built last fall..it was built by a tractor so I wasn't able to realize that it would bed a problem until I planted it this spring.
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Diane Mundell
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I have just make my 1 hugelkultur bed. Started it last year, finished this spring and planted, I am loveing it so far,
Love having the bed higher, as I am short, but I want more around the yard. Growing more food is what its all about
I live in Hungry Horse, and on the Middlefork River. Now to figure out how to get the water up to my land. Its about
100 feet down the hill. To live off the grid is a goal one day
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My First Hugelkultur Bed. Love it
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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ah yes your bed is much lower height than mine, much easier to reach into..I'm thinking I need to plant the top of mine with permanent things next year that only need an occasional harvesting rather than annuals that need replanting every year..I'm not sure what though..as it is dry, maybe herbs...I just don't know..but it is really hard to reach.

right now it has corn and squash plants on it.
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Its looking good anyway, Brenda
Another thought for the top could be hardy small native shrubs like currants/gooseberries- Ribes species. Super tough and adaptable. I'm hoping not to have problems reaching the top of the bed I'm building , but was thinking of some native Ribes for stabilisation and tolerance of drought.
Yours looks like it went a lot faster than mine that I am doing by hand...lol I'll also be doing some lower beds just because I don't have that much time available again...lol
 
Meghan Orbek
Posts: 52
Location: Yonkers, NY/ Berkshires, MA USA
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Sepp says the hugelkultur beds can be measured to your body size. It is a matter of ratio. So when Paul told you to make your hugelbeds taller, he was right- they won't work so well unless they are quite steep. For the wide base that you had, this meant they had to be quite tall, which would work great for a tall guy like Paul.

However! ANY hugelbed can be easily scaled to one's height. Stand straight with your arm horizontally extended. Where you feet are should be the bottom edge of the mound. Where your fingertips are should be the top center ridge of the mound. As some settling occurs, it can be a little taller than that at first.

Not only does this ensure that your garden is scaled to be easy on your back and body, but it also provides the soil/wood/etc with the proper slope to facilitate optimal soil health and functioning. These are the two main goals of hugelkultur, as I understand it. I see A LOT of pictures of hugelbeds on the internet where the cross section would be more of a shallow upside down "U" rather than a steep upside down "V" ...and I don't think they could achieve what a properly built hugel can. It's too bad.. We need to provide working models for our neighbors so everyone can see and experience the shape.

And Brenda, I totally get what you're saying. Although I proudly stand at 5'3" my mom is under 5 feet (though how MUCH under is a point of contention) and until I saw Sepp stand with his arm out and explain the height to width ratio I was thinking, "It's going to be REALLY hard to sell this hugelkultur thing to my ma!" Tall people just don't understand! But now I plan to build beds that are mommy sized AND beds that are scaled for a more average (though not superior) sized person.
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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Meghan, that was a very helpful explanation of how to scale hugel beds for the person using them. Thank you!
Gani
 
K. Johnson
Posts: 57
Location: Missoula, Montana
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Uh oh Brenda. Might be time for a hugelstile! I have wondered more than once why the hugels need to be so tall at all - unless they are functioning as berms or contributing to warm microsites, which is fine of course. but why not low and wide too? - with wood & fillers buried deep under a raised bed, with logs on their way to decomposition holding the edges together. Eventually you could dig a trench through the middle of the bed and pile the edge logs in, then top it off with wood debris , sod etc. to pertuate it as an ample raised bed. Did that make sense?

This year or next I plan to try something like that with my own little raised bed - the edge logs (6" - 8" diameter) have retained moisture and housed microbes and are easy to kneel on. Now they would like to be buried in the ground, with the bed soil on top as the layer of rich soil.

For now you might lay a plank or ladder up the side to gather the squash with minimal soil disturbance.

You go girl!
Kathy J.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Brenda, your experience confirms the problems I have been trying to avoid. We just finished the first half (24' x 6') of our first hugelkultur bed. It is about 3 1/2' tall in the center, making the slope of the sides about 45 degrees. Less steep than Sepp and Paul would like, but I think it is appropriate to our site and my size (I'm 5'4"). We intend to plant a variety of perennial crops on it (service berry, currants, raspberries, asparagus, strawberries, suggestions anyone?), as well as some annual veggies and support plants.

I'm thinking that the berry bushes will love the rich organic material, but if I plant them on the top and then can't reach the berries because the branches are up 6' to 10' above the path, the fact that the bushes are happy is of little use to me. So, positioning is important for harvesting and for taking advantage of the microclimates created by the shape of the bed. What I am planning on is putting the berries on the northwest (downhill) side, annual veggies on the southeast (uphill) side and asparagus and strawberries along the top half and ridge. I think we receive enough precipitation to keep them happy there.

We should be able to reach all the berries from the path on the downhill side, and have no problems harvesting asparagus and strawberries at the top, since they are harvested at essentially ground level. The berry bushes should provide some wind protection for the asparagus as well. And the annual veggies will get the most sun and the most water and be very accessible from the path on that side. The whole bed is also sheltered by two 15' conifers and more windbreak planting is in progress all around the place.

I may have to place stepping stones in strategic locations to be able to harvest all sides of the berry bushes, but I'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Nothing is in the ground yet, so any advice on planting strategies is welcome.
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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In the Sepp article I mentioned earlier (which I think is a book excerpt?) , his main emphasis is on the angle of the beds, and the whole point is to keep them steep enough to avoid soil compaction, and allow oxygenation - he mentions too flat beds run the risk of anaerobic decomposition of the organic material- which would mean a smelly mess.
Clearly that is not always an issue, since there are many examples of folks on here using flatter beds that work fine.. I'm personally working with wood that is already quite rotted, so I think probably not a problem, maybe more so with really green wood?
As for stepping stones, at a couple of points on the bed I've been building, I've used blocks of wood- i.e. chunks of tree trunks cut for various reasons, a few fresh and green, some old and rotten to contain soil around the bottom, and secondarily, they will also provide steps to more easily access some sections of the bed (especially the non-rotten ones

BTWm Brenda, I think your bed is plenty big enough for a terrace in the sense I understood it, more of a path- I would put it a foot or so above the bottom- just enough to allow you to reach the top easily, and just creat a flat section wide enough to stand/walk on- either all around or just in periodic spots to allow access. You could even lay planks around at that point, or insert blocks of wood to stand on as I mentioned above..
 
Kota Dubois
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Brenda, why not use the inaccessible space at the top of the bed for those important plants that a polyculture needs, but that we don't eat. Nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, insectaries and biomass producers.
Taller clump grasses, yarrow and alfalfa will fall over in the winter and mulch the sides of the bed.
 
Brenda Groth
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Here is a photo I took today. I hope the scale is easier to see. I haven't gotten mulch onto the bed yet as there are a ton of baby seeds still yet to come up. The winter squash that was on the top with the baby corn (only an inch tall now) froze as we had 3 days this weekend at 27 degrees, so it will have to be replanted.

There are baby tomatoes on both sides and some baby cabbages on one and baby broccoli and peppers on the back side (east).

There are lettuces on this side and spicey asian and italian greens on the other side...planted along the bottoms are summer squash seeds (just now sprouting) and on each end is a standard peach tree whip just put in this month, cosmos seed, spinach seed, just sprouting and there is one pumpkin and a few other things here and there.

In order to reach the top I have to put one foot up onto the bed, so there are a lot of crushed lettuces..I really hate that. I'm 5' 2 1/2 " tall..

when the peach trees grow the bed will change from an annual bed to a perennial bed..but the idea of putting currants or some other fruit bush on top is just plain silly, as I wouldn't be able to pick them !! The only berries that might work on the top woud be strawberries (which I had thought of) but they shouldn't be planted near peaches.

This photo was taken with me standing on my deck looking from between 2 of my 3 semi dwarf pear trees that are along my deck (see my blog for more photos)..you can see a branch or two.

I have gotten most of the plants and seeds started on the bed for this year..but hope to have it into perennial permanent plantings next year..or the following..just using it for annuals until I decide what I want on it permanently..and what I'll be able to reach.

when I can get someone to photograph it with a person near it I will, then we'll give you a better idea of scale..but i can barely reach the top edge now if I stand with one foot half way up the side to brace myself and reach reach reach..
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David Goodman
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That looks great, Brenda.

I'm going to knuckle down and make a full-on bed this fall. I have no idea how well it'll do with my sandy soil and sub-tropical climate, but we shall see.

I've not gone as high with my previous experiments, but I think I'll go as tall as possible for my height and see what happens. I'm 6' 1", so I suppose Sepp's big beds would work. Not sure about my wife and kids, though.

Other than the height issue - are you happy with your plants' growth on the hugelkultur mound compared to other gardening methods?
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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first year for THIS bed, so I'm not sure yet. The top dried out a bit fast..the sides seem ok and the bottom edges are quite wet. The corn is up about an inch now on the top, the squash froze (3 days at 27 and 28 degrees, may come back?) ..replanting with some starts from inside..the cabbage and broccoli seem really good, the spinach is growing very well, I did my first cutting of the lettuces and spinach this week, the asian and italian spicey greens are a bit slower, more spinach just sprouting and the squashes are just sprouting that i put in as seed..the trees are leafing out and look healthy.

i need to get some mulch on it soon..but want the plants to get up just a little taller first..and the seeds to all sprout.

I just put some tomatoes, peppers, a pumpkin, a couple baby squash on it 2 days ago before a rain, they seem fine..still holding off on high praise..but things seem to be doing good

I'll try to post to other pictures that I zoomed in on from the photo above, tried 4 times yesterday but they didn't post
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Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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Some plants doing really well on the bed, some not doing really great (probably cause of the frosts)..her is a little snapshot of one area. There is also sweet corn coming on the top and the other side and some baby squashes starting to grow. New spinach is coming on the ends along with some cosmos..the peach trees have leaves but don't seem to be growing very well..I'll wait. The tomatoes and peppers aren't doing great, think they'll do better when the hot humid weather kicks in this weekend..for a week at least.
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Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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July update on this bed after my husband being in the hospital for about 3 weeks and it didn't get properly tended...

Well we had a drought and the top and the east sunny side of the bed was drying out terribly..the west side did fine.

The lettuces were most of the crops on the west side and they grew beautifully as well as most of the cabbages are fine, a few died, not sure why. The corn on the top was OK but needed watering which I did when I had time, but I spent most of my free time at the hospital.

The east side had been planted to spicey asian and italian greens and they mostly bolted and died..also spinach that was there and some squashes weren't doing well, the spinach bolted and the squashes were barely alive. I decided to stick in some more tomato and corn plants on the east side and water water water it...we had very little rain the last half of June here.

I discovered that there was a LOT of clover and alfalfa seed in my topsoil, and that began to take over the west side of the bed among the lettuces..so I've been pullling that and dropping it as mulch but it is getting way ahead of me..and the top and ends and east side are bone dry even with a ton of watering..so I went and got a soaker hose and last night I put that along the top of the bed, down one side of top and back down the other side..so one on each side of the top..just got it in last night and we had a thunderstorm.

I've been getting lovely lettuces, the tomatoes are struggling as are the squashes, the corn is OK, the broccoli has already headedd..spinach is gone to seed, cosmos are doing fine, peach trees are leafing and branching..

I'm seriously thinking of tearing out everything that isn't doing well and bringing in perennials right away (which I planned to do this fall anyway)..as the annuals just aren't doing very well on this bed.

I definately can tell where the heat lovers and shade lovers need to go by the annuals experiment..and would appreciate suggestions for the hot dry areas..of the bed..even though I did put a soaker hose in i don't want to have to use it all the time.

I'm going to let the corn and tomatoes grow, the lettuce is still going strong for now but it will bolt when it gets really hot this July/August..so I think it will be replaced with perennials as I'm able. I'm thinking maybe trying to put currants in the cooler parts of the bed, put in some comfrey and maybe some rhubarb (although I have plenty)..I might leave a few of the clovers, but don't need the thousands that are growing there for sure..might even transplant a few of my strawberry runners onto the shadier side when the lettuce begins to thin out..but not sure about them so close to the peach trees..but it would be nice to have them at a nicer level for picking..easier for the old body.

Trying to get a sense of what to plant on the top where it will be really dry and on the east side..maybe I could move some of my herbs to those drier areas..like sage, thyme, etc..i have some that could be dug and moved there..that aren't doing really well where they are now, and always get swamped by other things.

at least they wouldnt' be demanding of water.

I also have some rooted cuttings of kiwi that could go on the shady side and up over some trellis if i was to build one there..that is a thought I've been muddling around with. which would also bring some shade to the overly sunny bed (also the peach trees will shade it as they grow up) and then maybe it will be a much healthier bed..as right now it is awfully hot.

anyway..that is my update..and a real learning experience..

I also have some areas of my rear garden that I've completely killed off every thing that was growing there (mostly quackgrass) that will totally be rethought..now that I can think again

(Ron was in the hospital with emergency neck/spinal surgery..he almost died but is doing really well now thanks to some great drs'..he has about a 10" scar down the back of his neck..back..
he had spinal fluid backing up into his brain, couldn't walk or use his arms or hands and was having troubles with inner organs failing..but with emergency surgery on the 12th I brought him home 16 days later in good shape)
 
Consider Paul's rocket stove mass heater.
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