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hugelkultur - anybody know of any "credible" studies or sources as to it's effectiveness?

 
Eric Evans
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Location: Northwest CT
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Hi All,

I've read through the richsoil.com site page on Hugelkulter, read through some of these forums, and what I've seen is evidence enough for me as I've already buried some fodder wood in our raised beds. I'm writing a research paper for school, anybody know of any documented studies done in a comparative nature as to Hugelkulter's effectiveness? Additionally, anything similiar about any of the techniques employed by the community would be good as I'm also discussing Rocket Heaters, Paul's personal heater experiment, etc...

In the meantime, Wifey and I will continue turning our little quarter acre into a micro farm until we're able to acquire and handful of whole acres, and I will continue my googling...

Any help is appreciated,

Thanks
 
John Elliott
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No, and I've looked. If you go to Google Scholar and type in 'hugelkultur' you only get a handful of hits. If you type in "compost tea' though, you'll get over a thousand hits, this is a topic that is more amenable to scientific studies. If you enter "biochar" you get over 8000 hits.

I think the difficulty comes in defining hugelkultur so that you can do a controlled experiment. You could make mounds of different heights and study them, preferably over several growing seasons to see what happens over time, and have a control that was conventional agriculture. But I don't see studies like that being done and our Department of Agriculture doesn't seem to be funding proposals of that type.

If you were to propose a study of hugelkultur methods, just what factors would you study? The type of wood in the pile? The fungi it was inoculated with? The bacteria? The pH, osmotic pressure of water and air concentration in the hugelbed? The availability of N,P,K and other elements in the hugelbed soil? The way science is done is to identify cause and effect, hopefully one effect having one or at most a couple or three causes. Hugelkultur is all about creating a vibrant ecosystem of flora and fauna in one place and would be a nightmare to try and analyze by principle component regression.

That doesn't mean to say you can't be scientific about your approach to hugelkultur. You can include all sorts of things like biochar and compost teas and companion planting and many other scientific principles in practicing hugelkultur, but when you compare your result to a conventional plot of a crop, to what do you attribute its effectiveness (or the lack of it)?

If you are still interested in digging through the scientific literature, I think you have to look past the word, and look for studies where soil organic carbon and the complexity of the soil food web are studied.


 
Eric Evans
Posts: 13
Location: Northwest CT
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Thanks John.

I understand your point about the number of variables in the Hugelbeds, all of what you mention is way beyond my desired scope. Even just thinking about simple experiments the controls start to spiral...

i.e. 2 equally sized timber framed raised beds, one hugeled, one not, built side by side, in an open enough area that sun exposure differences would be marginal, planted with the same number and size seedlings, ideally from the same batch of seeds, better yet maybe from clones, though, that's not exactly a natural process... maybe in a green house and given measured quantities of water, then measure plant size, crop yield, soil sourced from the same pile, something like that would be ideal.

Oh well. Academia is grand.
 
John Polk
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When writing for academia, controls are crucial.

There will always be doubters (some do it merely for hobby!), and unless your controls are 'perfect', they will use them to discredit your findings.

When it comes to seeking grant money, it is a dog-eat-dog world out there...especially with all of the recent cuts.
Many of these folks could not survive without grant money.
(And many with ample grants get them through corporations who want nothing to do with 'nature'.)


 
Brian Jeffrey
Posts: 106
Location: Connecticut
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I agree there is a lack of quantitative research for hugelkultures. But there is not a shortage of research on other gardening practices that hugelkulture employs.

There is an article in Permaculture magazine from the winter 2012. The article is about Charles Dowding comparing no-till vs tilling on annual vegetables in his market garden. The no-till beds were superior in every aspect, including time spent preparing and tending the beds.

While it is not a direct comparison, hugelkulture is a no-till method of gardening, a useful experiment to cite.

Also while I do not have an example handy, I know I have read very technical experiments on cover crops/mulch VS bare soil. The cover crops/mulch is of course found to be superior, and again it is another component of hugelkulture.

I am sure you could make a a strong argument for your case with a few more proven hugel-techniques. Like the old reductionist philosophers you should be able to get your reader to admit the merits of the individual points and come full circle to show the only conclusion can be pro-hugel. Maybe that is not enough for your paper though, hopefully it can help.

We need a direct comparison of a hugel and a traditional garden. I don't wanna do it myself though, because I can not afford to "waste" space proving something I already know works.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I prefer a measured input approach. It couldn't be considered proper science because there is no control.

Here's a hypothetical example. It took me 5 hours to build a hugel ,then 5 hours to plant it. Maybe 1 hour weeding during harvest. We got 55 lb. of vegetables this year. Therefore, our hugelkultur paid off at a rate of 5 pounds of production for every hour spent, excluding harvest which we lost track of. Next year we will just add compost and plant. ---- This contains most of what I need to know when deciding whether to expand the operation. Input costs are highly variable and something anyone looking at my "study" could figure out for their own situation.

Innumerable other details could be included such as mulches used, plant varieties, type and cost of soil amendments ...
 
John Elliott
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I prefer a measured input approach. It couldn't be considered proper science because there is no control.

Here's a hypothetical example. It took me 5 hours to build a hugel ,then 5 hours to plant it. Maybe 1 hour weeding during harvest. We got 55 lb. of vegetables this year. Therefore, our hugelkultur paid off at a rate of 5 pounds of production for every hour spent, excluding harvest which we lost track of. Next year we will just add compost and plant. ---- This contains most of what I need to know when deciding whether to expand the operation. Input costs are highly variable and something anyone looking at my "study" could figure out for their own situation.

Innumerable other details could be included such as mulches used, plant varieties, type and cost of soil amendments ...


It's not "science", because you have taken the ultimate black box approach -- doesn't matter what's inside as long as you can relate outputs back to the inputs. I'm taking that own approach with my rows of hugelbeds. And I know that if one performs markedly different from another one, I won't have a clue as to the reason, because the list of differences between them is about three times as long as the list of things that I have controlled for.
 
paul wheaton
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bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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I wonder if there are studies on "brown cubical rot".
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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