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Turning old brush piles into hugelkultur...?

 
Bethany Dutch
Posts: 164
Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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For some reason, my google-fu is failing me. Seems like someone SHOULD have done this already but I'm not seeing any discussion.

We're currently in the first phases of building our underground home on our property and we've already got some slash / brush piles on the property. The piles are old, at least a decade from when the place was selectively logged, and of course we're going to be creating more slash piles as we clear for the garden area.

ANYWAY

These piles are pretty huge. But it seems a waste to burn them when I could hugelkultur them. They are mostly pine and fir, so I think it would work fine, but I'm just curious if anyone has done something similar. Most of them are just out in the woods and I'll leave them there, but there's one big one pretty close to the house I'm thinking about turning into a big hugelkultur.

Just seems like a huge crap-ton of dirt/compost! The other thing I was thinking of is seeing if I could get a bunch of spoiled straw, then pack it into the crevices and plant some kind of legume in it. The legume will them fix nitrogen into the straw, causing it to decompose faster once the legume dies. Or am I dreaming?
 
Ben Plummer
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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Noticed anything living in them? Big brush piles make good homes for lots of critters.
 
Chris Williams
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Bethany,

I have the same thought with slash piles on 5 acres I just bought. I have about three verry large slash piles on the property from the previous owner logging about 2 years ago. these pile are at least 8- 14ft tall. I would like to know how yours worked out.

Chris
 
Dan Tutor
Posts: 103
Location: Zone 5, Maine Coast
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I've been using lots of old and new brush in my hugulcultures, and I pile everything willy-nilly. Generally, I think you just need to use more dirt and compost to fill in the cavities, but otherwise potatoes and blueberries have done great on them.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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It seems like brush piles should work although the smaller pieces may break down pretty quickly compared to larger chunks of wood. Also, confers may not be the best choice.
But converting a 'slash pile' into a hugel, what have you got to lose?
 
E Skov
Posts: 23
Location: Central KS, Zone 6a. Summer High 91.5F (avg), Winter Low 17.5F (avg). 35.7" Annual Rain
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I just started a hugel bed made mostly of brush. It's on a smaller scale than you all are talking about, only 4x12', but was made from a few major branches a neighbor lost out a sycamore, plus whatever leaves and bark scraps I pulled together from my yard. I put a lot of effort into breaking the piles down by trimming branches so everything is more compact, but there are a lot of small branches and leaves in there. I also packed in the small branches and leaves then put larger logs on top to smush them down. I built it 2 weeks ago and planted this last weekend for a fall garden and so far it hasn't subsided noticably, but it is definitely pretty early to tell.

As far as the smaller wood breaking down more quickly, I really hope it does (read: am planning on it) as my soil isn't very good.

 
Kris schulenburg
Posts: 112
Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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i have done this on a smaller scale, using brush (some 6'' to 12'' logs) horse manure with dirt on top. The places that got packed down and have the most dirt are doing the best. the manure and soil don't seem to work their way into the brush as well as I had hoped, so there are a-lot of air cavities and i still need to irrigate. If you are having equipment out to work on your house, maybe they could mash your brush down for you before you add soil and eliminate some of the air-pocket issues? Sounds like an exciting project
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I've considered this but have decided not to for two reasons- the soil needed to cover it is a daunting amount without heavy excavating equipment and we have a lot of aggressive invasive vining weeds that were in the vicinity of the piles and would make managing them very labor intensive and frustrating.

If I were to do hugelkultur with a brush pile I would dig a hole/trench in an area that I have reclaimed from the vines (mostly asian bittersweet and asian honeysuckle) fill it with the brush, cover with any rich stuff I can get like animal bedding or manure or biochar/sawdust from a pee bucket, shake/stomp that stuff all in tight as can be, probably clipping the brush apart a bit for the sake of space, and top it with the dirt I dug out.
 
Daniel Kessinger
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That is an excellent source of brown materials for composting!!!
 
Dale Hodgins
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This pile started out at about 500 sq ft, and is now 1000 sq ft. These potatoes are growing on the remains of young hardwoods that were piled using an excavator, along with lots of dirt. It will be 3 years old in September, but this is the first year it has been planted. I've used about 3 lb of coffee waste per sq ft.

The second photo shows the pile on the first day. It has settled. Many things failed to thrive this year. Potatoes, tomatoes and a few beans are doing well in the acidic conditions.
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Daniel Kessinger
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OMG that is sooo beautiful!!! This is why our mainstream farmers land suffers, they neglect the benefit of yard refuse and its slow feeding mechanisms.
 
Dorcas Brown
Posts: 23
Location: west central Missouri
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Last summer when I learned about Hugelkultur, I was excited about finallally using up my brush pile. people had offered to haul it out into a bare spot and helping me burn it! I didn't know how many people were on my side in treasuring all that biomass until I started reading forums at Permies. Anyway, I tore that pile apart and put the biggest logs at the bottom where I wanted a raised bed [aka Hugelkulture] I put the smaller stuff on top and built it up to about 3 feet.Didn't have much dirt besides the forest duff that had built up over the twenty or more years I had been piling leaves and fallen branches there.Now. about ten months later, it has subsided to about half as tall but it still has large cavities inside the pile. When we have more veggies given to our senior center than we can use I take the almost spoiled stuff home and stuff it into any cavities I can see. Lots more is needed in and on the pile if I hope to grow more next year. Just putting dirt or compost on top and watering it in, doesn't seem to work it down into the pile. Like several others here at permies there is always more to do than I have time and energy for, but every little bit I accomplish is building my yard to be more like a true permaculture site..
 
Dale Hodgins
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My piles were quite springy when they were built. After a couple years in the weather, foot and vehicle traffic causes sticks to snap and settle. The excavator is ideal for packing loose piles. The bucket of a farm tractor, pointed sharp edge down, will snap weathered branches. My piles are still too airy beneath. In a drier climate, this could be a problem. Newly created piles are packed better. I've left some big rocks on top to hold branches down. When I do some very thick beds (10 ft deep) in the future, some giant stumps will be stacked on the surface for a couple years. Soil trapped within root balls will rain down to replace soil that sinks into the bed. The bottoms of these stumps will be faced south, to become reflector walls. Vining crops will grow up the natural trellis. It will be horribly ugly or beautiful, depending on who's looking.

The trapped soil and rock on this stump is only 2 feet thick, but the thing is 11 feet tall. Nature's Trombe wall and trellis in one.
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Dorcas Brown
Posts: 23
Location: west central Missouri
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In me earlier post, I forgot o mention the mycillium that I found here and there near the bottom of my brush pile. By carefully including it in my Hugel I figure that gives me a head start on newly cut brush. Perhaps that explains a little about my pile shrinkage.
today my helper and I piled more slender brush and leaves on a portion of my Hugel. then we topped it with a 4" layer of dirt and watered it. maybe 5 square feet that I can try some fall veggies on. After the widely scattered plants now producing stuff dies down we can work on the rest of my pile
I am having fun experimenting when I am not in danger of starving if it doesn"t yield much to start with
 
Dale Hodgins
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This pile is three years old next month. It saturates in the winter and is breaking down nicely. The potatoes are in far too much shade. Nearby trees will soon be dropped. A large area behind the 14 ft mound , is covered with dying red alder. I hope to make it 10 times larger.
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