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How to water a hugelculture

 
Celia Revel
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How do you keep water from running off the hill and forming a puddle at the bottom? I seem to be having a hard time keeping my hugelculture hydrated.
 
kai weeks
Posts: 59
Location: The forest, Sweden. Zone 7. Sandy, acidic soils.
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I've heard poking lots of little finger-sized holes helps. Or making little mini-swales/terrace in combination with all the holes.

Water puddling at the bottom doesn't mean that an established hugelkultur is getting no water. By being established I mean the presence of deep-rooted perennials, shrubs/bushes and even trees which bring water up, from deep, and keep the whole system hydrated.

The second very important change which takes place in a hugelkulture is the softening & sponge-ifying of the wood after 1-2-3 years. Afterwhich the hugel will hold copious quantities of water for any plant that requires them.

Don't under-estimate wind!!! Nothing dries out the land as fast as a bit of wind. Mitigate wind.
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
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Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
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I think you don't need to worry too much about that. Once the plants are established, their roots will go in the hugelkultur bed and get the water they need. While they establish you might want to keep a mulch on the bed to reduce evaporation.
 
Thomas West
Posts: 39
Location: Pablo, MT
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Hi,

We have installed an solar controlled 5 zone irrigation system in our commercial Hugelkulture garden. We worked with some irrigation experts from a place called Sure Water Systems to design a system to meet our needs. One of our largest concerns was an excess of water running off of the beds causing erosion and damaging all our hard work. :-/ What we arrived at is that by using very efficient low-flow sprinkler heads we could calibrate our irrigation such that the water was being laid down gently enough, and at a slow enough pace, that all the water is absorbed in the bed before any runoff occurs. We have since run our irrigation system on single zones covering approximately 1/4 acre at approximately 60gpm for as long as 4 hours and had no problems whatsoever with erosion and/or run off.

My guess is that you likely have a problem with either a sprinkler that is laying down large droplets, which saturate the soil locally to quickly for all the water to be effectively absorbed (think your typical reciprocating lawn sprinkler) - resulting in runoff, and/or are simply applying too much water too quickly, which will cause runoff regardless of droplet size. Just turning down the water doesnt help much, in fact it can make it worse, as the droplet size will increase substantially, locally saturate the soil, and cause MORE runoff than if the sprinkler is turned up higher. Basically it boils down to choosing the right sprinkler as there is very limited adjustment using water pressure alone (e.g. turning the water up/down) that will provide any substantial improvement.

As articulated by another poster once the roots of our plants are sufficiently established our watering needs should drop dramatically - however early in the season irrigation is critical to establishing starts - especially since the very top layer (say 3" or so) of our hugelbeds tends to dry out very quickly in the sun.

We have found that overhead watering with a slow and gentle application spread across as broad an area as possible is the way to go with Hugelbeds - also as an FYI we experimented with soaker hoses and almost immediately realized they are a pretty poor fit for our huge hugelbeds as they provide very inconsistent coverage unless you put a TON of hoses all over the bed.

We use the Hunter Industries MP Rotator - not a plug - just want to provide you with an example of what we chose.

http://www.hunterindustries.com/irrigation-product/nozzles/mp-rotator


Puts down multiple low-flow streams with very small droplet sizes - has provided excellent coverage of our beds and we have had 0 problems with runoff. The cool thing is that we have found that the proper way to water a hugelbed is also the proper way to do efficient overhead irrigation - runoff is the enemy.

Will be posting some videos on YouTube of the system in action later this week - will post an update to the thread in case anyone cares to take a look.
 
Joshua Chambers
Posts: 71
Location: the state of jefferson - zone 7
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I sure want to see the pictures of your commercial scale hugelkulture!
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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Just wondering
We have since run our irrigation system on single zones covering approximately 1/4 acre at approximately 60gpm for as long as 4 hours and had no problems whatsoever with erosion and/or run off.

60 gallons per minute seems like a LOT of water. Is that what you meant?
Thanks,
Gani
 
Thomas West
Posts: 39
Location: Pablo, MT
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Yep its a TON of water - 60GPM - but each zone is watering approximately 1/4 acre - because our system is super gentle we get basically 0 runnoff even when pushing this much water. Turns out Hugelbeds are VERY thirsty when first constructed, and tend to dry out very quickly (at least the first 3-4" of soil) in the hot sun before being fully covered with our living mulch. One of the reasons for such a silly flow rate is that we can use a ton less gas in our water pump done this way - if we ran half the flow rate we would have to run the pump for twice as long and use pretty much twice as much gas in the process. We are already conflicted on the use of a gasoline powered pump, vs the solar system we want but cant afford, so we feel obligated to be as efficient as we can while we are still dependent on petroleum products. :-/

We initially, and eventually, want to be able to water the garden in one zone, vs. 5, when needed. We werent able to do it this year as a pump capable of pushing 300+GPM at 200+ ft of head pressure were simply not affordable for us. Even when we do install a larger pump we will keep the zones to give us flexibility in where we water and how much. Even at 60GPM it takes 4-5 full tanks of gas in our water pump to get the entire garden watered using 30 minutes per zone.


[EDIT]

One thing I forgot to mention - a big reason for the solar controller and the use of DC solenoids to activate our irrigation zones is a safety feature. Once all 5 zones have finished watering another solenoid opens and dumps the water through a bypass right back into our irrigation holding pond. This is to ensure that if someone forgets to turn off the pump at the end of a watering cycle it will safely dump back to the pond vs. turning our (very expensive to build) hugelbeds into a swamp and/or experiencing structural collapse due to over-saturation with water. We listened to Mr. Holzer and built our beds between 5-9' high depending on available soil at the bed location - this gives us substantial concern about structural integrity early on (before our plants roots have glued them together) especially since our beds have very steep sides - hence the safety features and abundance of attention paid by our irrigation experts in ensuring a gentle but effective watering mechanism.

We didn't listen to Mr. Holzer for the same reason - we used the excavator to bucket pack our beds - they are extremely compressed in the center as compared to a traditional hugelbed - but we had to do it both for structural integrity of our beds, and as a commercial operation we need them to be durable enough to withstand a lot of climbing on and around them without causing excess damage. Also we did not want to have to do a ton of guesswork as to how much settling we were going to experience - as this has a direct impact on how much we can produce. So far we have basically 0 settling and the plants are doing great.

So far it seems to be working really well - as an experiment we didnt bucket pack one of our beds - it is doing much less well than the bucket packed ones. My guess is that it is due to the packed ones holding and transferring water better than our "fluffy" bed. We took a calculated gamble that the plants wouldnt really care if the center of the beds is around the same compaction as undisturbed earth - which is what they have to grow their roots through anyways in the ground. We expect them to get "fluffier" over time as the organic matter decays.
 
Thomas West
Posts: 39
Location: Pablo, MT
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Joshua Chambers wrote:I sure want to see the pictures of your commercial scale hugelkulture!


Hi Josh!

Please feel free to check out our pictures and video at:

www.facebook.com/aquariusfarms

www.youtube.com/theaquariusfarm

Please don't hesitate to let us know what you think!
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I have been pleasantly surprised that my new hugelbed, 6 ft wide by 3 feet high, that we built this spring of branches and other scrap wood, covered with aged manure, sandy soil, old hay and compost, and a top layer of woodchips from our chipper, has started staying moist under the dried out mulch layer, for a couple of days. I have been watering it with a water wand, by hand, every day or twice a day to get the seeds to sprout. A week ago I put in plants of peppers, flowering kale, chard, etc, so kept watering frequently. Now the plants are taking hold, and I have discovered moisture under the mulch, so have been able to start backing off on the frequency of watering, even in our dry climate. I also have several volunteer sunflowers that sprung up on the north side of the mound, and help to shade my violas and greens from the morning sun that comes up far to the north of east at this time of year. Some tall trees on the blocks to the north and west of us help to give shade from the late afternoon sun. My seedlings are still rather small, but looking good. The mound runs east to west, along the north edge of the plot, with kale, chard, violas, etc on the north side, and peppers and zucchini on the hotter south slope.

One thing I found, was that before I added the wood chip mulch, water seemed to sheet off much more quickly, but with the mulch, it soaks up more of the water, and not as much runs off. Yesterday I was even able to set a small sprinkler on top of the bed and let it water for 10 or 15 minutes, then move it. Of course, this kind of system would be too difficult for a large operation, but as this is an experiment to see if it will work in my high, very dry location, it is good for me to water by hand and observe the development of the bed and plants.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
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Here's one of the hugel beds in Tamera, Portugal.



They use a length of that drainage pipe stuff (not sure what it's officially called, but it's flexible plastic pipe with holes along it) buried along the hugel bed near the top, sticking up at the ends. They pour water in during very dry weather and it flows along and drips out through the holes, watering the bed evenly with no waste. In the photo below you can see the same bed as above from one end, with a piece of red pipe sticking up - that's where they put the water in.

 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Burra, thanks for sharing that. Using a perforated pipe is something I had not considered, but it is a good idea. I am intending to raise the height of the bed later, but wanted to ease into it. When I add more material to build the mound higher would be a good time to add the pipe.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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I was having the same problem..in our drought the top of the bed and the east sunny side was really dry..the west was ok and lettuces grew well there..but everything burned up on the top and east side..i finally added a soaker hose to the top of the bed..(25 ' long, snaked a 50' soaker hose along one side of top and back along other side)..just did this last night before a thunderstorm so I'll see how it works..was watering it by hand which was a true pain in the......
 
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