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Direction of sticks in Hugel? (vertical or horizontal)

 
Fred Neecha
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I'm new to learning about the concepts of permaculture, and new to this forum (and it's great!). I have an odd question about the direction of sticks in a hugel mound:
Might the direction in which sticks are oriented effect their effectiveness as part of the hugel-concept?
I got to thinking about this after wondering if I could improve some old beds (that I broke my back over digging in clay, in my naivete), by sliding sticks into the dirt vertically to help it hold water and much-needed compost tea. Would it be better to slide the sticks in on their sides? Does the direction the sticks are facing mediate the woods ability to soak up water based on the direction water flows, i.e. down? Any thoughts on this?

Slightly unrelated, while writing this I got to thinking about the possibility of using vertically lodged sticks in the ground that POKE OUT of the ground as a "heat sync" during hot summer months.

FYI, this clay and these hot summer months are spelled "GA".

Thanks for your help folks. Really loving this community.

(I realize the possibility that this might be a ridiculous question, lol.)
 
Tim Burrows
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Hi Conner,
Thanks for asking this question as I have been meaning to ask it as well. It makes sense to me that vertically placed logs would have more ability to draw the water up through their cellular structure. Certainly it is how it works when they are alive and transpiring. I would think leaving logs exposed would have the opposite affect and might be like a straw sucking water up and out of the mound. If you want a heat sink put in some half covered rocks instead perhaps or build a pond in front of the mound to reflect sunlight and make a double sun trap....and of course windbreaks!
 
John Elliott
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Here's a good analysis of what happens when you bury the wood vertically:



Another thing to remember is that horizontal wood that sticks out of the hugel can act as a wick, drawing moisture from inside and transpiring it to the outside air. If you keep adding mulch to the top, you can keep that from being too problematic.
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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That was awesome John !

Welcome to Permies Conner ! No ridiculous questions here. Your question ended up helping me learn more about hugels.
 
John Elliott
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Miles Flansburg wrote:That was awesome John !


Not that awesome. Now it slows me down. I have to look at each stump and branch and stick and decide exactly what orientation it has to be placed in.
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
 
Fred Neecha
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You guys are unbelievable. I'm learning so much so fast. I have ask another off-the-wall question about how I'm partitioning the use of sticks based on their sizes - stick economics.

My current ponderment is this: Are there known uses for the different sizes of sticks? I'm thinking about grouping sticks from trees as as small - twig, medium - branch, and LOG. Small sticks, twigs, could easily be used to plant vertically where plant roots are expected to grow down. I doubt it takes a medium sized stick, a branch, to trail a taproot for a plant. It probably only takes a stick the width of any of the roots, even the taproot, which would only be for the largest of the twig category. I'm using branches (medium) for borders to raise beds as part of hugel-concept. Logs, the largest "sticks", could be saved for the INSIDE of hugelbeds. That's how I'm going to try and do this... anyway. Any suggestions? I'm hoarding sticks and trees in my immediate area (with landowners permission, lol).

A little background, I'm a relatively young, recent college graduate - no job - and I've got my heart set on some land in my family to develop a self-sufficient homestead, the permaculture way (if the codes will allow it). This might explain my need for resourcefulness. With this, I can spend what money I have on dirt, when I need it, and seeds.

"Twig", "branch", and "log" are assumed to be non-arbitrary as they're used in this context.

This forum is awesome, you people are awesome. Thank you for inspiring all my curiosity into this.
 
John Elliott
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Conner Patrick wrote:
My current ponderment is this: Are there known uses for the different sizes of sticks? I'm thinking about grouping sticks from trees as as small - twig, medium - branch, and LOG. Small sticks, twigs, could easily be used to plant vertically where plant roots are expected to grow down. I doubt it takes a medium sized stick, a branch, to trail a taproot for a plant. It probably only takes a stick the width of any of the roots, even the taproot, which would only be for the largest of the twig category. I'm using branches (medium) for borders to raise beds as part of hugel-concept. Logs, the largest "sticks", could be saved for the INSIDE of hugelbeds. That's how I'm going to try and do this... anyway. Any suggestions? I'm hoarding sticks and trees in my immediate area (with landowners permission, lol).


I suggest you think a little bit less. I should take my own suggestion and quit trying to place each twig, branch, stick, and log in the optimal position. Just heap it up and throw some dirt over it.

There is scientific justification for not being so obsessive/compulsive about it. Fungal hyphae reach out through all this mess to find the nutrients they need. They DO transport these back and share them with the plants that they have formed mycorrhizal associations with. They will find a turkey bone over there and metabolize and recycle its phosphorous. They will find that rusty bolt off the tractor that lost it 30 years ago and use it as a source of iron. In addition to the fungi, there are all sorts of soil fauna which will eat something from over there and later excrete those processed nutrients over here.

But scientific explanations aside, I think you and I are both going to continue to view our hugelbeets as works of art, a cross between making a layer cake and a living sculpture. I think I had better go out back and paint mine with a fresh coat of compost tea.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Amen to that brother. We all need to do a little less thinking sometimes and just get on and do it.

As Joel Salatin says a lot "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly the first time"

 
Fred Neecha
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Oh, right. Thanks guys.

I realized how silly all that sounds a few hours after I posted it. There is definitely some manic overkill obsession/compulsion going into this on my part. "Thinking" is not the problem though... at least, I don't think it is.

I want to get the most work done with the least input, like anyone who does work. I spent lots of time yesterday trying to lace sticks together around my first hugel-bed. (I'm not the only one?) I said to myself "I have to make this easier" because my last three years of gardening have been spent doing lots of unnecessary labor of which I now have to amend the fruits.

I guess what I'm doing is "thinking out loud". Just sharing some permaculture thoughts with you all. Good advice though, and I need it. Thanks.
 
Nick Kitchener
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It was as much a post directed at me as anyone else lol!

Certainly, 80% thinking, 20% work is a good ratio
 
Victor Johanson
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My first hugelbeet was fastidiously hand-constructed. It performed awesomely too. But when I went to the sepp holzer workshop in California this spring (that I won on Permies--thanks, Paul!), the one we made was just a bunch of wood and brush jumbled in a heap with dirt dumped over it with the excavator. I suppose after a couple years, it doesn't much matter. But now I'm doing another, and still sort of OCD about it. If I had machines, I think I'd be a bit less fanatical, but doing it by hand invites a more artisanal approach.
 
Fred Neecha
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I see value in trying to get the sticks "right"... of course, as has been said (and as my neurotic self has quickly realized) it's a balancing act. This applies more when trying to place borders around beds. Just curious, do you hugel-folk build up around the edges of the bed with wood or sticks? Wish I had more nice big logs rather than sticks... Any tips on getting good wood for cheap? Or do you ask the neighbors like I've been doing?

 
John Elliott
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Conner Patrick wrote:I see value in trying to get the sticks "right"... of course, as has been said (and as my neurotic self has quickly realized) it's a balancing act. This applies more when trying to place borders around beds. Just curious, do you hugel-folk build up around the edges of the bed with wood or sticks? Wish I had more nice big logs rather than sticks... Any tips on getting good wood for cheap? Or do you ask the neighbors like I've been doing?



Make friends with the tree trimming services. In some states, they are prevented from dumping in landfills because they are supposed to recycle it. They always have too many loads of chipped brush and not enough places to dump it. If you get a load of 10 cubic yards and inoculate it good with any mushrooms you can find, in 3 months you will have all the material you need to build up your hugel beds. And with fall coming on, everyone is going to have their big paper sacks from Lowe's and Wal-Mart all full of leaves at curbside for the garbage man to pick up. Steal them!
 
Fred Neecha
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Totally! Should I look in the phone book? I need to look into the one the city contracts with. There's also a guy that does my mom's lawn... He dumps our grass clippings in a pile for me - however, I'm weary of taking other peoples grass because of pesticides and herbicides they might use. I don't expect for the same concentration of chemicals to be in branches and sticks from trees but I'm not sure about that...

Also John, your comment about slapping a new coat of compost tea on your garden-canvas... that image and attitude has inspired me and put my own practices into perspective. I'm still saving sticks of different sizes for specific purposes... but after three days of hugel-building I've learned a lot about contentment. I've been one of those people who don't know when to stop working on something... But today I was kinda just throwing those sticks together and finished that hugel easily. Feels good man.

I might post a picture of my first couple hugels soon! They are hugel-rows on a slight slope with small swales above them. I've piled sticks on the underside of the mounds but the side with the swale is dirt.
 
Victor Johanson
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Conner Patrick wrote:I see value in trying to get the sticks "right"... of course, as has been said (and as my neurotic self has quickly realized) it's a balancing act. This applies more when trying to place borders around beds. Just curious, do you hugel-folk build up around the edges of the bed with wood or sticks? Wish I had more nice big logs rather than sticks... Any tips on getting good wood for cheap? Or do you ask the neighbors like I've been doing?



I didn't put any kind of borders on mine. For the wood, so far most has come from an adjacent electrical easement that's been brushed out regularly for years. There were stacks of rotting logs lying about--maybe you should check some easements? There were also some birches we felled some years ago and cut into stovewood that never got burned. I'll have just enough to finish this bed, I think. But there's wood everywhere around here. My next door neighbor has given me a stack of birch trees that were felled 7-8 years ago; there are enough there to make quite a few more and they're close and accessible.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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