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Is this the ideal way to build my hugelkulture beds?

 
dan long
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Hey all,

This is my first time posting, but i have een reading lots of posts and making plans for awhile now. I have some ideas, and I hope that you folks can improve upon them.

My goal is to make semi-permanant grow beds that give maximum production with minimal upkeep in an enviromentally sustainable manner. Furthermore, i would like to use as few external outputs as possible.

Here are the challenges i have to work with: i'm in the Pacific Northwest so there is plenty of rain but both the rain and tempture are unpredictable. The ground has high clay content and therefore, poor drainage. The beds cannot be too high or they will block the view of the animals or the skyline (there is an elderly couple living nearby who really value the view). The main pests are slugs and mice.

As for the positives, i have an unlimited supply of manure and a tractor.

Onto the plan!

I want to dig 1 foot into the ground with the tractor, fill the hole with wood, then replace the soil in alternating layers of semi-composted manure. I expect the resulting mounds o be in excess of 3 feet high since digging it out will fluff up the soil considerably. I will leave the space between rows wide enough that i can run a mower through there and I will leave the sod as it is to protect the underlying soil and give the bugs a place to hang out (besides my vegtable beds). There is a lot of rocks in the soil here. I plan to use them to make borders for the beds.

Why not do a regular hugelkulture bed and do away with the digging? As i said before, i want to do this with as few inputs as possible. If i don't dig the soil out of the ground, then I woud have to go get it from elsewhere (input). I would ideally like to do no-till but i don't see how that will be practical without aking topsoil from elswhere. It will not be necessary to build 6 foot tall mounds that will block the view because the PNW has so much rain even though it is unpredicatble.

Does anyone have any ideas to add to this?
 
John Elliott
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Since your plan is exactly what I am doing, I have to say EXCELLENT IDEA!

A few other suggestions:
Since you have high clay soil, adding a layer of sand in the middle of the bed will help out.
If you're going to add sand, might as well mix some biochar in with the sand, that also helps.
If your soil is low in calcium, you can always toss in scraps of drywall salvaged from a building site.

Welcome to Permies!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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John, do you not worry about the formaldehydes and other toxins that are in the matrix of modern wall boards? It goes to landfills for a reason (wish it didn't go there but we really do not have a choice I guess.) Just perhaps a silly concern on my part.

I like adding whole animal (hit and run deer victims) to my mounds, with any extra bones I can pick up to fill in between the wood chunks, (and no, I do not get critters digging my garden up, but that is a special relationship point other than the garden and what's in it.) You can be extremely successful with fine stratum layering in accordance with large items as well. Kind of like a micro-macro statum modality, but only with natural materials, (maybe some papers.)

Regards,

jay
 
John Elliott
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:John, do you not worry about the formaldehydes and other toxins that are in the matrix of modern wall boards? It goes to landfills for a reason (wish it didn't go there but we really do not have a choice I guess.) Just perhaps a silly concern on my part.


I trust the fungi to take care of the formaldehyde and other toxins for me. Usually I let the wall board sit out in the rain for a few months, then the paper comes right off and it can crumble easier. I used to worry a bit about the type of wallboard that had fiberglass mixed in with the gypsum (for strength), whether it would be a problem, but I haven't noticed any ill effects.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Drywall made before 1980 often contains asbestos. If you go that route, get new scraps from a building site. PNW soils are acidic. Gypsum adds to acidity.

Drywall is banned from the dumps here and instead gets recycled into new drywall. The recycled stuff has traces of all sorts of paints and additives and the sulfuric acid used in the process, makes it quite acidic.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Thanks John for the reply, but Dale has raise my concerns. I often feel that folks may be looking to us as "professionals" or "leaders" in our given skill sets, so when I read a recommendation that may very well have "caveats" that are potentially dangerous and/or possibly "not good," I feel a need to at least "warn" about them. You are probably o.k with using it...but I don't think it is worth the risk IMO.

Formaldehyde (don't even want my little microscopic "wee beasties" to even trouble themselves over this foreign man "processed" matter.)
Heavy Metal build up potential.
Extreme acidity build up potential.

As soon as something has "3" key issues or potential issues, I recommend that folks not do it, as it is not worth the risk. I support you in that it could be fine, and glad to here your success with it, but forewarned is forearmed. I do wonder what the long term effects on soil and ground water will be?

Regards,

jay
 
John Elliott
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Drywall made before 1980 often contains asbestos. If you go that route, get new scraps from a building site. PNW soils are acidic. Gypsum adds to acidity.

Drywall is banned from the dumps here and instead gets recycled into new drywall. The recycled stuff has traces of all sorts of paints and additives and the sulfuric acid used in the process, makes it quite acidic.


There are plenty of drywall scraps piled up at new construction sites that I don't have to scrounge demolitions of old houses. Sulfate doesn't add that much acidity, and the sulfur is needed around here if you want to have some zip in your onions and mustard greens. You've heard of Vidalia onions? The reason they are so sweet is that the soils in that area are poor in sulfur. I'm not that far north of Vidalia that I can take it for granted that I've got enough sulfur in the soil.

Jay, formaldehyde is not that big a deal. Sure, concentrated solutions are what they use to pickle body parts when they want them to keep on the shelf for years, but Nature has ways of metabolizing it. It's very easily oxidized to formic acid which can then react with the calcium in the drywall to make calcium formate. Calcium formate is approved by the FDA as a treatment for kidney disease.

And heavy metals? Where did that come from?

 
John Elliott
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John Elliott wrote:
And heavy metals? Where did that come from?



Ah yes, the old Chinese drywall problem, where they got rid of their fly ash by unloading it on the unsuspecting Americans. In another post, I mentioned the solution to that problem -- chelate the heavy metals with urine.

[note to self: piss on pile of drywall scraps]
 
Edith Stacey
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I'm not convinced that gypsum adds to ski acidity.

Here is a site that references 'the controversy': http://puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda%20chalker-scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/Gypsum.pdf

It is aka calcium sulfate, (expressed as CaSO42H20), and is often recommended in the Pacific North West to boost calcium levels, altho' there are other alternatives for that such as agricultural lime (largely Calcium carbonate) or even dolomite lime (calcium magnesium carbonate CaMg(CO3)2) which are more commonly recommended and/or used.

Another site which goes into greater detail is: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/Soil/ChangingpHinSoil.pdf

Personally I'd hesitate to add gypsum scraps without knowing what your mineral requirements really are--i.e. spending the money to get the soil tested first.

I do concur with Dale that old gypsum can have contaminants but just how problematic that would be in small amounts, I'm not too clear on.

Edith
 
dan long
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Edith Stacey wrote:I'm not convinced that gypsum adds to ski acidity.


It is aka calcium sulfate, (expressed as CaSO42H20), and is often recommended in the Pacific North West to boost calcium levels, altho' there are other alternatives for that such as agricultural lime (largely Calcium carbonate) or even dolomite lime (calcium magnesium carbonate CaMg(CO3)2) which are more commonly recommended and/or used.


Edith


o
This is great advice, but I plan on using something that i belive will be a little simpler for calcium. I plan to get all the eggshells that i can get my hands on (perhaps from breakfast restraunts), driyng them in the oven, crushing them up and using them in my mulch. The jagged edges of the eggshells theoretically discorage slugs ( a huge problem, as i mentioned) and they will provide calcium as they break down. The bones from livestock will eventually make it into the garden as well after they have been used for broth. More importantly, my father had a hobby garden on the property and he has not felt the need to add any amendments to the soil besides horse manure. Do you all think that might be a sign that the soil already has the nutrients it needs?
 
Julia Winter
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Certainly, if you dad was able to grow good veggies with just some manure as fertilizer that's a very good sign! I think the ideas with animal bones and such are for long term resources in hugelkultur beds. It's good to have places for roots and mycelium to go to get calcium, and I suppose it's possible that with low calcium levels and heavy vegetable production you could use up the calcium that was originally present in the soil.
 
Adam Klaus
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The best $20 you could spend at this point in the planning process is for a good soil test. Get an M3 Test from Logan Labs, loganlabs.com It will be very easy to ammend your soils as you build the hugelkultur. The reason to ammend the soil is in order to grow the most nutrient rich crops possible; see Steve Solomon's brilliant book, The Intelligent Gardener. Additionally, optimally balanced soil will grow plants that are much less succeptable to any diseases or pest problems. Adding anything to the soil, without knowing that you actually have a need for it, is a bit like driving with a blindfold. Excesses in the mineral balance are suprisingly more problematic than deficiencies, so you want to know exactly what you need, before just taking a shotgun approach and hoping you hit the target.

My soils were highly fertile with excellent humus levels, but also had a few notable deficiencies. Boron was the most significant one, which lead to poor carrot development and incomplete filling of corn ears. You would never want to add boron without knowing it was lacking. Ammending boron is as simple as adding a very little bit of laundry borax soap. The improvement in my carrots and corn are obvious, taking those crops from allright to excellent. Another example I have is a phosphorous deficiency. I grow two different beds of raspberries, one that has been heavily ammended with rock phoshpate, and one that has just had lots of chicken compost. The yields from the rock phosphate ammended bed are substantially higher, despite the well known fact that poultry manure compost is high in phosphorous. It is all relative to the need. Yes, eggshells are high in calcium relative to wood ash. But quite low in calcium compared to a truckload of limestone. Knowing what the need is, and then matching the tool to the job, is a very straightforward route to success.

good luck!
 
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