I am new to just about all of the Permies stuff and have my first question about hugelkultur. Does it make a difference if the wood I am burying is dry like firewood or fresh cut?
I live in suburbia just north of Denver. My wife and I are working on a permaculture design to convert our 2200 sq ft backyard into a growing paradise. Once I get my design and plant list together I will be posting it up for advice before I begin installation. We are planning two hugel beds that will be 4'x25' and run north south. These will be on contour and will be buried beds with the wood starting 3' below ground level and extending 1.5' above. I am trying to do tons of planning and verification before we begin in March so I don't end up wasting time and money. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
If you cut live wood and then immediatly bury it, you'll likely be waiting a while for it to die and then begin to break down into that spongy organic material you're hoping to achieve. There's even a chance that the wood you bury will sprout new growth if it's a species inclined to do that sort of thing. Dried/ seasoned wood would probably be better than live wood, but I'd be inclined to soak it really well before burying it. Dead half rotted wood that you find amongst forest floor litter is probably the best start you could get. All in all, the only thing you're changing is the time it takes to get the system up to full power.
When I made my hugel beds, I laid all the dead wood I could find on contour in the area I was planning to make the bed. I let it get soaked with a few good rains plus all the runoff from the land that it stopped. I buried it after that. I think that by doing that I was able to get as close as possible to a forest floor debris situation. It seems to have been working really well.
Thanks for the info. I found a tree removal company here in Denver that will drop off free truckloads of cottonwood. I will get them to drop off a load so I can let it sit for the next month or two to dry out.
One thing about cottonwood, your hugel is going to compact a lot in the first year. All that cotton is quite fluffy and will sink once it gets weight on top of it and starts to decompose. So be prepared to keep adding wood chips if you want to keep your hugel a certain height.
Casey - what I like to do in my wood-core beds is use a mix of woods of various ages, dryness and stages of decomp. The wood I pull from a pile out in my woods thats gotten very "punky" from exposure for 8 years comes with a bunch of mycelium already built-in and acts to innoculate the newer, "cleaner" stuff that its layered with in the beds. This makes the beds last longer (as the half rotted stuff doesn't stick around long) and not sink as much in the first several years. The mix of different woods promotes a mix of different mycelium - kinda like what happens in the forest.
As for wetting the wood - I let nature do this for me. I pile the wood along the side of the bed as I dig it - which takes about a month doing it on weekends and workgin around the weather, etc. It gets rained on a few times and wood in the bed gets soaked the same way. Slow and small solutions (diggin by hand is slow - and good exercise).
“Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening”
Graham Burnett ‘Permaculture – A Beginners Guide’
Yeah, cottonwood isn't exactly the toughest of woods and compacts pretty quickly. The bonus is that it spongefies so quickly, which should aid your water cycle.
Since I'm new to this thing, I've been conflicted on what wood I really wanted to use as the basis for my Hugulkultur beds I am imagining for my land. The easiest is to use the fir, pine and larch that are the primary trees in my area. But I also have a bit of cottonwood, birch and willow available. More thought I guess, or better yet, a couple of experimental beds this season. Better to do something and fail than sit and wonder.
I'm several hundred miles north of you but the east side of the Rockies doesn't vary much in aridity. Cottonwood could easily resprout if it's still green so you are correct to let it dry. If the tree service delivers rounds much more than 12 inches diameter, you may do well to split those at least once. It will aid in assuring the wood dries out and dies and it will increase the surface area exposed to mycelial spores in the soil you use to cover the pile. If possible, mix in other types of wood like others have suggested. Although I built mine here in high, dry Helena above ground, I've seen them settle considerably now after two years. Water that wood thoroughly before you cover it. That will assist in getting the decomposition going sooner. Don't be afraid of some conifer wood if that's all that's all the variety you can muster. One exception would be juniper because it is so rot resistant. There is likely some beetle killed lodgepole available somewhere in your area. Seed that bed as soon as it is finished even if it's still cold. I didn't and the weeds gave me a good lesson in how nature protects soil! Good luck.
Winters - Thanks, I think that I will start looking for several different types of wood.
Mike - Now I am worried about the wood resprouting. The cottonwood I can get is definitely dry, but I cut down a couple of aspens last month and was planning on using these in the beds as well. Is two or three months outside in the snow long enough to kill the wood so it won't resprout. Aspens are terrible about sending suckers all over the yard and that is one tree I am trying to eliminate in my yard.
So I found a tree service locally that has a huge yard full of old wood. They list ash, maple, aspen, elm, fruitwoods, and honeylocust in big rounds and trunks. I am assuming honey locust is the only one I don't want on this list because it is allelopathic. Is this correct?
Also, does anyone know how long aspens and cottonwood have to dry before they will no longer send out suckers or roots?
Casey, the only way I know of to stop these woods from "resprouting" is to make sure their bark has dried out so there isn't any live cambium (I think that's the part) to do some sprouting. Cold doesn't neccessarily do the trick, cold and dry shoul do it though.
Just getting back around to your earlier post. Do some research on honey locust. I'm not aware that it is as rot resistant as black locust. They are from different genera and only share the common legume family traits.
The drying of aspen and cottonwood will largely depend on the diameter of the stem i.e. branches will dry more quickly than large rounds. Shorter pieces will expose more surface area and speed drying. If you're in doubt, you can set those aside for the summer season, placing the pieces in your hottest location. You should be all right by late summer. Make sure the cambium layer just under the bark has lost its green color. Once the weather warms up considerably, those two types of wood should dry fairly rapidly. Our Rocky Mountain humidity (lack thereof to our non-Rockies permies) should help to suck moisture out of the pieces of Populus wood as well. I suggested splitting your large rounds based on my experience where I didn't split 12-20 inch (30 to 50 cm) rounds and in the areas of a couple different hugelbeets where I buried the large rounds, I saw little evidence of fungi multiplying like I did on other hugelbeets where smaller wood buried a year, obviously provided good fodder for the decomposers. Hey, it's all an adventure, right?
Smaller wood has a greater percentage of bark and bark has more nutrient value than the inner wood does. This will affect decomposition and fungal growth. It might help if more nitrogen rich additives are placed with larger rounds.
Here's an excerpt from --- Hugelkultur - Good wood , Bad wood --- Lots of good stuff there --- https://permies.com/t/12206/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-Good-wood-Bad-wood --- Poplar has what I like to call a high exchange rate. I've dealt with poplar and fir slabs. If two similar slabs are left out in a good, all day rain, the fir slab may be dampened 1/8 inch deep while the poplar slab doubles in weight as it sucks up the rain falling on it as well as absorbing water from the damp ground.
When drying out, poplar quickly wicks water from its core in response to surface evaporation.
So any water locked up in a poplar log is more available.
I don't have an acute water shortage, so there is no reason for it to be in long term, less available storage. All I need is a giant sponge that can react quickly to water supply and demand. Poplar serves that need.
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