I'm new to the gardening scene. One thing I hate about our soil is that its heavy silt/clay... especially during the cold months or during heavy summer rains our 2 acre field turns wet. Water doesn't stand to much on the surface, but you have that squishy sound under your feet for awhile until the water is evaporated or drained. If we get a hard rain, you will need at least a week of very hot/dry weather before the soil can become worked again. It's sticky and wet.
I'm planting trees... medium sized conifers that get to around 15' tall x 4' wide. On this two acres, I would like to create a lot of beds with grassy pathways between... the entire 2 acres will be a garden. So essentially a normal sized bed will be roughly 60' long by 30' wide. I'm wondering if hugelkultur can help fix this drainage problem. The problem with my land is the lack of organic matter in the soil and the fact that it's completely flat, water has no place to go.
I don't plan on create huge mounds... just hugelkultur on a smaller scale. I have an unlimited supply of logs, sticks and paper. I'm thinking of putting a lot of this stuff on the surface of each bed, then backfill with a mixture of composted leaves and topsoil. After planting, top the mound off with mulch. The mounds will be small at only 10" in height. I only plan to do it 10" in height because I have dozens of beds I'm creating and topsoil is pretty expensive. I'm only planting 3-4 trees per 60'x30' bed. So I won't put a lot of sticks/logs where plan to place the trees.
My concerns would be that will this good topsoil/compost/logs eventually mix in with the native soil below improving it as well so my trees will root into the native soil? Will this hugelkultur bed ever become saturated from absorbing to much water from the clay below? Will the soil wash away at all or will it pack down?
Has anyone ever did one of these beds on a wet ground? It doesn't flood, just remains squishy to your feet while walking mostly during spring or fall when temps are cooler. Any help would be greatly appreciated Thanks!
Will this hugelkultur bed ever become saturated from absorbing to much water from the clay below?
Will the soil wash away at all or will it pack down?
In my experience, it will pack down. I have very little slope and very little soil even slides down the face of the hugel. But the second year, after the hugel has shrunk, you just pile on more biomass and top it with some more dirt. I add sand, crumbled drywall, and biochar to my heavy clay soil before I put it on top of a hugel. Even then, it has a tendency to form a crust when it dries out after a heavy rain.
Rick, I like your idea of hugelkultur to improve drainage and improve your soil, but I don't understand why you would want to plant conifers. Why not plant a food forest instead- with a multi-layered canopy of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, fruit vines, nitrogen-fixing plants, perennial veggies and herbs? Just my 2 cents...
"In a fruit forest everyone is happy"- Sepp Holzer
If you have grassy pathways you must mow them and you need some sort of edging that the grass does not grow into your beds. And as you have 2 acres adn a lot of beds to care for, they will still grow into your beds. I would go for woodchips aren't they free in the US and cardboard underneath. The grass will still grow but is easier to rip out. I would do one huegelbed, a normal beds a raised bed and a sheet mulch bed, and then find out what works best for you. I was thrilled about huegels but it did not work for me. Every situation is different.
Interesting idea you have, and I'm interested how it will go. Now, I have to ask, how do you know that the problem with your soils is a lack of organic matter? Organic matter is the cure to all things wrong with soils, but if you keep that soil vegetated all year, then it shouldn't be low. You're not tilling it, are you? As for the squish, squish and not the clump, clump, clod, that to me sounds positive - like something is holding the soil in place. Probably roots, right? Silty clays can get very sticky and cause instant growth for anyone who dares walk across their bare surface.
So, if you have roots, then there probably is soil structure and pores, which means it's doing it's job in the ways of drainage- to some degree. If it's lawn and you mow it often, it's very possible most of your roots are at the surface of the soil. If you dig a hole, you should be able to tell that pretty easy. My lawn flips like a carpet. I can lift it up, stuff things under neath, put it back down and the grass really could care less because there's an ordinance that your lawn can't get more than like 10" tall. If that's the case, then what you have is good drainage and high organic matter in the first 2-3" of soil and not below it. Thus, water sits in the spongy top layer and slowly moves downward. Thus squish, squish.
Hugelkulture would help with this: 1. If it's buried, 2. In time, as the organic matter decomposes; so would anything else that will dig roots deeper into the soil. The other simple, easy trick if it is lawn we're talking about (and if your neighbors won't rat on you) is to let that lawn go and only mow it when once in a great while- like 2 times a year. If you water it (doesn't sound like you need to), water heavy and then wait a while (versus short bursty waterings which most landscapers set it to when they first install a house in suburbia). Another thing hugelkulture can do is act like a french drain if you bury them. When water seeps into that area, it will move faster since there's more space until it finds a low spot and starts filling up. Since your property sounds like a low spot, they will probably just fill with water & hold it.
Another thing you might want to consider is- if your soil is heavy and your paths are low and it rains hard, then the rain will run-off onto your paths and soak in there. More squish, squish.
I hope that helps!
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