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Cold Climate Hugelkultur Quesitons for a first time build

 
Nate Kavan
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After sending my Dad permaculture playing cards around x-mas he came out to visit me and meet his first grandson and we talked about many things including building a hugelkultur bed. He has an 80 acre horse rescue in eastern Colorado in zone 5a near Colorado Springs. He has an abundance of cottonwood growing in a creek bed so plenty of wood in various stages of decay. I told him that it sounds like a perfect place to experiment with hugelkultur. He has loads and loads of horse manure and spoiled hay. He has a bobcat and tractor with a dump trailer. He returned this week and has begun construction of his first permaculture project, a hugelkultur bed. He text me a handful of pictures today that show some progress and he admitted that he is psyched to be doing this. I think he is hooked. I ordered him five pounds of blue oyster mushroom spawn in sawdust to inoculate the wood once it's all piled up.

So here is his question and my response:

Q: "I am curious to how thick the cover materials should be and how they will hold at the sides. The plan is clear to me but it seems like the sides would want to slide. Yah know?"

My answer referenced the video on richsoil. The one with Sepp: "The stakes with the horizontal branches are key to prevent that as is planting deep rooting rhubarb and horseradish right off the bat. Dandelions are also edible and have deep tap roots, grow in nearly all climates and attract beneficial insects too..."

The cover materials he mentioned are soil aprox. 8-10", composted horse manure aprox. 6" and spoiled/ soiled horse stall bedding straw and wood shavings aprox. 6" in that order.

He plans on building a bed 7' tall and 22' long. He mentioned 8' wide which now sounds too wide as it would be challenging to reach the top, so I'll be sharing the info I get get hopefully from here with him.

Is 8 feet at the base too wide?

Are the wooden branches used as natural stakes the solution to the sides sliding down or when constructed properly does that not typically come into play?

Does anyone here or in the Rockies forum have a good first year pioneer planting seeding mix in mind and can he expect to plant and harvest veggies the first year? The property is 6000' above sea level and an hour NE of Colorado Springs. I haven't found a good resource or list of hardy drought tolerant species info for his climate. Any advice would be nice to share with him.

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Nate Kavan
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Perhaps help to move this post to the Rockies. The original post has been edited to refine my questions.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Hey Nate, that isn't down around Elizabeth is it?

 
Nate Kavan
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Hey Miles! It is near there. Any advice?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Nice , I have heard of their work there, good stuff.

I think the eight foot wide base may not be too bad. He might have to experiment with different widths. Also maybe do some that are curved or even rounded. Will he be doing any along the windbreaks that are already there?

I think I would do a real mixture of things just to see what happens. Include clovers and other legumes. Radishes,carrots,beets,dill,yarrow,squash, potatoes, shasta daisys ,even dandelions! The big thing is to get it covered the first year. As it matures you will be able to do more with it.

What have you talked about as far as what they will look like years from now. Any fruit trees or shrubs in the plan?

I may have to run over there and check it out!
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
 
Nate Kavan
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Thanks again. That's cool that you've heard of their work. They are amazingly inspiring people and I am lucky to have them.

Will he be doing any along the windbreaks that are already there?
Not that I am aware of. The wind swirls there from what he said as they are in a bit of a bowl, so I don't think there's any prevailing direction. Any experience with that where you are?

Any fruit trees or shrubs in the plan
We discussed berries if you count them as shrubs, however he thought they would be blown right out of the bed. It's no joke windy there and I am sure you know all too well. I was thinking siberian pea shrub Caragana arborescens. They are always interested in volunteers and visitors, so PM me if you would be interested in their contact info. I appreciate your help and am excited that my Dad is seemingly hooked. It went from sending him Paul's playing cards to a fairly large hugelkultur bed pretty quick so that's promising.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Pea shrub is great. I grew a lot of that in Wyoming.

Seems that a big hugel like that would help block some wind, but if it comes from all directions he might have to get creative .
 
Nate Kavan
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Hello,

My Dad has been building up the pile and made good progress. Here's the progress so far. I sent him 5 pounds of blue oyster mushroom spawn and the following seeds from Peaceful Valley Seeds groworganic dot com. I am looking forward to any input anyone might have, so please feel free to chime in.

1 Crimson Clover - Nitrocoated Seed (Lb)
1 Organic Squash, Winter Table Queen Acorn
1 Organic Chard, Five Color Silverbeet
1 Penstemon, Rocky Mountain (pack)
1 Daisy, Shasta (pack)
1 Yarrow, White (pack)
1 Organic Radish, German Giant
1 Organic Pepper, Anaheim

He has some other organic veggie seeds my sister sent him too, organic carrots, lettuce blend, Oregon sugar pod II peas and Brandywine tomatoes. He is soaking the hugel now throughly and we discussed adding the oyster spawn around the base and fresher cut cottonwood bits not the punky ones. He has loads of broken down horse manure and soil available as well as soiled straw from the horse rescue. He asked me how thick each layer should be and I said six inches or there about. Also which order should the layers go. I said composted manure, then soil, then straw 'pinned' down with sticks shaped like "V's" to hold down the straw but not poking out of the pile. He also asked about the crimson clover which I said was there to fix nitrogen and provide living mulch to discourage opportunistic seeds dormant in the soil he's using. He doesn't plan on seeding the bed around Mother's day.

Questions:

What's the best way to inoculate this hugel?
What order should he layer next?
What thickness should the layers be?
What is the ideal seeding plan?

And now for the photo upload extravaganza...two more posts should take care of the photos.


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Nate Kavan
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More photos...
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Nate Kavan
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Another question from him is about the crimson clover. How much of that seed should he use?
 
paul wheaton
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1) When creating the hugelkultur, make a layer of soil, then a single layer of wood, then a layer of soil, etc. You want to try to minimize air pockets (in the beginning) and make sure that the soil touching the wood will get the rot going good.

2) In the first year you might plant a lot more nitrogen fixers and tap rooted stuff. I would probably avoid nitrogen pigs like squash.

3) Hugelkultur sides should be really steep. If you just make a pile, the sides will have a really shallow slope. So packing of the sides is required to get the steep-a-tude.

4) Logs are better than branches which are better than twigs which are better than wood chips which are better than sawdust. If you will be using any tiny stuff, try to not layer it consistantly - better to make blobs of it hidden within the hugelkultur.

5) You might plant seeds in three phases this year: now (frost tolerant), last frost (frost sensitive) and fall planting. I would put peas and daikon radish in now. I might do some yellow sweet clover and buckwheat later. I might even look into growing some alfalfa if your pH is high enough.
 
paul wheaton
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It would be great to make lots of links to all the peaceful valley stuff - I like those guys a lot.
 
Daniel Clifford
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Hi Nate,
I love the pics everything looks really awesome I think it is very inspiring that you were able to infect your fathers brain as it seems he has some nice resources at his disposal. I had only one thing that you may want to consider. The Mushroom spawn may not take on those old logs which look to already have some rot going on, more than likely there is already a native fungi consuming the lignin and cellulose. What you could do is get some fresh wood (the more recently cut the better) and inoculate those logs and disperse them throughout the various parts of the bed. You could also just try inoculating the old logs and see how it goes or maybe a mixed strategy of new and old. It may be that the spawn is able to colonize the old logs but they will likely take longer as they will have to outcompete the already present fungi.

Good luck and keep up the great work.

Daniel
 
mike mclellan
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Nate,
Exciting stuff to see this implemented. Just some thoughts based on my hugelkultur adventures, now entering their third growing season. Will these beds be watered? I would suggest soaking them thoroughly prior to covering with soil. I second Paul's suggestion of adding nitrogen fixers. I didn't my first year, but low and behold they seemed to appear out of nowhere last year and covered the beds with sweet clover (Melilotus). Don't hesitate to throw several nitrogen fixers at the bed and see what "sticks". I'm planning to add more perennial white clover this year. You may want to consider such additions especially at the top of the beds as they will be harder to access (eight feet is a long way to go up and down very often to harvest veggies or tend to perennial edibles). I used a Beneficial Insect seed mix from Johnny's of Maine and it included many perennials as well as annuals. Many of the annuals self seeded and were present last year as well as year one. The perennials, like yarrow, flax, and echinacea coneflower plus a couple others I'm not as familiar with, have settled in and hopefully will continue to add variety. I do know that the variety of bees I've observed in the hugelbeets has been impressive. I planted several varieties of Ribes (currant and gooseberry) in one bed and all did very well and have grown to fair size in two seasons. I planted two varieties of haskap (honey berry) in another and they have grown reasonably well and appear to going to flower this year. I planted asparagus crowns in another and most survived and increased in size last year. I put several saskatoon berries in another. Most survived year one and grew slowly last year. Raspberries grow in two different beds. One bed saw them spread considerably last year and the other, most died but the survivors began spreading slowly by suckers. I put tomatoes in some last year and got a decent harvest, some grew decent summer squash/zuchinni, and lots of beans, a lot of annual flowers.

Have some idea what your long-term plans are for this bed and any subsequent beds you may construct as that will affect what you plant and where you plant it if you are using perennial plants. Have a great time and don't be afraid to experiment. Plant this bed as soon as it's ready so the weeds don't have much bare ground to work with. They will "help" you with any soil left bare, I guarantee!
 
Devon Olsen
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for vegetablde crops i found that radishes really loved my beds last year and that sunflowers did pretty decent the first year, and spinach lettuce and lambsquater have all done well the last few years other than that ive thrown all sorts of goodies willy nillie and just kinda let it do its thing, its been fun so far but i think i will try to plant a little more organized this year for the people that live with the hugelkultur bed so that they know what things are without a lot of guessing
best of luck to you
 
Brian Vagg
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paul wheaton wrote:It would be great to make lots of links to all the peaceful valley stuff - I like those guys a lot.


I second your thoughts on Peaceful Valley. Their Cover Crop Solutions Chart is really helpful! I am lucky enough to only live 40 mins away.

I am in year two of my Hugel bed. The wood I used was rotted (looked similar to the wood you used) so I thought the Nitrogen suck would be minimal. I planted blueberries on the edges and all of the blueberries became really nitrogen deficient the first year. This year (year 2) the blueberries have rebounded and don't appear nitrogen deficient at all. In fact the bed is really flush with growth. In hindsight, I would have focused on a heavy Nitrogen Fixing Cover Crop year 1 and then planted the blueberries year 2. As mentioned previously, you might want to avoid the heavy nitrogen feeders (like squash) for year 1. For me at least there seems to be a big difference between year 1 and year 2.
 
Nate Kavan
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Wow. Thank you for the awesome info and the apples. To have Paul respond makes my inner permie elated, thanks Paul! I don't know why I hadn't thought of soil on wood in terms of layering that way rather piled up and then soil on that, but now it makes sense. I feel semi-official now and am stoked for the world domination gardening video to begin streaming so I can add more knowledge to my permaculture tool chest. I will share all of this great info with my Dad today over the phone.

Mike- He has been soaking the wood thoroughly and plans on watering a bit if need be. He is spreading the word around town with his new found excitement and hugelkultur elevator speech...pretty awesome. Great info on the species selection thanks.

Daniel- I think you're right about the fungi, the old logs already have been colonized and I will suggest that the spawn is only applied to the freshly cut wood. Thanks!

I will definitely pass off to my pops to focus on nitrogen fixers and tap rooted varieties first, and plant what Paul suggested moving on towards the next year with some ribes and berries later on that can take hold on the top of the mound and droop down once their berries are heavy on the vine for easier picking.

Hopefully the lack of soil on the wood won't turn out too bad as my Dad said that his mantra when gathering the wood was "punky". He also used the decaying cottonwood bark as sort of a 'chinking' between the logs to fill up the gaps and eliminate air pockets as best as possible. We talked about Paul's response and he is considering packing soil into the mound and working on the steep-a-tude factor. If he went up from where he is now he would have a huge bed which would be pretty impressive. More info and pics later...
 
Miles Flansburg
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Gotta love this site , right Nate?

I am really looking forward to seeing how this turns out !

I am hoping your dad can get a bunch of folks going on Hugels.
 
Nate Kavan
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Great stuff here Miles for sure! I love how the team here at permies.com cultivate only positive posts and delete any negative nonsense. After chatting a bit more with my Dad he has added quite a bit of material once the snow melted and the ground allowed some more skid steer action. In order to get more steep-a-tude he packed dirt into the already formidable mound and added another layer of wood with soil. He then inoculated the fresher cut wood with the mushroom spawn and added soil, then composted manure then lots of hay/manure and pinned that down with branches on three levels of the hugel. He then seeded it with radish, peas and crimson clover. And more photos, since they are what folks are really interested in right?
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The good old skid steer
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The good old horse manure
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The good old 'retired' LGD
 
Nate Kavan
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I am pretty impressed with how gung ho my Dad went on this project. I want this project to succeed so when the groups of volunteers come by he can continue to infect brains! I think I need to send him some more seeds as per Paul's recommendations for the successional seeding agenda.

How's it look permies?

NK
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Hay or straw not sure and old manure
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Marla Kacey
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It's been 2 years.  How's this project going now?  Thanks.
 
This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad:

the permaculture playing cards
richsoil.com/cards


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