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Hugelculture Layer

 
Kate Adams
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I am build Hugel beds, 4 of them measuring 5' x 20', I have my layers of logs, branches, twigs and am ready to put on the compost...... one problem..... we just moved here and have almost no compost, noboday around wants to part with theirs as we are on sand in zone 3, seems to be a "hot" commodity

Can someone recommend what to do?
The nursery couldn't advise and said I should just stop while I'm ahead and cover it all with a 50/50 topsoil triple mix.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 446
Location: North-Central Idaho
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You could use some of the sod and top soil from around your place or a layer of hay (not straw) mixed with some of your sandy soil then top it off with a thin is layer of the 50/50 mix from the nursery. I think if you just get plenty of organic matter in there and a little soil, eventually it will work out fine. Remember this is a long term game and you won't realize the optimal gains for at least a couple years. Have fun and don't worry about it too much, just get something going it'll work out fine.
 
Tristan Vitali
Posts: 297
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
34
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I'm in a fairly similar situation with very little topsoil (nice thick nearly pure clay abounds), basically no compost to speak of and TONS of rotting woody stuffs piled up everywhere. We've got what some around here call stump-land - the atrocity that's left after commercial logging in a very fast, efficient and devastating manner. The topsoil we do have is former conifer forest soil that's oxidized and eroded downhill into a marshy wet area, mixed in equal parts with bentonite clay and colonized with big clumps of what I think is reed canary grass.

I was feeling trapped in the "chicken or the egg" situation - need lots of green things to make good compost, but need lots of compost to grow those green things - until I realized I was forgetting a valuable and underutilized resource. What I'm doing for my fusion "tomato hugel circles" is building simple no-turn hot compost bins about 6 feet square right on top of the hugels - sort of an in-situ compost heap that should be ready in 1 to 2 months - and stacking it 4 feet high with dried grasses, berry canes and twigs. For nitrogen, well, we drink a lot of water One of the best compost activators out there, right? I might need to pick up some dried blood at the ag supply store as we get more heaps set up and supplies run tight. The no-turn compost bins themselves are basic - lincoln-log style walls using what's around (plenty around after the ice storms this winter) and leaving just some drainage piping layered into the compost heap so air can infiltrate easily without having to turn the pile every couple days.

If you can get your hands on manure, hay, sawdust, etc, something similar might work well for you.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1266
Location: Central New Jersey
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Kate, I am doing hugelkultur with sand too. What I had in excess was wood from taking eleven trees down, and leaves (because even after eleven trees came down, we still have a bunch of trees dropping a ton of leaves).

I have piled wood, laid on leaves and then buried under sand. It cannot be worse than my soil is to begin with Last year I had one bed where I simply buried some wood and put the soil back, just a marginally raised bed. The melons seemed to really like it.

I am sure that performance would be better if I were able to load in a bunch of compost - but like you, I don't have it yet. So, I am trying with just wood, leaves and sand.

Like I said, can't be worse than my soil is to start with.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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Why not be patient and wait? See if you can source some hay or manure or leaves come fall to put on a good layer, then cover with soil.
 
Kate Adams
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I was able to purchase 2 loads of composted horse manure, excellent quality. Yay!
Anyone else who is still looking, try knocking on a farmers door and asking, you'll be pleasantly surprised
 
Steve Laubach
Posts: 8
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I'm in the same situation as Tristan (thick, heavy clay). The only thing my soil grows without help is canada thistle.

I dug a hole 2' wide 6' long x 2' deep and buried a bunch of old logs. I stacked the wood about a foot above grade and tossed in whatever weeds I could find around the house. I also inserted a couple PVC pipes that I had drilled holes into the sides of so I could drop compostables down the tubes in hopes of creating habitat for earthworms. Then I took some used garden soil and backfilled the top layer of sticks. I have a bunch of extra sugar snap pea seeds and some extra basil plants I had started from seed so I planted both of them throughout the bed.

Initially I had a problem where the soil was drying out. I mulched the bed with grass clippings and things seem to be going alright. The peas have come up and the basil hasn't died.

I'm planning to grow some brassicas this fall and using the pea plants as green manure. I focused on N fixers for the early life of the bed because I don't know where to get manure in my area.

I'm somewhat happy with how this bed is going so far and plan to do another one as soon as I have the time to dig the hole. I have to do it as a subterranian bed because it's in the front yard of my house in suburbia. I think my next bed will have a larger surface area but a shallower hole. Digging 2' down in solid clay was not a positive experience and I don't think having a deeper hole actually improves the quality of the bed.
 
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