I've got a strip of woods almost all the way around my property and there are lots of fallen trees and cut logs just waiting for me to get them. Also the neighbors across the road have a big brush & leaf pile just sitting there, calling my name. They're selling the house and are never there, think they'll notice its gone?
For serious, tho, I'm going to post a note tonight on their door asking for permission to take it and leave my #. *fingers crossed*
Anyways, I have heavy clay soil and raised beds have been the solution so far, but then I have to water so much in the hot & dry part of the summer just to keep stuff alive. It seems as tho hugelculture is the perfect solution. *dances with glee*
I have the same issue with clay soil. I use raised beds on top of rotting wood and mulch with wood chips, leaves, straw etc. I rarely have to water even when the temps stay in the 90's for weeks. My method is a result of a compromise with the dear wife. She thought the true Hugel bed was a wee bit untidy. So we met in the middle and we are both happy. And my tomatoes are to die for.
paul wheaton wrote:
For those of you doing really deep hugelkultur, I would like to make a request for this upcoming planting season:
Please take one area of the bed and plant it with a polyculture of common garden plants - including at least one tomato. Then take pictures of that throughout the growing season.
The idea is that as I attempt to persuade people about the value of this stuff, the concept just cannot seem to fit in their head. They seem to want to grasp at details to prove why I am a lying sack of shit. With my recent video about the tomatoes in seattle, they focused on how the tomato plants looked withered (it was lat september) or that it was seattle ("everybody knows it rains every day in seattle". If the pictures show a healthy polyculture, and it is in an area that gets low annual rainfall, that would be excellent. Oh, and I'm concerned that some folks will think that some mystery plant might be the reason, and not the hugelkultur - or that the plants they see are all xeriscaping plants. So I would really like to see pics of a plot that has standard garden plants: carrots, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuces, radishes, etc.
Just fishing for pics is all.
No problem. I'm going to take lots of pics.
This technique which I have heard about before but last time I looked (a couple of years ago) there wasn't a whole lot of info so I had forgotten about it. I've been trying to figure out what to do with my property for a couple of years now as my situation is different then the situations that a lot of permaculture info talks about. I've been trying to figure out ways of working with my land to keep it's pros while dealing with the cons. After reading your info and this thread I'm thinking using these sorts of techniques and perhaps adaptations may be it. It's like the last piece of the puzzle has been discovered.
Though my situation doesn't entail lack of water. It's dealing with a lot of water which may sound like boon to many, but it has it's own set of challenges when creating a whole system. The conventional wisdom and people) tell me dig drains, put in tiles and all sorts of funky and sometimes expensive solutions. So far I have refused to go that way both on principle and for the good of my wallet, as I knew that eventually I would figure out how to make it work for me or better, work with it. Turn disadvantage on one hand into advantage. Work with the ecology rather then against it.
I'm going to be trying and testing as soon as the snow melts.
I can go into further detail of what I'm dealing with if anyone is interested.
Great forum by the way. I'm so glad I stumbled across it.
Tabatha Mic wrote:
Exactly my situation!
Very slight depression where I want to plant, combined with heavy clay soil, combined the with deluge of a mississippi spring and fall, combined with the summer dryness. It really does seem like the best option to get around all those issues.
Mine isn't quite like that. I live on the edge of a marsh. The water table even when it's dry like last year is high. The soil itself is great. Couldn't ask for anything much better. Beautiful, black and really fertile. There isn't tons of it though a layer of up to two feet in spot but in some only inches on top of rocky hard pan. I grew 7 foot tomato plants in 7 inches of soil. My squash plants last year grew to 40 ft across with 2 waterings the entire summer even though it was dry summer. The strip of land I live on is also between two large lakes so there is a lot of underground water movement.
After observing it for a couple of years now I compare it to being like a giant capilary mat. The problem is mainly spring and fall though in the summer if it rains a lot the water can build up. After snow melt the water table is pretty much at ground level except at the higher points of the slight slope at the edge that's farthest away from the marsh. Then the water slowly recedes back towards the marsh. My current garden spot is on a bit of higher ground but even then in the spring it's really water logged which makes planting early veggies difficult. I have spoken with people who suggest things like drain ditches, tiles etc. There is a large hole/pond in the middle that I except was dug for this purpose. It goes up and down withe the rainfall. Great because it's like have a water gage to know what level everything is at. There are a couple of areas that are higher but they are really sandy soil. Great for some plants but not so much for veggies.
However I've been really wary about doing too much digging because I'm convinced that the way the water moves around here is a plus and not a negative like most conventional thinking labels it. I just have to figure out how to work with it, rather then against. Right now I just have small cultivated area which I claimed from the grassy meadow mostly by covering it to kill the grass. Last year I made a couple of semi raised beds. Instead of bring in soil or other material I dug out about 3 to 4 inches of the path between them and put that soil on the beds. One, I didn't want to just cover up the great stuff and two I figured that if I just raised the tops up a few inches and lower the sides that the water would leave the top sooner. It seemed to work and I was able to get in some early crops even though the paths were waterlogged.
So I realized that 'up' was the key. I had a well put in last year and a chunk of the front was dug up. I took advantage of that a expanded a perennial bed. I brought in topsoil for that. It worked great. However there's just no way I'm going to truck in tons of topsoil to raise everything up. For one it's expensive and two it's just not as good as the soil that exists.
This year I really need to expand what I'm doing. I've got a couple of restaurants interested in the produce I grow and one that's interested in trying out some more non-traditional foods (like nettles) as they are a big supporter of permaculture and local perennial food sources. They are interested in working with me to introduce people to these foods over the coming years. I'm pretty excited about the prospects there. Much of what I'm doing isn't just for me and my family but promoting and expanding local food production and eating as well as people growing their own food.
I've already got lists of native plants and plants that don't mind these conditions as they are now. However there are many that sit on the edge and I'm limited to what I can do with fruit, nut trees and berries.
So anyways I'm familiar with mulch and sheet beds but didn't realize that this method of using wood as a base was possible and viable. Right now this means a lot as part of the issue is volume of material needed. With wood and logs going 'up' and going up quickly (and cheaply) isn't as daunting. I have access to tons of wood around here. Most everyone I know has piles of old logs and there are a lot of woodlots that people get firewood from that have piles that they consider not usable. It's also not a problem getting other organic material. I'd just have to put the word out with the farmers that I'll gladly take things like old hay and my driveway would get piled with it. I already get offers for it. I know a horse farmer who just gives away his horse manure if you go and get it. I also am using wood chops for chicken bedding and right now just have it in piles composting down. With this I could just use it straight away.
For the most part I don't need to go 'up' that much overall. I would basically be creating what I did with the garden beds without digging down and without disturbing the water system as much if I did a lot of digging.
Right now I'm imagine it as creating islands on top of what already exists. Just enough that the roots and especially the top roots aren't sitting in standing water for the parts of the year it's there. If I'm understand it correctly then what I plant on these islands over the years will still be able to take advantage of the water system as it exists now and if I plant deep rooters the fertility as the plants bring up and mix what's underneath. I am also interested in looking at it as a way to establish more trees like fruit. I've already noticed that the ones that do exist (a couple of wild apples) are drier around the base. This makes sense as there root system would be using a lot of the water. However the two apples that I planted 3 years ago are pretty much are at a standstill in terms of growth. I know it's because of the water they sit in for a large part of the year. They will grow but it will be really slow. I'm thinking that using this technique or an adaptation of it might be able to help create the conditions to give the trees a micro zone to get established to the point where they can take advantage of the water rather then it being a hinderance at the early stages.
I'm also thinking now it may be a solution to part of the yard behind the house which gets really watered logged. It's the part where the chickens and ducks run in. During the spring and heavy rains in the summer they turn it into a mud puddle. It always bounces back. I've explored a bunch of drainage ideas but have run into the issue that there really is no where for it to drain too. Just digging holes to collect the water, like the drainage pond that already exists in the field would work but then that takes away from the usability for not only the livestock but us as well. I've found some manufactured options for that but they would be expensive. Now after reading here and other info I like the idea of digging and burying logs to create the sponge effect that is talk about. Sorta like creating usable drain/storage holes and holes that would give back rather then take away. In this case I might use something like cedar for it's staying power, which is abundant on my property. I already have some in piles that was cut before I got here for fence posts. I've sorted those it ones that are still usable but the others are just sitting there. The soil here is really alkiline so maybe if I use cedar I could make these holes into micro zones for berries like cranberries which don't mind being wet for part of the year and like more acid soils.
My soil is really fertile as well, high levels of all the major nutrients and it grows well when it gets drier. Its just getting it to that point.
I also have nowhere really for the water to drain, unless I dig massive trenches or lay drain pipe/tile out to a ditch.
But with the hugelkulture beds and what I've recently learned about swales, I can direct the water where I want it and store it for the plants for the dry summers
"So I realized that 'up' was the key. I had a well put in last year and a chunk of the front was dug up. I took advantage of that a expanded a perennial bed. I brought in topsoil for that. It worked great. However there's just no way I'm going to truck in tons of topsoil to raise everything up. For one it's expensive and two it's just not as good as the soil that exists."
That's what I was running into for the raised beds I built year before last.
I bet your soil IS super fertile, living between 2 lakes like that. Nifty!
We have built and are building more beds for our market garden in the hugel style. We will have more reports on how they go during the growing season.
I live in a mountain valley on the east side of Oregon with 17" of annual precipitation. July thru August we see less than 1 inch of rainfall per month.
I have an acre of grassy pasture that I want to make over into a self sustaining system of perennial food production. The ground is perfectly flat, with a sandy loam soil. Not a rock on the place as it is old river flood plain.
First I'll do the earthworks, then put in several species of fruit and nut trees. Once the trees are in place I'll add the shrub and herb layers.
My plan so far...
I'm thinking of starting with 2 parallel raised beds made by trenching about 24" deep and filling them with woody debris & soil like Holzer does. I'm planning to arc the trenches to create a concave sun trap to the south. Fruit trees will be planted in the trough between the raised beds. After reading these posts I'm thinking of adding stone piles in the trenches with the trees too.
The other methods I'd like to try come from Brad Lancaster. For the walnuts and oaks I'm thinking of creating some infiltration basins about 20 ft in diameter to increase the catch of natural rainwater. One tree per basin along with 2 columns of vertical mulch right next to the trees to get them off to a good start. I have an unlimited supply of spoiled saturated wheat straw at my disposal so I thought I'd auger out suitable sized holes, drop the bales in endwise and cover over with soil to form a water holding sponge on two sides of the new tree.
I may try vertical mulching along side the fruit trees to get them started too. I feel like I have to use every strategy possible to capture water if this is going to work.
I'd appreciate any thoughts, ideas or advice that come to mind...
Any one else here trying similar methods in a dry climate?
And yes, Paul... I'll take plenty of pictures along the way. I love to document before and afters.
La Grande, OR
It's a long thread, but I still trying to understand what is the minimum amount of rainfall needed for successful hugelculture beds? I am looking at some land that has ~14" of rain a year (typical slightly inland California - wet in the winter and dry, but not too hot in the summer) We can go without a drop or rain from April to October - can hugelbeds do that? I am also curious if anyone in the US has done any successful market farming with hugelbeds and what is the largest acreage under hugelbed cultivation? Sepp was successful in Austria, but he had a lot of different things going on, not just the beds. I think a successful (relatively) large operation would require specialized equipment to go down even spaced rows to pick the plants and get them to market. But before I get ahead of myself I included a photo of the land to give yo an idea of how dry it is here. The land is currently used for grazing, but I think it is interesting how much greener the few trees are than the grass. Any insights would be greatly appreciated.
The problem is generally not a lack of water, but a lack of ability to store, manage, and use that water effectively. The challenges we face are high heat and evaporation as well as improper drainage, where the water drains away too freely and quickly because the soil is compacted and impermeable or too permeable like sandy soil with very little organic matter or clay. Both will lead to low water availability and drought.
Avg. precipitation in my area is 14" (350 mm) or less and the state is considered the 2nd driest after Nevada. I remember living through a 6-year drought a few years ago, where we regularly had temperatures in the summer that approached 105-110 F, about 10-20 degrees above normal.
I've realized that if we can store most of our fall, winter, and spring precipitation, we should be good for most of the year with proper use and planning. According to the water calculator posted in another thread, there's a potential 112500 litres (29,700 gallons) of free water per year just falling on my roof. If I can catch and store the rainfall on my home's property, this would be 428,500 litres of free rain water. If I can catch and store on the few acres of former orchard I have, which has had its irrigation system destroyed, there are potentially 5764050 litres (1.5 million gallons) of water available. I think that's quite a bit of water waiting to be used.
The amount of water required to keep the hugelkultur beds moist and viable depends on several factors, such as types of plants planted, shallow vs. deep rooted, size and volume of the hugelkultur bed(s), and how much and what kind of water-holding materials are inside the bed. There are better and worse kinds of material for holding water.
IMO, hugelkultur is like a godsend in these kind of conditions, though it may require some modifications to fit a desert area.
I haven't tested it yet on a larger scale besides what I'm doing at home, and to do it in the orchard requires more materials and labor than I currently have on hand since I work alone. It's still new to me. But I think it has incredible potential and would like to expand and work with it more in the very near future. btw, I want to note I hadn't considered this because up until about a year or two ago, harvesting rainwater in my area was considered illegal.
I've got my former garden swamp filled up with rotten wood. Most of it is pretty crumbly and I put the less crumbly stuff on the bottom of the pile. I topped the wood with a thin layer of chicken poop (droppings board from the coop) and topped that with a thin layer of shredded leaves. On top of all that is a layer of dirt from another part of my yard. All that is covered over with the good dirt I had built up last year by mulching. All in all I came up about 3 feet from the previous level. About half of that is the wood.
I've got crimson clover seed spread over it and I'm going to give it until late April to settle before planting with my warm weather crops.
I also did two raised areas with rocky & woody soil for my grapes. However, I think I'm going to pot my grapes in large containers until the fall. An older man nearby has several grapevines and that is how he's done all of his. Pot up in the spring in the biggest pot he can find (10+ gallons) then put in their permanent home in the fall. That will also allow me to completely prepare the spot before I put them in.
We are in clay and rock soil that gets nearly no rain from about May to October. We had to drip irrigate some the first season due to no rain but I had to cut the irrigation way down from the rest of the garden since it retained so much water it became excessively wet.
I buried wood - mostly pine about 2 feet deep then put the saved topsoil on top of it along with some manure and wood chips.
Right after that I tried several crops.
We had a good crop of beans and yellow crookneck and zucchini squash. Corn did well- lots of full ears. I planted lots of other things but two families of quail kept it pretty well stripped as soon as seedlings emerged. Lettuce did well and currently we have cabbage, cauliflower and volunteer carrots. They look a bit short on nutrients but doing OK and it is winter also near freezing at night much of the time.
We got some powdery mildew on the squash due to excess moisture. They say not to replant squash in the same area but I am going to as I want to experiment more with EM and see if it will prevent a recurrence of it. I will spray the EM at about a 1 to 40 ratio. It is still approved as organic farming and widely used in Asia to get away from pesticide use.
EM info. http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=9956.0
The microorganisms in EM will also help to break the wood down and make nutrients more easily available to the plants as well as fix nitrogen in the soil.
We let some of our vegetables go to seed every year and I took a few of the carrot stalks and shook the seeds over the hugelbed. They are coming up all over now. Also lots of broccoli plants.
You may want to make your bed all above ground if drainage is a problem. The wood will still hold moisture but things won't drown.
My ground also does not drain well but I wanted the logs to get well saturated due to our long dry summer.
Possibly not all things will grow well at the start but experimentation will show you what will grow good.
That sounds like a good size. I am thinking that you have some kind of path on top? All my current plots are just 3' wide so I can reach things from all sides. I am looking to expand as I want to grow a lot of my own food for the pups too. I have read that the weeding is minimal I can't believe that. Sounds to good to be true. What has been your experience. I will have to give this a try. As I drove down my drive today I was looking at all the huge branches and old log rounds that are laying around. There are a few stumps out in the pasture too now if I figure out what to cover them with. We also have stumps that have been ground off. That job was a nightmare. We took out 37 trees that were surrounding our house some with a 7' diameter. Some of the brushy forest had to be taken to get the trees out. That was sad but I am glad the trees are gone no more hiding in the winter when the 60 mph winds hit. It was very scary. With all those stumps under ground you can't till the soil or dig a hole to even plant a 1 gal plant shoot in some places you cant even plant a seed. Maybe this is the way to go and it will work to my advantage? I can just arrange my plots over the stumps. do you think that would work the same as piling logs and sticks maybe just bring in more soil compost straw manure?
Many were done on top of the ground and some were excavated as I did. The wood will start to decompose and fungi will send tendrils out through the soil to pull water into the wood and help to assist in it's decomposition. It could cause a bit of a nitrogen shortage as the wood decomposes, so add some - Paul adds alfalfa he said - chicken manure is good (or other fertilizer)- EM or legume crops - beans etc will help with nitrogen.
Wood on will keep an area damp but may help to pull excess moisture from the ground as fungi pull the water into the wood to decompose it.
Oh yeah - yes - I have rows on top of the wide hugel bed. I would like to make one of the heaped ones too as others have done then access would be easy as you mentioned.
The bed over the stumps sounds like a good idea to me.
Most of the 37 stumps have been ground down to just below the surface. I do mean just below. Grass has grown over all but 2 of the stump areas. Do you think that would be good enough. Trial and error is part of gardening and I will do some experiments but I also don't want to wait 3-5 yrs to have good food. I have already waited 18 to get rid of the trees. Now the stumps are becoming a problem. Also this may seem like a dumb question but what about carpenter ants or termites? All this wood so close to the house is scary even if it is buried. I am a strong lady and can handle just about any thing but I cried like a baby for days as I had to rip out my 12' x 25' deck ant damage and found they had chomped away at the exterior wall bottom plate and beam. " they ate my house" 2 2x6 chewed down to 1/2 inch. I had only ever seen 2 ants sneaky little devils. Then I found termites subterranean they never made it to the house. Don't want to panic but do want info. We don't spray or use chemical except when the house was chomped. As a maintenance thing nope we have a dog that eats dirt plus the other obvious reasons cost, deadly poisons you know. I don't really want to put my garden 50 or 75 feet away from the house. Out of sight can be out of mind very easy.
Reference: "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 2" by Brad Lancaster
I started another bed today in an area that was too steep to garden between my tree terraces.
I buried about 30 to 40 cu. yards of brush in this area that is around 8x30. I smashed it down well with the Bobcat then covered it with the saved topsoil. Still need to add manure and compost to the top but it can start decomposing now and gathering moisture during the spring rains.
I documented the rest of it on my Underground Cabin thread, link here if you want to see more.
I have used a lot of Alpaca manure as there is a farm about 20 miles away and I get manure from them, however I have a few cows now too and that helps.
I have one of the biggest Bobcats ever made with tracks over the tires and a combination grapple and digging bucket that will move a cubic yard per bucket load or about 6000 lbs before tipping forward. 105 horsepower diesel will do a lot of work fast, however the downside of keeping old equipment running is that repairs can be expensive. At least I do most of them myself.
Here is a shot of it on one of my jobs.
I also took a short video while packing the downhill berm on the side of the terrace. I hadn't uploaded it yet, but thought you may find it of interest. Click the picture to watch it.
It took me about 4 hours to make that bed. Over all it is about 3 to four feet deep from the bottom of the bed to the new top. Many of the rocks I dug out weigh between 300 and 500 lbs. I will take the straight adapter off of the blade and use the teeth to help pick the rocks out of the planting area.
The string fence has been very effective and I have not had a deer problem as long as I had the area fenced with string. As with this project, it is easy to take out and move out of the way too so that is another plus. It had gone across the end where I went into the fenced off area another 5 feet or so. Nice to be able to use a formerly unusable area this year.
I encourage everyone to put an extra effort into their gardens this season and beyond, as food prices may skyrocket and friends or family may find the extra useful.
On one of my well drilling jobs when I was doing that, a customer had a garden fertilized with and growing in grass clippings and the plants were huge and really producing. He got clippings from local lawn care companies.
The tires in the picture are square cornered - called Junk Yard Boss and are cheaper and much better than the normal tractor type on the tracks. They need to be kept near the 1 1/2 inches of slack recommended to prevent the wheels from slipping inside the tracks. They do cause stress on the machine if tires are not the same size and will break chains and sprockets if you don't do it right. Don't ask me how I know. The tracks are McClaren and were the only style they had for this monster machine. This Bobcat weighs about 12000 lbs with the tracks on. It is a 963
On the other hand - we have clay with pointed rocks in it - about a third to half is rocks. The rocks will go through a tire in a second if you hit them wrong and there is no control of how you hit them. The tracked Bobcats and similar would eat up about $5000 worth of tracks here in a few months ans the rocks will peel the rubber right off of them. That makes the tires the cheapest way to go at average $250 to $350 each.
Also, I am working on steep slopes and widening the wheelbase a bit for the track installation along with the tracks allows me to work sideways on the slope where another Bobcat would become a giant rolling snowball..... ouch. I work sidehill on 30 to 40% grades with little problem - up and down hill steeper to the point of standing up straight in the floorboards and having to push myself back with the bucket when I can't back up the hill.
Sounds like you know how much fun it is.
Problem the neighbors clear cut their land and then did nothing with it. That was a sad day. Now 3 yrs later things are growing back. Thistles TONS of them. in the summer is is like a blizzard. We can get an inch or better of seed fluff in our yard. Now we are constantly trying to pull and dig them out of the garden. They took over our strawberry bed and we lost about 1/2. The roots sprawl and can be very deep. Some of the them can get 6-7' tall with a 2" stalk. I just can't keep up with them. I mow the pasture and our buffer zone to stop them from seeding. I am concerned they will take over these new beds. So how do I get rid of them or even better yet make money off them? Use them to my advantage? When they flower so pretty but very aggressive and super fast growing.
The organic matter could still be composted but hard to stop seed from a neighbors place from coming over. My native American friend told me thistles are edible, coming from the same family as artichokes, but they look a little small for me to mess with.
Maybe others have helpful ideas on this.
My question is... I'd like to do some hugel beds up on the house level, as our focus will be in zones 1-2 this year. but I don't want them to look untidy. How best to make them look like nice high raised beds? we have tons (literally) of rocks, but not necessarily the manpower to hoick them all over the place.
Yes driving and using heavy equipment is fun. I gave up my fear of them (noise size smell) when I got tired of using buckets crowbars and grub axes. Barrowed the old neighbors tractor and took a 6 month job down to 2 hours or less. A few yrs back went to a heavy equipment fair that was open to the public. Drove and operated all kinds of stuff. They even had the new fangled logging training simulator. You know the one with robotic arms saws ect. They give you tasks and a small obstacle course to go through. I wanted to go to heavy equipment school afterwards it was so much fun! After thinking it through working seasonally (summer garden time) traveling for good jobs if you can find them, dusty long hot days and competing in a mans world. I pass. stick with rental until I can buy something and just play and have fun while growing my own place. Years ago we did get a cat but had flat tracs (stop laughing) sold it after 3 mo. I did get to push the boulders into position.
In the past i kinda followed square foot gardening my Mell Bartholomew. Easy to manage with hand tools. I want bigger and more without tons of maintenance and I HATE watering. To me that is the worst thing about gardening. So I am very excited about this method. Even if the beginning is kind of slow. Plus I love building and designing.