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Hugelkultur in a community garden

 
henry stevenson
Posts: 52
Location: Devon, UK
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Near to me a group has recently started a community garden. We're starting with a field of stoney clay (mainly) which slopes gently from west to east on the NE of Dartmoor (so we get a lot of wind and rain). So far some fruit trees have gone in and a strip along the southern edge of the field has been ploughed up and a little of it has been planted up with some veg, plus chickens and bees are on their way. Chatting with a couple of committee members they're interested in what I've said about hugelkultur and are interested in getting a couple build. My experience with permaculture is limited, and I've never build a hugelbeet before because my garden is too small.

My understanding is that the committee would like to see one built probably sooner rather than later, and certainly this year. I would like the chance to explain my understanding of hugelkultur and how I am planning to implement in our case, please - feedback. Am I off track? Have I missed anything.

If I build on contour we have the benefit of swales, if off then we can build E-W so there isn't a long side taking the brunt of the wind and rain (most of our weather comes in from the west). My preference is probably on contour because it fits in visually with other parts of the garden being set up.

We can either dig down a little before piling the wood or use surrounding soil to sculpt the surrounding ground somewhat. I think digging down will be easier as it requires less spare to be cleared of plants before work, as we don't have a lot of members.

I think I will have access to some well rotted wood, mainly birch but also some ash, willow, hazel possibly. That will give some larger pieces, am I right in thinking once they're in place then we can just use untreated wood, and a mixture of rotted and fresh is okay? From photos I've seen some lay all the wood down and some stand some pieces up, I'm not sure the reasoning behind standing some pieces up but it seems to happen mostly in taller beets.

After the wood we should be able to lay down some horse poo. We also have a couple of round hay bales partly rotted sitting in one corner of the field. I'm not sure of the best stage to include this material into the beet. So we'll have wood, hay, muck and top soil. Am I missing an ingredient here that we should really try and source?

And lastly - we still have time to plant some stuff into the beet, but obviously it won't be really used until next year. Any suggestions of stuff to plant into it this year?

I'm sure I'll remember more questions once I hit submit.
 
Neal Foley
Posts: 49
Location: union Maine
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I'm assuming you've read Paul's article: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ and it's Premies thread: http://www.permies.com/t/17/hugelkultur/Paul-Wheaton-hugelkultur-article-thread

and seen the his video:


There is also this excellent video:


Those form the basis of what to do..... Now....to answer some questions.... As you layer the wood, intermix it with soil and the manure. Cap the wood portion of the mound of with more manure and then soil. A mix of rotten and fresh wood is ok. Cap the whole thing off with the hay for mulch. If it is going to rain just after you build the bed, then mulch it and throw the seed into the mulch and leave it. You can also pull back the mulch and direct plant started plants, trees, shrubs, etc... Don't put the hay under the soil, use it as mulch..... IF it isn't going to rain any time after you want to seed the bed, then throw the seed out onto of the soil, mix it in and wet it down and then mulch it. If you are in a high wind area or if the bed is particularly steep, then it is worth adding the brush over the mulch and pinning it down with nails to hold it in place.

As for what to plant..... at this time of year, in your climate you could easily do potatoes, carrots, beets, any brassicas-esspecially kales--salad greens, etc. But you could also plant it in some cover crops--clover, buckwheat, winter barley, nasturtiums, garden peas, broad beans.... you have lots of options. If it is to be a huge bed with fruit trees, etc....then additionally you could plant apples and cherries later on, or throw some collected seed out into the mound...apples, hazels, damsons, roes, currants.....gooseberries... herbs.... The key is to experiment, observe and have fun! The bed won't thrive this year, but will improve. Good luck!
 
henry stevenson
Posts: 52
Location: Devon, UK
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Thank you, I've seen the first of the videos before but not the second and have shared with our facebook group.

 
Karen Walk
Posts: 122
Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
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Shorter-life plants are better for hugels. Either annuals, self-seeding annuals, or flexible fruits (like strawberries). Some small fruit bushes can work well too. Trees will have a tough time as the inner structure starts to collapse.
 
Brandon Lee
Posts: 10
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Hey Henry,

I started doing some hugels this years with mixed success in different scenarios. I joined up with a community garden recently and convinced them to let me build a hugel bed in my 10 x 10 plot. I used basically the same ingredients as you are suggesting. Months have gone by now and progress is a bit slow. The biggest downfall for start up speed, I believe was the horse poo. I had access to an inexhaustible pile next door. I thought to use this as my primary cover over my logs and wood scraps. The horse poop couldn't hold water very well, or drain water very well. The hugels are looking so-so months later. I would strongly recommend getting an ample layer of compost to jump start the hugel for more immediate return. (community garden space is usually not free!) I made a hugel on my front lawn that used a lot of my good compost, and it is doing very well for its first season! The top layer has to have some fertility.
 
henry stevenson
Posts: 52
Location: Devon, UK
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Thank you.

At the moment we have some beautiful compost from a pile of muck which was dropped off in the field last year but it's rapid disappearing. There is apparently another pile at the top of the field but at the moment it's covered in fat hen. I will investigate further to see if it's usable. I would like to avoid having to buy materials.

Brandon, thankfully as this is the first year of the garden we're not paying anything. Next year we will but I don't know how much it'll be. I don't have to worry too much about an immediate return as we don't have plots and most of the space is currently just grass. I'm aware I'm in a very lucky situation.

What do people thinking about using the wood pile as a compost heap for a bit? So say get the wood in place and then along with putting muck in amongst the wood also add kitchen waste so it can rot within the mound? I guess I'm worrying about having enough material.
 
henry stevenson
Posts: 52
Location: Devon, UK
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This is a picture of the space our hugelbeet is going into. The weeds are mostly ones which pull up easily. It's the digging bit which is going to be harder. We've started to gather materials, which has also started to gather interested people. I'm getting more and more excited, although things are moving slowly due to things like the day job. It's already drawing people in and it's going to really add visual impact.
 
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