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Berm/hugel bed - dust!!

 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Hi all,

I'm building a HUGE earth berm/hugel bed for the side of our farm that has dogwalkers and future development noise. We've filled it with all kinds of brush and wood, and are hoping that we can grow some stuff starting in the fall. Right now, though, things are Too Dry. The earth is all dusty and blowing away We can't water it (no water, yet), and don't have enough mulch to cover it. Anyone have any bright ideas?

I'm going to mulch what I can with whatever grass clippings I can score - any other ideas?

Thanks!
 
Dave Burton
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Have you tried seeding the hugelkultur bed with any covercrops yet like clover or rye or cowpeas?
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Dave Burton wrote:Have you tried seeding the hugelkultur bed with any covercrops yet like clover or rye or cowpeas?


I'd love to, but I have no way to water currently. The well is being dug as I type, but it will be a significant distance from the berm site. It's not meant to be prime growing space - more for privacy and edging. I'm planning to plant a bunch of drought-tolerant N fixers, to get established in the spring and get watered a little in the first summer. We're trying to get as much earthmoving in as we can before the rains start up again, but I hadn't counted on the dust!
 
keith s elliott
Posts: 53
Location: Ruxton Island
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Hi Erin:

I take it that you aren't actually in Vancouver proper, otherwise you would have water. Are you anywhere near a river that you could perhaps pump a few barrels full of water and transport them to your site? I'm not sure of the best source of grass clippings, but I wonder if you got hold of the highways dept. if you could go on to one of the freshly cut medians and help yourself. There must be literally tons of grass sitting there just waiting to be put to good use.
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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keith s elliott wrote:Hi Erin:

I take it that you aren't actually in Vancouver proper, otherwise you would have water. Are you anywhere near a river that you could perhaps pump a few barrels full of water and transport them to your site? I'm not sure of the best source of grass clippings, but I wonder if you got hold of the highways dept. if you could go on to one of the freshly cut medians and help yourself. There must be literally tons of grass sitting there just waiting to be put to good use.


Yeah, I haven't found a way to change that location easily, but I'm not far, bioregionally speaking South Vancouver Island.

We have a barrel and a half, and are looking for more. We have water available, just no way to easily transport it yet. Obviously, now, the solution is water and planting - I could have figured it out, but I was stuck on no-water. Mulch will dry up and blow away. So many things to think about, that I hadn't quite gotten to fully thinking this one out

Clover seed, water, scotch broom babies (egad! but nitrogen fixers, grow tall, good for pollinators, drought tolerant, and just the thing for a no-maintenance water-poor area) to transplant. I'm totally happy to hear more ideas! We've got about 500m of earth berm to plant and water.
 
Dave Burton
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Will any succulents grow right now? Does anything actively grow in your local area right now? If you can observe these organisms or even get a few of their seeds, maybe they'll help
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Dave Burton wrote:Will any succulents grow right now? Does anything actively grow in your local area right now? If you can observe these organisms or even get a few of their seeds, maybe they'll help


Oh, lots of things are alive, but they're all hunkering down for the hot dry summer. Where there's limited soil and no water, there's broom, alder, clover - you know, the drought-tolerant pacific northwest stuff. The berm is in the driest part of the land, next to a culvert (preparation for a subdivision next door) that sucks all the groundwater away. We put a lot of wood and woody debris in the berm, in the hopes that by the time it rotted down the plant growth would be tall enough to be a bit of a noise screen.

What do y'all think about putting bark mulch down? It won't blow away, mostly, and will help to hold moisture in. Clover will grow in bark mulch. Might work!
 
keith s elliott
Posts: 53
Location: Ruxton Island
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Hi Erin: Well I see that we aren't that far apart in that case if you are on the island. I'm about 11 miles south east of Nanaimo harbour as the crow flies.

I think it's a safe bet that the soil here is worse than yours. There is almost nothing here. But regardless of that, there are still quite a few things growing. The trouble is that with 500 meters of ground to get covered and planted...well, that's going to be quite a chore you have given yourself. I certainly wish you luck with that.

Stuff that grows here includes salal, oregon grape, the small wild roses, hens and chicks (don't know the real name) broom and English ivy of course, but I would rather not have either of those. We're never going to defeat the broom, but the ivy might be brought under control with diligence. But I bet it would make a good ground cover if you were willing to take the chance. If you are fairly close to the ocean, you might also see a lot of arbutus growing. There must be well over 100 growing here, and it's only a 1/3 acre lot. The bigger trees are douglas fir, grand fir, garry oak, red cedar, some alder further down on Ruxton and some of the fast growing junk trees, but I don't know what they are. Now that I think about it, the junk trees are all growing by a wet area just off the end of my property. There's a few Pacific Dogwood trees here as well. The cultivated stuff here includes rhododendrons and azaleas, many Japanese Maples that I have grown from seed, the big white daisies, lilies, a variety of roses, clematis, just about all the herbs, forsythia, bamboos - quite the selection here and they seem to do well and some apple trees. Wild blackberries grow here as well, but don't produce much in the way of fruit, again due to lack of water.

What doesn't do well here is any of the root crops and I think that is a combination of poor soil and huge lack of water.
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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keith s elliott wrote:Hi Erin: Well I see that we aren't that far apart in that case if you are on the island. I'm about 11 miles south east of Nanaimo harbour as the crow flies.

I think it's a safe bet that the soil here is worse than yours. There is almost nothing here. But regardless of that, there are still quite a few things growing. The trouble is that with 500 meters of ground to get covered and planted...well, that's going to be quite a chore you have given yourself. I certainly wish you luck with that.

Stuff that grows here includes salal, oregon grape, the small wild roses, hens and chicks (don't know the real name) broom and English ivy of course, but I would rather not have either of those. We're never going to defeat the broom, but the ivy might be brought under control with diligence. But I bet it would make a good ground cover if you were willing to take the chance. If you are fairly close to the ocean, you might also see a lot of arbutus growing. There must be well over 100 growing here, and it's only a 1/3 acre lot. The bigger trees are douglas fir, grand fir, garry oak, red cedar, some alder further down on Ruxton and some of the fast growing junk trees, but I don't know what they are. Now that I think about it, the junk trees are all growing by a wet area just off the end of my property. There's a few Pacific Dogwood trees here as well. The cultivated stuff here includes rhododendrons and azaleas, many Japanese Maples that I have grown from seed, the big white daisies, lilies, a variety of roses, clematis, just about all the herbs, forsythia, bamboos - quite the selection here and they seem to do well and some apple trees. Wild blackberries grow here as well, but don't produce much in the way of fruit, again due to lack of water.

What doesn't do well here is any of the root crops and I think that is a combination of poor soil and huge lack of water.


Hurrah, for island permies! I'm in Sooke, so not super-close but not far. Our soil is good, everywhere except the super-dry space that we decided to put the hugel-berm. It sounds like you're on the rainshadow side of the island, so even drier than we are! We're on the rainy side, but not expecting any substantive rain until Sept or even early Oct.

No way am I going to encourage ivy, but I like scotch broom. I'm planning to grow it along the berm, and when the soil's more alive I'll cut down every second one (and keep it down), and then plant another kind of tree. Broom will grow tall for screening, provide bee habitat, and it's really pretty when it flowers. Don't limit your thinking about broom, just because it does its job really well It's holding together some marginal spaces, here, and growing the health of the land.

Hey - I want to experiment with bamboo. Can you tell me about your experience with it?
 
keith s elliott
Posts: 53
Location: Ruxton Island
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Hi Erin:
We most definitely are in the rainshadow here. I used to keep the weather records here for several years, hi/low temps, rainfall, and while I was doing that we averaged 37" a year. But one thing I noticed is that just about every year we get one really driving rain sometime in August. We may get well over 1/2" in under an hour. It's quite amazing.

Regarding bamboos, what I did was to do some reading first. Unfortunately most of my library is up in Kamloops and I cannot remember the names of the two best bamboo books I have. It's the old timers setting in again. One in particular is really good and it's about bamboos for temperate climates. Then I went over to Saltspring and got a whole vanload of bamboo plants. Something like 35 all together. I have lost maybe three or four over the years since then. They don't seem to have any trouble overwintering here, regardless of how cold the winter gets, like last winter for instance. But they do like a good drink once in awhile, which suggests to me that a hugel would be a good place for them.

If you were to put a few running 'boos in your big hugel, they would make a great windbreak/hedge. Have you been to the Japanese Garden at Royal Roads in Victoria? Some nice 'boos there.

I could snap a few pics if you like.
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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keith s elliott wrote:

Regarding bamboos, what I did was to do some reading first. Unfortunately most of my library is up in Kamloops and I cannot remember the names of the two best bamboo books I have. It's the old timers setting in again. One in particular is really good and it's about bamboos for temperate climates. Then I went over to Saltspring and got a whole vanload of bamboo plants. Something like 35 all together. I have lost maybe three or four over the years since then. They don't seem to have any trouble overwintering here, regardless of how cold the winter gets, like last winter for instance. But they do like a good drink once in awhile, which suggests to me that a hugel would be a good place for them.

If you were to put a few running 'boos in your big hugel, they would make a great windbreak/hedge. Have you been to the Japanese Garden at Royal Roads in Victoria? Some nice 'boos there.

I could snap a few pics if you like.


Pic would be lovely, especially if you have some good non-cement techniques for keeping running bamboos... civilized. I want to make this a low-maintenance section of the farm I love the utility and hardiness of bamboos, but am a little freaked out about their ability to completely take over a section of land. And I happily plant comfrey and broom, so I'm not usually afraid of a plant that takes care of itself. I thought about planting bamboo in the berm, but I wanted to maintain an air-pruning trench around it, and wasn't sure if I could do that due to the berm's size.
 
keith s elliott
Posts: 53
Location: Ruxton Island
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Hi again Erin:
OK, I have a few pics to try and show you some of the different bamboos. As long as these post in order my comments will fit OK...let's hope.

The first one is Pseudosasa Japonica, or arow bamboo. My plant here was just small when I got it and this years shoots are some 14' high. It is a clumping plant.

Just a few feet in front of that one I have a small clumping bamboo which is only about three feet tall at the most. Nice small leaves and a fairly compact plant.

The next one is a running bamboo (don't know the names of the others, lost in the mists of time) and as you can see it too is quite short. It has run a total of about four feet since I bought it, and I think that was either 2008 or 2009, so not exactly a world traveler.

We are limited to three pics per post so I'll do another after this. I'll give you a couple of generalities about bamboos. Most of them don't take off like rocketships at all. Perhaps it is due to my lack of water here, but none of the plants have strayed more than 4 or 5 feet in all that time. You may have a different experience if you have more water available. You will see large and small leaved plants, some quite dense and others very open in their structure.
boo 3.jpg
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keith s elliott
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Location: Ruxton Island
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Well, I managed to bugger that one up. Let's try for the first two pics again...

OK, I see what I did wrong.
boo 1.jpg
[Thumbnail for boo 1.jpg]
Pseudisasa Japonica
boo 2.jpg
[Thumbnail for boo 2.jpg]
 
keith s elliott
Posts: 53
Location: Ruxton Island
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I better learn to spell better as well it seems, pseudosasa, that's better, I think.

Look to the lower left in the first pic and you will see a new shoot from one of the three plants there.

Next one is a small running bamboo, quite short, I think less than two feet tall. And again, it has been there for several years and has traveled maybe 5 feet.

Last one is a very airy looking bamboo, quite an elegant little plant really (name?). It is a clumping bamboo. The soil there is really bad, and even though it is by the pond it hasn't got any water this year at all except rain.

About 35 years ago I had a big running bamboo over in the Fraser Valley and I contained it in concrete. I have since found out that you don't need to do that. Every bamboo plant that I have here has very shallow roots. So there is no need to go to great lengths and depths to contain a runner. The few that I have contained I have cut a plastic barrel into three sections and used that to contain the plant. The bottom of the barrel can be open. So I guess each section of barrel would be about a foot tall. There must be other ways as well.

But why worry about that at all? Just buy the clumping bamboos, which if memory serves would be any of the phyllostachys (?) and avoid the problem all together. I did look for either of my bamboo books and they are definitely not here. But I did remember the name of the place on Saltspring. It's called the Bamboo Ranch. You've never seen so much bamboo in all your life. Everything under the sun.

Now one last thing is that most of the bamboos we grow here do not attain the heights or girth that they would in their native land. The chap at the Bamboo ranch will tell you all about that. And BTW, he has by far the best prices.
boo 4.jpg
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boo 5.jpg
[Thumbnail for boo 5.jpg]
boo 6.jpg
[Thumbnail for boo 6.jpg]
 
Erin Newell
Posts: 33
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Thanks, Keith, that's really helpful. I was thinking that I'd do a running bamboo, if I plant one, so that I can really fill in a space, but perhaps the answer is clumping bamboo on the top of the berm, dividing every few years to fill it in, so I don't have to manage it so much. This space will be well-lived-in for about three years while we build the house, but later on it will probably be left to its own devices.

I remember that, when I was growing up (in Vancouver), we had a very well-behaved bamboo plant that stayed where it was put for about 5-10 years, then it started running like crazy. There would be these spiky shoots coming up in the lawn, like punji stakes, ready to spike the unwary feet of passers-by. I wonder if bamboo needs a significant length of time to establish, before taking off? Watch out

And thanks so much for the tip about where to get bamboo locally! Got to get a bike trailer, do some shopping.
 
keith s elliott
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Location: Ruxton Island
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Yes, when a bamboo plant is young and small, it does take some time to get going.

For example, the 14' tall plant started out reaching about four feet, then it increased in size every year until now. They do tend to do that as their root mass grows. Some of the very small ones have barely increased in size at all. It's all a matter of which plants you select. Like I said, the fellow at the Bamboo Ranch really knows his stuff, let him guide you. He also has a price list you can peruse. Not sure if it is available online or not, but it would be worth asking.
 
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