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First Hugelkultur Project

 
Simon Johnson
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Location: S Ontario, Zone 6/7
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I have been following this site and listening to Paul's podcasts for a while now and I figured it was time for me to start contributing. So here is the first of my contributions.

My girlfriend and I are living outside in tents in our friend's back yard this summer and we are working on an assortment of projects. The main one being this hugelkultur. I will post pictures as they come. They are on separate cameras/phones, making it a little more difficult to get them all in one place and loaded up online, but we will start with these ones.

We dug down about a foot to get some topsoil out for the top of the bed, then stacked up the logs as nicely as we could. As we put the sod part back on, we watered the whole thing down and continued to do that as we piled the topsoil back on.

Like I said, I have more pictures coming, but please let me know what you think so far.
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Start of bed
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Bed expantion area
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Pile of logs left
 
Dale Hodgins
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It looks like you made the sides quite steep. This one should heat up early in the spring. Since you're surrounded by grass, it might be wise to lay out some old boards or a thick mulch to prevent it from invading. Keep us posted as it matures.
 
Simon Johnson
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Time for some updated pictures on the project.
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All the logs are piled
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Soil going on
 
Simon Johnson
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Here we are with soil on, seeds spread, and mulch covering. In the last picture IT LIVES!!
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IT LIVES
 
Simon Johnson
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Now we have to go and get more logs from the bush to continue the "U" shape. We also have a to get more trees and shrubs. We have 2 pare trees and 2 hardy kiwis now. There is a permie guy around running a small nursery, so we are going to head over there one of these days and see what he has there. There are black locust trees around we can find some and dig up a few saplings to plant. As for now we will watch the seeds we sowed grow. I'll let you guys know how the progress comes.
 
Simon Johnson
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Here is a little update on the Hugel. Everything is coming in nicely. There are lots of different things coming up. We planted our pear trees, kiwis, some black locust saplings, pea shrubs, seabuckthorns, comfrey, strawberries, and some bamboo variety a friend had on his land. As it turns out, my finger was covering the lens of the camera, so I only ended up with one picture for you guys right now. I'll get a close up to see all the different seedlings coming up out of the green carpet. It's so neat to watch.
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Simon Johnson
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So I headed out and took some more pictures of the hugel bed without my finger in the way. Here we go.
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Lots of good stuff coming up. So green.
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A shot from the NW corner.
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Another close up.
 
Simon Johnson
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So far the hugelkultur project has been a success.
The seed cover is doing amazingly well. I see all sorts of different things coming up. We have been fortunate to have had lots of rain this summer, so we haven't had to irrigate too much.

The plants that we trans planted from pots are doing well enough. It's been almost two weeks and I see a little new growth starting up.

The plants I dug up from friend's places seem to be taking it kind of hard so far though. The end of July probably wasn't the best time to dig up some black locust saplings, but we'll see. There's more where that came from if they don't work out.

I also dug up some comfrey from a friend and planted it around. Also not looking so good, but there were some good sized root pieces in there, so they'll probably get going soon.

I've been out sawing more logs and am ready now to take the trailer back to get a couple loads so we can get at the next section.
 
Simon Johnson
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So I went out back with the trailer and hauled a few loads of logs and now the project continues.

Here is a quick picture of where we are now. As it turned out we didn't get enough wood to complete the first "U", so we have to go back out for another load before we can put the soil back on.
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Simon Johnson
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Since you're surrounded by grass, it might be wise to lay out some old boards or a thick mulch to prevent it from invading. Keep us posted as it matures.


I have been putting some boards around the planted part to keep the grass down as you suggested. I'm going to have to do a better job than what I have so far though. When I just lay the boards down against the hugel, they are sitting all wonky and grass can easily grow up from under them. The plan is to make a sunken path around the bed and create a more defined edge using stones and wood, but until we get there boards will have to do.
 
Simon Johnson
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I was thinking it would be fun to plant something in the suntrap that is out of this zone (5) to demonstrate the power of hugelkultur and micro climates. I have access to lots of stones and plan on stacking some of those around for thermal mass. I was also thinking a small pond on the inside for a super micro climate. I suppose lemons would be the classic example when following Sepp and Paul, but I just want to see what you guys think. Maybe give it some time and observe first, then decide?
 
Simon Johnson
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A couple more pictures here. The comfrey is taking to its spot now. The corn is getting big, and so are some bean, squash, watermelon type plants.
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Comfrey
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Corns
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more good stuff
 
Simon Johnson
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We finally got some time to go out and work on the hugel again today, so we went to town on it and got all the logs on and the soil on.

The part that is growing already is doing awesome as well. Everything is rocking on. Check it out.
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solidly piled logs
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with soil on
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lots of green stuff going strong
 
Simon Johnson
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We went out today and got the last bit of soil to cover up the rest of the back part of the hugel. First we through on a bunch of wood chips to cover up a lot of the cracks between logs and make a base along the ground so we didn't need to shovel as much soil on. I think this was key. Then we mixed up a pail of seeds, scattered them all over, covered it all in a thin scatter mulch and then watered it down. It is super steep, so a lot of the soil was piling out pretty far from the base of the bed, so it is a little difficult to reach the centre of the bed, but I figured we would just get the cover crop on this season, see what it looks like in the spring and then make any necessary changes.

So we finally got our first hugelkultur sun trap built. It was a lot of work, but man does it look cool! In the last picture you can see we set it up for expansion into a second "U" mirroring the first. We'll see how far we can get on that before the snow starts flying, but I am happy we got one solid hugelkultur bed built.
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Back side covered in seed and mulch
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Future expansion area
 
Ethan Thompson
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Location: Vermont
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Hi Simon,
Your project looks great and the pictures are awesome! They look just like the illustrations in sepp holzer's Permaculture. Kudos!
 
Jason Vath
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Location: Hardiness Zone 6
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Excellent job! To keep that steepness and to have a tight core earns my respect.
Hope the soil stays intact well for you.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Nicely done Simon ! Throw in some lemon seeds and lets see what happens!
 
susan stone
Posts: 5
Location: My garden SW Mich (zone 6a), my kids' - to whom I'm an advisor -Chicago (zone 5)
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Hi Simon,
Congratulations on your accomplishment. Love your pictures and your enthusiasm. I've just built my first hugelkultur too in SW Michigan (zone 6) and appreciate the challenge of making it up as you go along. This is at a vacation home, so I'm only there on long weekends - most of them during the summer, one or two/month the rest of the year. Mine is now sprouting a cover crop very nicely and I'm looking forward to dreaming and planning all winter for spring planting.
I'd like to know how you planted the tree and any other woody and perennial plants, because it looks like you have the same few inches of soil over the logs as I do. I'm hoping to plant several blue berries, flowers and some of the perennial vegetables I've read about. I currently grow lots of perennial flowers and shrubs in conventional beds, so I'm pretty optimistic about getting these started. But it's hard for me to visualize what I'll do with root balls and crowns of perennials when I hit the wood underneath. All suggestions are very welcome.
 
Sean Benedict
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That's a pretty impressive first effort! Much better than my sad little thing.

I'm jealous of your foot of top soil. Here in MD, I can't dig down further than about 3 or 4 inches before I hit clay. That doesn't stop me from digging down a foot, but I have to bring in a lot of soil for covering.

I'll be really curious to see how this thing fares after winter. I had a few holes develop from voids I left in the wood pile.
 
Simon Johnson
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susan stone wrote:Hi Simon,
Congratulations on your accomplishment. Love your pictures and your enthusiasm. I've just built my first hugelkultur too in SW Michigan (zone 6) and appreciate the challenge of making it up as you go along. This is at a vacation home, so I'm only there on long weekends - most of them during the summer, one or two/month the rest of the year. Mine is now sprouting a cover crop very nicely and I'm looking forward to dreaming and planning all winter for spring planting.
I'd like to know how you planted the tree and any other woody and perennial plants, because it looks like you have the same few inches of soil over the logs as I do. I'm hoping to plant several blue berries, flowers and some of the perennial vegetables I've read about. I currently grow lots of perennial flowers and shrubs in conventional beds, so I'm pretty optimistic about getting these started. But it's hard for me to visualize what I'll do with root balls and crowns of perennials when I hit the wood underneath. All suggestions are very welcome.


Thanks Susan!

When planting the trees I basically just "peeled" the soil back from the logs to make a hole with only a little soil left against the logs and stuck the trees in. At the level where the trees are planted there is quite a bit a of soil as it all falls down from the top of the pile when throwing it on. There is no actual wood under the trees, it is next to them. In the pictures you can see the pile of logs is steeper than when the soil is added and the trees are planted in that part of the hugel where the steepness tapers off significantly.

As for the other smaller perennials, I used the same peeling back of the soil technique and just set the root balls in this hole with one side against the wood. There was enough soil to get the roots covered up.

The earlier section of the hugel we completed first has more soil on it than the later section too, so the pictures may be a little misleading when looking at the amount of soil on the later section. The plan for the spring is to go around the perimeter of the whole thing and dig a sunken path down about a foot and add that soil on as well. I am just adding a few updated pictures where you will see it is necessary to add more soil to the newer part. Anyway, hope this helps. I am happy to answer any more questions or clarify further if need be.
 
Simon Johnson
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Sean Benedict wrote:That's a pretty impressive first effort! Much better than my sad little thing.

I'm jealous of your foot of top soil. Here in MD, I can't dig down further than about 3 or 4 inches before I hit clay. That doesn't stop me from digging down a foot, but I have to bring in a lot of soil for covering.

I'll be really curious to see how this thing fares after winter. I had a few holes develop from voids I left in the wood pile.



Thanks Sean! We have to thank dear deceased granpa for the nice top soil. This area is where he had his veggie garden for years and built up some real nice soil for us. the rest of the property is not so good.
 
Simon Johnson
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I have been neglecting this thread for some time now, but I took a couple pictures last week to show what has happened since the last update. We have had a couple frosts before taking these pictures, but most plants on the older section seem to have not really been affected by it. The small plants on the newer section did get hit pretty hard by the frost though. Maybe it has something to do with heat being trapped in the dense plantings keeping the plants from freezing as easily?

So as you can see the new section of the hugel has not fared very well. Shortly after spreading all the seed and mulching, some of the chickens got loose and went to town on hugel! They ate most of the seed and scratched a lot of the soil downhill off the top of the pile. Because a lot of the seed was eaten or buried by the scratching, the soil didn't get all covered in greenery. Because of this the heavy rains where able to further wash soil off the top of the pile. But it's all fine and dandy because, like I said earlier, in the spring we are going to go around the hugel and dig a path down about a foot and throw that soil on as well. Then we will reseed and it will have all summer to grow up nicely.

The next very noticeable thing going on with the hugel, is the chipmunk traffic. There are a crazy number of holes all over and beaten down paths from chipmunk traffic. In the picture you can see just one closeup with at least 5 entrance ways dug into the side of the hill! All well. I'm not going to worry about it. I imagine all that poop and whatever else they bring in there will only help to fertilize. They might even make some good cat food if they aren't careful
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Lots of dense greenery
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New part affected by chickens
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Chipmunk holes
 
susan stone
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Location: My garden SW Mich (zone 6a), my kids' - to whom I'm an advisor -Chicago (zone 5)
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Hi Simon,
Thanks a lot for your clear answer to my questions about planting the hugelkultur - your method makes sense and should help in the spring. Good luck on your hugel (sorry about the chickens) and I look forward to more pictures.
Susan
 
Simon Johnson
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Just a little update here for you guys.

It is Nov. 1st and we had some snow last night. It got down to about 28F or 30F. The wind was coming from a north easterly direction and the hugel did its job marvellously. The north and east sides on the outer part are covered in snow. The outer west side has some snow. The inner part has no snow on the north and east sides! The inner west side has a little snow. It was about 9:30am when I took the pictures, mostly cloudy with a little sun out, windy, and still about 32F.

You can clearly see how the height of the hugel is acting as a wind barrier. It also looks like the dense planting helped to keep some frost/snow off. In the picture of the inside you can see the top west corner is melting snow off from the morning sun shining on it. I am pretty excited about how well this turned out so far. I will continue to observe as it gets colder and snowier and see what happens. I can only imagine how well this will work with some more soil piled up and some mature plants covering the entire thing. The inside will stay much warmer with a dense planting completely covering the soil.

Awesome stuff here so far!
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North and east sides covered in snow
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North west side with less snow on planted area
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Inside U with no snow on north and east sheltered sides
 
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