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Is it possible to pack wood too tightly in a hugel?

 
Frank Brentwood
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Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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I'm in the process of laying out a few hugels that will be used primarily as low-height beds for pollinator-friendly landscaping plants.

Since this is my first shot at hugels, I thought that I would try some experimentation. I will be doing some beds with horizontal wood placement/arrangement and some with vertical wood.

I find myself wondering if it is possible to pack the wood into a bed too tightly. I think this is less of a concern with the horizontal wood than with the vertical, but I still have the question.

Most of the wood I will be using has been cut in the past year or so and has not yet started to rot. If I pack it in too tightly, will that stop the roots from penetrating into the bed sufficiently?

Or am I letting the 80% thinking / 20% working ratio get too far into the thinking side of things?

 
Cj Sloane
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Yes. I believe Sepp told Paul that his hugel illustration had too much wood, too close together.
 
Frank Brentwood
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Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Cj Verde wrote:Yes. I believe Sepp told Paul that his hugel illustration had too much wood, too close together.


Okay, so how do I tell how much wood is too much?

Is there a rough guide to wood versus space ratio?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Frank,

Not to contradict Sepp, but I would suggest that it all depends on the goals of the mound (what is called now hugel.) I like up on end packing. The tighter you pack (depending on species and method) the longer it will take to achieve certain aspects these mounds are know for. As a rule of thumb for your "ratio" in the more efficient and faster developing hugel...1/3's between wood, soil/loam, and other additives which in our system includes bones /carrion, charr, and perhaps sand/pea gravel, et al.

Regards,

j
 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Frank,

Not to contradict Sepp, but I would suggest that it all depends on the goals of the mound (what is called now hugel.) I like up on end packing. The tighter you pack (depending on species and method) the longer it will take to achieve certain aspects these mounds are know for. As a rule of thumb for your "ratio" in the more efficient and faster developing hugel...1/3's between wood, soil/loam, and other additives which in our system includes bones /carrion, charr, and perhaps sand/pea gravel, et al.

Regards,

j


Thank you, Jay!

If I were to pack in more wood and less soil/loam with zero other content (no bones or carrion here ), in what direction would I be pushing the mound? I have a pile of trees and branches that I'd rather use than send to a landfill, but my options are limited by room on my suburban lot. But then I don't want to create a bed that is too far out of balance to perform.

I'm figuring that the more wood and the tighter it is packed, the slower it will be to decay, but what does that do to the guts of the hugel? How does it effect things like plant growth and the capacity for the mound to hold water through a dry spell?

As I said above, these beds are for pollinator-friendly landscaping plants, but they will be close to a property line and will be acting as a partial privacy fence so I want to keep them at build height if possible. I'm guessing, perhaps incorrectly, that proper construction will aid in that. Or do hugel mounds stay at a pretty consistent height regardless of interior construction? (As long as there are no huge air pockets enclosed.)
 
Cj Sloane
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Here's a pic of a hugel from Sepp's book (via PermacultureNew so I think it's posted with permission)


It looks like the same ration of wood/soil as in Paul's illustration.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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I have built both ashler mounds and perpendicular...I like the perpendicular as this can be as high as 3 m and terracesed. The can be pack tighter, but I usually follow the formula suggested above for ratios (which can be played with.) You will have to experiment with what you have, as species of wood also makes an impact. Even really tight mounds will decay and hold a tremendous amount of moisture and nutrient...it is only the "crust" that is mixed organic matter (dirt) in that case will the wood is the "sponge" holding the liquid "goodness" of the mound. Many different styles...countless modalities...all seem to have there place....

j
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I agree with Jay C. and would add; The tightness of wood packing will depend mostly on the root structures of the crops you desire to grow in the mound.

I prefer the vertical placement of wood when practical since it allows you to zone the mound for different crops.
Deep root crops will like more spacing between the big wood chunks, which can be between filled with small sticks as spacers then covered with the humus bearing dirt, this allows the deep root plants spaces to sink their roots.
Shallow root crops can have the wood packed in as tight as you want or can, since these roots won't be reaching for the bottom of the mound, this should cause no problems for the root systems.

On my property there are areas where I use horizontal placements, these areas are prone to water run off and my little "coffer dams" help a lot with what would be erosion if I didn't have the mounds oriented to slow the water flows.
 
nancy sutton
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What is an 'ashler mound' ??
 
Dale Hodgins
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In stone masonry, ashlar means the use of square and rectangular faced rock that can have a very small percentage of mortar, due to the uniformity of the material.

My machine packed slash piles don't have enough wood.
 
Bill Bradbury
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I've dug into a couple of my hugels to check on performance and found that any wood not in direct contact with soil was very dry and not decomposing properly. Since then I have paid a lot more attention to mixing the dirt and wood together as I build. Just my 2 cents.
 
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