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Interesting keyhole/hugelkultur design  RSS feed

 
Posts: 1125
Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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chicken dog hugelkultur
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how is your comin along Dave?
 
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First time posting here so I hope I'm doing this right.

This is a really interesting idea. I've been using hugelkultur beds for a few years now and I've also been experimenting with vericomposting trenches as well. This seems like a great way to combine to two. In winter, you could insulate the whole thing with straw or something similar and allow the worms to overwinter. I think I'm going to build something like this. I love gardening experiments!
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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Welcome to the forums Jen!
and that sounds like an awesome experiment, let us know how it goes and take plenty of pics when you do:)
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Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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Here's the update for this African keyhole bed. I have 6 very happy tomatoes in it, a squash with too much shade that's still doing well, and potatoes and sweet potatoes coming up from leftovers in the center composting area. On the south side I also have basil and oregano.

Some things I've learned
1. I should have faced the keyhole part to the south to maximize sun for everybody. This wasn't a dealbreaker though because everything seems quite content and is growing quickly.
2. This is a glorified, round hugelkultur. I'm not sure that the compost in the center is really that big a deal--this is producing as well as my other hugel beds.
3. Aesthetically, these are really nice. Still I prefer long raised beds. These are a lot of work and you can only make them so big because you need to be able to reach into the middle. I am building one more because I can't fit a long bed in one place in the yard. These would be nice for urban gardens where you care about what the yard looks like (we live out in the country). I threw ours together but it can be made a little more attractive quite easily.

The wood I used in the bottom had been buried for a year and then was dug up to put into this bed, so this may not be typical of a first year with fresh wood.
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Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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mix in thyme seeds in the dirt on the walls, and will help keep it cool,and hold dirt together.

or if using cobb, make it a chia pet !
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1125
Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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awesome pics chris, thanks for the update, i still havent put in the beds i was planning to do on this property, other things have been keeping me pretty busy...
 
pollinator
Posts: 10277
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I like it very much!

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Posts: 125
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Like that design of yours.
I'm looking to put keyholes in different areas of my yard. Being in central Texas in a perpetual drought with 100 degree temps, am looking to put some keyholes underneath some crepe myrtles near my shop (where they will provide some partial shade certain times during the day). Have enough rocks around to provide the border, and want to plant butternut squash, malabar spinach (is in the bed to the left now, so will have to re-transplant). Malabar spinach is great for our climate, and grows pretty steadily as a vine. May put in some thyme along the rocks as someone mentioned. May add some beans to promote nitrogen. Oh course will be adding tree limbs, cardboard and such.

Any ideas for other edibles that could grow well in our area in a keyhole would be welcome.
May even try some asparagus and other perennials.
Other spot is by my shop where I'm thinking of putting a rectangle shaped keyhole-ish bed or a wicking bed.
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Chris Dean
Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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Awesome Cal! I didn't know malabar was a vine...I'll have to try that.

My tomatoes are producing well in my keyhole. They do look very very sad because of the heat, but I think some partial shading would help that (thinking about building something over the bed for vines next year). With the tomatoes I have basil and Mexican oregano, both happy.

Do remember regarding our "perpetual drought"--very wet years are possible. Where I am we had 40 inches about 5 years ago, and then of course 10 last year. Just be careful that you don't over accomodate for dry spells so that plants suffer in the wet years.
 
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Chris Dean wrote:Here's the update for this African keyhole bed. I have 6 very happy tomatoes in it, a squash with too much shade that's still doing well, and potatoes and sweet potatoes coming up from leftovers in the center composting area. On the south side I also have basil and oregano.

Some things I've learned
1. I should have faced the keyhole part to the south to maximize sun for everybody. This wasn't a dealbreaker though because everything seems quite content and is growing quickly.
2. This is a glorified, round hugelkultur. I'm not sure that the compost in the center is really that big a deal--this is producing as well as my other hugel beds.
3. Aesthetically, these are really nice. Still I prefer long raised beds. These are a lot of work and you can only make them so big because you need to be able to reach into the middle. I am building one more because I can't fit a long bed in one place in the yard. These would be nice for urban gardens where you care about what the yard looks like (we live out in the country). I threw ours together but it can be made a little more attractive quite easily.

The wood I used in the bottom had been buried for a year and then was dug up to put into this bed, so this may not be typical of a first year with fresh wood.



Beautiful keyhole garden.
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Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I saw the videos on this a couple of years ago, and decided to try it. I don't know why, but the method didn't work for me. The compost basket was too small and dried out totally, so no composting took place, and the sloping soil wouldn't soak in any moisture, so all the water I added, whether in the compost circle or by spraying the soil, just ran off, and nothing grew except my chives and parsley at the bottom of the slope. So last year I pulled out the compost circle and leveled off the soil, and was able to get a fairly good crop of greens (mostly chard and kale), though my carrots never did much growing.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2075
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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hey dj,

I find that some climates benefit from design tweaking. I'm a big fan of those small unfired clay jugs that you bury up to the necks in your bed or garden or planter/pot whatever. You water the jug, and everything else if it's that dry, and the clay releases moisture through the sides of the jug to hydrate the surrounding soil as it dries, a low-tech time-release capsule.
If you can commit to keeping it moist enough, I would make sure you have enough worms in your soil. They do well to condition it so that it holds more moisture.

Even with the increase of moisture in recent years, we do end up with three months with very little rain in the summer, so I do deal with the same issue.

I am using 2'x3.5' skids to make my beds this year. I will get up pics of last year's remnants that I will incorporate into the new one, and post pics of during and after as well as soon as it thaws enough to break ground.

-CK
 
steward
Posts: 4379
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Just wanted to add that when I stacked flat sandstone into retaining walls the bees loved to live in the cracks between the rocks. So you don't have to fill all of the spaces up, make homes for the bees!
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Chris, thanks for the suggestions. I did try in some of my garden beds to use 2l bottles to add water, but still had to fill them at least once a day, and they were only good for one plant. So it worked ok to do that for a larger plant like a squash, but a little harder for small plants like chard etc that I need many plants to make a green smoothy, or salad, or other uses on a daily basis.

I have looked at the idea of the clay water things, but never felt I could spend the money it would take to put one every foot or two in the beds to try to keep the beds moist enough. (It really dries out fast here--the soil can feel moist at 7 am and be dry as a bone by noon! And raised beds are the worst for this, so now I am focusing on putting in sunken beds. A little harder to work around, but at least the soil and mulch stay put.

I have tried mulching my raised beds, only to see all the mulch blow away in the next wind event. I did succeed in holding mulch on one bed, last year, by covering the mulch with a layer of sticks--but by the time the corn got big enough to hold the mulch, the sticks were so entertwined that I couldn't pull them out until after the corn harvest. So I am still looking for answers and trying new things all the time.
 
pollinator
Posts: 419
Location: South West France
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This is one of ours surrounded by tree roots dug up by the pigs. It's about four years old now and I only have to water when I plant :



This is an other one which I'll plant up this year :




 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1125
Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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i really love the first pic Irene, are those roots used as the border?
absolutely beautiful to me, would love to do something like that in a yard/property a little out of the way - might not look too great in town but not like that matters to me if im not living in town, just awesome work though

the second one i bet will look good if you have some plants using it as a trellis, greenery contrasted with weaved wood like that would look cool i think
 
Posts: 634
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I was falling asleep last night and had a flash about a full sized hugelkultur design that I'm supposed to present for a community initiative...

The shape of the bed increases edge (due to the wings / spokes) and it will hopefully act as a deer deterrent too, as they don't like grazing in places where their vision is obscured like it is here.

The bed is hopefully going to be built in Northern Canada so I've shaped it like this to create micro climates (the biggest in the middle obviously).

Thoughts?

p.s. excuse my total lack of artistic talent
Hugel-sm.png
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Hugel Design
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1125
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i realy like it, and i think youll find that you capture more snowfall with that design than if it didnt have the spokes, something that can add up to a significant difference in moisture content of the soil
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I like it too. Keyholes within the horse shoe shelter. I'm afraid it would dry out too much in my climate, but might be worth a try anyway. Thanks for sharing that. I just looked at your drawing again. I really do like it. However, I wonder if it might work better, in a northern area, if the opening is to the south, to form a suntrap and warmer microclimate in the center.

I keep waking up with ideas, too. One idea I have had recently is to make a swale, on contour, and then, just below the swale, make some u-shaped berms, like scallops on a piece of lace. I would scoop out the center of each berm, to make the berm higher, and fill in the center with wood to form a woody terrace. I figure if I plant one fruit tree, with associated guild plants, on each terrace, the swale above and the terrace and berm could help to collect and hold water for the plants.

This idea came, I think, from noticing that scooped out depressions along the highway seem to hold the snow longer and collect rain, and are actually supporting trees, in a barren landscape that is mostly desert scrub and thinly scattered bunch grass otherwise.

Spring is coming! We have been experiencing a bit warmer weather for several days, so the snow is starting to melt. I still have 1 to 2 feet of snow on most of my garden, but several spots where I had piled up sand or formed berms, or where we shoveled paths, are clear now. Yea.

As part of my site analysis, I am watching to see where the snow melts first. So now, after what I am seeing, I have decided to build some higher berms, and add OM on the south facing slopes, to give an area that will hopefully warm up and start growing a bit sooner.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I remember Sepp talking about facing beds toward the NorthWest in cold climates so that the plants have a chance to warm up / defrost before the sun hits them.
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1125
Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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well sepp has more xperience than myself, but i'd say the more sun you can get the better... and plant tougher plants to compensate i guess...
 
Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 4379
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Chia cob pets?
 
Nick Kitchener
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Hey, there could be a market for Paul Wheaton chia pets
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dj niels
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Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I guess the direction of the opening would depend on how far north. In my area, the sun comes up straight east, or even northeast, except in midwinter, when it is too cold to have anything growing outside anyway. By the time the sun gets up high enough to shine over a large berm, the air is warm enough that the plants have already thawed out. But the sun coming into a southfacing keyhole would help warm up the inside of the keyhole bed, in my experience. Our worst winds blow from the west, so a keyhole opening to the west would just let it blow in and freeze or dry out all the plants inside the keyhole, I think.
 
Nick Kitchener
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OK,

I got the go ahead to place one of these on the church grounds to grow food as a community service (we'll give the food to the local food banks, etc)

All I need to do is find a source of wood, soil, and earth moving equipment for free.

Any ideas?
 
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Irene Kightley wrote:This is one of ours surrounded by tree roots dug up by the pigs. It's about four years old now and I only have to water when I plant :



This is an other one which I'll plant up this year :






Interesting, Irene- the first bed combines hugelkultur with stumpery design- fun I'm having some fun going through your blog and flickr pics ..
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Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Nick, where are you situated? If I was doing what you are where I am, I'd be calling arbourists (I don't know what else you'd call tree people) for wood chips (preferably only chips from branches less than 3" in diameter, more inner bark, with its starches and minerals in plant food form, resulting in less need for nitrogen to break down and less to no nitrogen draw-down) and the larger logs (much more harder-to-digest lignin). I've been reading recently that if you use chips that are primarily inner bark (they call these smaller branches ramial wood), you can easily manage a 50/50 soil/chip mix with no major issues (although I have heard a lot about the judicious application of LHF (liquid human fertilizer, or urine) at need, with blood meal being a close second in places where disposing of conspicuous jugs of yellow liquid might prove problematic. If you have the leisure of time, I suppose you could use a ground-cover that was comprised of mainly nitrogen-fixers and bioaccumulators with deep or extensive (or both) root systems.

What are you planning on planting?

-CK
 
Cohan Fulford
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The comments on inner bark are interesting- we cut up a lot of deadwood for firewood, leaving us some sawdust, of course, but also lots of bark bits of branches etc, plus there is a lot more of that sort of material available to me in the bush, so I've been thinking of ways to use it.. even mulch, maybe?
 
Chris Kott
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Especially mulch, in my opinion. I am not 100% guaranteeing that digging in 50% ramial wood chips will work in all cases without needing fertilizer, and I am not positive how much inner bark makes up the outer barky bits you describe, but you run much less risk of killing things in the worst of circumstances if they sit on top and only decompose as they come in contact with the soil, and as microbes and soil critters migrate to them. All my observations are anecdotal, and after the fact, I might add (when I try to figure out why my chard is so freaking huge, or why everything in one corner of my hugelbeet up and died and started hosting some nasty yellow amorphous fungus). If you are giving it some time to establish itself, just seed with a soil-building and conditioning mix and chop and drop, and if you need results pronto, make sure you have lots of organic nitrogen to add.

-CK
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
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Thanks, Chris, for the thoughts. Worry not! If I kill some potatoes I will not blame you I'm more likely to keep that sort of material as mulch/pathway coverings etc, or at the layer immediately on top of wood, rather than mixing it into the main rooting zone anyway.
Seems like it might be a good idea to get some rotted manure from my neighbours anyway for the first year or two. I don't mind doing some setup of beds that could take a couple of years to mature, but I do want some immediate gratification areas for annual vegetables...
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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I would seriously suggest experimentation with the specific material you're working with, especially growing potatoes, as you will be disturbing the soil anyway at harvest, and it will give you a chance to examine what's going on at the root levels under different conditions.

-CK
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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I will try a few things and see what works/where. I could probably get some old hay from neighbours also, as mulch, but I feel we have more than enough good rodent habitat as it is.. Also a fair bit of leaves and some longer grass that can be raked, so I should find lots of stuff, plus grass clippings in summer.
I have some piles of barkey stuff that has sat for a couple of years, so there is some good black stuff in there, still lots of unbroken down woody bits too, though...
Here's one of the areas I'm planning to do something:
http://www.permies.com/t/22904/forest-garden/Project-Existing-Open-Woodland-Alberta
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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It depends on how much room you've been allocated, but when you have something established, have you thought about getting a donation and education drive going? You could tell people how it works, and how its better than just sticking seeds in the ground, and could then solicit them for old hay (which is gold) and other organic input. If its something that you think would work, you could turn the whole hugelbeet into an opportunistic vermiculture operation. All you would have to do would be design for a couple or more tubes of some sort (I like square towers built of crossing pairs of branch sections, or unfired clay tubes) to provide chutes for your donated kitchen scraps and some of those wood chips that go right to the heart of the pile, and puts the resultant worm castings right in the root zone. The worms will just migrate to the fresh food. You could even sneak some BSFL into one of the tubes. While worms generally don't like the enzymes related to the presence of the actual larvae, they love larvae leavings. It's like prepping your worm feed.

Don't know how far you'll be willing or allowed to go, but good luck.

-CK
 
Cohan Fulford
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I'm surrounded by farms, almost all of which have a surplus of hay, so if I decide to brave the mouse explosion , it would be no problem getting some. (there are already lots of mice and voles, the hay would give them excellent shelter; we have one part-time outdoor cat, but he is too busy patrolling the property for the neighbour's cats to hunt much anymore..lol..this is very dangerous country for cats, so I will absolutely not be getting any more outdoor cats)
The worm tube idea is interesting, something I will need to look into more..
 
Nick Kitchener
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Chris Kott wrote:Nick, where are you situated? If I was doing what you are where I am, I'd be calling arbourists (I don't know what else you'd call tree people) for wood chips (preferably only chips from branches less than 3" in diameter, more inner bark, with its starches and minerals in plant food form, resulting in less need for nitrogen to break down and less to no nitrogen draw-down) and the larger logs (much more harder-to-digest lignin). I've been reading recently that if you use chips that are primarily inner bark (they call these smaller branches ramial wood), you can easily manage a 50/50 soil/chip mix with no major issues (although I have heard a lot about the judicious application of LHF (liquid human fertilizer, or urine) at need, with blood meal being a close second in places where disposing of conspicuous jugs of yellow liquid might prove problematic. If you have the leisure of time, I suppose you could use a ground-cover that was comprised of mainly nitrogen-fixers and bioaccumulators with deep or extensive (or both) root systems.

What are you planning on planting?

-CK



I'm located in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I've heard Paul Wheaton go on and on about hugel beds made from wood chips providing the perfect mega farm for pill bugs. I'm planning on doing it with solid wood logs. By the time I practically get this bed constructed, it'll be too late in this growing season so Nitrogen draw down is not a huge deal. I'm planning on planting a lot of legumes in the mound as well.

There's a new sub division going in nearby this summer and they'll be bulldozing mature forest for this so getting some wood might not be too problematic. I'll need to find out what they do with the excess soil too come to think of it...

 
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Just a thought Nick, if you thought to optimize sunlight perhaps opening up one side more than this original design to orient the interior to the southern sunlight might be advantageous ?
A plan for further future development of a domed green house in the middle would be pretty sweet : )

Also I responded to your thread on seed sources for your project here http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/reply/0/22309
 
Posts: 101
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Has anyone thought of doing this using a slightly larger hollow central core for composting humanure directly? As long as the bed contains the right plants and is stacked stone/urbanite, the emptied humanure is covered with cover material...could this work? A high surrounding bed would hide the central tube contents and keep the high nitrogen bottom material from burning roots, while providing airflow to the bed. Any ideas?
 
Posts: 148
Location: Houston, Tesas
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Jennifer Jennings wrote:Has anyone thought of doing this using a slightly larger hollow central core for composting humanure directly? As long as the bed contains the right plants and is stacked stone/urbanite, the emptied humanure is covered with cover material...could this work? A high surrounding bed would hide the central tube contents and keep the high nitrogen bottom material from burning roots, while providing airflow to the bed. Any ideas?



That's kinda the direction that I have been planning, but not with direct humanure. I really think, you want at least 1 year composted and I, myself, will take it a bit further and Bokashi process, before composting. Making the keyhole concept larger, utilizing the keyhole design as a single part and multiplying into full or partial mandala(s). Plenty of wood in the bottom, lasagna-layering with composted humanure & vermicompost, urine/LAB innoculated bio-char and a good concentration of Forest Bacteria & Fungi, chop & drop and soil. I think, the size of the central keyhole feeding core would somewhere between 24-30", maybe it could be dual-chambered, so the inside tube/chamber could accept the humanure, outer tube/sleeve would be for Bokashi, compost, whatever...

staff edit to fix formatting error -r
 
Jennifer Jennings
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You got me thinking on that, Ollie... maybe the outside ring could be as simple as dry cover material (wood chips, ground paper, straw, whatnot), and the inner core fresh humanure. The outer core could prevent leaching in a heavy rain, and with a lid on the central core, I doubt you'd get much leaching at all. Throw some red worms in there and it may be all good - and no need to have composting piles, which would remove one more step in the process. Am I wrong in my thinking, anyone?
 
dj niels
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Jennifer, that is an interesting idea. It does seem, though, that at least two such areas would be needed, so one pile could rot down while the other was being added to. I have done humanure composting, using bales of straw or old hay around the piles, to help insulate from the winter cold and absorb any run-off moisture. These curved mounds would also require a lot more space to work around them, I think.

Nick, the more I think about it, the more I like your design. A few weeks ago I actually started drawing out a similar curved berm design to protect a winter chicken coop from cold winds and, with boards and clear or opaque fiberglass panels,from the roof of the coop to the top of the berm, create a "greenhouse" of sorts for a winter chicken forage yard. (My 'girls' were forced to spend the last 3 or 4 months cooped up in our sunken greenhouse when the snow got so deep it covered up their access door. Now the snow is gone and they are enjoying the freedom of their fenced run again. But I am trying to plan something better to be ready for the next winter.)
 
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5 Ways to Transform Your Garden into a Low Water Garden
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