Win a copy of The Ethical Meat Handbook this week in the Food Choices forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • r ranson
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Anne Miller
  • Burra Maluca
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Mike Haasl
stewards:
  • James Freyr
  • paul wheaton
  • Jocelyn Campbell
master gardeners:
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • thomas rubino
  • Carla Burke
  • Greg Martin

Clarifying Hugelkultur for a newbie

 
Posts: 16
Location: Kimberley, BC (East Kootenays), Zone 3b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here are two of the Hugel beds I made in late August.

Because they are in someone's yard, I made them relatively flat, so that they look like raised beds. I dug down at least a foot when I was creating them.
You can see the difference between them - both were planted with clover and alfalfa, but the first was topped with manure (and perhaps more heavily watered).
IMG_0042.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_0042.JPG]
IMG_0043.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_0043.JPG]
 
Posts: 58
Location: Oregon Zone 8b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Geoffrey Haynes wrote:Here are two of the Hugel beds I made in late August.

Because they are in someone's yard, I made them relatively flat, so that they look like raised beds. I dug down at least a foot when I was creating them.
You can see the difference between them - both were planted with clover and alfalfa, but the first was topped with manure (and perhaps more heavily watered).



Looks good! Still trying to source some quality manure here preferably from an organic farm.
I'm wondering about alfalfa. I see in some articles people start with potatoes, some alfalfa, and others. Does one have a benefit over the other, or are they season dependent? I saw one video where the alfalfa was chopped and folded back into the bed, why do this?
Does it have something to do with fertilizing the soil faster, more nitrogen?
 
Geoffrey Haynes
Posts: 16
Location: Kimberley, BC (East Kootenays), Zone 3b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The clover/alfalfa is for the nitrogen (maybe extra important because wood is said to absorb nitrogen). I've seen it dug into the bed - probably the same video. Don't know if it's better to do it that way or go the no-till route.

It's not the time of year for potatoes here. We are entering the frost season soon, followed by winter in another 6 weeks. Temperatures are dipping down to just above freezing even though it's still been hot here in the day (25C or more). But maybe in the spring time. Potatoes are resilient, and I assume they'd break up the soil, and leave behind organic material, especially if you leave some of them unharvested. Radishes can have the same effect and I planted some of them because they grow very quickly.

I also wanted to grow beets. I have read that the roots can extend downwards to 11 feet! Maybe not here, but they'd bring some nutrients from down below, and mix the layers.

As for manure, how about any place that has horses, or cattle, that are allowed to roam freely and eat grass? That's probably close to organic, even if not certified.
 
Posts: 16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have a related question:
We're thinking of starting a hugelkultur plot - since we live in a rainforest, rotting wood is a plentiful resource, and the banks should create some good sheltered microclimate zones.

Therein lies the rub - we live in a rainforest. We have 4000mm of rain a year, and several times a year have weather events that deliver 300mm of rain in 24-48 hours. Fortunately our volcanic soil is very free draining, but unless there is constant ground cover you can end up with erosion city.

Newly-built hugelkultur mounds would seem to be rather vulnerable to erosion from heavy rain. Even if your first cover crop is radishes there's a 2-3 week window of exposed soil.
Since we would be removing the sod (topsoil is a valuable commodity around here), I had thought about laying it atop the mounds grass-side out rather than the recommended turf-down, in order to provide some resistance to rain. However, this creates competition (grass) for our plantings and increases the odds of gores and blackberry getting a start on the mounds.

Can anyone see other pros and cons?

We do have a semi-guaranteed drier period in Feb-March, but watering new beds would be a bit of a strain as we wouldn't have much water pressure at that site.

Richard
 
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
97
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Welcome to permies Richard
We're getting a bit of an NZ contingent! Excellent, our cunning plan for NZ world domination is coming along nicely
Where are you? I'm not going to take a punt, since 'volcanic, high rainfall, bush' could be all sorts of places...
My rainfall's not nearly as high as yours, but I feel really uncomfortable leaving soil exposed, especially on a hill...
I've found brassicas are a fast, strong grower, along with daikon, silverbeet, borage and the many, many things that were obviously just hanging about in the soil.
Of all the things I'd try to keep away from my beds, grass is top of the list. The again, I'm biased against the stuff unless it's delivered in clipping form.

On another track, my hugekultur bed is waaay smaller than the traditional design: probably 500mm high, with the thick trunk slices slightly buried.
I've taken my particular situation into account and modified it to my conditions.
 
bill archer
Posts: 58
Location: Oregon Zone 8b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Do you cover your hugelkultur bed? We got a late start and it probably won't be "ready" another week. It's beginning to drizzle and fog here, and a 20% chance of rain.
Once covered with manure/topsoil, won't medium to heavy rain wash all our hard work away? Would covering it with tarp/canopy that is a few feet high be OK? Could this also help keep rising heat in?
 
pollinator
Posts: 11694
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
901
cat forest garden fish trees chicken fiber arts wood heat greening the desert
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I covered my hugelkultur with chipper mulch and 3 inches of rain in one hour did not wash them away.

 
Posts: 39
Location: Upstate New York, Zone 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jaimee,

You can use a sickle or scythe instead of a weed whacker. Check Craigslist's free section for rocks or stones, often people have piles on their property they want to give away.
 
Posts: 16
Location: Oklahoma Zone 7A
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am also a newbie to Hugelkultur. I started reading about it almost a year ago, then tried to make a Hugel bed last winter. I used pecan logs from a tree that had to be cut way back. They were a little over three feet long and many were easily two feet in diameter. I basically stacked them and put smaller branches and twigs and some straw in the holes, then threw a couple wheelbarrows of soil on top.
Eventually this will compost, but I fear it will be a long time coming. That's okay. I plan to have time to wait!

The good thing is I have access to lots of dead tree limbs and plenty of leaves so am ready to take the wonderful knowledge and advice I read here and do it again. Differently.

I found y'all through looking for information about Hugelkultur and have lurked around for months, learning and reading about all kinds of things. I think it's time for me to come out and 'play'. I found so much more than I was looking for!

Oh, I live in Oklahoma, USA. Zone 7a...or 6b, depending on which information you look at.
 
Geoffrey Haynes
Posts: 16
Location: Kimberley, BC (East Kootenays), Zone 3b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here are the beds in the front yard of my friend's house.

They're not super big but I wanted them to look attractive in someone's front yard. The wood is buried maybe a foot deep. The one in the back is maybe two feet high, and has a swale in the back.

Geoff
IMG_0179.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_0179.jpg]
 
steward
Posts: 30331
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sepp Holzer showing how to really do hugelkultur in style - along with a LOT of examples of great success ...


 
Posts: 318
Location: South Central Kansas
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
From what I have learned over the years is this:

A hugel garden required a trench.
A hugel beet does not.

For any hugel to work effectively it must have certain dimensions as well as construction.

Generally you want it about 6-8 feet long, about 4-6 feet high, and about 4 feet wide.

The side slope about 53 degrees if you can do it.

Very long ones make it hard to maintain and harvest. Short ones won't hold enough water.

No trench means less water capture during wet periods.

Too small and you have to water more often. Too tall and you have maintenance issues.

If you do not have enough plain soil on the surface, plants roots will not be happy.

8 to 12 inches of surface soil would be best.

The trench is like a saucer under a pot. Bigger (aka deeper) the trench the more water the saucer can hold )and the longer you go between waterings.)

My trench is about 6 inches deep or maybe 8 at best. Couldn't get through the hardpan.

And it used 1,000's of gallons of water the first year because it was both hot composting and trench not deep enough.

Many say the trench should be at least 3-5 feet deep.

 
Kai Walker
Posts: 318
Location: South Central Kansas
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Note: My hugelgarden shrank 35% after the 1st year.
Most will shrink to some degree.

________________________________________________________________
|                                                               |
|                                                               |
|                                                               |
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
IIII                                                         iiii
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
|                                                               |
|                                                               |
|                                                               |
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mine is in the above shape
the small i's are access points to the middle for watering and maintenance/harvesting.

I have dirt on the ends but too hard to make them here.

I can fill the center with water and it will slowly leech out into the mounds surrounding it like a reservoir.

The width of the dirt is about 6 feet wide (top and bottom sections).
Middle is 18" wide and once down into it, it is at ground level for the surrounding ground.


I used few logs as the property owner didn't want a lot of big logs in it. I also used a lot of wood chips instead of branches and logs.

Here is what it kinda looks like in the beginning. A bit different later one but similar:
The curve is intentional. Mine acts like a swale to catch water running down towards it.



IMG_1276.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1276.JPG]
 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 30331
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I wish to strongly discourage the thing where people make a trench and put the hugelkultur in the trench.  

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least six feet tall.   Preferentially 7 feet tall or taller.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to have very steep sides.  75 degrees to 80 degrees.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least 20 feet long.

I wish to strongly encourage wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + mulch.   I see too much of wood-on-wood - and I wish to discourage that.

https://permies.com/t/96953/making-quick-foot-tall-hugelkultur

I wish to discourage the use of "nails" in hugelkultur.  The stick ends up wicking water out of the hugelkultur.

I think the video is fun - but there are a lot of things in it that I wish they expressed differently.






 
pollinator
Posts: 530
104
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

paul wheaton wrote:I wish to strongly discourage the thing where people make a trench and put the hugelkultur in the trench.  

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least six feet tall.   Preferentially 7 feet tall or taller.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to have very steep sides.  75 degrees to 80 degrees.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least 20 feet long.

I wish to strongly encourage wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + mulch.   I see too much of wood-on-wood - and I wish to discourage that.

https://permies.com/t/96953/making-quick-foot-tall-hugelkultur

I wish to discourage the use of "nails" in hugelkultur.  The stick ends up wicking water out of the hugelkultur.

I think the video is fun - but there are a lot of things in it that I wish they expressed differently.








I understand your reasoning on all of those encouragements except for the trench one. Why do you think that they are less than desirable? Seems like a good technique, especially for very dry places.
 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 30331
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If the soil is sandy, it makes zero difference, other than added work.

If the soil is clay, then you are creating an anaerobic scenario - that will be many flavors of toxic.

The wood will rot and hold the water aerobically.

Tall hugelkultur will hold enough water.   And the height will help with reducing the desiccating wind.

 
Kai Walker
Posts: 318
Location: South Central Kansas
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

paul wheaton wrote:I wish to strongly discourage the thing where people make a trench and put the hugelkultur in the trench.  

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least six feet tall.   Preferentially 7 feet tall or taller.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to have very steep sides.  75 degrees to 80 degrees.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least 20 feet long.

I wish to strongly encourage wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + mulch.   I see too much of wood-on-wood - and I wish to discourage that.

https://permies.com/t/96953/making-quick-foot-tall-hugelkultur

I wish to discourage the use of "nails" in hugelkultur.  The stick ends up wicking water out of the hugelkultur.

I think the video is fun - but there are a lot of things in it that I wish they expressed differently.



The trench was to retain excess water thereby giving more time for wood to absorb it. Wood especially hardwood takes a long time to saturate.
Kind of works like a swale of sorts. And creates an artificially higher water table (I have hardpan and heavy clay where I live and ground water doesn't stay long).
My trench was down to the hardpan, about 4-6 inched I think. Just enough to form a kind of 'saucer' to hold water from rain runoff and allow more time for the wood to absorb water.

As I was making mine, I took 11-5 gal buckets of wood chips and filled them with water. Left them all winter. Took most all winder to fully saturate just wood chips. And that was no where near enough to use for anything significant. Just testing a theory. I did use them in the hugel though along with other material.

Why 20 feet long? Maintenance and such can be extra work.

And if you have to tear down a hugel to address a problem then 20 feet long is a bit of work. Mine though is nearly 30 feet long but that is because of the property owner not wanting a bunch of small hills all over the place (lawnmower guy would charge extra for mowing).

I have to tear out 25% of mine to remove Johnson Grass roots. We pull the tops to slow their progress but have to remove the roots by hand.
A longer hugel would require tearing down a lot more of it. Had mine been 6-8 foot lengths I could do a tear down, fix, and rebuild without disturbing adjacent portions as much if at all. I may have to tear down 1/2 of mine. Won't know till I get started. And 20 feet vs a smaller 'contained' 6-8 foot one is a LOT less work to do.
So I have to tear down additional amounts to ensure I get all the roots.

The property owner wants me to use a herbicide. Either I fix it or HE will his way.

Also if a hugel is used as a swale or berm, 20 feet+ can be a big problem if it gives way. At least with a smaller one, most likely any stress would damaged only one of the smaller ones. Sort of like a swale relief valve in a way.

The center of my pic is an access walkway and not a growing medium in the hugelgarden. Makes it darned easy to weed, plant, and harvest that way.
My pic is also preliminary and the garden was far from being complete.

7 feet tall and most people might need a ladder to do anything on top. At least with 6 feet or less you can use a small step stool for safety reasons.
Some places have 'rules' against building mounds over a certain height.
Or anything for that matter.
It took 17 tons of material just to build my hugel 'box' at less than 1/2 height. 5 1/2 months too. Back breaking work (and a lot of mcdonald's for my kid for his help).

The 53 degree number came from the angle of the slope of the side of the Great Pyramid so as to avoid dirt sliding off the sides.
The actual pyramid measurement is about:  The 51° 50' 40" angle translates into the decimal system as 51.844444° or 52 degrees. I chose 53 for convenience and a 1deg error margin.
At 70-80 degrees slope, any rain you get will run off very quickly. So would your soil unless you can grow something exceptionally quickly.

Where I am, rain is at a premium in the summer. So a gentler slope is required to slow rain runoff and allow more absorption. And less erosion.

I think they suggested 'nails' to hold the sides until you get a cover crop in place. The 'nails' are not that long as depicted in the video. That was obviously chosen to show the intended shape.
I used them the first year until I got things growing. They rotted mostly in about a year and the cover crop (clover in particular) held the soil.
My water draw was from the hot composting that was taking place not the nails.

I do wonder though. Many pics I see, people make them sloppy meaning they have sticks protruding out of the sides (I think for air?).

Here is a link describing Hugelkultur:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%BCgelkultur

"As of 2017 there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies available regarding the efficacy of the technique.[5] A few university student projects investigate Hügelkultur but have not been published in scientific journals.[5]"
That in interesting for them to state that since Hugel has been around for 100's of years.

You did not discuss the terracing from the video. Your thoughts?

Wiki states using wood chips in the hugel was not advised. I had a 2 year plan for it (owner was trying to sell the property but later changed his mind).

The property owner did not want me to use a lot of logs (not any if he has his way). But I settled for very well rotten ones in the trench to make it last about 2 years or so.
The owner was concerned about the cost of removing it if he sold the property. Easier to remove dirt than logs.

Wiki also states that nutrients can leech out faster if wood chips are used. Mine, if they leeched, would leech into the 'saucer' and stay for use by plants.
And hopefully form the well sought after humus.

Also, my hugel is surrounded by concrete blocks (to keep lawnmower man at bay and to reduce erosion).
I will upload construction pix for review when I get time and a decent internet.

Today we dug a spot on top. Top 2 inches were moist the rest bone dry. Have to pound in some more holes to let water in (soil apparently hydrophobic from last year). But only certain spots seem that way.

In that spot we planted 1 plant and poured in 2 gal of water.
Took about 4-5 min for the water to absorb. So far so good.

I build according to the owner's wishes and what I can get done for free (all materials were free including delivery except I had to go get all those logs and wood chips - gasoline use).

Trench, slope, shape, and height were all for practical reasons.

If I owned the property I might have made it differently.

If I were to make one as you suggest it would take about 100 tons of materials and a year to complete.
Too much for such a short term project. Too much for two people to build by hand.

The only power equipment we used was a small home thin tined rototiller. Rest was shovel, shovel, and shovel some more. We did not even use a chainsaw (mine is broken anyway)

The design I have does work. Looks like a jungle right now.

It was about less than 1/2 as high as you recommended the first year.
WEEDS grew enormously the first year (pigweed to be precise). Owner did not like 9 foot tall or bigger weeds growing on his property and pulled them all out setting my progress back quite a bit.

This year my height decreased by 35% indicating successful decomposition.
Won't see the true results until I tear down part of it later this fall.

I would have loved to make a keyhole or letter 'E' style hugel but water issues prevented it (needed that swale to catch water running across the lawn to that part of the property and not form a mini lake that could give way and damage neighbor's property behind the garden).

My placement catches a lot of that water and allows for a relief area if too much water accumulates thereby reducing the risk of swale failure.


Posting a few pics for people to get the idea.

Can't afford to do them all right now (hotspot data limits).
IMG_1257-shitty-job-but-SOMEBODY-had-to-do-it.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1257-shitty-job-but-SOMEBODY-had-to-do-it.JPG]
IMG_1258-sheep-poo.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1258-sheep-poo.JPG]
IMG_1275.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1275.JPG]
IMG_1316.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1316.JPG]
IMG_1365-barn-scrapings-goat-poo.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1365-barn-scrapings-goat-poo.JPG]
The-tall-plants-in-the-hugel-are-9-feet-tall.JPG
[Thumbnail for The-tall-plants-in-the-hugel-are-9-feet-tall.JPG]
Summer 2018
This-is-how-dry-the-ground-was-when-you-see-plants-9-feet-tall-in-the-hugel.JPG
[Thumbnail for This-is-how-dry-the-ground-was-when-you-see-plants-9-feet-tall-in-the-hugel.JPG]
Typical summer time
 
Kai Walker
Posts: 318
Location: South Central Kansas
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Note: we did not penetrate the clay/hardpan so water will not sit and become anaerobic.
It will be absorbed by the wood or leeched out slowly through the surrounding topsoil.

It is there to hold water longer not store water underground.
Wood was to store water.

It *can* store water is surrounding soil is saturated but it too would be saturated if no trench.

We punched about 60 holes in it to ensure that it was not anaerobic. It wasn't except for one single hole and now it isn't anymore. It also lets air into the root zone. We did have 12 inches of flooding rains last month.

Holes fill in by themselves after a rain or two.

Please explain why you believe clay is toxic?

Anaerobic usually releases ammonia gas (stinks to high heaven too).
Introduce a little air and the bad bacteria die quickly and good bacteria multiple quickly.
A see-saw effect in a way.

When wood is buried naturally in the forest, does it become anaerobic?
If it does then why are plants growing over it?

Just a bit confused here.

 
Kai Walker
Posts: 318
Location: South Central Kansas
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Going to try and upload those construction pix today if I can.

Sepp Holzer recommends you do dig a trench about 3+ feet deep.

I wonder why the disparage between he and paul in their instructions.
 
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford. Tiny ad:
Learn Permaculture through a little hard work
https://wheaton-labs.com/bootcamp
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!