• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Hugelkultur in arid or semiarid climates

 
Lucia Moreno
Posts: 50
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi,

I'm looking for experiences of hugelkultur in arid or semiarid lands, be they successful or not. I mean places where decomposition is very slow, which could argually compromise the idea of decaying wood supporting water retention and fertility.

Thanks,
Lucía
 
Tim Southwell
Posts: 116
Location: Hamilton, MT
4
bee chicken forest garden
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lucia,
We live in SW Montana... hardiness zone 4-5... annual precipitation 9-12" annually.

We built our 1100' Hugel Bed in the spring of 2013 (see our Facebook page and associated pics for detail). It was constructed with no supplemental irrigation. We built it in a serpentine fashion with the main direction running N to S as it was a feature running along our property boundary. You can see it on google earth if you search under 364 Mccarthy Loop, Hamilton MT 59840. We used aged cottonwood logs as the bulk of our wood supply.

Upon initial construct, we seeded with annual vegetable varieties. We saw good performance of squash, watermelon and beets, poor performance on tomatoes and nothing much else. Much of the growth was on the east side. Due to poor performance, we did not accumulate much biomass to cover the HB... this was a problem moving forward.

In 2014, we seeded sunflower, clover, squash, combined with native mustard varieties and yarrow which were pioneering the beds. Since we didn't have much biomass going into the growing season, I invested in erosion blankets of aspen fiber to blanket the beds to shade the surface area and hold moisture. This was a flop, as the blankets suppressed plant growth, which led to increased maintenance to promote growth through having to cut holes in blanket where we saw growth.

The west sides of our HB were getting hammered by the sun. I learned that exposed soil temps can reach in excess of 120 degrees with 90 degree air temps... also at the same time, 80% of any rainfall on the surface evaporates before being absorbed into the bd itself due to heat.

This winter we opted to cover the entire run in a thick, interlocking wood mulch... about 4" thick. We are busy in the greenhouse presently seeding perennial drought tolerant varieties of pollinator / fragrant species (lavender, sage, chives, thyme, oregano, verbena, lemon balm, coneflower, big brush sage, etc along with self-seeding sunflower). This will eliminate any sun drying out the beds. we will transplant the starts into the beds in April / May, and we are planning to introduce an irrigation option over overhead spray from our adjacent pasture. We will suffer some Nitrogen depletion as the chips degrade but we will oversee with clover to try and counteract the loss.

Let me know how I can address any questions you may have... where are you located?


 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lucia: Check out this thread where I ask this question to Zach Weiss who works directly with Sepp.

http://www.permies.com/t/37601/sepp-holzer/Hugles-HOT-Drylands

Basically many climates that are arid, especially arid and hot, hugelkulture can turn into more of a death mound. In Phoenix, I would never construct an above ground hugel as it defies my observations of this climate type. We get 7.5" rain but we experience 90" of evaporation! Exposing more soil to the dryness and heat of my climate is inappropriate. It would be akin to a very cold climate adding shade in the wrong place so that snow takes longer to melt and the growing season is shortened even more.

The one place where mounds (not necessarily hugels) might be appropriate in drylands are where there is also a lot of wind and cold. Then the mounds could create windbreaks for veggies and a warm sun arc for an earlier planting season.

Let us know where you are and what kind of temperatures and rainfall you're looking at, that will help.
 
Lucia Moreno
Posts: 50
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you both,

Jennifer, I was aware of the thread you mentioned but thanks any way.

We get way more rain than you: about 35 inches. Still, a cow died from my neighbor some months ago and the corpse remained there. The skin became leather naturally. Dead animals don't decompose, they momify.

We are not planning to do hugel, but I have a friend who has and is getting frustrated so I wanted to do some research for him. After reading a few things, I wanted to ask for experiences to make sure we were not missing anything.

My friend's hugel was built about 10 years ago. It needs irrigation and the soil is dead. He has done hugel with success in other climates, so there's that.

Thanks!
Lucía
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lucia - thanks for your posts - when I read about the cow I thought to my self, 'yep - that's exactly what happens here - things mummify instead of decompose'. I think it just goes to show that not all permaculture techniques are appropriate for all climate types and that when in doubt, go back to observation.

I hope your friend tries some sunken hugel pits. Best of luck!

 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've done them in hot/dry climates, but it's different than a mound. We make terraces on contour, like a swale, but then bury the organic matter on the downhill slope to help store the water. Then cover with excavated soil and mulch.

http://velacreations.com/howto/forest-garden-howto/

Mine are super green right now, even though they haven't had a drop of water since October, and we're in the dry season. so, they are working. During the rains last summer, the swales/terraces caught a lot of water, and I think that's what is stored there.

So, for my climate (hot, arid, dry winds), we don't make mounds, but we do bury organic matter in sunken areas with a swale to capture the water. They were super productive last year, which was the first year of the experiment, providing tons of food for us and animals. If I had the money and ability, I'd terrace my entire property like this.

We use pigs to do the digging and leveling for us, chickens to spread the compost. We make the rock walls and plants the trees, but everything else is pretty hands off. We did install an irrigation system with deep water pipes for the trees, and drip lines for surface stuff. This is fed from a rain catchment tank. We only irrigate during the dry season, and only in the warmer months, like March-July. I will see if it requires less irrigation this year, so far, it hasn't needed any, and everything is doing well, so I'm hoping it will continue. If I can get away from needing irrigation, I can expand this to a much larger area.
 
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic