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Herbal Hugel Spiral of Randomness!

 
Nicole Alderman
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I was walking in my front “lawn,” and realized that the small ugly stump in the middle of a raised area could be turned into a herb spiral. The only problem being that we don’t have any extra money or good soil to donate to the cause, let alone building material to make nice rock walls.

But, then I realized I have lots of other junk that I could turn into the walls, like flower pots, a few cinder blocks, random rocks we’ve dug up, and even some metal food trays my husband brought home from work. At first I was just going to make the walls out of plastic flower pots filled up with soil from around a cedar stump we’ve been digging out. But then I decided I really don’t want my plants growing in plastic if I can help it. So, I’m just using old glass, metal, stone and ceramic things I’ve found on my property.

As for soil, well, we’ve got a lot of firewood that we didn’t have time to stack last summer, and being as we live in the great, rainy northwest, it has all rotted and turned fungal. Rotting, fungel wood sounds just perfect for a hugel mound!

I started this project yesterday, and so far I have laid down empty poultry feed bags and old grocery bags to smother the weeds. On top of that I’ve laid my random wall pieces, and put rotting firewood down where the soil will be.

As I have more time to finish this project, I’ll post more updates and pictures.

If you notice anything I that looks like a bad idea, or could be improved, please tell me!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Nicole Alderman
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Current, very rough draft of what herbs to place where in the spiral.

(And if you're wondering about the lamp post in the earlier picture, it was a bird-feeder flower pot we'd gotten years ago when we rented. I figured, if nothing else, it could hold up the herb spiral. Maybe I could plant a trellising/climbing herb in it. Are there climbing, preferably perennial, herbs?)
herb spiral.jpg
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Nicole Alderman
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Well, Herbal Hugel Spiral of Randomness has been put on hold since I read that cinder blocks might leach nasties into the plants growing in it. The main point of growing my own food is to avoid the toxic nasties! Are cinder blocks actually bad? Is what I'm using cinder blocks or concrete blocks? Since I didn't buy them (they came with the property), I have no idea what they are. Can anyone tell?

Anyway, I'm at an impasse here. Anyone have any knowledge or suggestions? Thanks!
 
Landon Sunrich
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Personally. I think that set up looks fine. I mean how much gick can be contained in one brick or one sheet pan? A sheet pans worth of gick. It'll take at least a decade or two to rust out that much and then it gets diffused and you only have to worry about the bit you're pickin' at the moment.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Hmmm, that's a good point, Landon. Maybe I will just stick with the cinder blocks. They sure are convenient... and free! As for the trays, I'm pretty sure they are stainless steel, as they've been out in the elements for over a year with no sign of rust. Not that rust bothers me. It's just more iron in the soil, right? Or, is there something I don't know?
 
Judith Browning
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Hmmm, that's a good point, Landon. Maybe I will just stick with the cinder blocks. They sure are convenient... and free! As for the trays, I'm pretty sure they are stainless steel, as they've been out in the elements for over a year with no sign of rust. Not that rust bothers me. It's just more iron in the soil, right? Or, is there something I don't know?


Maybe if the blocks have been weathered enough nothing will leach. I like your idea a lot...don't stop now
I do covet the trays though for my seed starting flats especially if they are stainless....I search the thrift stores for trays deep enough to be able to water wooden flats of seeds from the bottom....and other potted plants. As hard as I try I still end up with a number of plants in pots year round.
If you are worried about the blocks leaching maybe there is a non edible herb that you could plant there...an aromatic or something.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I found a big stack of "urbanite" on my property, which led to some re-arranging and re-doing of the spiral. My husband also wanted his metal trays back, so I replaced those with urbanite slabs. I think it looks a lot nicer this way, and less like a pile of random garbage, which make both my husband and I happy. I'll probably keep re-arranging the rocks, too. Aside from that, all I need is money for plants and dirt!
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The Front
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The Back
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Slightly Earlier Version, but Better Lighting
 
Landon Sunrich
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Pictures!


Cool, so what is invasive?

I mean as an Exercise in randomness. I see your plan here, posted above. Propagation by layering and rhizomes exists. If it's spreading by seed or spore then it's already too late and you lost your chance to breakout the loppers.
 
Nicole Alderman
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The grocery bags are really just there to smother the grass (DIE GRASS. DIE!!!), and any buttercup that's there. I know they'll still be grass blowing in, I just don't want so much. Thankfully, this area doesn't have the real nasties I have in other areas (morning glory and horsetail), or even salmonberries or blackberries. Considering the amount of wood and dirt, I really probably didn't need to lay down the paper, but some of the areas are shallower than others, since it's built on a hill, and I figured it wouldn't hurt. I have lots of those bags from my husband's random grocery trips where he forgets the cloth bags. The logs are there because I had them to use, they hold moisture, they do hugelkulture miracles (right? ), and they take up space I'd otherwise have to dig/buy dirt to fill.
 
Michael Cox
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If you want to suppress grass running back in to the area then surrounding it all with a ring of comfrey might help. The large leaves smother grass and stop it spreading back in again. I've used it this way around fruit trees to good effect. I'd be thinking about planting it about 18 inches outside your ring of cinder blocks.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Hugel Spiral of Randomness is done! ...Well, the structure at least.... I really like how it turned out! So pretty! All it needs now is more herbs and a little more soil. I ended up breaking down and purchasing the organic soil at Lowes and mixing it with some of my own ceder-root-full soil. I'm hoping the cedar won't inhibit the growth too much. Right now my bigest battle is with slugs. I transplanted some chamomile and chevril seedlings I started...and the slugs consummed almost all of them. I'm going to wait longer to transplant the marjoram, dill, parsley and the rest of the chamomile until they are larger. I have no idea if the chives or green onion seeds I planted will grow, or if they will also get consumed by slugs. I have ducks, but they don't seem to be winning the battle. Right now, I'm applying my husband's coffee grounds as he produces them, and begging him to steal the coffee grounds from work.

So far my mound has, from top spiraling to bottom: Lavender, Sage, lovage, thyme, green onions (maybe they'll grow), tarragon, chamomile, lovage, chervil, and chives.

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From the Front
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From the Side
 
elle sagenev
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I think it looks beautiful! I realize you're pretty done but I use a lot of "leaching" materials and we've decided to throw biochar in to help with any toxins that might get leached.
 
Nicole Alderman
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elle sagenev wrote:I think it looks beautiful! I realize you're pretty done but I use a lot of "leaching" materials and we've decided to throw biochar in to help with any toxins that might get leached.


Thank you! I will see if I can procure/make some biochar to help with the leeching. Thank you for the idea! Do you make your own biochar, and do you have any tips? Thanks again!
 
Corky Love
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My lovage patch grows thick and tall! Place accordingly.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Clover Love wrote:My lovage patch grows thick and tall! Place accordingly.


Thank you, I was reading about that! I'm hoping that by placing it on the eastern side, at the bottom next to the interior wall, it won't be shading anything that wouldn't already be shaded by the spiral itself. At least, that's what I hope! I also hope it will rebound from it's current slug-consumed state. I see new growth coming up, so I hope it will grow faster than the slugs can eat it!

Here's my current blueprint for the herbspiral (yes, I realize I put scallions on the north side where they likely wouldn't do well. That's what happens when I forget to check growing conditions before merrily sowing seeds. I guess we'll find out how well they do!). Some of it is planted, and some not...and a lot of it I sprouted or planted only to have it eaten by slugs. Maybe I should just resign myself to buying a box of sluggo just this once to get the herbs big enough. Coffee grounds and ducks just aren't working well enough!

Any other changes I should make to herb-placement? Any herbs that I really should have there that I haven't thought of?
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elle sagenev
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
elle sagenev wrote:I think it looks beautiful! I realize you're pretty done but I use a lot of "leaching" materials and we've decided to throw biochar in to help with any toxins that might get leached.


Thank you! I will see if I can procure/make some biochar to help with the leeching. Thank you for the idea! Do you make your own biochar, and do you have any tips? Thanks again!


My husband makes it. He uses 2 steel drums to do it. 1 55gal and 1 30 gal. The 30 gal is inside the 55 gal and the 30 gal contains all the wood he's making into biochar while the outer barrel has the fuel for making it. It's not the best set up but it's been working just fine and the drums were free.
 
Suzanne Cornell
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If you steal your husbands beer you can get rid of the slugs just a little in a jar lid does the trick. There is terrible problem in the slug community with alcohol, especially beer, it kills thousands each year.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've thought about putting beer out, but neither of us drink. And, since my husband was formally an alcoholic (clean and sober 11 years!), I really don't want to invite the temptation into the house. We might try using brewers yeast, though, as I've heard that works well, too .
 
Suzanne Cornell
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Jeeze, I hope my joke did not offend you or your husband. Congrats to him for 11 years!
 
Nicole Alderman
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No worries, it's all good! (And, hey, you gave me an opportunity to use that emoticon. I've wanted to have a reason to use it since I joined this forum! )
 
Nicole Alderman
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Here's a two month-ish update. My chevril stayed small and sad and already went to seed. The lovage also hasn't reached immense hights, either. The chamomile, though, wow! I also wonder how much of some of the plants' growth being stunted is due to me mixing in some of my own soil (which came by a cedar tree) in with the potting soil, and how much of it is due to too much/too little sun.

I attached a labeled aerial picture of the spiral. The thyme (and self-seeded Self-Heal) at the bottom right got cropped out. Also, I just remembered I planted tarragon to the right of the chamomile. I better see how it's surviving, being so crowded out by dill, chamomile, and echinacea!

EDIT: Updated the labeling to include the Self-Heal, Thyme, and Tarragon. There's also bittercress and dandelion that seeded themselves throughout the bed, but I pull and eat those as I see them .
Herb Spiral Update.jpg
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Nicole Alderman
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I ran out and checked, and the tarragon is doing well! It's about a foot tall, so yay!

Here's some side views of the herb spiral. All in all, I'm rather pleased with how it looks, and how things are growing. I wish I'd known the chamomile would get so tall and leggy, I thought it was a small plant--I must have gotten the wrong variety (german chamomile). Having almost all my herbs (the mint, oregano, and marjoram are elsewhere) in one spot is also really nice, and the bees and other insects love the plants, too, which can't be bad for the apple and peach trees just a few yards away .
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From the Front
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From the Back Left
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From the Right
 
Sue Rine
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Nice, thanks for sharing Nicole.
 
Nicole Alderman
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You're welcome! I thought about taking another update picture, but things seem to really be winding down now that it's fall. I do plan on taking new pictures in the spring to see how it overwinters and what comes back and what self-seeds. I'm already seeing lots of little chamomile seedlings, so hopefully there will be seeds that overwinter and bring me new, fresh chamomile!

I'm really enjoying the herb spiral. Every day I harvest parsley and chives from it. The borage and sage are doing fantastic (we eat a lot of those borage flowers and I look forward to making a compost tea out it, too!) The rest of the plants aren't quite so prolific yet, but I've enjoyed them all and can't wait until they're big enough for me to harvest from them more.

The only disappointment I've had is with the top of the spiral. Most of the plants do not seem to do well up there. Maybe I planted the wrong things? The lemon balm and basil are small and slow growing. Maybe they just don't like the dry soil? The lavender is pretty happy, though, which makes me happy--I love lavender and this is the first time I've actually gotten a lavender plant to be happy.
 
Sue Rine
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I think you're right that the basil and lemon balm are not liking the dry soil. The artemisia family all like dry soil, but there are also plenty of nice varieties of lavender. The scented geraniums like the dry too, and it intensifies their scent.
 
Julia Winter
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Rosemary! Rosemary likes to be dry.

Thanks for having a link in your signature - that's how I found this!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Julia Winter wrote:Thanks for having a link in your signature - that's how I found this!

You're welcome!

Julia Winter wrote:Rosemary! Rosemary likes to be dry.


I've thought about putting my rosemary up there, but I'm afraid it will die. My mother's rosemary had a habit of dying every few years, and her property is warmer than ours. I had a potted rosemary that lived happily through many winters, only to die the first winter after I planted it in the ground. My rosemary is currently in a large pot on our cement patio. If I transplanted it into the mound, would it stay warm enough? Would a lot of mulch help?
 
Julia Winter
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If you only have one rosemary, and it's happy where it is, maybe you should leave that alone. Maybe you could find a baby rosemary at a nursery for less than $5?

That said, being up high is usually warmer and is always drier than being at ground level. Still, on your cement patio could very well be warmer than out in the yard, even if it is up on a mound.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I think I'll try that! My current rosemary plant isn't the happiest--it's pretty spindly, with only needles at the tips of the branches. It probably needs more sun. The herb mound does have more sun, so hopefully I can find an affordable rosemary plant and see how it does up there!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Winter update! We've had multiple freezing nights that have left frost on everything come morning. Where the sun hits, the frost melts. In the areas that are in the shade, the frost accumulates day after day. I love how striking the difference is between my north and south sides of my spiral!

The funny thing is, most of the things that are dead are on the south side, while almost everything on the north side is doing okay. But, then, borage and echinacea are probably not as cold hardy as parsley!
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Viewing the mound from the west.
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Best aerial picture I could manage. What can I say, I
 
Miles Flansburg
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Wow , those pictures really show how an herb spirals' microclimates work. Textbook !
 
Polly Oz
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That is one of the prettiest herb spirals I've seen! I'm looking forward to your spring updates.

I think where most people go wrong is using undersized elements in construction and using the same size of rocks or whatever from bottom to top. Your big, bold pieces mixed with smaller ones looks really good; you have a good eye
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you! I had a lot of fun with it, and really enjoy that it's right outside my front window. It's really the only "pretty" thing I've had a chance to make, and it makes me happy every time I see it
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thought I'd post a few more pictures showing the difference between the north and south sides. This was taken three days ago (January 12th) at noon. As you can see, the north side is completely in the shade! I also added a picture showing the looooooong shadow it casts (as well as my ducks, for cuteness).
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North and south--what a difference!
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What a long shadow! Plus, cute ducks mowing my frost-bitten grass :)
 
Nicole Alderman
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Finally getting to post my spring update on the Herbal Hugel Spiral of Randomness!

In general, it's doing really well, with a lot of things (lovage, burnet, tarragon, chamomile, echinacia, sage, lemon balm, green onions, parsley and chives) making it through the winter. Some things didn't come back (dill, fennel & borage), and I don't quite know why. I guess I'll be replanting those this year! I also added in some elephant garlic...mostly because I didn't have anywhere else to put the bulbs (my other beds are either too acidic, to wet, or full of non-composed manure).

There have been some things that didn't go well, especially at the top of the spiral. I used rotting alder logs to build up the height and then put soil on top. I did not, however, make very certain that there weren't many gaps between the branches. As such, over life of this mound, I have had to continually refill the soil at the top as the dirt "settled." A lot of the plants were made rather sad by their dirt disappearing under them, especially the sage and lavender.

My advice to you, if you make one of these hugel herb spirals is to make sure to pack your logs and branches tight and fill in gaps with dirt before planting. That way your plants don't get stressed.

You can probably tell that the herb spiral also doesn't look nearly as pretty now. The dandelions and bittercress have seeded themselves in there, but I honestly don't mind. They're all edible, so I'm not about to spend time weeding out things that I can eat, especially when they might get replaced by self-seeding non-edibles! The herb spiral has also ended up being the residing place of random garden art and solar lights I've been given...
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Arial View, taken by my short self...
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From the front
 
Polly Oz
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I don't agree, I think it all looks grand, including the edible volunteers. It is surprising how much will overwinter in your climate, a testament to the basic design.

For people who like tidy perfection the Germans make some prefab gabion herb spirals, 'kräuterschnecke' (amazing what you can find on eBay). I have buckets and buckets of small stones sieved out of existing gardens and offcuts of welded bird wire so that idea is appealing, though mine would be a Frankenstein version, considerably less uniform 😊



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Susan Taylor Brown
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Nicole I don't think I ever told you how wonderful I think your random spiral is! I love it and it has inspired the pile of odd things collecting in a corner of my property so I can do my own version soon. Thanks for sharing all about it.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you, Susan! I'm glad it could be an inspiration and I look forward to seeing what you make, too!

Here's the summer update. Being pregnant with a toddler, the area around it hasn't been weeded and I really should take better pictures, but I just can't seem to find the time!

Things going well:

  • My borage did come back! I thought for sure that it wasn't going to selfseed when--months ago--I saw lots of people looking for ID on it on my local wildcrafting group on facebook. But, lo-and-behold, two weeks ago it emerged from the cracks! Huzzah!
  • I added more mulch and dirt to the top of the mound, and now my lemonbalm is thriving and my lavendar is blooming, and the sage is happy again!
  • I planted rosemary at the top, too, and it seems happy, even though I've used a lot of it recently!
  • The parsley is taking going to seed, and I'm hoping it will self-seed. It came in really handy a few days back when my husband couldn't stop bleeding after a surgery. Lots of parsely, nettle and dandelion and he was back to clotting again!
  • I love the convenience of having all my herbs in one place. My husband's on the GAPS intro diet, eating lots of soup/stew, and being able to quickly grab seasonings has been great.
  • I love that everything in the spiral is edible, so I don't have to worry when my toddler goes over and starts gorging on chives and parsely. And, I think it's fantastic that he loves eating chives straight from the garden!
  • Lots of garter snakes live in it, too, which I love! We thankfully have no poisonous snakes here...



  • Unpleasant Surprises:

  • Mice living in/near the mound. This wouldn't be problem if they weren't burrowing under my tarragon and echinacia. It wasn't devastating, though, and adding some extra soil helped the plants perk right up
  • The burnet is a little too happy, and since it bolted months ago, the leaves aren't nearly as tender or tasty. I don't quite know what to do about this...
  • Creeping buttercup crept in there. I'm not happy about that because it's poisonous and I don't want my toddler accidentally eating it instead of parsley. So, I've had to weed that out.
  • Also had to weed out some of the self-heal, as it was taking over. I don't mind a little of it, but it was smothering my other plants.. It's also not nearly as easy to pull as I was hoping, and it tends to take a lot of soil with it when I pull it out. Birdfoot Trefoil and native blackberry also have to be kept from reaching in and taking over. So far, they're easily managed, thoug.
  • Keeping the grass around it short is not easy or fun. It's low on my priority list, but I'm sad whenever I look over and can't see all my lovely rocks, etc.
  • The solar lights I put at the top of the mound made my elephant garlic turn brown really early. I thought at first that it was dying, only to realize they were just really confused about the extra light...
  • 104_1236.JPG
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    From the top...I wish I were taller so I could get the whole thing in one picture!
    104_1239.JPG
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    From the north side. All those yellow flowers are birdfood trefoil that decided to grow in the cement blocks.
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    View from our house (west). Look at all that lovely grass!
     
    Julia Winter
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    Posts: 1686
    Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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    bee bike chicken food preservation hugelkultur urban
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    Looking good!  If you're willing to do it multiple times, chop'n'drop can work as well or better than pulling weeds.  I think of it as saying "thanks for your efforts to transform soil plus sunlight into more organic material!"  I just cut the weed near the soil surface and lay the material down as mulch.  It will spring back from the roots, but I will cut it again, and again, and again, and it tends to get smaller and smaller, while providing a lot of nice mulch that discourages new seeds from sprouting.

    I've got a serrated garden knife that works well for this, I try to keep it on me when I'm out in the garden.  Kitchen scissors work well, too.
     
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