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Getting soil to stay on side of hugelbeet

 
Denise Griggs
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Location: Bloomington, IN
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My husband and I are finishing constructing a hugelbeet in our back yard, but I'm having trouble with the soil that goes on the outside. The bed itself is buried two feet, and is currently nearly 4 feet above ground, with some pretty steep sides. I crammed the nooks and crannies with dead leaves, and now we're shoveling a mix of compost/topsoil on it all. The problem is that the sides are steep enough that the soil just wants to roll right off. I've seen lots of advice about keeping the soil on there by planting immediately, using mulch, etc., but no advice about how to even get the soil on there in the first place. I'm wondering if I'll have to mix up a bunch of mud and just plaster it on there.

Anyone have any advice?

Thanks!

Denise
 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
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Location: Richmond, Utah
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Hi Denise,

That sounds like a good size.
Sepp uses sticks embedded into the hugelbeet to hold the soil and attach the outer sticks to.
Good luck!
Bill
 
Jeremy Devers
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What is the consistency of your soil? I ask because mine is a clay loam and I think it could stick to a vertical surface when even slightly moist. Maybe the best solution would be to widen the base so the sides aren't so steep. Once roots invade (I sprinkled white clover seeds on day one and they sprouted very quickly and now I have a basically natural hill with a wooden core.)
 
Denise Griggs
Posts: 2
Location: Bloomington, IN
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Jeremy Devers wrote:What is the consistency of your soil? I ask because mine is a clay loam and I think it could stick to a vertical surface when even slightly moist. Maybe the best solution would be to widen the base so the sides aren't so steep. Once roots invade (I sprinkled white clover seeds on day one and they sprouted very quickly and now I have a basically natural hill with a wooden core.)


Our native soil is heavy clay and would stick to anything, but we used most of the clay that we dug out of the hole to make a sort of berm along the back of the house, to hopefully help prevent water from getting into our basement. We are at the bottom of our local watershed, and with our heavy clay backyard, moisture is major issue. It's been a swamp back there all spring. I chose this particular spot for the hugelbeet because it's at a low point, and so will be able to collect a lot of water. Last fall, before we got the wood in, the hole filled up with water after just one heavy rain (the hole is about 128 cu ft., or 957 gall.), if that tells you anything. We're seriously thinking about digging a small pond (our neighbor has one, for the same reason).

Anyway, I ordered a mix of compost/topsoil from a mulch place to cover the bed with, since I didn't want to try to grow vegetables in that clay mess, so I don't know if it'll be sticky enough when moist to stick to the steep sides. Maybe I could mix some of my clay back in to the compost/soil mix, although the thought of adding yet more physical labor to this already daunting project just makes me want to have a lie down!

One thought I had this morning was to grab some big burlap sacks from a local coffee roaster in town and tie them around the lower 2 ft or so to help keep things in place until I've got some plants in there. I think straw bales could work too, but when I mentioned it to my husband he looked a bit dismayed! He's far more concerned about tidiness and aesthetics than I am.

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm really excited to see how this whole experiment turns out. I'm going to attach an image of what it looked like last fall (we added another foot or more this spring when a big storm blew off the top of one of our trees; also those pepper plants in the middle are gone, so it's a sort of u-shaped keyhole).

Denise
hugel bed.jpg
[Thumbnail for hugel bed.jpg]
 
Pia Jensen
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Bill Bradbury wrote:Hi Denise,

That sounds like a good size.
Sepp uses sticks embedded into the hugelbeet to hold the soil and attach the outer sticks to.
Good luck!
Bill
I will have to do the same with sticks because I have no sod chunks or compost or "hay" type material to help trap the soil on the sides. (See http://yesusi.com/about/permaculture/greenhouse/ ).. I have also, in the past, dug out "sidepockets" on a sandy hill for new trees to stop the gravity flow of water, letting it pool around the plant instead of washing down the sides of the hill... I do that also in small scale for seedlings on slight slopes, give them a "bowl" to sink into.

Definitely the sticks will help stick in at various angles to create a support network - think also - the thin tendril, vining plants all over the back parcel here can be cut and used as a mesh of sorts on the sides.... Kind of like landscape fabric would be used....
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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On a broad acre scale, planting immediately and not being too fussy about a bit of slippage seems key; lowering the slope of the sides until they are stabilish by widening the hugel's footprint could also be helpful.

On a small scale, last fall I ended up just building a raised bed around an existing hugel, to hopefully forestall further maintenance issues when I am not nearby. Middle of the picture.
garden-2015-1.jpg
[Thumbnail for garden-2015-1.jpg]
 
Richard Gorny
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Location: Poland, zone 6
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I believe we usually make a mistake of piling wood too high. If we plan for a hugel that is 6 feet tall, we should pile wood up to 4 feet only, then pile soil on top. This way we can get a steep slopes at the final height. That's the lesson I have learned on my own mistake at least.
 
Dean Howard
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Location: NE ARIZONA, Zone 5B, 7K feet, 24" rain
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I find soil usually sticks to soil just fine and will reach it's own limit of steepness depending on the quality, or type of soil you are using. Overfilling a bed with too too too much slippery material will, of course encourage collapse, or mini landslides. If you really need to use up a lot of needles and leaves, try digging a trench first, so the pile is not overly-high and the weight of the dirt will collapse air pockets. I think this slippery slope is overcome by using longer logs, branches, and heavier materials (mulch, wetter vegetation), and other products that will not collapse, or give only slightly. I also see people using burlap and soil, some covered in inches of wood chips on top of burlap. Anything that creates too many air gaps (soil-less gaps), will contribute to dirt-slides...there simply is not enough dirt for the dirt to hold itself. You should be able to imitate a dirt-only pile, in steepness and firmness. Spongy Hugelbeds are not the ideal. Have fun with it.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Location: North-Central Idaho
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I've had pretty good success creating a steep slope on my hugel mounds by creating a wide base of soil then piling it up in sections at the same elevation all the way around. You'll have a heck of a time if you just throw dirt at the mound and hope it sticks. Looking at your picture I would start by piling dirt up about a foot high and 18 inches wide all the way around. That should give you a pretty good foundation to start staking dirt on top of. Your keyhole isn't going to be much, but you can shape it quite a bit after you get your base layers of soil on there and somewhat staying in place. After that plant your cover crop, mulch the heck out of it, then use the branches and wood pins (sepp holzer style) to keep everything in place until you start to get some growth. That mound you have should end up being six or seven feet high and close to that wide. Like I said your keyhole won't be all that prominent once things are done, but you will create some interesting micro-climates there.

Another thing you can do if you want to keep that definded keyhole is create a retaining wall of some sort in there, straw bales, dry stack stone, or even traditional lumber walls will all work. I've used all three of those techniques with pretty good success.
 
Pia Jensen
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Yesterday I decided to use left over rock around base of the hugel in the greenhouse http://yesusi.com/about/permaculture/greenhouse/ to specifically protect the greenhouse posts and am glad for the extra heat sinking effect the rocks will have. the bed slopes away toward the street. The end closest to the house is currently without rocks and I have begun constructing a wood barrier to put along that end to keep the soil profile high. The only drawback is with the skinny area for the base - the hugel base can't be real wide so I won't have a really tall mound.
 
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