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Enough space for a hugel?

 
Jor Bib
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I'm so glad I stumbled on this forum. I have been researching hugelkultur (and hugelbeets) trying to decide what type of foundation to put on my new property. I have monitored the sunlight and realized many of the plants I simply put down on our current soil just aren't getting enough light. So I'd like to creat hugels next to my house. It's the only spot in our yard that gets 6+ hours of sun a day. (I live in zone 6). So here are my primary questions

1)I can build my beds N-S, so that should be good, correct?
2) I only have a narrow space to plant between our arborvitae and our house. The space is 15' long and at the top 5'' wide but opens at the bottom to be 7'.
a) Is this space better suited for a simple small hugel or a big pile? I was thinking a bigger hugel might provide me with more area to plant?
b) How much space should I leave on each side of the beds so I can harvest?
3) what happens years down the road to a hugel? Will I ever dig it up and restart and have to deal with getting rid of excess soil?
 
Dillon Nichols
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Hi Jor, welcome to permies.com!


Jor Bib wrote:1)I can build my beds N-S, so that should be good, correct?

Should be good, and since you haven't really got any other options, go for it!

Jor Bib wrote:2) I only have a narrow space to plant between our arborvitae and our house. The space is 15' long and at the top 5'' wide but opens at the bottom to be 7'.

I'm assuming you meant 5' at the top... at least I hope so!

Jor Bib wrote:a) Is this space better suited for a simple small hugel or a big pile? I was thinking a bigger hugel might provide me with more area to plant?

The more hugel you can squeeze in, the more plants you can put in it. A 15' long hugel is still pretty moderate in size, and less fuss to do all at once in a single unit than to do several smaller ones. I'd be inclined to make it as big as location and inputs allow. Don't skimp on the nitrogen adding stuff, manures/greens!

Jor Bib wrote:b) How much space should I leave on each side of the beds so I can harvest?

I'd suggest just roughing out the shape with branches or cardboard and moving around it, to help you visualize. Depends to a certain extent on the length of your reach! Keep in mind that the sides will slope significantly...

Do you need to be able to walk past frequently with a wheelbarrow or other large objects? Or is there an alternative route, and this area is really only going to see garden traffic?

In my opinion many people underestimate the amount of space needed for access; I'd suggest allowing more space for access than you expect to want, and then just piling more dirt/manure on the hugel to expand appropriately if after a month you still feel there is too much pathway.

Jor Bib wrote:3) what happens years down the road to a hugel? Will I ever dig it up and restart and have to deal with getting rid of excess soil?

The hugel will settle over time as the wood decays and water carries soil down into the various little gaps. After some years(3-4 in my area) the hugel will be soil instead of soil over wood. You then have the choice of doing it all over, or considering the soil-building exercise a success and using the bed as it is. I don't really see the excess soil as a problem, as it will be quite nice, something you can relocate to somewhere on your property where the soil is lacking.


The thing I would worry about in your situation is the sides; these will get even less light than a flat bed in the same location, so it may be hard to fully utilize this part of the area. Also, in your tight location you don't want excessive sliding/erosion of the sides, and keeping them planted is good for stability...

 
Jor Bib
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I wanted to thank you for responding to each of my big questions. I did want to clarify yes it is 5' at the top of my area not 5"! Ha

I wanted to note, in regards to space around the hugel, I have access to my gardening equipment with the rest of my yard so I don't need to consider any traffic other than garden traffic around the bed. I can't believe I didn't think of just lying sticks out to see how much space "felt comfortable". But I agree with your suggestion on allowing more than less to be safe.

I was also wondering about maximizing sunlight and planting space. Like you mentioned, should I just keep a flat bed or a hill to maximize sunlight? I'm terrible with spacial estimations and I'm unsure-- which option (flat versus hill) would get more sun(will the bed be shading itself?) And would I maximize planting space by building a hill or by keeping a flat raised bed? Any suggestions in your opinion?

Thanks so much everyone for reading and taking the time to respond!!
 
Cristo Balete
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Jor, 5 feet wide is pretty narrow for a hugel mound. However, it's fine for a hugel pit. If you dig it out and fill it with soaked wood, manure and compost, refill it, you can plant on top of it, like a raised bed.

Although, I would be aware that burying wood next to your house may bring in termites in certain areas, so you would want to keep that area/wood damp, but not too damp to affect your foundation of your house. It's easier to keep a pit too wet for termites, than a mound.

I think you'll see in some topics in this forum problems with smaller hugel mounds where rodents getting into them, creating wind tunnels, and the rain sliding the dirt off. I had that happen. If you have researched and found sepp holzer's hugel mounds, his are at least 15 feet across at the base and built with a bulldozer. It's really depressing to have to take down a mound that didn't work because it was too narrow.

I have seen some raised beds that are filled with soaked and rotting wood, manure and compost. If you didn't want to dig, you could build a raised bed and fill it. It's more formal looking if you want things to look a certain way close to your house.

 
Dillon Nichols
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Oh good, 5" would have been quite a challenge!

As far as space goes... technically a hugel where you plant the sides and top has more space available. However, the sides of the hugel might, depending on the geometry, be shaded for part of the day by the hugel itself, so in terms of usable space you might find a flat bed is bigger. It would also seem quite a bit easier to work with in your confined area.

You could get a better idea of sun issues with some cardboard and sticks, observing a simulated mound at different times of day, and then projecting forward for other seasons...

The first hugel mound I built, I definitely had trouble with erosion, mostly from rain. Like most hugels I've seen, I dug, filled above surface height with wood, and mounded soil/manure atop that. I didn't have enough dirt to cover the pile adequately, or enough manure to make it grow worth a damn for the first while. It really didn't work very well as a hugel... but last fall I enclosed it with 3 layers of logs, and filled that with soil/composted manure, so now it just looks like a raised bed. The soil is great, as the wood inside was almost entirely decomposed by the time I converted it to a raised bed, but still spongy and moist. I think I could see plants taking off once they got their roots down far enough to reach this; they would struggle for a while in our drought, despite watering, and then suddenly shoot up. Pic from early in the season below.

So, you can still dig down and bury wood in classic hugel style, and then make a raised bed above ground, perhaps with more wood inside. Seems especially worthwhile if your soil isn't very good, or you're looking to improve moisture storage. I'd expect that burying the wood very thoroughly should help avoid rodent issues.

Definitely keep Cristo's point about termites in mind, depending on your area/what your house is made of!
hugelbed.gif
[Thumbnail for hugelbed.gif]
 
Jor Bib
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Thank you ALL for sending me advice. I appreciate your efforts and opinions! So many things I am glad you brought up that I had not considered. 🍀🌼
 
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