I have just stumbled onto Hugelkultur earlier this week and believe that it may just solve my lack of water issues. We live on an acre of land but have a well that barely produces during the dry summer months here in central North Carolina.
Before I start digging I had better produce a long term plan for water management. Can someone please help me get started on this project? Here are a few questions that come to mind.
1. Is there a hugelkultur book on the market that one can recommend? Sepp Holzer's book seems to get alot of attention. Does Bill Mollison discuss this topic in great detail also?
2. Does hugelkultur attract alot of insects and critters?
3. Can I make a hugelkultur bed uphill and close to my house? What is the recommended distance?
4. Should I dig a hugelkultur bed as well as dig a swale uphill from it? In other words, if I dig a swale uphill and next to a hugelkultur bed should I avoid digging the hugelkultur bed and just build it on top of the ground.
5. I have so much digging and moving of earth and logs and brush I may have to rent a machine. would a small tractor with a front end loader and a backhoe work or would a mini-excavator be required for the digging. I would like to dig 2 - 10' diameter ponds, and about 150' of swales and E-W hugelkultur beds. I have alot of logs and branches that I can use.
Thanks for the help. Looking forward to being able to take daily showers in the summer again.
1.) Besides Sepp and Bill there is Geoff Lawton who has many wonderful videos on all the different aspects of permaculture, including hugel mounds.
2.) Yes hugels can be huge attractors of insects and critters, this is not really a bad thing, unless your mounds are close to your house or other structures that you don't want either to get into.
3.) Yes you can build a hugel uphill, I would try to keep it at least 20 feet away and more if practical.
4.) Swales work very well with hugels, especially if the mounds are dug mounds. Deeper ditches filled with wood are best, they will hold more water. I strive to never build a mound on top of the ground.
5.) The type of earth moving device you use is very much dependent upon several factors. a. type of soil (rocky clay will take more powerful machines than silty/ sandy soils, etc.) A small tractor with backhoe may simply take more time to do the job of a larger track hoe or backhoe, if there are large rocks involved, the bigger(more horse power) the machine the better. If you are digging trenches for mounds, a FEL will be very useful in installing that soil as the cap. Track hoes have a blade to push not lift with, only their bucket will lift fill dirt etc. I would almost always prefer a tractor with FEL and BH over a Track hoe.
East to West mounds are good if your water flow is N-S the objective is to have the mound interrupt the downhill water flow, same for swales. There should be a space between the base of the mound and the downhill side of the swale, this allows water to sink in better.
The largest logs go in first and the diameter of wood decreases as it goes up, twigs and small stuff can be crammed in to the voids as well as fine materials (soil, compost, leaves, grass, spent coffee grounds, even meat scraps if placed deep enough in the building up of the wood core).
When building a mound, the fewer empty spaces you leave as you stack the better and faster the mound will age and work as it should. Mounds need to be large, small mounds almost never work as the builder thought they would. Once you get the soil cap in place it needs to be planted with cover crops and other items so it is not left to erode away. My usual mound will be three to four feet deep in to the ground, ten to twelve feet wide at the base and rise 6' above the soil height, they are normally at least ten feet long too.
While fresh wood will eventually work, it is best to use wood already starting to decompose. Mounds should be expected to settle quite a lot if all voids are not filled prior to putting on the cap. When settling occurs, fill in with compost, soil, etc.
If you build up hill, the swale will collect water which will sink into the soil which will fill the hugel which will create a water plume downhill.
Awesome stuff. Thanks for the help.
When you refer to water plume are you referring to an underground cavity of water?
Here is a definition that I found online.
"GROUND WATER PLUME
Environmental Engineering Dictionary
A volume of contaminated groundwater that extends downward and outward from a specific source; the shape and movement of the mass of the contaminated water is affected by the local geology, materials present in the plume, and the flow characteristics of the area groundwater. "
I can't believe they specified "contaminated" water in a definition of a water plume. By doing that, their definition has to be politically motivated.
If you build a small pond at the top of a hill, the water will saturate the soil beneath and hydrology and gravity will take over.
The result will be a column of ground water (in the ground not on top) that will come out at the most convenient (where the soil below the ground water deflects it, ie: bed rock or very tight clay) place down slope.
This hydrology will sometimes present itself as a spring or it can stay below the surface where it remains available for deep roots and in some cases shallow roots.
To me this is the true definition of a water plume. Geoff Lawton's video of water plume
Ha Ha, I see what you mean about water plumes. That definition must have been politically motivated like you suggested.
Our well is so dry we can use all the underground water that we can get. I should put my hugelkultur bed and swale just uphill from the well Then I might have a nice large water plume to help fill the well.
Whatever I do I will make sure to keep the bed and swale at least 20 feet away from the house.
His other book "Holzer's Permaculture" also has a Hugelkultur section, but does not give as much details as "Desert or Paradise".
Thanks Adriaan I will take a look. I am thinking about hiring someone to design my entire 1 - acre for me. I am listening to a podcast at permaculturevoices.com with Javan Bernakevitch. A well planned approach seems to be the way to go and for me that will be both great books and greater consulting
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