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Tricks to Keep the Dirt from Sliding off a Hugel?

 
Nicole Alderman
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I know I'm probably not the only one that deals with this. I build up a nice pile of wood, put sod over it, and then attempt to cover with dirt. The dirt all rolls off, piling on the ground around the hugel. This makes for deep soil at the bottom, and very little on the top. To get soil deep enough at the top, the bottom gets so wide I can't reach the plants at the top of the hugel. It's very frustrating!

Anyone have any tricks to keep the dirt on top? I've found putting rocks or logs around the edge helps keep some of the dirt up, but hauling all those rocks is no fun, and wastes uses up some vertical planting space. The logs also do that, as well as wick moisture from the hugel.

I'm currently thinking about putting some logs around the base while I put the dirt on the hugel, and then removing them afterward, and hoping the dirt doesn't all slide off... and that the logs will actually come out!

Anyone have any tricks or techniques to arranging the hugel and putting the dirt on so it doesn't all slide off?

Thanks!
Dirt Sliding off Hugels.jpg
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Ron Helwig
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In the last podcast I heard Paul (finally) mentions the technique of putting dirt down as the logs are being placed. (That is, put down a few logs, then some dirt, and repeat.) That helps with preventing big voids in the logs, and might help with keeping it taller without needing to be so wide. I also recall hearing about Sepp having to tell excavator operators to just keep piling it up repeatedly in the same spot until it just works. I wish we had known these things before we built our hugels.

But I'd like to offer a different perspective as well. First, just like you don't want to have to reach too high, you probably don't want to have to bend down too low, so having a large log at the bottom isn't a bad thing. It kinda makes it like a raised bed. Second, you can think of the plants at the top that you can't reach as the surplus that will get eaten by your chickens and other critters.
 
gava gaia
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I'm a newbie, so please excuse this if it's a dumb response, but why can't we build hugels in a manner more similar to stacking wood? The wood would be whole logs rather than split, but shorter lengths, and not all oriented in the same direction. You could make the whole pile a bit more rectangular rather than totally pyramidal.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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I think you would end up something pretty much pyramid shaped no matter which way you stack the logs because you couldn't get the sides to be vertical with only dirt for support. You could flatten off the top, but you would be losing some of that growing area which is one of the major benefits of the hugel mound. It would be worth trying out in any case just to see exactly what would go into making it rectangular, and seeing if there is any benefit to building that way.

I like the idea of using a bit of a retaining wall around some of the bases on my hugel mounds along with some areas that go all the way to the ground. I've used straw bales, stacked stone, and galvanized tin roofing back filled with stones to make the vertical walls, all with pretty good results. I was able to get the sides pretty steep on some of mine by continually pulling the dirt that sloughed off the sides from the bottom to the top and then mulching the heck out of it after planting a good cover crop. It works pretty good, but is lots of work!
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Oh ya, and it's not necessarily a bad thing to have varying depths of soil along with a lot of variation in the substrates of your hugel mounds. Having different levels of moisture, fertility, solar exposure, and soil composition within your mound really adds to the edge effect permaculturists are so fond of! Don't be too sad if your mound doesn't come out just perfect, you may be pleasantly surprised!!!
 
Russell Olson
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Mulch is looking to be a very underrated part of my hugels. Lots of mulch. The hugels I had lots of it on did great, without it they grew alot of weeds and lost soil.
I also use pine limbs and lay them flat against the hugel, the pattern of the branches lends itself to catching things sliding off.
Mulch heavily, lean pine boughs against the mulch, even insert sticks into the hugel to catch and hold the pine boughs down onto the mulch.
 
Adriaan van Roosmalen
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On my first Hugelbed I poked a lot of small twigs to prevent the sandy soil and fine mulch from sliding down.

For the second bed, I used a small watering can to moisten the soil between each layer of sand that I added. That made the sand stick and I could make the bed quite steep. I also scooped the sand with a shovel (not a straight spade) and "threw" the sand it against the Hugel. Because of the moisture it it did not roll down.

You also could sow a cover crop like cereal rye now. Next spring you cut it down to a stubble of say 1 inch and then add the soil from the bottom to make it steeper. The stubbles will then prevent the sliding.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Adriaan van Roosmalen wrote:On my first Hugelbed I poked a lot of small twigs to prevent the sandy soil and fine mulch from sliding down.

For the second bed, I used a small watering can to moisten the soil between each layer of sand that I added. That made the sand stick and I could make the bed quite steep. I also scooped the sand with a shovel (not a straight spade) and "threw" the sand it against the Hugel. Because of the moisture it it did not roll down.

You also could sow a cover crop like cereal rye now. Next spring you cut it down to a stubble of say 1 inch and then add the soil from the bottom to make it steeper. The stubbles will then prevent the sliding.


Oooooh! These are some great ideas! When I go back to working on mine, I'll bring a watering can or hose to moisten as I build, and insert little sticks to hold the soil down.

Would a mix of oats and field peas work as a cover crop? I don't want to have to worry about weeding it out, and supposedly those will die at a temperature of 15 degrees F. I've never tried doing a cover crop before...


Ron Helwig wrote:
But I'd like to offer a different perspective as well. First, just like you don't want to have to reach too high, you probably don't want to have to bend down too low, so having a large log at the bottom isn't a bad thing. It kinda makes it like a raised bed. Second, you can think of the plants at the top that you can't reach as the surplus that will get eaten by your chickens and other critters.


I like putting one or two logs standing upright so I can sit on them while I work, and that sure helps with the bending over while harvesting/weeding. I'm trying to avoid having too many exposed logs so that they don't wick moisture out of my mound.



Dave Dahlsrud wrote: Oh ya, and it's not necessarily a bad thing to have varying depths of soil along with a lot of variation in the substrates of your hugel mounds. Having different levels of moisture, fertility, solar exposure, and soil composition within your mound really adds to the edge effect permaculturists are so fond of! Don't be too sad if your mound doesn't come out just perfect, you may be pleasantly surprised!!!

While I understand and applaud the idea of having so many different microenvironments, I just hate having to dig and dig and dig and shovel so much dirt as it all just gets wider and wider. I'm doing this all by hand, and I have a lot of projects to work on, so I don't really want to keep shoveling dirt to make a mound that will be less-accessible to me!

gava gaia wrote:I'm a newbie, so please excuse this if it's a dumb response, but why can't we build hugels in a manner more similar to stacking wood? The wood would be whole logs rather than split, but shorter lengths, and not all oriented in the same direction. You could make the whole pile a bit more rectangular rather than totally pyramidal.

You totally can. I've seen quite a few people who did that, and I made my most recent one (my fourth hugel) mostly vertical. But, the dirt still wants to be a pyramid, like Dave said, so the soil will be deeper at the bottom than at the top. But, like Dave mentioned, that give nice microenvironments for different types of plants.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Building a growing mound in the shape you show is not a one shot deal.
The first thing to do is make sure there are no empty spaces between the logs and layer everything as you build.
I usually also seed each layer as I go up, this allows the mound to be steeper since the roots of the newly growing plants help keep the soil where it is wanted.
Once you have the mound at the height you want, the cover crop is establishing nicely, you can start adding materials for shaping the mound.
As the cover crop(s) grow taller, just add more compost or soil to the top, it will filter down until the plants capture it and halt the effects of gravity.
I have some mounds that are two years old and still being shaped into the nice, rounded, steep hill form they will end up as.

If you use small twigs between layers as you build, they will help give stability as well.
The constant planting of covers as you build will do the most good at holding the new mounds shape as well as adding nutrients as you cover it and smother it with the next layer.
If you continue building a mound, it only gets better. If you simply build one and then forget to add to it, it will fail to become the bounty giver it can be with care and nurturing.
A Hugel or growing mound is a living thing, it requires attention through out the year just as any other garden bed does.
 
Cristo Balete
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Nicole, I had hugels that were about knee high and a bit wider at the bottom, building them sure made them seem big, but they weren't big enough to withstand all the things that affect hugels. Erosion is one, termites is another, and rodents is a third Rodents got into mine, were probably extremely grateful for giving them such easy dirt with such great wooden structures, and turned them into hugel wind tunnels.

So maybe the question is why do you want hugel mounds as opposed to a hugel pit? Are you trying to create a wind block, as sepp holzer does, and keep temps higher on the protected side? Or you just want to use the rotted wood/dirt combo? Or you like the look, or maybe they've got more growing space?

I think to have the least amount of trouble with them they need to be quite big, maybe 6 feet wide at the base and building up from there, keeping it wide. But as Bryant explained, they require a lot of special planting and maintaining. Even sepp holzer used a bulldozer and made them at least 15 feet wide at the base and are as tall as a person, so they can withstand more invasions from nature.

Making them twice as wide as a row, taking up two rows and a pathway, with a cover crop might be more stable than skinny and tall.

Hugel pits, on the other hand, work just as well, have no maintenance when buried with layers of wet, rotted wood and manure, only get better when rained on, rodents help break the wood down. They are working 24/7 without any more input from you. The digging is not so bad, and it's a one-time thing for many years, depending on the size of wood you put in them. And if you grow with one for several years, redigging it to replace or add wood down the road is much easier than the first time, and you'll know it's well worth the effort.

If you don't have a lot of space you want to devote to a hugel mound, you could do a cinder block raised bed with wet and rotting wood in it, manure, built up just like a mound, only with stable sides. If you put the cinder blocks open side up you can plant into the cinder blocks as well. You can move them around to change the shape, or add on easily.

-----

Bryant, how big are your hugel mounds?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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For growing mounds to really work well they need to be a minimum of 6 feet wide at base, 5 feet tall and 10 feet long. The height will naturally reduce to around 4 feet if it starts out at 5 feet tall.

My regular mounds (2) are 10 and 12 feet wide at the base, this base is 3 to 4 feet below the soil surface. They rise 6 feet above the soil surface and the short ones are 12 feet long, most are far longer since I also use them as on contour berms for water control
These are probably the most important parts of having good, working mounds; They should be starting below the soil surface, they should be wide at the base so they can support the upper level(s), they should be water gathering (an up hill swale or as in most of mine, on contour so they act as swales),
they should also be as tightly packed as is possible as they are built up.

I construct mine in layers, a layer of wood covered with compostable materials and some soil equals one layer. The diameter of the wood gets smaller as I go up.
I incorporate twigs all along the way as sort of blanket, what I mean by this is a layer of logs, compostable material and dirt is packed into all openings then I put twigs on top of that, then I lay on the next layer of logs, slightly smaller that the previous layer of logs, and repeat the fill materials and twigs and on and on up I go. I stop when I am at a height of around 6 feet, then the cover is put on.
I use a blend of compost, straw and dirt for the cover.
As I mentioned, I plant cover crop seeds as I build because I do everything with a shovel, pick and wheelbarrow.
I don't own a tractor yet so it is all manual labor, which allows for much more time to build than if I was using a machine.

As for orientation to the sun, most run east west with only two running north south. My land has both north facing and south facing slopes, we live on the ridge of the property.

My on contour mounds are a work in progress, most of these mounds will end up being around 200 feet long when completed and they will have an above ground height of only 4 feet but their overall height (bottom of trench to top of mound) is 6 feet.
These are 6 feet wide at their trench base.
The contour mounds will have grape vines on trellises at the peak and at the south face base, the short height is so that I can harvest the grapes without doing damage to the mounds from foot wear.
Their primary function is to protect the road up to the house from erosion from cascading water. I have around 8 feet between mounds, measured from the down hill base to the next uphill base, this gives a nice terracing effect and over time the spaces may become flat, that's yet to be seen.
Their secondary function is supporting the growth of the grape vines and orchard trees that will be planted between the mounds.
We started these mounds at the apex of the south slope and laid out lay lines to follow the contour of the hillside.
 
Cristo Balete
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Holy cow, Bryant!! 200 feet long? Manual labor?? Holy cow!!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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yep, it is a lot of work but will be worth it in the end. We are building our retirement farm, been at it for 2.5 years now and about 1 year behind our five year plan.
But that is how it is, every time you set a plan in motion, many things popup that have to be addressed right now and so the list gets longer.
On the other hand, I will never get bored, and that is a good thing. We don't have TV, or Internet on the farm.
We don't take week long vacations, but we have our solitude.

If I had a tractor with FEL and BH (some day it will come) then it would go faster, but we would not be as in-touch with our earth mother or our sky father.
I guess it mostly depends on how you look at the world, with your eyes or all of your senses. We like to use all of our senses and be grounded to our world.

The mounds are always being built, 10 to 20 feet at a time, when other things don't demand immediate attention.

I am also getting lots stronger and have much better stamina.
 
Cristo Balete
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Bryant, no internet? So you won't be able to tell us how it's all going? Or contribute your knowledge and experience? We at least need a picture of that 200 foot hugel!!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Internet will eventually come, just not right away.
Right now we both have jobs and that's where I do this from for now.
When I can, I am going to put up a thread, with photos of each space on the farm.

As it is now we have a 20 ft. Holiday Ramblette for living quarters, this is connected by fencing to the yard/ gardens/ orchard (.75 acre).
Next to this fenced yard is the first Guinea Hog Paddock (.65 acre), which will have two more paddocks directly connected to the first one (the two new ones come this winter and will be in the forested area to the east and north of the current paddock.
On top of the ridge we also have a 21 x 12 foot storage building going up, there's an 8 x 8 foot chicken coop (finished) being used as temporary storage shed, the hog house (was built with pallets).
Three weeks ago I finished putting up the first roof (16 ft. x 20 ft.) for our house, currently it is over the 20 ft. trailer we are living in for now.

We are so deep in the woods that we can not currently get Internet, TV would have to be satellite and we aren't willing to spend money on that for now.
Our closest neighbor is about a half mile away. I also plan on buying the ten acres next to us so we can keep our neighbors far away (see my signature).
We plan on being able to grow and raise most all of our food in the end.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Cristo Balete wrote:
So maybe the question is why do you want hugel mounds as opposed to a hugel pit? Are you trying to create a wind block, as Sepp Holzer does, and keep temps higher on the protected side? Or you just want to use the rotted wood/dirt combo? Or you like the look, or maybe they've got more growing space?


We live on a northfacing slope, surrounded by trees. We get a good 6-8 hours of sun in a few places during the summer, but in the spring and fall it's a different story, even in those few places. Some places that were nearly full sun in the summer, get maybe 1 or 2 hours of sun in the winter, just because of shading from the slope. Where I'm putting this hugel is one of those places. I'm hoping by making it 5 feet tall, it will be able to get more sun in the spring and fall, so I can have a longer growing season. I also like the vertical growing because it gives me more area to plant in the few places that get enough sun.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Solar aspect and air flow are huge factors for is folks up north, especially if you're on that not facing slope or there's something shading your patch on the south side (ie a mountain). I know we've already had a couple frosty mornings up here, but with my mounds I was able to bring some squash and tomatoes through. We usually have a pretty good Indian summer after those first fall frosts so with the mound structure as oposed to the pit I get significant season extension.

BTW it's pretty neat seeing the frost kill lines in the hugel garden areas. It's almost like you can see where that frosty blob of air was moving. Really useful information to determine that cold air flow.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Nicole, indeed the five foot height should help a lot with winter sun for your situation.
One of the neat things about growing mounds is that you can "stick" determine what height will be best for any particular spot you want to install a mound.
Just set up something like an 8' 2x4 or perhaps a de-limbed sapling trunk, I make a tripod base so the stick will be free standing.
Now you can make marks at the height of the sun's rays, this will help a lot in making sure you build the mound at the height that will get the most sun exposure.
This works for any season, just mark where the sun hits the stick, measure that distance and you know how high to build the mound. (this works for determining the right angle for solar panel placements too)

Dave, the micro climate effects are really neat to watch, and as you mention very useful to know for future planting and planning.
 
john mcginnis
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I know I'm probably not the only one that deals with this. I build up a nice pile of wood, put sod over it, and then attempt to cover with dirt. The dirt all rolls off, piling on the ground around the hugel. This makes for deep soil at the bottom, and very little on the top. To get soil deep enough at the top, the bottom gets so wide I can't reach the plants at the top of the hugel. It's very frustrating!
... snip....

Thanks!


What is one of the permaculture precepts? -- Don't fight mother nature!

Now go look at pictures of the pyramids. Why are the sides not steeper? Because they found any steeper than 43 degrees and failure creeps in. Take loose dry sand and pour it from your hand into a pile on the floor. Continue till the pile is about 1' high. Measure the angle. Magically it will be that 43 degrees again. That angle, 43 degrees, is a constant if you will on this planet. Sand dunes follow this, ocean waves till they approach shore adhere to it.

Stack your hugelkultur any steeper than 43 degrees and you will require artificial support. Me, I would plan my beds according to the global constant and not attempt to stack any steeper.

Mother Nature is telling you something.
 
BeeDee marshall
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We decided to build our bed with a trench to enhance the hugelbed's water retention capabilities and Jack dug about two feet down by the length and width of a log for each side of the 3 sided bed .
We used manure from our rabbits and chickens, as well as cardboard and packing paper, for fill around the logs and branches and wood chips. Before we added the dirt from the trench to cover the wood, a branch was placed at the base to keep the dirt from falling away from the mound . As dirt was added, the top of the mound was flattened. This allowed for a slow build up on the top. The dirt was then tamped down around the
limb after the top was scraped. When the mound was almost up as high as we wanted it, the branch was moved to the other side, the top was scraped and a ridge was formed
so the dirt wouldn't run off the branch-less side.
We used only hand tools and finished the bed in about 3 days. We built the bed in the worst soil on our land; clay with pine needles for mulch, but the site gets very good sun all day. Despite the nitrogen drawing properties of the buried wood, all the plants have thrived and are about two to three weeks ahead of our other gardens. We have zucchini, patty pans, potatoes, kohlrabi, buckwheat, nasturtiums, beets, radishes, kale, comfrey, green beans and broom corn growing on the beds. We have not watered since we built the bed.
After building the hugel bed, we looked at our brush piles with new eyes and have already turned one into a hugel bed simply by putting manure and dirt on top of it. All the plants are doing well.
10stamping dirt down on log to keep dirt from falling2 (640x480).jpg
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11flattening top of east bed before adding more dirt (640x480).jpg
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12making wide groove on top to hold more dirt (640x480).jpg
[Thumbnail for 12making wide groove on top to hold more dirt (640x480).jpg]
 
BeeDee marshall
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More pictures of finished bed.
rained on and planted.jpg
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hugelkulture bed u shape.jpg
[Thumbnail for hugelkulture bed u shape.jpg]
 
Mj Raichyk
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Beautiful stuff, love the feeling of designing for life...... but I have one question already... do all you people live in the arid west? because if I built such a hugel in a trench, I fear it would drown half the year and be needing resuscitation the rest of the year... our groundwater comes up as high as 2" below the surface for 6 months of the year (Nov-May).....

Our lot is flatland with dense woods and swales about every 25 feet apart... we used constructed wetlands to control the water from the woods so that the house buildingsite was dryer. A neat ring around the house 'island'.... but... Some delivery truck later crunched one segment (wetland cell) during construction so the woodland side of the ring is not so well dried and of course the roof runoff has added surges in site wetness on that side...

And now comes the local health department and wants a $25,000 sanitation mound on which nothing edible is permitted to grow even if you have the cleanest system to process sewage (cleaner than creek water).... another whole topic for elsewhere.... but the idea of using a hugel to divert the swales from the 'blessed' sanitation mound has my head spinning...... ttyl
 
BeeDee marshall
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We actually live in a very wet area. Running water off the hills has to be diverted to utilize it. With the trench, the water is under the bed and soaking into the ground around it. That is one of the purposes of a hugelkultur bed. I will see if I can find the PDF I have of the building of our hugelkultur but until then, these pics might help.
3log in hole (640x480).jpg
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4chunks of wood with mushrooms added (640x480).jpg
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7leaves and woodchips added (640x480).jpg
[Thumbnail for 7leaves and woodchips  added (640x480).jpg]
 
BeeDee marshall
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found it! After a lot of editing, it ended up as an article in Back Home magazine (no longer in business).
Filename: hugelkulture story.pdf
Description:
File size: 3189 Kbytes
[Download hugelkulture story.pdf] Download Attachment
 
Erica Wisner
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Since the OP is in "Pacific Northwest" I assume there's the long dry summer to deal with, about 2 months on average without rainfall, and sometimes more like 3.
In the arid inland northwest it could be more like 4 months, or even 6, because rainfall is seldom and scant, with the month's rain quota often delivered in one or two thunderstorms if at all.
In the maritime Pacific Northwest there's that lovely long winter rainy season, and not as much frost (either radiant or cold air) compared with over the mountains. I didn't realize, but for all its 8 months of rain, Portland OR actually has annual rainfall slightly below the national average. It's just consistent cloudy weather with frequent light drizzles, and then that very dry summer to swing the average back down a bit.

When you bury hugels, you are not necessarily trying to grow roots down into the below-ground parts, but you are increasing the water storage (and trapping of storm water) without increasing the height so much. Low hugels are easier to use the whole above-ground surface for planting. Taller ones may have their tops turn into feral territory, or you can put steps and a path up there and treat it like two beds, or plant longer-cycle perrenials in the tops: leave soil holes between the logs and use the hugel to establish fruit or nut trees, or shade/frost protection in open, arid landscapes.

In our arid climate, very few plants thrive on the top of the mounds; their purpose is more to divert any available moisture down toward the lower slopes, creating concentrated areas with nearly-sufficient moisture to support life. We mulch, or use very deep-rooted things on the tops, or just let weeds grow to be used as mulch lower down.

For the rainy side of the PNW, I might suggest terracing if you're interested in being able to reach everything on the hugel slopes. It sounds like you're really restricted on sunny spots, and that's the primary factor. If you don't have any problems with water availability in the summer, then you may even consider shorter, smaller beds. If you do want the summer drought-protection element, then maybe a wide bed that makes a level on the slope, with the front face supported with structural terracing (two levels to let you plant both low and high) and the back part, up-slope, just filled in until the slope is level. This configuration should seep water downhill toward your planting beds in summer, and provide a stable work access path behind the beds for when you're focusing on winter production on the south face.

Another thought might be to emphasize shade-tolerant species, mushroom cultivation, and the like. Mushrooms can be put out in the sun for a half-day or so after harvest, and soak up some Vitamin D that's a welcome supplement in shady winter conditions. Winter crops are usually salad greens, very shade-tolerant.

Also, you can to some extent reflect sunlight to get better production. A terrace wall that has shiny foil or white plaster on it could help your plants get double the sun exposure in front of that wall during the low-angled winter days. Sun effect can also be concentrated a bit by using shelter or sun-bowl shapes to collect and concentrate the warmth. There are some plants that do interesting things with winter sun: Doug fir trunks' dark bark absorbs winter light to keep the sap flowing for photosynthesis year-round, and some of the white-barked aspen and alder reflect light and seem to melt the snow earlier than other trees (without being fooled out of dormancy by unseasonal warm weather). It's fascinating to try to understand how the plants support each other; anyone finding pale-leaved backdrop plants, or shelter plants, that enhance other plants' winter growth?

Best of luck.

-Erica W
 
Mj Raichyk
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Thanks for the download picture story... by about july, a trench like those would be maybe dry at bottom, but (if the gulf coast has alot of hurricanes then we're back to rainforest time... so what happens when spring comes and the log is soggy from rising groundwater, and monsoon weather starts? Where does the storm water go? seems to me that there has to be an exit somewhere,,,, doesn't wood float? the water running down hill is more like dealing with the roof-runoff... not like coping with high groundwater.... ttyl
 
BeeDee marshall
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Mj Raichyk wrote:Thanks for the download picture story... by about july, a trench like those would be maybe dry at bottom, but (if the gulf coast has alot of hurricanes then we're back to rainforest time... so what happens when spring comes and the log is soggy from rising groundwater, and monsoon weather starts? Where does the storm water go? seems to me that there has to be an exit somewhere,,,, doesn't wood float? the water running down hill is more like dealing with the roof-runoff... not like coping with high groundwater.... ttyl


Since I don't have the same situation that you do, I googled some stuff and came up with the following sites of interest. Hope they help :^)
http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4547256-anna-raising-trees-out-of-wet-soil-with-mounds
https://midwestpermaculture.com/2012/12/chinampas-gardens/
http://witchydigit.tumblr.com/post/87440699370/biodiverseed-hugelkultur-hugelkultur-meaning
 
Jason Vath
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Here's what I did on my Hugelkultur beds. I've been impressed with how well they stayed in tact for 2+ years now.
See pic.
Hugelkultur_construction.png
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John Saltveit
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Bryant,
I love the phrase "retirement farm". Ours is a retirement garden. We live in the suburbs. They'll haul us out of here in a pine box.

I also love the idea of continuing to add on to the beds, especially if they're rather small. I often end up with wood for drilling mushrooms. There is usually some left over. What do I do with it? Hugulculture! I have been adding leafy pruned limbs, and varied combos of dirt and organic material.

Since we only have .2 acre, we can't necessarily do 6 feet wide, 5 feet tall, 200 feet long, etc. It is fun experimenting with what we can do. The previous landowners put black plastic down under the soil, so it was dead, dead, dead! I believe that the hugulculture is bringing it back to life. Partly the height is to raise the area up above the height of a neighbor's fence so it will get more sun.

I have heard that snakes will want to live in the beds. We tried to put a pile of rocks to attract snakes to the heat in the morning near it a la Jacqueline Freeman video. We'll see if that works.
John S
PDX OR
 
Gary Huntress
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Thank you for the downloadable article BeeDee. I've added it to my "Growing Stuff" file which is full of all kinds of useful hints, techniques, plans, etc., etc. Vermont is a beautiful state. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon near Rutland.
 
Cris Fellows
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Back to he question about using oats and peas as cover crop since they are winter killed and do not need to be dug up...I have 3 new hugels and am wondering what to use as cover crop this year (NE Ohio). I have plans for next year but figure they need something on em now.
 
Brian Vagg
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Jason Vath wrote:Here's what I did on my Hugelkultur beds. I've been impressed with how well they stayed in tact for 2+ years now.
See pic.


I went to one of Sepp's classes and we built a Hugel bed. Sepp had us collect enough long branches (4ft to 8ft long with vegetation) to loosely cover the entire face of the hugel bed. We then make stakes from some of the branches. When we cut the stakes we made sure that one of the side branches was still connected. After trimming up the stake (2ft long) it would have hook at the end of the stake (the end that would not go into the ground). The hook was made from the crotch of the side branch. We used the stakes to secure the branches that we laid across the face of the hugel bed. Because the branches were placed loosely, there was plenty of room to plant in the gaps. Hopefully that technique might help you keep the soil in place.
 
Christopher De Joe
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Internet will eventually come, just not right away.
Right now we both have jobs and that's where I do this from for now.
When I can, I am going to put up a thread, with photos of each space on the farm.

As it is now we have a 20 ft. Holiday Ramblette for living quarters, this is connected by fencing to the yard/ gardens/ orchard (.75 acre).
Next to this fenced yard is the first Guinea Hog Paddock (.65 acre), which will have two more paddocks directly connected to the first one (the two new ones come this winter and will be in the forested area to the east and north of the current paddock.
On top of the ridge we also have a 21 x 12 foot storage building going up, there's an 8 x 8 foot chicken coop (finished) being used as temporary storage shed, the hog house (was built with pallets).
Three weeks ago I finished putting up the first roof (16 ft. x 20 ft.) for our house, currently it is over the 20 ft. trailer we are living in for now.

We are so deep in the woods that we can not currently get Internet, TV would have to be satellite and we aren't willing to spend money on that for now.
Our closest neighbor is about a half mile away. I also plan on buying the ten acres next to us so we can keep our neighbors far away (see my signature).
We plan on being able to grow and raise most all of our food in the end.


The internet cable ends on our neighbors property a bit down the road. To this end we have satellite internet. Not the greatest but it does the trick. Just an FYI.
 
Christopher De Joe
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I know I'm probably not the only one that deals with this. I build up a nice pile of wood, put sod over it, and then attempt to cover with dirt. The dirt all rolls off, piling on the ground around the hugel. This makes for deep soil at the bottom, and very little on the top. To get soil deep enough at the top, the bottom gets so wide I can't reach the plants at the top of the hugel. It's very frustrating!

Anyone have any tricks to keep the dirt on top? I've found putting rocks or logs around the edge helps keep some of the dirt up, but hauling all those rocks is no fun, and wastes uses up some vertical planting space. The logs also do that, as well as wick moisture from the hugel.

I'm currently thinking about putting some logs around the base while I put the dirt on the hugel, and then removing them afterward, and hoping the dirt doesn't all slide off... and that the logs will actually come out!

Anyone have any tricks or techniques to arranging the hugel and putting the dirt on so it doesn't all slide off?

Thanks!



This can be tricky. My first go I wanted to have one about two feet high. I started by digging almost three feet into the ground. This is what I ended up with.

 
BeeDee marshall
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Gary Huntress wrote:Thank you for the downloadable article BeeDee. I've added it to my "Growing Stuff" file which is full of all kinds of useful hints, techniques, plans, etc., etc. Vermont is a beautiful state. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon near Rutland.


You are welcome Gary. We live not far from Rutland..east.... more toward the middle of Vermont. We do love it here.
 
Nicole Alderman
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The sticks are working great! I used a bunch of alder sticks left over from making a waddle fence. I leave about 6 inches to a foot sticking out of the mound, and put them in as far as they'll go. After a few loads of dirt, I have to stick in new sticks. I've also found that propping up dirt clods and moss with the sticks helps hold the dirt on the mound, too.

I ordered a mixture of field peas and oats from High Mowing, and I'll be applying that probably tomorrow and then putting a layer of dirt over it and then sprinkling lawn clippings on top. The oats and field peas should die in the winter...as long as El Nino isn't too crazy and never lets us get below 15 degrees F. If they don't die, well, I guess I'll get to try chopping and dropping it before it goes to seed!

The cover crop should hopefully add nitrogen and help the soil from eroding until spring. I'll also, like Bryant RedHawk suggested, add more soil in the spring to continue to shape the mound. That should, hopefully get all the wood covered and weeds smothered by spring so I can, hopefully, be able to plant some veggies!
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The Mound!
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View of the soil slop.
 
Estar Holmes
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Why do hugelbeds have to be so steep that the dirt slides down?
 
Nicole Alderman
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I don't think they have to be. Many people make them flush with the ground, or the base for a "lasagna" style raised bed (such as here http://www.nwedible.com/half-ass-hugelkultur/), or even below ground, like Cristo Balete mentioned.

There are advantages to having it steep and tall, though. (1) It gives more planting area by going vertical. (2) It makes it easier to reach the stuff at the top--if they're wide, it's hard to reach the upper portion. (3) It gives a nice solar aspect, helping it to heat up sooner because of the angle of the sun. I'm sure there's many other good reasons, too, that I'm not thinking of right now because I really should be sleeping... And, as many mentioned, there are good reasons to make them wider and less steep, too.

I think a lot depends on what your area and climate look like, what you plan on growing, how much sun you get, how much room you have to grow, how tall you are, what you find visually appealing, what reasources you have to work with, etc. On my own property I have one that's only two feet tall and three feet wide, with two feet of wood buried, one that's two feet tall and not buried and surrounds/extends a natural raised area, one that's three feet tall and 3.5 feet wide, and this one that's steeper and 4.5 feet tall. I'm also thinking about making a raised lasagna-style hugel bed between my fruit trees.

 
Nicole Alderman
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My husband had a bunch of vacation days off, so he came along side me to help with the hugel...and instantly said it was too steep and we should make it wider. Who am I to turn down help? Sooooo, we added more sod and then dirt on top of that. I left the cut rounds bare so I can stand on those to access the top of the mound. I'm hoping that will help with me being able to harvest up there. I also added a few alder logs to the base and staked them in with bamboo to hold them up.

We then planted the oats and field peas. Not all the peas and oats wanted to stay on the mound, so I inserted more sticks and we planted the seeds by (1) throwing them on there--especially the oats--and then putting handfuls of dirt over them. (2) Poking seeds individually--especially the peas, those really liked to roll, and (3) Picking up dirt and seeds that rolled off the mounds and applying both together back onto the mound.

Then, we put a thin layer of grass clippings on to the mound. Hopefully, the grass clippings and sticks will help prevent erosional until the oats and peas sprout up. This is my first time doing a winter cover crop, so here's hoping it works!

In the spring, we'll likely add more dirt to fill even out the mound, and then we'll probably plant radishes and snap peas for food and further soil improvement. We may also plant some carrots and squash and broccoli and see how they do.
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Side view of the hugel
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Front view (the south slope). Note the logs for me to step up on to access the top.
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New hugel, side by side with our two year old blueberry hugel.
 
LeRoy Martinez
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Funny thing, I woke up early this morning. Well, earlier than the usual 4:00. So I lay in bed thinking about the 'angle of repose' on
the Hugel's and it dawned on me (slowly) that I could use pond weed to throw over the top and sides to hold things together and
hopefully keep the dirt from sliding down.
Then I get on Permies and Nicole Alderman has asked for ideas on holding dirt in place. I realize that not
everybody has a pond with weeds growing in it but maybe you can find someone who wants to get rid of some in their pond.
Craig's List maybe?

Just yesterday I was scattering the pond weed over the garden spot but never gave a thought to the Hugel.
Maybe today I can get some before and after pictures of what I'm doing and hopefully post them here.
Since I don't have a boat that floats I'll have to devise some sort of pond weed rake to drag this stuff in.
More later,
LeRoy in Montana
 
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