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Raised Garden Bed/Hugel Between Fruit Trees--Is It a Good Idea?

 
Nicole Alderman
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I've been trying to think of more places to grow that get adequate sun on my property to do some year-round gardening (down the road, I'd like to use a fabric tunnel to garden in the winter). The only real place is between my fruit trees. Since my soil seems to be rather inadequate by itself, I was thinking of doing a raised lazagna/hugel style bed, with wood at the bottom, then compost and straw, and then soil. Since it's between two apple trees, I figure it's probably not safe to dig down deep to bury wood, and so the soil for the top of the bed will be coming from either the store or elsewhere on my property.The bed will likely be "framed" by some nice big hemlock logs, so it'd be about 2 feet tall. I'd be putting this bed between my apple trees' current canopies.

My apple trees are still pretty small, and I'm sure their canopy and root system will get bigger. My question is, if I build this raised bed between the trees, will their roots be negatively affected (suffocated?) by all the hugel matter? Will these vegetables take vital nutrients that my trees will need? Are there problems with this idea that I don't see.

I'd love your input!

I attached a picture of my proposed garden bed, sort of to scale. I also attached a picture of the two apple trees in question and where the bed would be placed between them. The left one is a dwarf and the right is a semi-dwarf.
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Ian Mack
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I don't think your trees will suffer from the hugels, honestly. Rule of thumb on tree roots is 2-3 times farther out than the branches, so they'll go far enough beyond the hugels that they won't have a problem getting nutrients or oxygen. The only issue I could see is that over time as the apple trees get larger and their canopy gets denser, they could shade out too much of the veggie garden/bean frame to let you grow enough in there. That depends as much on your area and the orientation of the whole shebang as anything else though.
If you're looking for more area to do year-round gardening, try looking into small-scale passive solar greenhouses. Dig into the ground a bit, throw up some thermal mass (generally water in dark containers) and build a greenhouse that's earth-sheltered on the north side. A little more complicated than that, but not by much. Good luck on extending your season!
 
William Bronson
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I also want to do this. I wonder if you can run a line between the trees when they get larger,and use a transparent sheet of plastic to create a green house.
The trees will shade eventually, but only in summer. Even then ,there are some plants that will produce in the shade.
I think the beds will aid the trees, being a reservoir for nutrients and water.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I dug out all the soil and rocks around my apple trees and replaced the rocks with logs. The trees are now doing much better than they were before! I did not disturb the soil immediately around the trees, however.

 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Those trees look young enough that I wouldn't worry about damage from the hugel bed. They should mature just fine and adapt to the growing conditions. They have plenty of areas around to get all of the oxygen the roots need and the hugel should provide plenty of moisture. As the trees mature you could look into transitioning to more shade tolerant species like currants and gooseberries, but this would be a few years down the road.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Nicole, Great Idea, we have raised beds between our orchard trees.

Some things to consider for growing mound placement in an orchard:
1) Microclimates will be created, think about how these new climates will effect your apple trees. Increased humidity will be one of these things to factor in.
2) Even at their young age, those apple trees have very long root systems, gently bend the longest branches to parallel with the ground and you will know where your actual drip line (and the feeding root system) is located.
3) building a hugel type mound is going to give additional water availability to the roots as well as introduce some mycorrhizal fungi both are good things for apple and other fruit trees.
4) most fruit trees like the soil to be a little acidic as in lower than a 6.5 pH but higher than 5.0 pH.
5) plants tend to make adjustments to their environment to give themselves a better chance of survival.
This is why companion plantings work so well, or don't work at all, they can and will help each other survive better, or they will eliminate their competition for resources.

I would not dig closer to my trees than the outer edge of the drip line. Good luck with building your mounds, they will be great helpers to your orchard in the long run.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Progess Report!

So, I figured I’d post a picture of my lasagna hugel bed. I’m hoping it will be productive, but I don’t quite know if I got the ratios of things right in this pile. I’m afraid I might have too many “browns.”

So far, I’ve got about 6-8 inches of alder trunks at the base (I didn’t end up having the time to dig down to bury them, so they are just stacked there). On top—and mixed in with—the logs are leaves (alder & maple) and duck bedding. I try to use the poopiest duck bedding from when I turn their deep litter bedding. Aside from the logs, probably 90% of the mass is the leaves and bedding. There’s also a single layer of horse manure from my neighbor’s horse, a few dustings of ash from my woodstove, some food scraps (including 2 kombucha SCOBIES), and two different layers of chopped up sword ferns.

It’s about 2 feet tall right now.

As for the boarder, I was going to use western hemlock logs from a tree that fell down…only to find that we couldn’t really move the big ones that we wanted to use. We might just end up cutting it into 2 foot rounds, and then standing those side by side on edge to make a boarder.

If you have any input or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
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Dusk makes for bad lighting, Sorry!
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The length of the mound, with the hemlock boarder log that didn
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Bryant RedHawk
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That is a good start!
Usually the soil goes on top before you plant, at this point in your mound build you could lay on the soil and plant or continue as you have been doing and end up with a mound that is a little taller.
With all those browns, some greens would be a good thing to add for getting more nitrogen into the mound.
I have one mound I'm building that will be open for at least one more growing season before I put on the cap soil and start planting in it.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Nicole,

I think that you are really onto a great idea for your fruit tree area. My hopes for my own orchard to be is to create hugulkultur beds in and around all the tree and shrub guilds, so I'm really excited to see you start this process!

In regards to the bed, as constructed thus far, Bryant wrote:
Usually the soil goes on top before you plant
This is true of hugul beds, but, as with any lasagna type system, you could also add pockets of soil where you are planning to spread seeds, or put out transplants.

To continue on with what Bryant said:
I have one mound I'm building that will be open for at least one more growing season before I put on the cap soil and start planting in it.
You could just build this bed, and continue building it up with material, before you plant it. Also, one could sort out some lines of soil/compost wide enough to hold their own moisture a bit, and plant your crops them, and get the production happening right away, and then build it up later as an ongoing process, if you are so inclined to go the route of a bigger hugulkultur.

Good luck. It looks awesome.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thanks for the replies! My neighbor told me today that he would be filling up 5 gallon buckets with horse manure and that anytime I saw them I could take the contents. (He was worried that I might not have enough garden space to use it all. I assured him that that would not be a problem--I can always make more garden beds! The ducks also love searching through the poo to find bugs, etc, too.)

So, it looks like I'll have some more material to contribute to my bed, so it will definitely be getting taller, and it won't likely be lacking for nitrogen anytime soon, either. Buuuut, now I'm reading all sorts of things about horse manure being too strong, or that it will have too much nitrogen that will lead to blossom end rot (especially with our soils that are already low in calcium). I plan on putting a thin layer of leaves between they layers of horse manure. Then, come spring when the grass is dry enough to mow, I'll put a few inches of grass clippings on top of the last layer of leaves, and then put potting soil on top of that. Would that be sufficient to insulate the plants from the hot manure? Should I add some lime to get some calcium in there?

Thanks for all your help--you guys are awesome!
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Layer the leaves with the manure sounds like a good idea. Maybe add in some small branches or shredded paper/cardboard to that mix to up the brown even further, then plant some nitrogen hogs on your mound (squash, pumpkins, whatever) then proceed as normal next year. I like to add epsom salts to the soil to help with the blossom end rot seems like most of the time calcium is there just not available and Magnesium helps with the uptake.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Adding branches in with the leaves sounds great to me. Especially since, we had such a windy fall that any time I try to rake up leaves, I get a whole bunch of twigs and small sticks mixed in!

I'll look into the Epsom salt. Thanks!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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One thing to do, when adding your topsoil in the end is to dig holes through the manure layer, and fill them with extra soil so that your roots are not getting involved in the manure, unless they send feeder roots over on their own. They will know to avoid this, if they have some space to choose. The excavated manure can be placed near the plants on the surface (and mulched), also, just not so close that it contacts the plant or that heavy rains would wash the harsher hot nutrients too heavily into the top of the roots.

Hotbeds were built with fresh horse manure under the root zone in cloches and, as long as the plants were not in direct contact with the manure the plants thrived.
 
Jan White
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I'm reading all sorts of things about horse manure being too strong


I planted melons on top of fresh - like right outta the horse fresh - manure last year. I piled 3-5 inches of soil on top of the manure and put the transplants in there. They did really well.

If you're putting the manure down now and planting in the spring, that should help a lot too. I did a bed of lettuce and spinach that way and everything grew fine.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Jan White wrote:
I planted melons on top of fresh - like right outta the horse fresh - manure last year. I piled 3-5 inches of soil on top of the manure and put the transplants in there. They did really well.

If you're putting the manure down now and planting in the spring, that should help a lot too. I did a bed of lettuce and spinach that way and everything grew fine.


This is really good to know! I got a lot of 5 gallon buckets of manure added to my bed, probably 24 of them. It's helped a lot in making it taller! I added a lot more maple leaves and small sticks, too. I'll put another layer of leaves over it and then, I'm thinking, it'd be safe to add the soil on top. I'm also angling the bed so that the back is taller than the front, with it being two feet in the back and 18 inches in the front. I'm hoping this will get me some nice solar gains.

I also edged the bed with hemlock rounds, which also double as play equipment for my toddler . He loves holding my hand and walking down them. Now that's what I call stacking functions . I also put the fence in the back to grow the squashes and beans/peas up (I filled in the area next to the fence with just leaves, in hopes that the legumes would be able to be productive there.)

Roberto pokachinni wrote:One thing to do, when adding your topsoil in the end is to dig holes through the manure layer, and fill them with extra soil so that your roots are not getting involved in the manure, unless they send feeder roots over on their own. They will know to avoid this, if they have some space to choose. The excavated manure can be placed near the plants on the surface (and mulched), also, just not so close that it contacts the plant or that heavy rains would wash the harsher hot nutrients too heavily into the top of the roots.


I'll do this, too. Thanks for the suggestion!
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Bed is quite a bit taller now.
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Balancing logs=fun times for kids of all ages!
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From the other (east) side.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Finally got a chance to post an update on the apple tree mound. It's been finished and planted since the end of January. There's peas & tomatillos in the back, with radishes in front of them, and green onions and beets in the front.

You'll notice, perhaps, that there aren't that many peas or radishes. This doesn't seem to be the fault of the mound, but rather too many bunnies making it through my not-so-secure fence. The only peas that made it were the ones I planted at the end of January. All the other ones get eaten as they emerge from the ground. I've been applying coffee grounds in hopes of detouring the bunnies, and we plan on getting another hunter-kitty (our last one got eaten by predators last fall along with many of our ducks). The beets seem to be protected by the green onions I planted with them, and so when I planted broccoli in the middle of the mound, I interplanted more green onions.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the mound. Things sprout well in there, and it should do better once the bunnies stop eating everything. The apple trees also seem unaffected by the mound, too.
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View from the side, with the "back" being the peas along the tall fense
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View of the aspect--I built it at an angle to get the most out of the sun
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View of the right side, so as to see how tall the bed ended up being
 
Nicole Alderman
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Just thought I'd post an update on how it's going. At first it was really sad, with very little growing, and that which did grow mostly was stunted and turned yellow and frequently died. After following the amazingly helpful advice in this thread: https://permies.com/t/55952/plants/garden-bed-Weird-fungus-unhappy, the bed finally started producing and growing. It ended up being more of a fall garden than a summer one, but hopefully it will do better next year.

(To get it to produce, I  added epsom salt and prenatal vitamins. I also applied as much coffee grounds as I could find and applied some dried kelp that we had. Watered with liquid manure--that I brewed from bindweed, comfrey, nettle, horsetail and catfish poop water--for soil organisms and nutrients. Poured some antiquated spirulina that I found over it. And, sprinkled soil from my woods over it, in hopes of giving it more happy soil organisms. )

Here it is on July 21st:


And here it is today, a little worse-for-wear from a freak hailstorm we had, but recovering well and still producing in the process.
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Apple tree mound at the end of summer, after a freak hailstorm.
 
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