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How to and how not to make a hugelbed

 
dan long
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I've finished one hugelbeet and have started on a second. Experience is the best teacher, but if you're like me, you prefer OTHER peoples experience. I'll share some of my eff ups with you so that you can avoid my mistakes.

What I did on the first one was I dug down a single shovel depth, tossed the soil onto the previous section, dropped enough wood to raise it about a foot higher than the surrounding field, then moved to the next section. Rinse and repeat. I realized after I was done that: more or less wood requires just as much soil to cover and therefore more wood is going to have a higher return on invested time and energy, one shovel depth of soil is not nearly enough, one needs to make a point to bury the sod rather than tossing it on top with the soil (upside down or otherwise), it is very necessary to put the largest pieces on the bottom and progressively smaller pieces on top and that some kind of border is necessary to maintain your desired height and width.

Armed with a laundry list of do's and not not's, I dove into building a second, but not even 1/10th of the way through, some "shoulda woulda couldas" have popped up already. First the vindications that I'm doing it right this time: I dug and threw three shovel depths of soil on top of the previous section which is piled up with wood until it is sticking up 3 feet above the surrounding field. The sod goes onto the previous section once the wood is half piled up and the biggest chunks of wood are at the very bottom and the twigs and leaves are on the top, avoiding the problem of big-'ol logs sticking out of the tope periscope-style. However, I'm unimpressed with the performance of my wattle border and heavy leaf mulch in between the beds. I regret the blood sweat and tears poured into the wattle fence which is not nearly strong enough, nor driven far enough into the ground to support the sheer mass of rotting wood pressing against it from within. Next time, I will drive in posts as I am building the hugelbeet so that they get buried as im flinging soil onto the previous section. I don't see any advantage to weaving wattle fencing except for on the very top few inches where the soil is piled. The leaves, though being 6 inches thick at application are already being breached by the quack grass. I wished I had put down cardboard first and then leaves.

The picture is the second hugelbeet in progress. As you can see, the soil on top of any given section comes from the next section, leaving behind a hole in the ground to deposit more wood. This hugelbeet is sunken 2-3 feet in the ground and raised 2-3 feet above the surrounding field, making a hugelbeet that is approximately 5 feet tall.

The second picture is the same concept illustrated by the master stick-figure artist, yours truly, Daniel. I know, I know, sometimes I even impress myself.

This is from a post on my blog. You can see the post in its original glory (and the missing pictures) if you care to go visit. URL is in my signature.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau, Dan,
As you have discovered, bigger is better in the world of growing mound construction.
I have seen lots of people think they can build tall, steeply sloping, narrow based mounds. I've never seen one of these work well, if they don't collapse, they simply don't have water holding ability.

When you are building a growing mound, the first thing to realize is that the wider the base is, the better.
Height of a mound is directly proportionate to the width of the base (think of a mountain's construction).
Indeed larger wood goes on the bottom and it gets smaller in diameter as you go up.

Good mounds are built in layers, with each layer's gaps and holes filled in and then watered before the next layer goes on.
This method allows you to achieve a nice slope once you put the "cap" of soil on the finished construction.
No mound is going to have near vertical sides. Gravity works, always has and always will.

Welcome to the wonderful world of growing mounds, it is as interesting a journey as there is in gardening.
There is something cool about building a garden space that is capable of growing lots of food with out needing weekly watering.
It's also nice to be able to reach out instead of down to pluck your harvest.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Location: North-Central Idaho
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I think you're going to find you'll have lots of settling and really, really, really good rodent habitat with your style of bed. I made the mistake of not building one of my beds in layers(wood/dirt/wood...etc)like Bryant suggests doing (and Paul espouses as the proper method for hugel construction). That's what it looks like you have going on in the pictures on your blog. In my experience that sucker is going to be chocked full of mice, voles, etc. You might want to look into mitigation on that front now. I've imported lots of snakes (many showed up on their own)from around the property, and manually started breaking down some of the open areas and filling them after the fact. I have quite a few perennials in there after three seasons otherwise I would have torn the whole thing down and rebuilt it. During the normal growing season the rodents aren't to bad, but as things get cooler they really start taking a tole. Things like strawberries and even some of my gooseberries have been paying the price for my ignorance. If it were me I'd break those beds down now and rebuild them, before you get in too deep. Learn from my screw up....
 
Travis Philp
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Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
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A few things I learned

Plant/mulch them asap! Paths too.

If you dig a deep trench...Always keep the different soil profiles ("diff. coloured layers) sorted and replace in their natural order. If digging by hand, put each layer on different tarps or wheelbarrows etc. So the can be easily kept separately, and dumped back in

Bed ends up an avg of 3 feet wider than its trench but that can fluctuate greatly depending on the depth of the trench, height of the wood pile, and thickness of the top soil layer of the hugelbed

It IS ok to put sod upside down over the wood pile. I always bury it at least 1 foot with soil/ compost/mulch though so I think that helps keep it from coming back



 
Curtis Mullin
Posts: 25
Location: Massawippi, Quebec, Canada.
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Hey you guys! Just wanted to say that my reality would be seriously distraught/disfigured/directionless if it weren't for y'all earthy folk. Listening to your podcasts keeps me EXPONENTIALLY much more sane.

So, thanks for that.

:/
 
Tyler Close
Posts: 7
Location: Davis, CA - Zone 9B, 100% black clay
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I built my first hugel last year and am currently fixing it up for the next rainy season. The top layer of soil, leaves and twigs broke down and settled a lot more than I was expecting, so I've got a lot of holes to fill in. Luckily, I followed Bryant's advice to use upright logs for the bottom layer, so it's been easy to fill in the holes by just pouring more dirt in. With horizontal logs, fixing this error would have likely meant tearing the whole bed apart.

When building the bed, I really thought I had packed enough dirt in. I also watered the dirt in as I was going. I suspect dirt and compost that's been fluffed up by digging is always going to settle so much that it is hard to pack in enough of it during initial construction. Using upright logs makes it a lot easier to deal with this issue. First timers seem especially likely to run into this problem so should all be advised to use upright logs.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau kola Tyler, indeed it is nearly impossible to get enough dirt into a fresh built growing mound. There is a conundrum when it comes to hugel construction; if you get enough dirt packed in, then you have no air for roots and that leads to nothing growing well. I believe that if you put the dirt in, water it down and then proceed with more dirt/ water in until you have a nice mound built, you are going to have the best mound you could build. Settling is going to happen, even when the earth mother builds a mound there is settling, so it is just part of the process that we must come back year after year to fill in those places that have become holes.

In horizontal built mounds you have to have some "poking sticks" so you can get the new soil additions to where they need to go. In the vertical method, as you state, it is just pour it in and water. I love "easy peasy" methods, they save lots of time and back ache.
 
Nick Dimitri
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..." indeed it is nearly impossible to get enough dirt into a fresh built growing mound"...

Hi, this is my first post here. Definitely, the most successful part of our garden this year was where i built two hugel beds. There was quite a stark difference, both in growth and with insect infest'n. I knew i was going to need other building material so i amassed the biomass ahead of time: compost, animal feces, cuttings from skunk cabbage and other chop-dropped plants. Also I used old rotting birch as my main deciduous wood component, then added some small sundry branches with twigs to add the mounding. At the end I topped off the mound with the top soil dirt I initially removed. Thanks for the "poking stick" suggestion cuz my fingers weren't long enough and felt I had too much too big air pockets than desirable. Tho in retrospect underground aeroponics isn't such a bad idea, eh. I plan to start piling layers of compost etc between the perennials in our garden after harvest is complete, so to either get a start on complete hugel bedding the garden or have some semblance of it throughout. Happy Fall


 
dan long
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Dave Dahlsrud wrote:I think you're going to find you'll have lots of settling and really, really, really good rodent habitat with your style of bed. I made the mistake of not building one of my beds in layers(wood/dirt/wood...etc)like Bryant suggests doing (and Paul espouses as the proper method for hugel construction). That's what it looks like you have going on in the pictures on your blog. In my experience that sucker is going to be chocked full of mice, voles, etc. You might want to look into mitigation on that front now. I've imported lots of snakes (many showed up on their own)from around the property, and manually started breaking down some of the open areas and filling them after the fact. I have quite a few perennials in there after three seasons otherwise I would have torn the whole thing down and rebuilt it. During the normal growing season the rodents aren't to bad, but as things get cooler they really start taking a tole. Things like strawberries and even some of my gooseberries have been paying the price for my ignorance. If it were me I'd break those beds down now and rebuild them, before you get in too deep. Learn from my screw up....


Solid advice. Though I might substitute your snake idea for just encouraging my 4 dogs to play around the hugel beds more. They are pretty good at catching mice and they have already eradicated the indigenous population in my house.
 
dan long
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau kola Tyler, indeed it is nearly impossible to get enough dirt into a fresh built growing mound.
.


Ones strategy in any permaculture endevor is going to need to be adjusted for a wide range of factors. In hugelkulture, I feel like one of the largest factors is going to be available material and tools. While I do not have a chansaw to cut logs into convenient sized peices for vertical arangement, I do have a virtually unlimited supply of leaves at my disposal. Any sections that start to look bare are going to get a few wheelbarrows full of leaf mold on top.
 
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Some poems rhyme. But this is a tiny ad:

The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers:
http://richsoil.com/cards


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