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New Member ... New Hugelkultur Mounds ... New Learning Experience

 
Bill Robie
Posts: 3
fungi goat hugelkultur
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Newcomers here, and this is our story. Any advice will be appreciated.

We've had lots of changes around our house in rural VA in recent years. Starting with hurricane Isabel, a series of storms have taken down quite a lot of poplar and pine trees--many of the pines being infested with beetles. Predators have reduced our flock of free-range chickens to the point that we decided it's best to only keep a few to produce eggs for our own use. Falling trees damaged outbuildings and threatened the house, so we sadly decided to remove trees that might hit the house if they fell. What that has left us with seems to be a bunch of opportunities, and we are working toward realizing those.

We have had a small garden for awhile, using marginally-raised beds, and that has provided us with some vegetables ... but did more for our overly-free-ranging hens. Our new strategy is going to be to confine them within the fenced-in area where our goats live, placing a smaller hen house in there (the old one is coming down, but the ground it sits on is very rich!). The goats and hens get along, and maybe the goats will help keep the nocturnal feeders away. Time will tell. I'm personally just tired of go-wherever-they-like chickens having so much control over my home and life. They'll be more confined and not free to go wherever they wish, but I'll be able to grow things where I want, and keep the porches clean. The hens will still have plenty of space to wander around in the sunshine, and several of them already spend most of their day hanging out with the goats.

But I digress ... here's where feedback could be really useful!

What used to be our front yard, devoid of grass thanks to the chickens scratching it all up, is going to become a series of hugelkultur mounds. At present, we're thinking of only making them about a meter high and 4-6 feet wide (length will vary according to location). Because we have a lot of pine that has been down for a few years, and is at the stage that it's really sponged up water but hasn't started to crumble entirely, I am splitting that stuff up and laying it tightly as the base strata for our mounds. I've seen all sorts of varying comments about using pine/not using pine, but I thought that I'd go with what I have, and I've got tons of that. If nothing else, it ought to hold moisture at the core of the mounds.

On top of that, I plan to stack a layer or two of split poplar logs. These aren't as decomposed as the pine. In fact, they have only been cut for a few months, but the average of all the wisdom that I have seen seems to suggest that using them as a barrier above the pines might be a good plan. Over that I will put a good bit of mixed wood-chip mulch (from the branches of the trees that came down), then some rotting straw and leaves on top of that, and finally a good layer of soil that will be heavily mixed with composted chicken manure. That's about the best plan I can think of, using the materials that we currently have on hand.

We are in the process of building our first mound now, and hope to plant it soon. Any suggestions for veggies that might do well as a first-season crop for this particular combination? Am I planning anything that has glaring problems that I'm too inexperienced to see right now?
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 801
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I come from an area which does better with buried rather than raised mounds. But it may have some of the same challenges. I've only one attempt under my belt, but I had best results with sweet potatoes the first season. They're a very forgiving plant, and any that I wasn't able to pull from between decaying wood became valuable organic matter.

The first winter I planted mixed cilantro, carrots, and dill. Both herbs did very well and the cilantro self seeded itself spectacularly this year.

I think if I were starting a new bed I would repeat the sweet potatoes and add at least one legume. I had other plants that I tried that didn't thrive (potatoes, tomatoes, melons). I probably needed to give the mound more time to develop. Certainly this winter's cilantro seems even more vigorous.

Only problem with a question like this is how much the answer depends on specific growing conditions. I think you're actually starting from a better position than me, so will see faster results. I was starting with fresh cuttings and a period of historic drought.

If you have enough funds/seeds, maybe you could start multiple species at a close spacing and then thin out any plants that aren't thriving. Stop the thinning when you achieve optimal spacing and you'd be left with the best adapted plants, probably in a poly culture.
 
Bill Robie
Posts: 3
fungi goat hugelkultur
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Casie Becker wrote:I've only one attempt under my belt, but I had best results with sweet potatoes the first season. They're a very forgiving plant, and any that I wasn't able to pull from between decaying wood became valuable organic matter.
[...]
If you have enough funds/seeds, maybe you could start multiple species at a close spacing and then thin out any plants that aren't thriving. Stop the thinning when you achieve optimal spacing and you'd be left with the best adapted plants, probably in a poly culture.


Thanks for the feedback, Casie! Will definitely try some sweet potatoes. Also, we did some overkill on seeds this year, so we can try lots of different things.
 
Ray Ko
Posts: 15
Location: Central Virginia zone7
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I'm in Virginia, also, and raised mounds do not work for me. No matter how I layer and stuff them, they dry out. Burying the wood up to ground level works well. A single layer of logs on the surface works, but not as well as planting in the ground by itself. 4-5 foot tall mounds only work as snake/mice motels or as a way to conceal stumps, brush, contrary kinfolk, or other unsightly things.
 
Bill Robie
Posts: 3
fungi goat hugelkultur
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Ray Ko wrote:I'm in Virginia, also, and raised mounds do not work for me. No matter how I layer and stuff them, they dry out. Burying the wood up to ground level works well. A single layer of logs on the surface works, but not as well as planting in the ground by itself. 4-5 foot tall mounds only work as snake/mice motels or as a way to conceal stumps, brush, contrary kinfolk, or other unsightly things.


Hi, Ray - Well ... you do open some possibilities that I hadn't thought about! How much soil have you actually added on top of the mounds that you have made? How tightly-stacked was your wood? We split our logs and packed them rather tightly together. Next we plan to add a fairly thick layer of decomposing wood chips, and on top of that some rotting straw, then a goodly amount of "chicken soil" to cap it all off. I'm hoping that this combination will sponge up enough moisture to not dry out too quickly.

As for the snakes and mice, we've got two cats that love to bring us presents. Maybe these will be a bonus entertainment center for them?
 
Ray Ko
Posts: 15
Location: Central Virginia zone7
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I've done it different ways: wood packed neatly and tightly (as you describe), haphazardly piled using a box blade and tractor to gather and pile wood/topsoil intermingled. Always plenty of soil layered throughout and piled on top. I still do some mounds -mainly to hide stuff. But they Don't produce well.

As for snakes, I love them. They eat the mice, whom I despise for the nests I find in places they shouldn't nest. Like my tractor.
 
Erin Blegen
Posts: 21
Location: Minnesota, United States
food preservation forest garden hugelkultur
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I've used lots of pine with lots of success! I also am of the attitude of using what is available to you- and for us, that means primarily balsam/spruce trees, as well as birch and tons of aspen.

As far as what to plant- I remember worrying about what to plant/what not to plant in first year hugel beds. But last year I threw caution to the wind and ended up with overall great results. Potatoes, beans, romaine, onions, carrots, tomatoes, corn, strawberries, cucumbers, radishes, sweet meat squash, garlic, herbs all did great in first year beds. The only thing that didn't seem to do so well was watermelon- but we have a very short growing season (last year our last frost was June 1st and first frost September 11th), which likely accounted for the small watermelons. Otherwise, everything did pretty awesome. I've got a start-to-finish slideshow of my garden last year which consisted of primarily new beds; you're welcome to check it out if it's helpful!

Regarding the snakes and mice- I also welcome the snakes as they do keep the mice and chipmunks at bay.

http://www.yellowbirchhobbyfarm.com/fall-preparation-for-hugelkultur-gardening-lake-time-magazine-article-start-to-finish-hugelkultur-garden-photos-2015/



 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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