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Maryland First Time Hugelkultur  RSS feed

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Hi All,

Looking to build my first Hugelkultur this fall or next spring. I was recommended to come join this community by a man who introduced me to this concept. Looking forward to what I'll learn, and hoping you all can help me do my first Hugelkultur the right way.

I live in northern Maryland, my property is approximately 1 acre, and my soil isn't great - a decent amount is orange/red clay. Half of my property is in heavy shade, with some very large oak and ash trees covering it. This half of the property is fenced in. the other half is in the open and gets a good portion of the day's sunlight.

Several years ago, we put a pond in, and I have a significant amount of the clay/soil leftover. On to some starting questions:

1) Should I use my available clay, or will it cause issues not allowing water to penetrate the "core" of the hugelkultur well? I'd love to use available resources, but don't want to do that at the cost of the project being successful!
2) I have two types of wood available on my property. I oak firewood, which I originally intended to burn but could sacrifice for the project. I also have a full large Ash tree in various sizes from the trunk to the twigs. It was cut down this past spring. I haven't seen much on the forum about whether Ash is OK or not, but I certainly have a lot more of the ash, and a wider variety of sizes of it.
3) What would you recommend my first/second year of planting be to get this going for my area?
4) Assuming I should put the hugelkultur in the sunny half of my property, are there any tips on dealing with deer (all over my non-fenced half of property) aside from completely fencing it in? Would I have any success in a shadier area, where the deer can't get?
5) Would the fall or spring be a better time to start the project?

Thanks for any help you pros can provide to get me started on my first one. I've never had great success with the gardens yet (just getting tomatoes and peppers really, struggling with a lot of other things), so I hope a new approach will prove to be successful.
Posts: 1737
Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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Hi Andrew;

Welcome to Permies! I hope you get lots of permaculture info and ideas on here. It's the best place I've found for meeting like-minded people, and getting advice, info, and ideas.

So! On to your questions. And bear in mind I am not a hugelkultur expert - these are just some things I've experienced, and have heard/read from trusted sources.

1. Clay is awesome! It holds water well, and generally also has lots of nutrients. I've been adding it to my buried wood beds. I would use the clay on the inside of the hugelkultur. Get it nice and wet, and put it on - maybe mixed with some organic matter - as one of the lower layers. The plant roots will grow down deep and get the water and nutrients. You could put some on the top layer of soil, but I would definitely mix it with other soil or organic matter. And mulch it well so it doesn't dry out and crack.

2. Both of those woods should be perfectly fine.

3. It all depends on when you're planting, but for the first year it's great to get some cover crops in there to boost nutrients. A good cover crop of legumes will help to add nitrogen, which will be lacking in the beginning as it is tied up in the carbon. If you're short on organic matter, a cover crop mix is a great way to grow your own. It also depends on what you plan on eventually growing in the hugelkultur. Is it for annual veggies, berries, perennials? It would be good to get something growing on it as it goes into winter, as the roots will help to hold it together so you don't lose surface soil.

4. Deer. Yeah, I have an 8 foot fence around my garden. The only way you can keep deer out of a garden is to fence it. You can plant things that deer don't eat - but that's a pretty short list around here. Plus, they will probably come and taste it anyway, to see if they like it, and then walk all over it, just 'cause they can. The only way it will be more successful in the shady part is if you grow shade-loving plants on it. If you're growing veggies, flowers, or berries - probably won't be great.

5. Fall is a great time to build a hugelkultur. The premise of these earthworks is that they soak up copious amounts of rain water/snow melt during the wet season, thus needing less irrigation in the dryer months. So, having it built going into winter is perfect. It will soak up water, and the innards will start to break down and get ready for spring.

Hugelkultur beds are said to really hit their stride in their third year. So the first couple of years you will probably have to water to some extent, depending on the size of your hugelkultur, and what you are growing in it. Really big ones are better at absorbing and holding lots of water than small ones, obviously. So, the smaller it is, the less water it can absorb, thus the more supplemental water you will probably have to add.

And that is my two cents worth. Let me know if you found this helpful, or if you have any other questions!


Posts: 186
Location: Swanton, MD
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I am also in Maryland, but Western Maryland.

Yesterday started the first phase of putting in the hugelkulture for me.   I have 2 cattle panels stacked to make an 8' deer proof fense, and the upper fence was taken down yesterday.  The dip for the first logs to be put down is being dug, and the area will be re-graded to flow into the hugelkulture.   This is the most expensive part as I am paying an excavator to do it. 

Altogether, I expect the whole thing to cost me about $800 for 2 4' high - 35' long hugelkultures.   I know most go higher, but am short so that seems a better height for me.

The garbage can on the platform was filled with water for a drip irrigation system.   It will be moved elsewhere next year.  
[Thumbnail for Drip-Irrigation-buckets-2016.PNG]
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