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First Time Hugel Builder

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I am just starting my adventures into permaculture. After buying two acres in Southeast Texas, I began researching how to generate sustainable output. I've decided to forgo a traditional row garden in favor of a bio-diverse hugel mound.

The base is a mix of green hardwood, and dead fall from the wooded portion of the property. I am currently in the process of hand chopping the thinner branches so they will stack a bit better. After that it is getting layers of leaf litter, compost, aged horse/cow manure from the neighbor and rabbit manure from my meat rabbits.

The soil is basically river sand. If I mix the sand with compost, will that be a sufficient soil layer, or do I need to source something better?
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Looks like you have a great start! I'm in a similar position but a bit behind you - I just collected a large amount of wood from friends and neighbors. I'm thinking about doing the buried wood version for my hugelkultur beds but that is still a few months away.

Hopefully, someone can help you with your question about a good sand/compost ratio. I would recommend adding a good mulch layer on top of the soil and also from reading other threads about hugelkulture it seems like people found it was helpful to make sure the soil is mixed in with the woody debris to help minimize open spaces. Take what I'm saying with a grain of salt - I have very limited experience with hugelkulture beds but hope to try my first large ones in a few months. Make sure to share how yours turn out once they are all done! I will be sharing my experiences on here as I move forward - hopefully, we can learn from each other!
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Location: Sunshine Coast, BC
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Hi Daniel;

Welcome to Permies! And to permaculture. Exciting, isn't it?

I'll just drop my two cents worth in here, as I do have a little experience with creating a soil-less garden bed, because we have only sand. And rocks. And more sand.    In my case, I went with a buried wood bed, rather than an above ground hugelkultur as I believe it will catch and hold water better, and last longer without watering during the summers. Drought proofing the property is a major priority. But either way you build them, the lack of soil doesn't have to be a limiting factor. The only actual soil that went into my beds was with the transplants. My beds are topped with about 18 inches of year-old grass/weeds/leaves, some year-old Scotch Broom chips, and some sand mixed in with that. Then I just transplanted into that. It worked great! I had a very beautiful and productive garden this year (first year).

I will be adding more amendments in the spring: compost and more organic matter, some clay for more water retention and minerals, and seaweed (I live on an island, so I have lots of access to seaweed). These wood beds, whether buried wood or above ground hugelkultur, apparently hit their stride in about their third year, so I was pretty pleased with the first year being so productive. We had a much rainier that usual summer, but once the rains stopped I still had to water some. But not nearly as much as I would a regular garden bed in our sandy soil. It's soaking up the fall rains as we speak, so I'm hoping to water even less next year.

Just a word of caution - if you're building an above ground hugelkultur, make sure that you make it very large. If you have hot dry summers (which I'm assuming you do in South Texas), they can dry out very quickly if they are too small. That's the reason I am using buried wood beds. I think they will be much less work in the long run, as I won't have to irrigate much eventually (that's the plan, anyway    ). Which will also make it cheaper, as I won't have to purchase irrigation equipment.

There's a thread about buried wood beds that might be helpful here:

Good luck with your permaculture adventures! And don't hesitate to ask questions. We love to share our knowledge and experiences!


Daniel Lenox
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That sounds great, Daron. I promise to share whatever the result is. That way we can both learn from my inevitable mistakes.

And thanks for all the feedback, Tracy. I am in the southeast side of Texas. We do have hot summers, but high humidity so close to the coast. I imagine you're familiar with that.

The soil supports a fair amount of grass on my neighbor's side of the fence. One of my two acres is wooded. The other is lightly wooded and was heavily over grazed by horses. The weeds that popped up after the horses are deep tap rooted, but are thriving.

The goal is 4' to 5' mounds that will be built up more each year. It is also on a natural slope, so I am hoping water retention is good.

I wanted to harvest everything for the build from the property, but I may end up heavily mulching with leaf litter and hummus from the wooded acre, then buy some straw for the top layer.
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