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!! the permaculture superpower in berms

 
paul wheaton
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From the five of diamonds in the permaculture playing cards deck:

Using texture in the earth, you can block harmful winds or channel them to places where they can be more useful.

Wind dries the soil and blows it away.

Less wind will reduce or eliminate wind chill factor.

Berms dramatically reduce wind.

Berms are the best at reducing unwanted noise.

Water transpired from the plants during the day is more likely to return to the plants as morning dew.



Here is the berm around the tipi.  Note the sunscoope shape.  I think this berm is about 12 feet tall.  There is no wood inside of it, so this is just a berm - not a hugelkultur.






You can see that the dirt that is used to build this berm contains a lot of sand and has very little organic matter:





For bigger berms, it is mighty handy to have a path about halfway up so you can access all the stuff you want for gardening.   But this path is a bit too narrow - as stuff grows, it will eventually cover the path.  Paths usually need to be about eight feet wide so that when the growies grow out, there can still be room to maneuver with a wheelbarrow.


Julianne had her video camera out as she asked me about a berm we were walking by.  This is a spot we call "the turtle lot".   It is about a hundred yards from the fisher price house.   It is filled with huge rocks and covered with a very sandy dirt.  Each year more and more stuff manages to grow there.  In a few more years I think we can call the dirt "soil":



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Fred Tyler
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Here's some photos of the berms at the lemon tree site. It is a sun scoop shape surrounded by an even bigger sun scoop. The soil is pretty rocky and has pretty much no organic matter. Mostly we seeded it with nitrogen fixers, ground covers, and weeds of all sorts in an effort to start building some good soil.

There hasn't been a lemon tree planted yet.
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sun scoop berm
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sun scoop berm
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sun scoop berm
 
Hans Quistorff
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When I moved here I found I had a sun scoop in a south facing hillside. The horses and goats had built it as a place to dut themselves in the sandy rocky hillside.  I decided it was a good place to burn the thorny berry vines that are to hard to compost. So I piled vines there all winter and burned them from time to time. With the accumulated debris, charcoal and minerals from the ashes things began growing below the burning area, The next year things started growing above the burning area. The third year I could not burn there anymore because there was too much growing that might catch fire and spread up the hill. So fire can be used judicially to build soil where composting may not be practical.
 
Jan Turner
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I have started a community garden and food forest near a low income area of town. the north edge of the property abutts a railroad track.  it is a spur that Cargill uses for its soybean meal plant.  They spray the side of the railroad tracks with herbicide.  Would a berm be a good way to prevent drift and such from them?
 
paul wheaton
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Roberto pokachinni
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I have started a community garden and food forest near a low income area of town. the north edge of the property abutts a railroad track.  it is a spur that Cargill uses for its soybean meal plant.  They spray the side of the railroad tracks with herbicide.  Would a berm be a good way to prevent drift and such from them?


A berm would dramatically reduce problems.


I agree with Paul, however:  Somethings to consider, as I am a railroad worker, you should know that the railway right of way is full of toxins, particularly heavy metals.  As good as the wild strawberries look along the edge of the track, I try to curb my urge to harvest many... I can't resist a few.   

Fortunately the Spur track is a low speed/low volume zone so it has not as much exhaust.  The spur and meal plant might have had different functions in the past, and so the track could be full of whatever that was.  The herbicides used along the tracks might get into your water table and thus be in your garden; this might also be the case with the toxins in the track system... creosote ties being a standard in most spurs (and they are NASTY-believe me).  You might be able to have a chat with the local Track Supervisor about doing the weed suppression on the spur so that they do not have to use herbicides.      
 
Jan Turner
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I would probably build a bear 20 ft away and the gardens would be farther. I doubt that I would use the berm for food.  Just a barrier between the railroad and garden.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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About Berms:

Hi Paul.  Berms are awesome!!    I had to put that here.     So anyway, one reason that those sunchoke plants on top of your berm are doing so well even though we might think that there is not much moisture there, is because there actually is moisture there!  The reason that there is moisture there, is because of evaporation off the surface of the berm (which has a large surface area) and evapo-transpiration from the plants.  These evaporation processes creates a capillary draw from the water rich soil particles within the berm's center and under the base of the berm.   
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I would probably build a bear 20 ft away and the gardens would be farther. I doubt that I would use the berm for food.  Just a barrier between the railroad and garden.
  That sounds great!  Great to hear of another community garden!
 
Ben Allan
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Thanks for this video Paul! So excellent to the berms in action. These next couple weeks, we are establishing three 50' wide (in the center) sun scoops here in Florida. Our homestead is on the only elevated site in the state, giving us strong winds as we watch the rains blow around us during the typical rainy season. We are in a rain shadow. We are hoping to use the hugelkultur berms to capture more heat for tropicals, retain moisture over time and direct the cold winds up and over the center of the berms.

When seeding new earth works during drought periods, is it recommended to seed immediately and wait for the first rains to sprout the seeds? Is it better to wait until closer to the rainy season and then seed? Will this lead to lower germination due to rotting and wildlife forage if rainy season is 4-5 months away? Don't want the soil to runoff but we don't want to waste seed if we don't have to.

Not sure why they would rot without moisture and we plan to use hay mulch to protect from wind and wildlife.

How important is it to get the new beds irrigated? It seems like Geoff does irrigate his new earthworks immediately.

Thank you for any insights
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Ben.  Sounds like a cool project.  I hope you don't mind my answering.  Sometimes Paul is busy, and he may take a day or two to get back to this to give his advice.  So here's mine, instead in the short term.
When seeding new earth works during drought periods, is it recommended to seed immediately and wait for the first rains to sprout the seeds? Is it better to wait until closer to the rainy season and then seed? Will this lead to lower germination due to rotting and wildlife forage if rainy season is 4-5 months away? Don't want the soil to runoff but we don't want to waste seed if we don't have to. 
   This would depend on whether you have the water capacity to irrigate.  Some people might not have that capacity, and then it might be better to wait until closer to rain.  I would say, irrigation or rain is very beneficial for starting berms off.
How important is it to get the new beds irrigated? It seems like Geoff does irrigate his new earthworks immediately.
I think that if you have the capacity to charge your berms with moisture while you build them, or shortly thereafter, then you should.  I'm assuming that since you asked, that you do have the capacity.  The sooner they have moisture, the faster you will gain the benefits from them.  A drip irrigation, or weeping hose, on the top of your berm will go a long way to penetrating the whole thing slowly with very little volume of water/hour/day.  If you have a windier part of the day, and you have limited water, then irrigate when that part of the day ends, so you loose as little moisture to evaporation.  If it's windy all the time, irrigate at night when you have less heat evaporation. 
we plan to use hay mulch to protect from wind and wildlife.
  Straw might be better as hay has seeds that may attract wildlife.  You may want those seeds though, in your berm, depending on the hay seed, and if you don't mind those plants. 

My suggestion (if you have the time):  Spread enough hay over the berms so that you have a 50% cover over the soil.  Look closely and gauge whether you see about a 50/50 visual of soil and hay.  This will aid in keeping your microbes happy, while giving you some exposed soil/light for seeds to germinate... while you do the following other things. 

Soak overnight enough oats to broadcast over the entire area at one oat every 3 to 6 square inches.  Drain them, and continue to soak and rinse the oats twice daily for a couple or few days until you gain a little root sticking out, and then a little green shoot starting.  When you see the oats root out, soak enough field peas overnight to put a pea for every square foot of the berm.  The next morning, drain the peas. 

Mix a bit of peat or ground up dried aged horse manure with some pea inoculate (so that the inoculate is spread out evenly, and not clumping on dampness) and then gently (so as not to damage the softer peas) mix this with the damp peas. 

By pre-sproating (and inoculating the peas) these seeds you charge them with initial water, and get their life force going.  Now they really want to grow immediately.

As gently as possible press one pea every foot into the soil [if your soil is really dense you may need a dibble (a pointed stick) to make a hole... sometimes this works great with two people, one dibbling and one with a bowl of peas],  {and since you did use "We" I'm assuming that you are not alone in planting these berms} starting in rows at the top of the berm and working your way down to the bottom row.  Then broadcast the oats over the entire surface of the berm, going for one every three to six inches.  The straw and the uneven shape of the sprouted grain, and your footprints from planting the peas , should hold it from rolling too far downwards.  Irrigate it to moisten the straw and earth, but not enough to have soil run downhill at all.  Irrigate a bit every other day until you see the peas come up.  Mulch about the same amount of  hay again on it as soon as you see the peas come up.  After that, the berm should have a dense cover on it that will protect it.  The peas will supercharge the oats and provide a stable nitrogen base in your surface soil, and both, being tallish annuals, will give a really nice mulch layer for whatever else you plan to plant in the future.             
 
paul wheaton
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Ben Allan wrote:When seeding new earth works during drought periods, is it recommended to seed immediately and wait for the first rains to sprout the seeds? Is it better to wait until closer to the rainy season and then seed? Will this lead to lower germination due to rotting and wildlife forage if rainy season is 4-5 months away?


How important is it to get the new beds irrigated? It seems like Geoff does irrigate his new earthworks immediately. 


Roberto pokachinni wrote:I think that if you have the capacity to charge your berms with moisture while you build them, or shortly thereafter, then you should.


If the soil is excellent and has some moisture, and you have oodles of mulch, then irrigating would be silly.  But usually, when you just build a berm or hugelkultur, all of the materials are very dry and there is not yet a winter moisture charge. 

When Sepp planted that nearly kilometer of hugelkultur in dayton, somebody asked this question.  His response was "have a little faith in nature!"

When we planted the berms here, it was super dry - but june is our wettest month, on average, so the rain will be here soon.  And the rain was a no-show.  Lots of stuff germinated, got to be three inches tall and then died.  Very sad. 

Each year with our berms has been a different story of "oh, damn" but, as you can see from the video, a lot of stuff has made it okay. 

Of course, the stuff you see in the video is "zone 3" or "zone 4".   So it shouldn't be irrigated.    But we also didn't irrigate our zone 1 or zone 2 stuff.  And I regret that now.   If I could do do-overs, I would say that watering with a watering can is fine.  I think that if we went around and helped things get a start the first year, we would have built a lot more soil the first year. 

But take a good look at that berm - that sand and rock is slowly starting to turn into soil.   So, rather than all that work of irrigation, in time we will have a magnificent garden that will have no irrigation.  Instead of irrigation, we used patience.  What a beautiful, magnificent and noble ingredient .... patience. 


Ben Allan wrote:we plan to use hay mulch to protect from wind and wildlife.


Roberto pokachinni wrote:Straw might be better as hay has seeds that may attract wildlife. 


First, for hay and straw, there is a 98% chance that it contains persistent herbicides, so you DON'T want that. 

Second, hay and straw are the exact same thing, only harvested at different times (hay was cut when green and then dried; straw was cut when the plant had already turned yellow and dry by itself).   The risk of seeds is the same. 


 
R Ranson
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Instead of irrigation, we used patience.  What a beautiful, magnificent and noble ingredient .... patience. 


I have great faith in this.
When I try to rush things, it creates more work for myself.  When I take things slowly and work with the natural process, then the result takes time, but is able to thrive without my consent attention.
 
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