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On Hugelkultur Practice

 
Ben Vieux-Rivage
Posts: 9
Location: Soggysox Farm east of Houston, TX
fungi hugelkultur urban
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This thread will chronicle my trials with hugelkultur, both at home and at Soggysox Farm. These properties are 2.5 miles apart, separated by Old River. We are 30-40 miles east of Houston, TX.
 
Ben Vieux-Rivage
Posts: 9
Location: Soggysox Farm east of Houston, TX
fungi hugelkultur urban
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I made this sun trap last week in my back yard. The plan is to grow a Pancho avocado tree at the center, which is twelve feet from the inner edge of the trap. I marked the future home of that shavacado tree with the blue and white flag, a little bit behind that scraggly fig tree which will eventually be destroyed because who eats figs. We used mostly willow oak and a little sweet gum that I chopped down two months prior. Then we used a few yards of sawdust/soil stuff from the stump grinder and a few yards of wood chips that I made from the brush of those same trees. Then I planted some winter peas and crimson clover to cover the mess and hopefully bring it to life. I would also like to plant these acacia seeds, but I haven't yet.

Future plans include planting acacias and all sorts of food. I can't say yet whether the tropical variety of acacias that I have will take root before this upcoming winter passes. (The winter that will begin tomorrow night and end right around Valentine's Day.) I would also like to find other nitrogen fixing trees because the hugelkultur at Soggysox Farm is going to be MUCH larger. I watched the world domination gardening series after my backyard pile was complete, so I'm thinking that this dude is way deficient on soil and nitrogen. Those little piles along the outer edge are the top soil we removed before piling wood. All of that is gonna sneak back inside and on top and everywhere. There will be a giant load of fungal compost delivered to this location in a few weeks. Some of that is going in and around my pile and also inside the avocado circle. I have some young leaf mold and compost rotting nearby. I'm gonna squirrel that into my hugel pile like little chocolate kisses.

I'm concerned that this thing is mostly wood and a high percentage of fine wood particles. If only I could worry some nitrogen into it...
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innyrds
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outtyrds
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 990
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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In defense of figs, my family eats them with relish. They sell nine of them in a special designed tray for 7 dollars on a regular basis in the grocery stores here. The reason you don't see them in the stores is that they are a very delicate fruit to ship, with a short shelf life. Fresh figs are nothing like the dried figs you may be familiar with from fig Newtons. I suggest you try a fresh one before you give up on your fig tree.

I do admit that does look like a scraggly specimen right now. I've seen them literally growing wild here (in Austin) so I would expect it to be doing better there. Do you have heavy clay or compacted soil in your yard? Poor drainage will hurt nearly every tree you plant, so it would be a good idea to address any issues you have before you plant more trees. The solution can be as easy as planting your fruit trees in mounds (soil, not hugels) instead of ground level. Six inches up can make the difference between life an death for a tree. Don't make the mistake of heavily amending the soil in a planting hole, that creates two problems (especially in clay soils) the hole will catch and hold water like a giant planter with insufficient drainage. And the tree roots will try to stay within that area of improved soil instead of spreading out, this leaves the tree more vulnerable during times of drought. Dig your holes (and build any necessary mounds) with the existing soil and then top dress with any amendments.

As for late additions of nitrogen to your hugelbeds, crazy as it may sound the cheapest and easiest to get a hold of would be urine. Yes, human urine is a good source of nitrogen and a lot of other trace minerals that plants want. In most cases it's recommended you dilute it (1/3 urine to water is the most concentrated I've seen recommended) but right now you have a lot of carbon to buffer any errors. Another option that I've had luck with is animal manures. Often people on Craigslist will be offering it to anyone willing to haul their own. The thing you'll need to watch for here is if the animal isn't on organic feeds, much of the animal feed these days is becoming contaminated with persistent herbicides that aren't broken down in the digestive system. If you get contaminated manure it can take a long time work it's way back out of your soil.

There are a lot of people who have had good results planting nitrogen fixing cover crops. I've only seen this work as a side effect of growing a patch of bluebonnets (which are nitrogen fixing legumes) in my yard. It only took two winters to have the grass become too thick for the bluebonnets to reseed. This is in an area that gets no special treatment, including no water in the summer. Frustrating that I don't get the flowers, but a good sign of how well they fix nitrogen, even when you let them go to seed.
 
Ben Vieux-Rivage
Posts: 9
Location: Soggysox Farm east of Houston, TX
fungi hugelkultur urban
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Thanks for your generous response, Casie. I am planting a new fig tree in the front yard to hide one of my rainwater tanks from the hippie hunters. Fig relish sounds delicious=) We had lots of fig preserves in Northeast Louisiana. My grandma would sweet talk me into picking them for her when she no longer could. I will let the fig live for a couple more years or a few or maybe even keep a dwarf fig shrub right there forever.

This spot in the back was custom made for an avocado tree. I can feel it in my bones Except that I think a former resident disposed of some gravel or small rock back there in my avocado vortex. I get confused about the raised bed thing. If I set a heap of compost on top of the soil and plant my tree into that, do I make sure none of the root ball touches the gravel clay? On the other hand, if I plant the tree in the gravel clay and top dress with the compost and mulch (current plan), will the tree do much better? If I had a third hand, I'd propose replacing a few yards of the gravel clay with fill that I would compact a little before planting the shavocado. OR or I could add fill to raise low spot there because I've already heard that wet spots are inhospitable to these trees. I dunno. I'd rather get it right the first time because I need free fresh avocados RIGHT. NOW.

Fre Shavoca Do

I will begin wizzing on the mound this afternoon. If the training takes, so will my dog. My cat somehow trained herself to urinate in the bathroom sink. She looked me right in the eye yesterday and went for it. I felt a mixture of horror and pride and I need to share this with somebody. She is probably already going one and two on my hugelkultur. The two seeds I've sown are nitrogen fixing. The clover may not have sprouted yet. The others have and they're like pea sprouts right now. Tonight's freeze may necessitate another scattering of seeds. Bluebonnets are definitely gonna happen. Thanks for the idea. Check this out:

Bluebonnets
 
Anne Miller
pollinator
Posts: 462
Location: USDA Zone 8a
32
bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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I like to eat figs right off the tree when the are ripe.  They are a sweet treat.  I love fig preserves and other things made from figs.

Your hugelkultur  looks great!
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 990
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
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Usually you plant bluebonnets in the fall. They make a tiny little rosette above ground and then spend all winter expanding their roots before exploding up and into bloom in the spring. They do sell seedlings in the spring, so there is precedent for trying it this late if you want.

The raised bed doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just a pile of soil. If you have any high spots in the yard you could move the soil from there. You'll be basically making a high enough pile of soil to cover the roots of your tree when you set it on top of the ground. You can use less soil if you build a framework like in this link http://www.davewilson.com/home-gardens/growing-fruits-and-nuts/planting-your-backyard-orchard/how-build-raised-bed but it's not actually necessary so long as you provide enough soil to keep the root ball covered and give the roots a little room for the initial growth.  The tree will actually drown if there isn't any air around the roots. In nearly every case it's better to have some of the roots dry out from exposure than bury the tree too deep. The mound creates an area with guaranteed drainage so that even during wet periods the tree can still breath. Stake the tree for at least the first year so that it has time to extend roots into the underlying ground and securely anchor itself. 

This link http://www.davewilson.com/home-gardens/growing-fruits-and-nuts/planting-your-backyard-orchard/how-build-raised-bedis from a fairly well known nursery in California. I highly recommend reading through their site. They talk in depth about a lot of ways of working with fruit trees that aren't commonly used. Even if the techniques aren't for you, they can give you a better idea of how much you can do with your trees. It certainly made more more comfortable with doing the necessary pruning for my trees.

edit: homonyms and grammar
 
Ben Vieux-Rivage
Posts: 9
Location: Soggysox Farm east of Houston, TX
fungi hugelkultur urban
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There's so much to say about raised beds that it almost merits another topic. The purpose of this backyard hugelkultur is really to protect my avocado from the cold and wind, so a raised bed should be integral to my design. All this files under Don't Kill the Avocado.

As for the little raised biscuit ring, I'm not sure whether cedar will work. I am 100% sure that I don't want to use any of the treated lumber. We do have all the varieties of wood munching ants here, so I either need a hardwood that won't rot or taste good to ants, or I need to heap soil on top of the ground. My avocado will obviously need a heap. I have five blueberries coming that need their own heaps. Then I have this soggy strip down my fence line. I took the pic below last week right after we got a very quick inch plus of rain. I'm going to add some fill soon, both along the ditch line to keep its contents contained and along the fence line to plant bamboo and bananas. Those will probably need some additional heaps of compost to keep dry.

It was funny. Kind of funny. It was strange, the city's response. I sent them this pic. A couple of guys came out and looked around. They said nobody had ever complained about this before, so it wasn't an issue.
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contour lines appear where the wet stuff and grass meet
 
Ben Vieux-Rivage
Posts: 9
Location: Soggysox Farm east of Houston, TX
fungi hugelkultur urban
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Question for people who make lists:

I have a clearing at Soggysox Farm that will be reclaimed by the tallow tree jungle soon. My plan is to make some gigantic hugelkulturies. My neighbor is clearing his land for grazing. He agreed to windrow the trees for me. I'm gonna drag them into the clearing and pile them up really good so that they block the NNE winter wind from screaming down this NNW-oriented clearing (about 1500 feet long by 50 feet wide.) So each hugelkultur will broadside the south, or slightly southwest, and I'll leave a little room on either end to run a mower once a year. The vast majority of the farm is still in timber and I don't plan to clear any. However, it takes a whole lot of energy to clear any of this land, so I want to do something productive with the little bit that is clear.

What I really need is a solid list of plants for building soil: nitrogen fixers that work here, biomassives, mulch, all that. I will also plant some seed late March for the citrus rootstock: trifoliate, flying dragon, and carrizo. The seed is relatively cheap compared to grafted nursery plants, so everywhere or anywhere it takes will be awesome and we'll find all the inhospitable spots at little expense. Then I can graft good stuff to these.

But my big goal for the rest of the current winterspring is to outcompete the tallow trees with things that will help me build the soil. I mean the awesome things that can compete with the likes of tallow in the biomass division and inject magic into the soil and attract unicorns. Do you know of any please?
 
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