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hugelkultur in desert arid land

 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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Hi

I was asked yesterday to post on my experience about hugelkultur in the desert

one of my trial was on less than half acre
I used what was available. some logs and a lot of grape branches , on some rows. there were logs different kinds , on the major rest there would only be of grape branches

you can say it was about feet raised , covered with soil and animal manure , compost was not available 
then I planted onions , potato,garlic and maybe something else I can't remember
it was winter time , and like I mentioned , we get almost no rain , so I depended on drip irrigation

results were good in general , at some spots were very good , but not as good as my convential friends

any way I was so exited and told my self that it's only the beginning , nitrogen must have been robbed , then things would change for the better

next crop was corn , I didn't add any thing depending on the manure that should have been there 

the corn was disappointment , it growed , but was short and and give little corn may tenth or less than my conventail friends

at that time I told my self that I should have made a sunken beds instead of raised one , it's arid climate after all , the place was not really protected from wind

may be I should give another try

, waiting for your suggestions





thank you Rebecca
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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One thing I forgot to mention the color of the soil changed , it's original color is tend to be whitish yellow ,after that it turned to be darker color for the eye , a thing is not very common in there
 
Rebecca Norman
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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food preservation greening the desert solar trees
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Thank you! How much was it raised?

I haven't ever tried hugel, but for the arid climate I'm in, I agree, I should try buried hugel because raised hugel increases surface area and evaporation.  But I can't get waste wood at my new house: I'd have to buy a load of firewood, and if people see me burying purchased firewood I don't know what they'd think! At our school we have trees that we prune or pollard, but everything thicker than a finger is burned as firewood for cooking.

I can get compost from composting toilets because those are traditional here. Our school has more than enough for the size of the gardens. In town many people still have composting toilets but don't have fields so they don't need the compost. It's not very rich compost but better than desert soil alone.

If you have access to manure, could you add some every year? Eventually the manure and plant roots might incorporate into the soil and improve it. Could you collect your urine in a container and add it to the drip irrigation water, or dilute it and add it directly to the soil? Urine from one person or family isn't much, but for 1/2 acre it would make a small difference.

Do you use your greywater? We let ours out into the little canals we use for surface irrigation, and the trees love it. It certainly can't be used in drip lines, but can help in surface irrigation. The canal where our kitchen greywater comes out now has dark black compost-like soil all around.

In our arid climate, we don't let any water go to waste. We get a week or two of on-and-off rain every five years or so, and since it's heavier up in the mountains, it can cause flash floods in the streams and rivers. But even then, the rain down in the inhabited places isn't enough to run off the landscape. When we started our school in 1994 on a 15-acre flattish spot, 80 feet/30m above the Indus River, we had bulldozers push up a berm all around the edge of the natural terrace. Even in the heaviest rain events that cause flooding and destruction in the streams and flood plains, we haven't had water collect enough in our school campus to reach the overflow pipes we put in the berms.
 
Casie Becker
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That darker color is actually a visual cue that you added a lot of carbon to the soil. Think about charcoal, it's nearly pure black because it's nearly pure carbon. Good work there.
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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Rebecca

The bed were feet or more raised .

by now I give up the idea of hugelkultur in my arid almost sand soil

I don't advice you to really try it ,or go out of your way for it , may be you could try something very small and in sunken bed

I know that sepp hlozer planted in between the raised beds

the thing that am going to really try is charged biochar and mix it with soil for about 5 %, that is my next project

biochar was great in making the compost , it made compost so easy to make with great results

I have access to manure where I am you see there are many villages not far from me with very good soil
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I did not have luck with hugelkultur in my hot somewhat dry location because I did not make them big enough.  I think they need to be about as tall as a person.  I have had good luck with buried wood beds.  https://permies.com/t/52077/Buried-Wood-Beds

I don't think small hugelkultur is likely to work well in a dry climate in the short term, though over time it will add carbon to the soil as Casie points out. 
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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Casie ,
    have you tried the biochar , or the charcoal your self in such condition , tell us about your experience if you have one ?
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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No, I haven't tried biochar.

I have one hugelbed that was built nearly man high and sunken more than a foot on top of that. After three years in a climate much wetter than yours, with two record wet springs in a row, we had the first vegetables survive all year without supplemental water. We do love the soil in that bed and expect (now that it's had time to break down) to get decades of good asparagus from it with little additional work.

I've been thinking about your situation and trying to remember where I read about wood vs manure in the desert. I think it was a book recommended here, so hopefully someone will identify it. It was a story about a highly educated man who was trying to help a native family improve their gardens in one of the deserts in my continent. They were successfully maintaining their farm hundreds of miles deeper into the desert than anyone thought was possible. So, to help them, he drives to their property with a full truck load of manure. The turn down the offer and explained to him that manure did something like 'burn up the soil'. Their tradition was to gather any wood they could scavenge that was washed into their reach by rare desert flash floods. They buried this wood deep and then gardened above it. This suggests to me that carbon is more important than nitrogen in dry conditions.

I think dropping the level of gardens to ground level or lower is a part of all the traditional gardening practices I've heard of from our desert regions. All the way to the point of the waffle gardens where raised walls are built around each planted section in the reverse of a raised bed.

Just doing a search of images of most of our deserts (Sonoran, Mojave, Chihuahua) shows comparably lush growth compared to much of the Egyptian deserts. But maybe the fact that you can irrigate will bridge the differences in climate.
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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https://permies.com/t/52077/Buried-Wood-Beds

Tyler , great pictures , would you be kind enough to give recent ones , and we like to know how things are by now

Casie , very good post , I like to hear more from you
 
Tyler Ludens
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Most of my cool season plantings were killed by a hard freeze (15F) and the garden looks very sad now, so I won't be posting photos of it!  Maybe later in the year.

 
Rebecca Norman
gardener
Posts: 1109
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
103
food preservation greening the desert solar trees
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Casie Becker wrote:
I think dropping the level of gardens to ground level or lower is a part of all the traditional gardening practices I've heard of from our desert regions. All the way to the point of the waffle gardens where raised walls are built around each planted section in the reverse of a raised bed.


Yep, that's how gardening is done in Ladakh.
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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Casie Becker wrote:

I think dropping the level of gardens to ground level or lower is a part of all the traditional gardening practices I've heard of from our desert regions. All the way to the point of the waffle gardens where raised walls are built around each planted section in the reverse of a raised bed.
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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is the idea of waffle beds a native american one ?

would you expect it might be big in the future ?

is it true that native american used fish as fertilizer ? how ?

what else they use to do and not common by now ?

 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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The waffle garden was one from the far western deserts. I don't know how commonly known it is now, it is one of those practices that was nearly lost to history completely. I don't think the exact practice will every be part of large scale agriculture. I do think there are a lot of things about the method that can be learned from an adapted. Things like very small windbreaks surrounding rows of plants, individual water catchments for each growing area, containing fertilizer directly where the crop is.

Companion planting is another native American practice. Most well known is the three sisters garden, which has corn, beans and squash, if you dig deep enough into the history of it the traditional plant families become more diverse and larger.

Yes, fertilizing by burying a fish head under the corn was a tradition in some tribes. No, I don't know which ones. I remember my mother doing this with the fish offal from my father's catch when I was a child. That's a clear sign of how well known this practice was because though I have some native ancestry on both sides of the family it's so far back that I only know it exists, but nothing of the actual tribe.

Native American covers groups of people stretched east to west across more than two mountain ranges, the great plains, forests, deserts, tundra, and two coastlines. And that's just covering the parts of this continent within my country. What was traditional for one tribe (or group of tribes) may have been completely unknown or just completely inappropriate for others.

On of the problems with trying to research the traditional farming techniques of native Americans is that there was a systemic effort to erase their culture. Much of the traditional knowledge was lost. Of what has been retained and is commonly known it is poorly understood. Piecing this knowledge back together may be impossible at this late date, but there are many people in more than one area of research who have made it their life's study.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Native Seed/SEARCH is an organization which sells seeds from the Southwestern US tribes and provides traditional growing information:  http://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/gardening
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Thanks for sharing your experience, Mostafa!  And very glad you tried it. 

Where are you located? how much rainfall do you get, and is it in a brief rainy season?

I think the burying biomass idea is confirmed by the practice, I think it's called Za, in Ghana, which someone innovated a few decades ago--they dug the holes for compost before the rain instead of the traditional way, which was after the rain, and it helped.  They also used the termite holes in some way.  Paul did a review of the film about his thing.  The Man Who Stopped the Desert, I think it was.

I wouldn't give up on the hugel bed yet, but do look into what others have found works in very arid areas:

geoff lawton, greening the desert (Jordan--from desert to fungus in 4 years--their mulch got mushrooms on it, the first the people there had ever seen, kind of freaked them out!)

rock piles--they condense some water overnight in the form of dew, and keep an area cool during the daytime.

Wangari Maathai

Allan Savory?

The wood is really helpful to capture and store water for a long time.  Think of how long it takes to dry out wood when you want to burn it--well, here anyway it takes a year--so you're using that to your advantage.  The water is probably more useful than the carbon--though if you can drip irrigate for now that's good, just think about moving away from depending on that since it might not always be there.

I agree, the black color in the soil is a good sign.

Conventional farming won't work in the long term--you're blazing a new trail!  once you get it working, the return on investment will be many times over what theirs is, so don't worry.

The Mohicans buried fish, I am told, and they were in the northern, non-desert regions.  Also, there were so many fish at that time you almost couldn't cross a river without catching one.  If you have a rotting fish you can't eat anyway, why not use it--otherwise, you probably just want to eat it yourself.

Coppicing is a good idea, I'm sure people do that where you are, yes? you cut off a branch or a bough and leave the tree alive, and then it continues to grow more wood.  If you are near a city you might get waste pallets--look for ones with no numbers or letters on them, their the likeliest to have no toxic treatment!  Or maybe an old shed being torn down?  it would help to know where you are, what's in surplus there and what's not...any wet wood that no one wants for firewood?

Good luck, keep us posted!
 
Libbie Hawker
Posts: 32
Location: Friday Harbor, WA
chicken food preservation hugelkultur
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Corn is a really heavy feeder. It needs lots and lots of nitrogen or it won't do much for you. This is why people tend to have good results with the Tree Sisters method--beans are nitrogen fixers, and help the corn obtain more of the nitrogen they want.

So if you're concerned that the decomposition of the wood inside the hugel might be in its nitrogen-robbing phase, corn wouldn't be an ideal crop for that bed at that time. It could do well in a simple raised bed, though, companion-planted with beans or other legumes, or with lots of aged manure mixed in.

ETA: Corn also requires fairly close planting in blocks (four rows is the recommended minimum) or in "hills" (basically just a close circular planting of 5-9 plants, with one in the middle of the circle...not necessarily a raised hill) in order to pollinate adequately. Without good pollination, you'll get ears with lots of missing kernels.

I'm a corn nerd. Corn is my jam.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Yes, the Mohicans did the three sisters PLUS the fish fertilizer, according to the historian who spoke to my community.  So, lots of nitrogen.  not sure how we got on corn now, but just to make sure we're not confusing anything, "corn" in America is "maize" in Europe.  we've been talking about maize.
Libbie Hawker wrote:Corn is a really heavy feeder. It needs lots and lots of nitrogen or it won't do much for you. This is why people tend to have good results with the Tree Sisters method--beans are nitrogen fixers, and help the corn obtain more of the nitrogen they want.

So if you're concerned that the decomposition of the wood inside the hugel might be in its nitrogen-robbing phase, corn wouldn't be an ideal crop for that bed at that time. It could do well in a simple raised bed, though, companion-planted with beans or other legumes, or with lots of aged manure mixed in.

ETA: Corn also requires fairly close planting in blocks (four rows is the recommended minimum) or in "hills" (basically just a close circular planting of 5-9 plants, with one in the middle of the circle...not necessarily a raised hill) in order to pollinate adequately. Without good pollination, you'll get ears with lots of missing kernels.

I'm a corn nerd. Corn is my jam.
 
Libbie Hawker
Posts: 32
Location: Friday Harbor, WA
chicken food preservation hugelkultur
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:not sure how we got on corn now, but just to make sure we're not confusing anything, "corn" in America is "maize" in Europe. 


Mostafa mentioned his disappointing corn results from his new hugel bed in his first post. Just throwing it out there that if he's talking about the same kind of corn, either insufficient nitrogen in a new hugel bed or incorrect planting density could have been the cause of his disappointment.
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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sorry couldn't mange to post sooner


Joshua Myrvaagnes , to answer your questions , my farm is in Egypt 100 KM south of Cairo , that would be in a place call Korimat of Giza , you can say we have have no rain , or so little rain, once or twice in winter that does not count at most of the times , so the zai pit which Iam familiar with would not be of good at all

I have access to river drip irrigation , so you can say water it self is not an object , but keeping it is so

the mistake which I did with huggelkultur is that I did them in high beds which was bad in such arid dry place

and it seems that the soil is not like any other that I know of , the bed rock is far deep it must be more than 6 meter deep ,how much deeper?  I don't know

it does not hold water or nutrients , every one of the many neighbors is depending on chemical fertilizer , am the only mad one who is taking the organic road

it seems that what most of you know about soil doesn't really apply in here , it seemes like hugel nurients had gone all in sex month or so  , ever since I went

organic there seems lack of nitrogen

that's what I have for now  I might send another post concerning the matter
 
Mostafa Ismail
Posts: 53
Location: south of Giza Egypt . Home in cairo
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An advice been giving to me by Redhawk to add clay to my soil ,

and here is my experience with clay , Nile river clay could be available sometimes , so I manged to get about 45 Q Meters and added them to my 4 acre of land , in some spots I would add a lot , but it didn't really make a difference , may be I should have added more , I don't know
  
by the way, I know that in the past when river Nile used to flood the land , people didn't need fertilizers of any kind not even manure , compost  or any kind of addition to put onto the soil , and the soil was so fertile and there was no weed as well and farming then was so easy.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think it might be a mistake to concentrate on just the soil without taking into account the total design of the land.  So I would suggest learning more about permaculture design for drylands, and developing a total design if at all possible.  It might even be something as simple as your land is too exposed and doesn't have enough trees, so all fertility is lost to sun and wind exposure.

 
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