Hi new permie friends, I'm beginning the development of our land and I've learned a great deal from the information you all have shared in this forum and others, thanks so much for everything I've gained so far.
Our patch is in Taos County NM, west slopes of the Sangre de Cristos, about 20 miles south of the CO border. Rugged, raw, and utterly beautiful, definitely a "from scratch" project. I want to make a bunch of raised beds on hugelkultur foundations. I have tons of pin~on, juniper, sage, and these scrubby little cacti.
I've read about soil acidity and allelopathic factors linked to conifers, e.g. in Paul W's video where the Missoula folks are piling up cottonwood for a hugel bed, plus other places as well.
What I'd like to know is, have any of you had experiences dealing with less than optimal chemistry in the biomass you've hugeled, such as in my case? What if I leave the woody stuff out to weather for a year? Does it make a difference if I pile in manure, green "waste" (haha, like it's waste), straw, or other stuff? Wood ash to alter pH (but what about the allelopaths)? I guess I could truck in biomass, just gotta find the cache of gold bars at the end of some rainbow... but biomass I got!
Any advice, experiences, warnings, or other info will be happily received, muchas gracias.
I am building hugel beds with some juniper, by preference using material which is weathered. I think fresh juniper might contain chemicals which will inhibit plant growth for awhile, possibly for a year or more. But weathered material such as deadfall should be fine to use, I think. In the dry west your soil is likely to be alkaline, so I'm not convinced wood ash will be helpful, though you might want to look into burning your fresh juniper for Biochar.
Our juniper aka cedar does rot when in contact with the wet earth, but slowly. I think if other materials were included in the hugel beds, it would be more likely to rot faster. But biochar might be a better way to go with juniper/cedar.
Hi Steve, How long have you been in the Sangres? I spent some great years bouncing around that country. From Cimarron to E-town to the Truchas peaks on down to Mora. In my humble opinion, the best way to take advantage of soil wood is to use logs already inhabited with brown cubical rot. I’m sure you’ve seen this stuff in the nearby woods. It will be in the heart-wood of conifers. This group of fungi will consume the wood cellulose and leave mostly lignin. Lignin is tough for most fungi and soil microbes to digest, so it stays in the soil a long time – up to 500 years. It has an incredible water holding capacity. Don’t worry too much about the bio-chemistry associated with conifers. The products of brown cubical rot decomp are fairly innocuous. Photo below.
I'm not sure Junipers will cause an issue, cause the allelopaths are secreted from the roots. They'll kill some fruittrees, like Apples, but only when the Juniper is living.
I've made retaining walls with fresh cut juniper posts for my raised beds, and I haven't noticed any issues. They've been going for a few years now. The posts are only on one side of the beds, not under it, so that might make a difference.
If I cut a juniper down on my property, within a year, there are tons of species of plants around the stump. So, I think the allelopaths must be an issue when the Juniper is alive.
@Mark: We've owned the place for 2 years but we'd been living overseas and are now returning to the US, been here just a few months. Physically I'm in CA near family for the moment but we want to get going on soil improvement processes this coming spring. My wife's family is from NM, mainly around Clovis and just east of Albuquerque.
I'll have to go up into the slopes above our place to look for brown cubicle rot and/or this chicken of the woods fungus. Do you just scatter it into the beds on top of the woody stuff, under the soil layer? Is there more to do for best results?
I'm also very interested in biochar, Ludi, glad you suggested that. Have you used the retort/barrel technique to make char? It looks relatively easy on the few videos I've seen, once the contraption is put together. Things I read online about biochar's effects on the garden are very exciting.
I'm in the same neighborhood as the land in discussion. I don't recommend aging the wood for a year prior to the construction of the raised beds / hugel beds. The tendency in this cold dry montane eco zone is for wood to petrify more than to rot. The wood needs to remain moist to get colonized by the decomposers.
The local juniper is used for fence posts and does not rot in the soil for decades. All the old barbed wire cattle fences are made with this juniper.
I had softwood hybrid poplars that were long-dead when I acquired my property in 1996. That year or the next I cut them down and laid the 3" diameter trunks onto the ground. The wood is still there about 15 years later.
I have raised beds of 2 x 12 untreated pine from the local sawmill. The boards must be at least 20 years old by now. Still holding soil just fine, and although the side against the moist soil has rotted, no boards have rotted through.
Wood ash would be a huge mistake in your alkaline soil and would be hard to correct once applied.
Hi NM Grower, I hope to be a neighbor of yours in the coming few years, glad you chimed in with experience in that area. What else have you done to improve your soil and how've been your results? Are there things you've had particular good luck growing, or others that don't do so well?
Well, the growing season up here is measured in hours, not days, so I don't grow all that much outdoors. I have huge deer and elk pressure and they eat anything that is unprotected. I have extensive greenhouse, high tunnel, and low tunnel systems in place.
Best perennial green is french sorrel. Annual veggies that have done well for me here are kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, peas, radish, collards, broccoli. Perennial kitchen herbs do well. Nearby I know other growers that do potatoes, beets, carrots, and onions with good results.
I make yards of leaf mold each year from bags of leaves pilfered from around town before they end up in the landfill. But I have to protect the leaves from the deer, who will eat the piles down to nothing in weeks once the snow flies. It's hard to add too much organic matter to our local clay.
BTW your scrubby cacti are new mexico prickly pear. They're pretty in bloom.
Wind breaks are good for moderating the windy conditions.
Was me, I’d keep the end product of brown cubical rot in a bunch say 6 - 12 inches deep in the bottom of the garden box. There are many types of fungi that cause brown cubical rot. Collecting this stuff is a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is an extremely important element in a forest. Lack of this stuff is causing some forest to desertify. I call this stuff soil wood. It’s pretty much done decomposing. Presence of soil wood is a good indicator of forest ecologic integrity.
NM Grower mentioned the issue of wood petrifaction – this is a true story. If you dry out wood, it has a hard time ramping up to good decomposition.
While you are up in the woods, sample the soil and take a close look. You will see specks of charcoal throughout the first 6 – 12 inches of mineral soil. Charcoal in the soil is also very important to a forest ecosystem.
The easiest way to make “bio-char” is to pick it out of the wood stove every morning.
If you are going to grow in raised beds, consider putting in a capillary break – a band of gravel that water has a tough time wicking thru. Done right this technique saves a lot of water.