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Hugelkultur Herb Spiral?  RSS feed

 
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I'm curious if anybody has ever tried incorporating hugelkulture into an herb spiral design.

I'm still very new to permaculture but I've heard that one common issue with an herb spiral is that it because it's above ground it needs to be watered fairly often. For that reason, when I was listening to Paul on the survival podcast earlier today (great interview by the way), it really made me go "hrmmm" when he talked about hugelkultur freeing you to leave things unattended for a while (as far as watering goes). It made me wonder if the maintenance needs of an herb spiral could be addressed through hugelkultur.

I know you can easily build irrigation into an H.S. and watering isn't hard, but I figure why not incorporate the two if it would make it more self-sustaining?

So do you folks think it'd work to perhaps bury your wood in a little ditch and build your herb spiral on top of that?

(I'd try it myself this very moment if I could, but unfortunately I don't have the space where I live right now.)
 
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Give it a shot and see what happens.
 
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Hello, I'm new here but thought I'd just jump right in. I was just reading about herb spirals and how one author suggested the irrigation be achieved by running tubing up through the inside to the top of the spiral so the water could cascade down over the layers. It occurred to me that perhaps if the spiral was located close to a roof (house or greenhouse for example) then a rainwater runoff spout could feed from the roof over to the top of the herb spiral, thus watering the spiral whenever it rains.

I suppose one would then have to figure out what to do when it doesn't rain, but perhaps gravity feeding from an elevated rainbarrel would do as well?
 
John Morelli
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Welcome L8Bloomer, I'm new here too. 
That's a cool idea and there are certainly many ways you could supply water to an herb spiral.
What I was getting at though was that if you were to incorporate hugelkultur into the design, then the underground water retention of that could possibly retain enough water that watering might seldom even be necessary.
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I think it's a great idea, and it would be interesting to compare the performance of a hugelkultur herb spiral with a more traditional one. The thing that I would try to solve would be that the herb spiral is highest in the center, so the roots of those plants may take a few season to get down to the wood below. A possible solution would be to build up the wood so that it forms a mound and is higher in the center. The first year especially the water needs are greater while the plants are getting established.
 
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I could see it being a problem as the woody matter breaks down. Herb spirals already have a disappointing tendency to slump over time, if you add something that shrinks down to a fraction of it's size to the middle i don't think it will take very long to get an herb pitchers mound.
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Emerson White wrote:
I could see it being a problem as the woody matter breaks down. Herb spirals already have a disappointing tendency to slump over time, if you add something that shrinks down to a fraction of it's size to the middle i don't think it will take very long to get an herb pitchers mound.


That's was my first thought.

My second a third thoughts went into wacky land.  This year I'm going to be trying out planters made out of sacks or sack gardens.  It was something I saw at a presentation about food gardening in some slums in Africa. They use sacks the food and food aid comes in.  You make them by using a can or pipe and filling it with rocks.  That goes in the center of the sack and you put soil around it up the sack is full.  Then you remove the pipe or can and it leaves a column of rocks.  You can plant the top and in holes in the side of the sack.  Watering is done by pouring it into the column of rocks and it seeps into the soil.

  My thinking is that maybe the same sort of technique (column) could be incorporated in a herb spiral.    The rock column or perhaps even a pipe that has holes in it.  The pipe could be filled with wood and other organic material.  It maybe would hold water like it it does in a flat bed and slowly break down releasing whatever nutrients and seep into the soil through the holes.  If the pipe is left there then you could replace the innards as it breaks down.  The pipe would also offer over all stability to the spiral.

  One problem I see is that eventually the pipe with get filled with the broken down organic matter but maybe that could be removed somehow.

Anyways as I said a bit wacky.  I'm building a couple of spirals this year so maybe I'll try something like it.  No harm is seeing I guess.
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Many herbs do best on the drier side. I actually live on land with a super high water table so keep that in mind, but I only water my spiral a few times in the hottest part of summer. I do mulch it well though, with water retaining grass clippings chopped up with leaves.
 
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Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
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Johnzilla wrote:
I'm curious if anybody has ever tried incorporating hugelkulture into an herb spiral design.

I'm still very new to permaculture but I've heard that one common issue with an herb spiral is that it because it's above ground it needs to be watered fairly often. For that reason, when I was listening to Paul on The Survival Podcast earlier today (great interview by the way), it really made me go "hrmmm" when he talked about hugelkultur freeing you to leave things unattended for a while (as far as watering goes). It made me wonder if the maintenance needs of an herb spiral could be addressed through hugelkultur.

I know you can easily build irrigation into an H.S. and watering isn't hard, but I figure why not incorporate the two if it would make it more self-sustaining?

So do you folks think it'd work to perhaps bury your wood in a little ditch and build your herb spiral on top of that?

(I'd try it myself this very moment if I could, but unfortunately I don't have the space where I live right now.)


I tried it last year, most herbs died due to too much water.  I plan to rebuild and use less wood.
 
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Some thoughts, since this thread seems like a little bit of a brainstorm. Some use a burlap sack and fill it up with dirt, with a rock column in the middle. You plant the outsides with plants, cutting holes in the burlap sack, and water through the rocks in the middle. It is built using a stove pipe to put the rocks in and dirt on the outside, slipping the stove pipe up as you go.

Using a downspout to water works, but it could easily flood the spiral. Adding in some storage barrel and a soaker hose would reduce over watering issues and increase the length of watering.

Combining some of these ideas, rocks, barrels, wood chips or a log, could get you something that lasts longer. I think structures like this are temporary and should be expected to be rebuilt on occasions, repurposed, or enjoyed as they weather and change.

Which leads me to this idea. Dig a pit and pull aside your topsoil. Tap 2 to 3 inch diameter sticks into your spiral with a 3 inch rock column in center. Fill the pit heaping full with your hugelkultur mix (wood chips, logs, etc) and place topsoil on top in the stick pile. You can add bricks, rocks, firewood or other to border the spiral down with the wood chips. the sticks should act as vertical moisture wicks, the pit as your water reservoir, the rock column as your reservoir filling tube with a little spill over as it is added in. Some rocks added in the bottom layer leading out could act as a spill over, should you decide to attach it directly do a downspout. might also try weaving in some cardboard down the spiral and putting in some steps coming down to reduce the slumping rate.

Might have to give it a try this year. Might try planting a tree at the top and see how that works as an herb spiral to fruit tree progression.
 
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15yrs ago I built a huge(20ft diameter)herb spiral to bury a tree that had fallen in a friends urban yard.I used river rocks for the edges to define the spiral.The first 5 yrs it looked great.The 2nd five the spiral lost defintion.15yrs later it was just a lumpy mound and the new owner had removed the rocks for some other project.
 
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My hugel beds are collapsing a lot after only a few months.  So I would not count on any structural integrity! 
 
John Morelli
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Thanks a ton for all the input everybody.

Sounds like it's not such a good idea to try to build on top of  a hugelkultur mound or ditch as the sagging/collapsing will quickly turn into an "herb pitchers mound" (I got a real good kick out of that description ).

You could build the structure of the spiral first and then infill that with the hugelkultur materials, then maybe add more soil when that collapses within, but there's still a chance of too much water being retained if there's too much wood.

I'll keep all this in mind in any future endeavors.
 
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sure can't hurt to try, the organic material will hold more moisture than just the soil alone for sure !!
 
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well here is my attempt at a hugel spiral. this is phase one. I figured that as it does break down it will eventually just make a big compost mound. but only time will tell
image.jpeg
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hugelSpiral phase1
 
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Howdy Well, welcome to permies! That is pretty cool, looking forward to seeing pictures of the next step or two.
 
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John Morelli wrote:

You could build the structure of the spiral first and then infill that with the hugelkultur materials, then maybe add more soil when that collapses within,


When I saw this thread, what immediately came to mind was the subject of this above quote. I'm glad the OP came to the same conclusion. One way to do this would be to build a spiral of heavy and fully supported stone steps going up into the center with a span large enough for garden beds between 'rings' of the spiral of steps, and then construct a hugulkultur in the spaces of the spiral and between the stepping stones.

In my mind here is no reason why layers of rotting wood and soil and new herbs could not be added at any time to the hugulkultured system. It doesn't have to be a one time shot, as many seem to believe; as if the hugulkultur is built and left alone to rot down and then have to be rebuilt twenty or thirty years down the road. I see no reason why the wood core has to have continuous contact with the previous wood core. I see no reason to deconstruct and rebuild. In fact, it would be counterintuitive to my own view of perennial food systems. The whole goal in my mind is rather than food systems the goal should also be to create perennial Long Term soil systems. The least amount that the soil is disturbed the further progressed your system is to old growth forest type system, with a progression of symbiotic fungal mychorizial associations, and microbial bacterial systems. In old growth forests, there are plants growing up in the canopy-even other trees can be seeded and grow to a surprising size up there-and sometimes the plants growing in the crook of a branch or in the candelabra tree top get knocked out by a storm or due to the excess weight or rot the branch itself breaks and falls) and drop from the upper reaches to the mossy forest floor, then the forest incorporates this, dead or alive into it's deep structure of bio and landscape diversity. Nature is a cumulative system, from the top down.

Most people associate the herb spiral with the classic Mediterranean culinary herbs, but there is no reason why this idea can not be done with other plants which might better appreciate the qualities of the hugulkultur. But on that note, I also think that all those traditional classic Mediterranean herbs should be able to be grown in a hugulkultur. If a particular hugulkultur system is too moist for some herbs, it is probably because the soil (which in my mind should be deep enough over the wood so that the herb roots are not directly involved in the hugul wood) is not right for the herbs in the first place. Add sand, add rocks, add drainage patterns; add whatever the plants need to grow well (above the wood), and place the plants in the right solar/shade context.

For instance a person could add a pocket of really deep moss at the hugulkultur's north base by an old rotting mushroom covered log placed on the surface, which is overshadowed by a piece of wild looking driftwood, and transplant some false Solomon's seal or bog cranberries... close nearby-on the same hugulkultur-on a small raised area or hill of sandy silty soils could be covered with oregano. Your hugulkutur is part of your garden, and you should be able to create and experiment, using whatever resources or knowledge you have at your disposal. I don't think there is any reason why your hugul beds can not support whatever you might want to grow. You just have to think about the needs of the plant in question, and whether it might be able to grow on top of the hugul (like some yarrow), or on it's North side (like some mint), or on it's South East side (like some strawberries), or half way up (like some garlic), or near it's South base (like a small blueberry shrub), or two feet from it's base on it's wet north side (like a pear tree).

Since first reading about hugulkulturs, it has always interest me to build some that might be a little unorthodox, however there is always the struggle over whether the project is more of an art-piece/labour of love, than a practical use of time/energy towards production. Not that either of them is without merit.

One idea I have, if I ever get a sudden ridiculous surplus of quality hugul-wood, would be to build the world's tallest craziest hugulkultur garden scape. It would have wheelbarrow paths going up it, with multiple peaks, but the whole thing would be simply a massive multi-hugul of kultur! Stone paths could be added to the pile and when they sunk into the decaying mass, more stones added on top. With such a mass, the moisture retained over time would be incredible, the soil light and fluffy, and the landscape textured with micro-climates.

Another idea would be to incorporate some ponds into the hugulscape system which would be built into the original soil base/grade, so the hugulkultur areas would then be built above the pond level, and/or perhaps fed water through chinampas which wick into the hugulkulturs from the ponds, the system could have long term water/nutrient access.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
I see no reason to deconstruct and rebuild. In fact, it would be counterintuitive to my own view of perennial food systems. The whole goal in my mind is rather than food systems the goal should also be to create perennial Long Term soil systems.


I just keep adding more material on top of my buried wood beds. So far I haven't added any more logs, just wood chips, leaf mould, weeds, chicken bedding, sheep manure, etc. The garden is like a giant compost heap with a wood base. Many different kinds of mushrooms are sprouting up.



 
Roberto pokachinni
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Yeah, Tyler, that's sort of what I had in mind... the soil just keeps developing, from the top town, and the fungi systems with their fragile super fine mycelial hairs, never get disturbed, but can complete their cycles and be succeeded by the next stage in the development of the system towards a forest.

Even in beds that are predominantly annual or shorter term perennial crops than what exist in an older forest, the soils, if left undisturbed and developed from the top down, can be developing in a way that promotes long term soil community stability mimicking forest progression. I would certainly contend that logs could be added at any time, so long as they are covered with soil, or in the least, wood chips or other mulch. The idea being that the hugulkultur, while settling over time, does not need to collapse out of sight and then be dug up and rebuilt with fresh logs. The height and shape of the mound could be maintained with the addition of logs/and soils, and mulch material, with no discontinuation of the soil system.

It's great that your system is behaving as I would conceive it from my understanding of the internal and externally observable dynamics of the hugulkultur.

 
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I saw this picture from 3dfirstaid visual architecture. It made me think of what you are talking about. (https://www.facebook.com/3dfirstaid/videos--they didn't have a website listed) The wideness of the path to the upper floor of the barn is what struck me. If you were to make the area where you are going to plant much wider and made your outer "edging" logs shorter you would come up with a "fatter" spiral, which I believe would work very well. Also, I would like to know what herbs were killed with too much water. I've never had that problem. Thanks, Cindy
Hugelculture-Idea.jpg
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Tyler Ludens
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That is a great photo!

 
Roberto pokachinni
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It looks to essentially be a long spiral ramp with an arch in it, that happens to have plants growing on it. It's some serious stone work, for sure, and a great photo!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Cynthia, this post was begun in 2011, so I doubt the original poster or the person who mentioned her herbs dying of too much water (which was also posted in 2011) are still following this thread.

I can't imagine that a herb garden would be dying of too much water in a hugulkultur unless it was both completely saturated and had a supply of continuous drip water keeping it saturated.

The way I see it, the hugulkultur should provide drainage as well as absorption, like any well designed raised bed. It should develop a tremendous ability to hold and give off water to it's plants, but should have a lot of ability to drain excess water.

Perhaps the logs in that particular hugul were not rotten at all or were of rot resistant wood, and/or the soil was packed in too tight of a density into the spaces between the logs, so that there was no drainage at all, even between the logs, and/or perhaps it was watered as it was built (the last of which is proper procedure, but when combined with the previous problems, could be a big issue).

When I went to a Permablitz in Darfield, B.C., Canada, led by Javan Bernakevitch and Gordon Hiebert, we made a hugulkultur which was packed not with soil but with sawdust (the site was built on an old mill site, so there was a lot of excess sawdust), and we watered it extensively while we were building it. We also covered the logs {which were mostly long dead but many were not broken up rot} with 6 inches of sawdust, and then we put about a foot of soil over it all, then we planted it with hundreds of seeds, and spread a bit of straw on it. Anyway, the sawdust would provide a massive amount of drainage as well as moisture absorption, in comparison to densely packed soil/mud.

There needs to be somewhere for the aerobic microbes to play; the soil can't be packed too densely, and it is best to have some, or a lot of good rotten wood, or at least old wood that will soon start seriously rotting so that it not only absorbs water, but, as it breaks down, it provides a blocky/granulated structure, thus providing drainage despite it's water retaining qualities.

Another possibility is that there was not enough soil above the wood, and the roots of the herbs were trying to find moisture and drainage but were only hitting a hardpan of wet wood and an anaerobic situation.

You could PM the poster, who wrote of her herbs dying and ask what herbs she had, and what were the qualities of her hugul construction. I doubt it was the specific herbs that were the problem.
 
Cynthia Durham
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Well, I've grown herbs for years and years. I've never had any die from too much water. Heavy clay soil, yes. Too much water, no. In fact, I can't think of any North American herb that might croak from too much water. That means nothing. My experience is mostly with Eastern United States and European herbs, so if there is anything that really needs the desert they might have trouble here.

I appreciate your additional information. I'm very new to the Hugelkultur idea, but we have lots and lots of dead wood lying about. My question is from what I've seen you either dig a pit and put in the logs, sticks etc., or pile it on the ground and put dirt, etc. on top. Have I got the essence of the idea? I going to be revamping my garden (in heavy clay soil) come spring and I'm looking at various methods, with an eye to being as self sufficient as possible. Thanks in advance.
 
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Do you go on youtube, Cynthia? If you search for hugulkultur, you can get a lot of examples of how to do it, but basically you are right. The way the grand master sepp holzer does it, is pretty much always above the ground, and there is a lot of soil over the wood. Heavy clay soil can be problematic in that it packs densely and tends to have hydration issues in both directions, but since you have a lot of experience growing in your heavy clay medium then I have no doubt that your system will be successful. My one advice is to make sure you mulch it to protect your clays, and keep the surface of your clay damp, not wet. Dry clay is clearly no good, and wet clay is bad too; damp is what you want, just like most garden situations. If you search the hugulkultur forum you will no doubt come across many great videos and descriptions. Other than that, use your instincts.
 
Cynthia Durham
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That was what I thought. I also think that since I'm in my old age, this garden reworking will involve much more machinery than it takes to be considered green. Ah, well, a great many green things are for young people only, and my days of digging double beds are long behind me.

Thanks for the input. I promise to go fourth and Hugelkutur.
 
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There's no shame in bringing in machinery to do a one time rework of your system. Think of it like more as a long term investment in the future. If you build a system that takes little to no input for the next 10 years plus, then you come out way further ahead on the "green scale" then you would if you slowly converted the system over ten years. The "green police" just don't understand that when they see a big tractor or major earth moving equipment in there ripping up the land to create systems that can change the world as we know it. If people just think of how much more you can get done using those nasty pollution belching machines on a broad scale the velocity of change for the better would be exponential. I don't think this is an example of ends justifying the means so much as it is creating the change that needs to happen on a massive scale as quickly as possible.
 
Cynthia Durham
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Besides the fact that I have a tremendous amount of old/rotting wood that needs to be dealt we also live on the side of a hill. We actually bought part of the bottom land of Possum Hollow. I plan to do my growing as much as possible near where we live in order to not supplement the deer's diet too much. I know some people that put in a lovely organic garden earlier this year and ended up selling the corn stalks as that was all that was left after the deer had their way with it.

I have been using logs for years to terrace with. I shall have to do some heavy chainsaw wielding this winter and then hope to march my beds up the hillside, anchoring them at the bottom with stone work. I think God planted stone seeds here at one time, because I have such a wonderful crop of them. Hopefully we will have some things ready to go in the early spring so I can get some mangels and sugar beets off to a good start. I hope to not have to mess with hay by having plenty of old fashion hay substitutes ready next fall.

Thanks for the kind words and not trampling my ideas into the dirt.
 
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