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First hugelkultur attempt with clay soil

 
pollinator
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My wife and neighbours complain I've filled my yard with twigs, branches and leaves from cutting down a tree over the pats few months.
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My garden soil is too clay-like: cracked and dry when sunny, heavy when wet.
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So I'm considering killing two birds with one stone by digging up my soil, filling it with twigs, stomping on them to pack them down, then mixing in the soil.

My concern is the branches were cut down just a few months ago, so they're not rotten. Another is nitrogen, as conventional gardeners say it'll deplete the soil of this.

Do you think it's still a good idea to do this?
 
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Location: Northern New Mexico, Latitude:35 degrees N, Elevation:6000'
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Do it.

If you look at my signature below and look at that link, you'll see some pictures of a hugel I built in an area with heavy clay soil.  Everything I used was fresh cuttings from the trees.  It'll probably use up some nitrogen to help start the process of breaking down the wood, but it wasn't enough to concern me.  You can sow some nitrogen fixing cover crops on the hugel to help provide nitrogen for the process.

I would do it for sure, even if the pile soaks up a lot of nitrogen for the first year or so, eventually it's going to become a thriving mound that'll provide life for many many years.
 
pollinator
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Short answer: yes you can do it. If you search "hugel" and "clay" you should come up with some threads.
 
Tim Kivi
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Thanks for the support. Tomorrow I'll start it!
 
Tim Kivi
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I could barely dig deeper than about 1 foot. So I've filled it with twigs and branches and topped with soil. Now my ground-level garden is about half a foot above-ground. It felt fun but hopefully I'm not making a big mistake nitrogen-wise by filling it with so much wood from a shallow bottom right up to the top surface of the garden. What do you think?
 
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In my experience there is way too much obsession with nitrogen leaching when using woody matter in the garden. Nitrogen is one of the easiest nutrients to source naturally and once you get a healthy soil ecosystem established there is plenty of nitrogen circulation going on. You can add manure, you can add green matter, you can make simple plant extractions, you can plant nitrogen fixers. All of these will help mitigate the effects during the first season. After that first season, assuming you keep the mounds covered with plants throughout the growing season, you will have a functioning soil ecosystem going and the wood will be heavily rotted and you should have mounds of abundance.
 
Tim Kivi
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In that case I'll continue with the rest of the garden bed. Instead of trying to do the whole thing in a day I'm going to do a better job of it by spending a few days purely on digging so that I dig deeper and wider. Filling it is the easy bit.
 
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I read that aphids infest when the soil is high in nitrogen maybe a little leeching would be a good thing
 
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Hello Tim! Hope your hugel beds are going well. My soil is also mostly clay and I have been building large hugel beds and plan to keep doing it. So far all good and I hope you see good results!

I'm a bit late to this topic but I wanted to comment on the nitrogen issue. One thing to note is that you only really have an issue with this for the first year or so. Even then if you plant nitrogen fixers you won't see much if any issue. My understanding is that overtime the wood will become a nitrogen source rather than a sink. As the wood decompose it will act as a slow release fertilizer and you should see great results.

So if your beds don't preform as well as you hope give it time. Like a lot of things related to permaculture you may not see the instant results that traditional methods can provide but you will see far superior results and work less and spend less in the long run.
 
Tim Kivi
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I have a small yard and my neighbour warned me that buried wood can attract termites. So I ended up cancelling the idea.

Instead I just removed parts of the garden bed's clay soil and filled it with pure horse manure. Zucchini plants really thrived in it but produced few zucchinis, I guess because of the high nitrogen content that encourages leaf growth but not fruit.
 
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