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Slash piles, rotting wood hugels  RSS feed

 
Posts: 165
Location: Mason Cty, WA
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I've got three large slash piles on my land, made of alder branches, huckleberry bushes and the occasional bit of fir. I'm not sure how to deal with them. Should they be burned (the custom)? Conservation burned (I've never done this) into biochar? I was thinking of stuffing them with dead maple and alder leaves, letting them decompose, and making them into giant hugels...they're about 15 feet tall. Sadly they were not put on dug trenches...if i'd been thinking ahead I would have told the excavator to do that.

Also, as I'm thinning the forest I'm finding a lot of myceliated deadfall and stuff the previous owners chopped down and left to rot. It seems like a great base for hugels. If it's already rotted a year or so, will it still sap nitrogen for a while when put into a hugel?

Thanks!
 
Posts: 634
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Bury them. Check out this series of videos for ideas:
 
gardener
Posts: 1091
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hugels would be a great option but another is to lay the debris in a long row on contour. It will trap other debris and help retain water. This option is especially good if you have some slopes on your property.

Also, brush piles can be good habitat for wildlife. I habe some on my property and the birds love them.
 
gardener
Posts: 396
Location: SoCal USA
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I believe EdibleAcres is a permie here too, and has a playlist on biochar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uuhrdmfnqo&list=PLihFHKqj6JeozDm5VFoBHSHsDBMtbWr30

Essentially making charcoal and inoculating it with compost tea or urine, as the charcoal will otherwise absorb nutrients already in the soil, will turn it into biochar. You can process huge amounts of brush per day this way, and you're left with a great resource that you can mix into whatever you want over time.

Trying to bury massive slash piles to make hugels seems like a lot more work, and yeah until the wood is rotting away some nitrogen is needed either from the soil or by adding manure in with the wood before you bury it.

Perhaps you can trim off the smaller bits to make into biochar, and save the largest logs to bury in hugel beds?
 
pollinator
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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It wounds me when people take perfectly wonderful carbon and burn it for no other purpose than to clear the land of it.  Yes -- I'd go with your plan to just leave it to decompose naturally.  That's exactly what I'd do.

I live in zone 10a, so our problem here is the hot sun and lack of water.  I pile up branches and other biomass on the south side of my trees, particularly on a south-facing hillside that gets absolutely baked in the hot summer sun.  Those slash piles keep the sun from irradiating the soil, provide a wonderful cool covering for the soil, provide a habitat for worms and other soil-dwelling biota, and slowly break down and feed the fungal network below the soil.  Its a win win in every way.

If weeds and blackberries are a problem, you could you cover them with black plastic to discourage growth, and then cut through the plastic to plant vining plants like watermelon or cucumbers.  Do you have access to an excavator?  If so, it would be easy to sculpt the pile the way you want it.  You could create mini-terraces on it, and then put down plastic on the steep sides and channel the water via small swales to water exactly what you want to get water.  Can you imagine if you planted it with pumpkins?  The pumpkin pile!  

I'd kill for a 15 foot tall pile of decomposing stuff.  I'm terribly jealous.  Go crazy with it!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Marco Banks wrote:
If weeds and blackberries are a problem, you could you cover them with black plastic to discourage growth, and then cut through the plastic to plant vining plants like watermelon or cucumbers.  Do you have access to an excavator?  If so, it would be easy to sculpt the pile the way you want it.  You could create mini-terraces on it, and then put down plastic on the steep sides and channel the water via small swales to water exactly what you want to get water.  Can you imagine if you planted it with pumpkins?  The pumpkin pile!  

I'd kill for a 15 foot tall pile of decomposing stuff.  I'm terribly jealous.  Go crazy with it!



I once thought covering a bunch of sticks and salmonberry and blackberry with black tarp would kill the bindweed that was growing there, too. Well, it kind of worked, but what really happened was that water and snow pushed the black plastic down onto the branches...which then poked holes in the plastic, which then turned into rips, which then degraded in the sun. And now, I have tiny bits of black plastic everywhere and that's really hard to remove because it would require pulling out all the branches to get to the base of them where the plastic settled, as well as either reaching through blackberry and salmonberry to get pieces, or hacking out and removing all those canes to get to the plastic. It's a nightmare. And, it's been two years of being pregnant &/or carrying a baby and I haven't been able to remove the plastic, and it keeps becoming smaller pieces and the plants grow up and through it more.

Moral of my Story: I will never use black plastic again!

-----

But, I do recommend the slash pile. We made one, intending to haul the sticks to the woods but never got around to it. And, the mason bees and garter snakes have taken up residence there. And, since it's right by my fruit trees, I unintentionally made a pollinator habitat--score!

Some of my other slash piles were where blackberry grow, and they have become blackberry covered...which is actually a nice way to get some blackberries! And, after a few years of settling/decomposing, it's really not that hard to remove the sticks and blackberries if you want to (especially if you do so in the fall). If there is a lot of blackberries (especially those nasty Himalayan or evergreen blackberries), and you've got lots of dirt, a giant hugel would be great. But, the blackberry/salmonberries will grow up through feet of dirt, so if they're there, you're going to fight them one way or another.

Personally, I like to fight blackberry by encouraging competition from other yummy, less painful and slightly less vigorous can fruits. Here's the progression I take when remediating a site (on the left is things I remove first and let things to their right out compete. Once they're gone, I start working on removing the next nasty one):

Bindweed -> Evergreen blackberry -> Himalayan blackberry -> salmonberry -> trailing blackberry/thimbleberry/blackcap raspberry/domestic raspberries (these last plants are all valued by me, so I encourage them all)

So, I first keep hacking back at bindweed and pruning to encourage all other plants that are attempting to grow there. If there's no bindweed in an area, I attack Evergreen Blackberry and Himalayan blackberry (Evergreen blackberry is even pokier and seedier than Himalayan--it's thorns are long, sharp, and slightly hooked, so they're really panful and hard to evade!), while encouraging the salmonberry. Once there's mostly salmonberry growing somewhere, I start introducing & encouraging the raspberries/thimbleberries & blackberries. This is the stage I'm at in most of my property. I can't tell yet if it'll be perfectly successful, but so far, this process does seem to be working and I have less of the plants I don't like!
 
garden master
Posts: 2041
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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I hate all the slash piles on my property.  To me they are an eyesore. To wildlife land management they are habits for many creatures.  Gives the birds a safe place to nest.  Like, Nicole said a home for pollinators.  Foxes and bobcats and other critters.
 
Fredy Perlman
Posts: 165
Location: Mason Cty, WA
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I wish I had more reliable internet access... :/ Thanks for all your replies.

Mysteriously this thread double-posted..sorry mods.

Replying to Daron in the doppelganger thread, that ABC acres video is a lot like what I'm thinking of doing. Imagine a boot draped top-down, down a hillside into a ravine. So the sole is in the ravine. That's the shape and lay of my property. The slope is mostly gentle and there are flat areas and hummocked areas. But if I understood Sepp correctly in his book, the hugel terraces should be laid AT AN ANGLE to contour, see photo. This makes sense to me from a drainage perspective, and given the volume of rain we get, doing this wrong, here, could be catastrophic. Landslides full of my trees scraping a hill clean and crashing into a ravine with an artesian spring.

My buddy has a Mahindra tractor and is advising me on tractor purchase. But he's doing more traditional farming. I'm thinking if I have one big machine, it should be an excavator. Probably at least a 10 ton.. but that is a whole nother thread!

@Mark, i have so much deadlimb (?) peeling off maple trees, and i understand this is great biochar feedstock. Feedstock must be dry for production to be worth the fuel and time, right ? But drying it out would reduce production and efficiency, and the 4-5 month dry season we have here is so full of other activity. And right now, when things are slower, it's all pretty wet. As for the slash piles, they are mostly <2" stuff and bushes. The excavator separated the tree trunks and roots from the slash. There are 3 15' tall slash piles about 40' diameter. I will check out EdibleAcres' stuff. Local biochar folks kept talking about "conservation burns" for slash pile-quantities; I might end up having to do that. After I figure out how.

@Marco, it would be folly to dry out the already-rotting wood, of which there is an unlimited supply 3-20" in diameter. I am already lining that up manually, on contour, by eye, judging where the water collects by probing the soil, looking at indicator plants, and looking at surrounding topography. I'm not sure laser levels, water levels etc would help because of the hummocky texture and mixed hydrology. Blackberries are a HUGE problem here so I have to plant whatever I build asap.

@Nicole, I'd probably burn before I used black plastic. I have a lot of cardboard to do sheet mulching if it comes to that. Himalayan blackberry is a plague here and my property is somewhat peppered by specimens creeping up from a county drainage trench at base of the hill. I like your idea of successioning slash pile plants, which would work from native "pest" to native "good" to perennial/cultivated.

I was watching the Zach Weiss part of Wheaton's 2017 PDC, and he said the earthmoving bill for one job, probably smaller than mine, was $60k. I won't have a lake, pond system, and km of hugels, but smaller amounts of comparable works. Adjusting for size I'm probably looking at $30k --just for earthworks-- based on that valuation. Seems for permaculturing this raw land to be economical, I'd have to buy an excavator. Used, since that's the only thing in the 20-30 price range. Guess I'm living in an uninsulated, extension-corded plumbingless shed forever!

So I'm still thinking the conservation burn is the best plan for the slash, and terrace hugels for the rotting material. And that I'll need to rent an excavator to get a feel for them, then ask my friend to help a little when he returns (he does free excavator work for friends, but not on the scale I'm thinking of...) He can point me in the right direction for equipment and best practices.
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