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Hugelkultur - Good wood , Bad wood  RSS feed

 
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Namaste, I am new to this forum. I am wondering about the use of old RR ties--about 30 years old. I wonder whether there would still be too much creosote in them to rot well - they have been stacked. Thanks, k
 
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Location: NH and MO
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Anyone know how Hickory would do as part of a Hugelkultur bed? The consensus is that oak works really well, would hickory perform similarly?

My 5-acre woodlot in Missouri is covered in white oak and hickory. I'm not ready to move there just yet, just doing a lot of planning, thinking, and dreaming.


 
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I'm thinking that hickory, along with other wood that is normally used for tool handles, would likely be slow to rot. That would probably include any wood that has traditionally been prized for its mechanical properties with regards to bowyery, like yew and hickory. Of course, there is a substantial difference between the heartwood and sapwood of some species, and some species need to be harvested wet and cured properly for best effect, like black locust, and so untreated, or from a deadfall, might be quicker to rot.

-CK
 
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kay dorr wrote:Namaste, I am new to this forum. I am wondering about the use of old RR ties--about 30 years old. I wonder whether there would still be too much creosote in them to rot well - they have been stacked. Thanks, k

. Creosote persists for a long time. There are areas around shipyards in Britain which were polluted hundreds of years ago that are still ruined. Don't do it !!!
 
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Location: San Angelo TX
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Hi everybody. What is general consensus on using Mesquite in Hugulkultur? I have a lot of scrap Mesquite lying around that I would like to try and bury in my veggie garden. My soil is mostly clay, caliche and rock so I would like to know if the Mesquite will work before I try and tackle that mess. ty.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Cee Moody wrote:Hi everybody. What is general consensus on using Mesquite in Hugulkultur? I have a lot of scrap Mesquite lying around that I would like to try and bury in my veggie garden. My soil is mostly clay, caliche and rock so I would like to know if the Mesquite will work before I try and tackle that mess. ty.



I've heard of it being used but I wonder if you have any less valuable wood available to you. Mesquite is an excellent fuel wood, so that may prove to be it's highest and best use. If you are able to find some cottonwood or other less desireable wood, that would seem a logical choice. We have no mesquite in my area but it is so prized for barbeque fuel that I would sell it if I did have an abundance.
 
Cee Moody
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Dale Hodgins wrote:

Cee Moody wrote:Hi everybody. What is general consensus on using Mesquite in Hugulkultur? I have a lot of scrap Mesquite lying around that I would like to try and bury in my veggie garden. My soil is mostly clay, caliche and rock so I would like to know if the Mesquite will work before I try and tackle that mess. ty.



I've heard of it being used but I wonder if you have any less valuable wood available to you. Mesquite is an excellent fuel wood, so that may prove to be it's highest and best use. If you are able to find some cottonwood or other less desireable wood, that would seem a logical choice. We have no mesquite in my area but it is so prized for barbeque fuel that I would sell it if I did have an abundance.



No other wood around these parts except for Mesquite unfortunately. It's a weed around here. I have small mesquite bushes popping up in areas where they were bulldozed to make room for our house. I'll take some pictures this weekend of unplanned hugelbeds that formed out of piles of brush and trees that were left after clearing around my neighborhood. Cactus grows in them but then again cactus, our other weed, will grow in anything.
 
Chris Kott
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The only problem I can see would involve fragrant essential oils that preserve the wood or repel pests. If this extends to allelopathy, except for cacti, you might have problems.

One solution if you don't see much insect life in your largely mesquite hugelbeets is to consider a high-heat charcoal kiln for the production of biochar. I dislike all but the most efficient kilns, but if you can get a second burn out of the exhaust and wood gas and other volatiles coming off of the pyrolized mesquite (preferably out of a retort that provides an 1100 degree C oxygen-free pyrolysis chamber), that's what you'll get, along with taking out any objectionable material out of whatever you're using.

Alternately, I think that if you have any other organic material to use, just keep it between your topsoil and the mesquite, with the last on the bottom. I'm experimenting right now with a base of christmas trees sectioned into 1' pieces that I have set vertically around the perimeter. I think that the vertical logs will display superior vertical water wicking. I am not worried about the soil acidity as the first guild it is being planted with involves potatoes. If the fragrant oils in the wood do serve to preserve it, all that will happen is that the structure of the bed will be preserved longer. This might prove a good thing, especially as my bed has a lot of Acer negundo in it, emphatically not a hugelproblem.

-CK
 
Cee Moody
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Allelopathy is my main concern. I have read everything from it's just the leaves you need to worry about the wood is fine, to don't use the wood nothing will grow in it. I guess my only option is to do a small test area before I go to the trouble of digging through my clay soil to bury some wood in my main garden. That will set my garden project behind though. Piling it in a traditional fashion won't work here because of the heat and drying winds. Maybe I should just skip the hugelbeds in my main garden area and stick with deep mulching.
 
Chris Kott
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I have clay-loam that tends to alkalinity, so I have a little leeway where it comes to acid. I also start my hugelbeets with potatoes, which like a pH of 4-6.5, I think. With clay, I think building organic matter and void spaces within the soil is as needful as mulching to make sure that the new airways don't dry stuff out too fast. Otherwise, I think your roots will stay shallow, water won't penetrate, and if root rot isn't an issue, your beds will dry out the moment your mulch does.

I think whatever you do with your hugelbeets, you might want to consider finding out what the tap-rooted pioneer species in your area are, and encourage them, along with whatever you can find, with an emphasis on edibles, that will grow well in proximity to them. If you scatter a pioneer seed mix and then companion plant with what comes up, you are effectively using the pioneers to test growing conditions, and influence them, in the case of n-fixers and plants that build soil and soil structure over time.

-CK
 
Cee Moody
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Thank you for the helpful advice. I have to think about what I can throw into my beds to create void spaces. I'm going to have to bring in compost to mix that into my soil. Right now the soil in my garden area is almost a fine sand it's that dead. It's also compacted from heavy equipment brought into build our house. I've had tons of success growing veggies above ground but since moving here to Texas 4 months ago I need to relearn how to garden with a lot of heat and little water. As for pioneer plants, I'll look into that but so far the only thing I can see under the dense Mesquite is cactus, some grass and a couple of hollies.
 
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Hiya...I am new to growing...period. I am seeing in this forum a lot of awesome info. One that caught my eye was about plants that like acidic soil and that cedar and juniper would be good for that. My question is what forum would I read to find out which plants grow best in what conditions? I recently moved to Michigan and the soil is sandy except near the swamps where it is black and I can get dirt from the plow ridges formed over the winter in my truck. I used to have a wood burning stove in my last house and they didn't want my 13 cords of Maple and Birch so I brought it with me. What could I plant in that kind of condition...the wood is already 3 years old. My wife likes Honeydew melons so growing those first so she isn't mad about me digging up the yard would be a plus if anyone has a suggestion lol. Thanks for being here.
 
Cee Moody
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I thought I'd leave this interesting article I found on mesquite for anybody else considering using it. TexasAlmanac:Mesquite Under the uses they mention that settlers used mesquite as fence posts because it's resistant to rotting. I guess that cancels mesquite out as a good hugulkultur wood. I have identified another shrub on my property called Condalia Viridis, commonly known as green snakewood part of the buckthorn family. So far in my research I haven't found anything negative about it. It might be a contender.
 
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Fuchsia. I have a nasty large example in my front garden that I have spent time hacking back today. It will eventually be totally removed and then I can concentrate on re-designing my tiny bit of space out the front of my house. In the mean time I have one more bed to get started in my backgarden and I was going to make it a hugel beet. I was originally planned on putting in my "white bin" and letting the council take it away but half way through cutting I got to wondering whether I could use it in my planned beet? The problem I fore-see is that it's such a persistent so-and-so that if I cover it with dirt that it will just up and grow again. I'm not talking spindly little branches here, I have branches up to an inch or TWO thick. If I let it die stranded on some concrete paving slabs I presume that this will over come the growing back problem? I will probably combine it ultimately with some birch in my latest beet.
 
Chris Kott
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Just sowed my front and back former lawn spaces with daikon radish among lots of other bird-feeding, soil improving species I bought in little zip bags at the organic food store for sprouting. Daikon can apparently drop roots about 8" (strains bred for tillage can reach much deeper, but have usually lost much palatablility, to humans, anyway), and the resultant tap root can be left in place to rot and leave inverted cones of organic matter perforating the clay/hardpan.

Honestly, I think the only bad wood is wood that has been treated with things that you don't want passed into your food. There may be bad wood choices for specific crops, but I would suggest that if you have a lot of one type of wood, that the case is instead bad crop choice.

I might be wrong with my approach, but I have had success. Most cases I see push brush piles into ditches and mound over them. My method is a little more intensive, but the advantages are manifold. Here goes.

I usually keep conifers and wood that may be acidic or have antifungal/antibacterial properties to the outside of the wood core of the bed. I use 2'+ sections of branch and log driven vertically, usually with a tap or two from my sledgehammer, into a pit or trench where I've removed the topsoil, around 3' where I am, until I have a bed of wooden wicks driven into a now-stabilized (and probably compacted to the point of being water-sealed) clayey subsoil bed.

I basically layer composted manure heavily on top of this largely solid wood core, then build a compost pile on top of that, using kitchen scrap silage (I containerize compost while outdoor compost is inactive and build beds in the early spring) and ramial wood branches and chips, and more manure, and as much yard scrap as I am not using elsewhere.

I usually mix in shovelsful of the macrobiotically active layer of my outdoor compost in to this layer to directly deposit with the decomposing matter the various detrivores, microbes, and bacteria that are responsible for breaking it all down.

On top of all this I usually lay down a layer of inverted sod (if any was removed to make the bed) and a 50/50 mix of ramial wood chips and the three foot depth of topsoil. I usually plant a potato guild first, so I'll amend with triple mix and a manure mix, one that preferably tends toward acidity, and I might add an equal part of pine straw and bits that I get from chopping up used Christmas trees.

My starter guild is usually potatoes, corn, pole beans, curcurbits, radishes, and marigolds and a feed-the-birds mix that includes red clover, buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth. I also have an edible flower mix planted close by.

What I get out of all of this is:

1) where there is too much water in the soil and everything would otherwise drown, a raised bed on buried pilings that feeds it with moisture as it is needed;

2) where there is too little moisture and none is forthcoming, the soaked core of pilings would first give up its own moisture until the soil near the bottom of the piling wicks is more moist, when it would start drawing moisture from the sub-soil to feed the bed;

3) the bed warms/cools with the air, so as long as the latter can be mitigated, the bed will warm before the surrounding soil, seasonally and diurnally;

4) periodic additions of liquid fertilizer (human urine, kelp/compost/worm castings tea) can prompt more heat from the inner composting of the bed and provide heat to extend the season;

5) and the bed remains roughly the same height until the outermost layers of each piling has turned to soil (whole logs rot from the inside out, except for the inner bark layer), and I topdress with kitchen scraps and chop and drop as I use the beds, so it offsets losses.

I use alfalfa in two ways for hugelbeets: I seed it all over to fix nitrogen where it will grow, but those spots it takes usually indicates a pH of around 7, so it makes a good diagnostic tool; it is also deeply taprooted and performs hydraulic lift. In areas like mine, the water table is high, and it is possible for tap roots to extend down to saturated subsoil and water from below. So when alfalfa will grow in the bed, the acidity is no longer an issue for anything that won't grow below 7, and it will feed the wicking mechanism of the hugelbeet.

I don't think I've summarized that anywhere else so completely, so if anyone has a critique they'd like to share, I'd love to make my system as good as possible.

For those who took the time, I hope it proves useful, or at least interesting.

-CK
 
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Good read, Chris
 
Dale Hodgins
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I noted before that the alder and cottonwood in my beds did not sprout. My tennant harvested some of those same trees to build raised beds and they sprouted little branches at intervals of about 4 inches. These were cut in early spring when the trees would be primed for new growth. The stuff that didn't sprout was cut in September, about a month before the end of the growing season.
 
Dale Hodgins
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This 70/30 mix of cottonwood / alder is breaking down nicely. The pile is about 900 sq ft. and has shrunk from 14 ft. to 12 ft. tall .

It's in shade now but trees around it will be harvested for building and the low grade hardwoods will be dropped beside it to extend piles.

On all of the beds, I've left alder trees in their area to shed leaves onto them. The largest alder are to the north of the piles.

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Dale Hodgins
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This bed contains mostly cottonwood. It is in a trench 20" deep. It is 5'x16'. The logs average 5" diameter.

I piled them a foot deep then added two full garbage cans of coffee grinds and 3 lb limestone. Added another foot of all the smaller branches and leaves, followed by more coffee and dolomite lime.
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Dale Hodgins
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The bed was topped off with a foot of small branches and leaves.

If any of the neighbors saw me raking leaves on my kilometre long road, they'd have a laugh. The large properties around here are covered in trees. We don't rake them. (:

All of these beds will be topped with soil excavated for a pond. The best pond site lies behind the giant mound.

The middle photo is the pond site. The last is the view from the top of the giant 14 ft. bed.
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Dale Hodgins
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The piles look barely rotted when viewed from afar, but when dry, protruding branches are pulled away, the truth is revealed. The dampness is fostering quick decay of subsurface wood.

The protruding branches trap leaves and they make a good sun hat for the pile. Once they rot off, they can be tossed down to form the base of another bed.

The excavator will give the beds a good scrunching in September, when more coffee or manure are added.
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Read throughout he entire thread and saw no mention of buckthorn. I'm clearing about an acre of the stuff and hope to use it as the primary component is numerous large (6' x 40'-ish) hugel swales. I know it's a dense wood, so I'm unsure of it's suitability for a hugekulturl bed. I know nothing grows under it, but I'm pretty sure that's due to it's invasiveness and density, rather than any chemical issues.

The trees on my property are large and mature, some up to 10" in diamater! That's monstrous for buckthorn. There's also a fair amount of 2-3" diamater trees as well. I have huge piles stacking up and would really rather put them in the ground than through the chipper. Anyone have any experience or knowledge about using buckthorn in hugel applications?

I also have about a dozen mature ash trees that will need to come down due to emerald ash borer. I'll use the bulk of this for firewood, but I'm sure some will end up in hugel beds as well. Any issues with ash? I didn't see much specific info in the thread about ash either.

I would do some experiments, but I really need to get my swales in and I'll be renting equipment this fall to dig trenches, so time is not on my side. Just thought I'd check to see if anyone had any advice before I make any potential mistakes. I appreciate anyone's insight here!
 
Dale Hodgins
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I can't find anything wrong with buckthorn. There are quite a few references concerning it being invasive, but you already have it, and have come up with a good use for it. I havent found any reference to it being rot resistant or toxic. Ash is not a problem and has been used many times.

Good luck and happy chopping. Check out Google images to see neat stuff that wood turners have done with buckthorn.
 
Von Herwig
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Thanks Dale! I really appreciate it.
 
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Hey all,

Anyone has experience with using old rotten barn wood inside their beds? We got a barn that fell a couple years ago, we are slowly getting rid of the wood that is now rotting... most of the outside wood is gone, what is left is mostly large logs that were treated with whitewash, in the 50's. With exposure, most of that whitewash is gone, but some is still hanging on to the logs, flaking away. Is this wood safe to use inside a hugelkultur?

Thanks for your insights.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Whitewash is made from lime and not a problem. Check to make sure that no wood preservatives were used.

The base of posts were often treated with old motor oil and other nasty stuff. Cut through the lower portions of posts and other suspect areas and then do a visual and sniff test. If those areas are clean, it's unlikely that less vulnerable areas were treated.
 
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Has anyone used Oak? I'm guessing it might not be the best but we have a ton of oak and can trim the dead wood and fairly easily get started with hugelkulture. If oak doesn't work at all it's going to take a while to find the right wood!

Any suggestions would be awesome!!!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Oak has been used many times. You might want to also include some poplar or other softer wood that would give up water more readily. Put your most rotten stuff near the surface so that you have something to work with immediately. It will be a couple years before larger chunks deep down break down enough for plant roots to enter.

The wood that is abundant and that has no higher use, is by default your best candidate for hugelkultur. Oak is also the preferred wood for growing shitake mushrooms . You could produce them and deposit spent logs into future hugelkulturs.
 
Paige Wyatt
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Thank you Dale for the info. I'm glad I can use oak because I have plenty of it. I'll search around for some poplar and some other woods that are better for the top of the bed. We have pine but apparently that's not good to use?
 
Dale Hodgins
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If you're cutting lots of firewood, try to select trees that have lots of dead branches, fungal problems or other defects. All of the junk that accumulates in the splitting area would work great.

It doesn't all have to be wood. Old hay, corn stalks and nut hulls will work. I pick up hundreds of pounds of coffee and tea waste in town. Mountains of leaves are available. It all works.
 
Paige Wyatt
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Yeah, we only cut the dead branches from our trees in part to help them be more healthy and also to keep the dead branches from falling on our heads!
 
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Does any know if avocado tree wood would be good for a hugelkulture bed? I don't see that it comes up on any list for being allopathic, but I also think I have heard that the tree doesn't like to have other trees/plants around it...so not sure who that might impact of using in the hugelkulture system. Someone I know wants to cut down a very large and unproductive tree in their yard...and is willing to pass the wood on to others who could use it....if the wood wouldn't be good for a hugelkulture sytem, are there any recommendations for how best to use the wood for a permi design?

thanks for your reply
 
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So far good results from the maple I used in a hugel bed which ended up being 50 feet long, 8 feet wide and only 3 feet high . I had lots of mushrooms volunteering from the stable bedding I topped it with and having a damp climate I expect it will decompose and be spongy in a few years. I have taken to cutting blackberry up, spreading it in my pastures to die out over winter then cover it with manure about 6 inches deep from the barn in spring to try and improve my pasture naturally but I think that is more of a mulch technique but I did get stronger forage growth .
 
Dale Hodgins
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Now there's a bad wood if used while green. I believe that Lisa is dealing with wild Himalaya berries. Berry canes are good after they've been cut and allowed to die. They aren't something that you'd be advised to just pluck out of the ground and toss into a hugel bed. Even chunks of cane with no roots can survive and thrive in moist conditions. They're not as bad as morning glory or willow, but once established, they will conquer territory quickly. It's best to feed them to goats and use the manure.
 
Lisa Paulson
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They are dead, weathered grey and decomposing before I cover them : ) It worked well last winter and by summer the grass was growing so well there was no sign of it, just lush pasture .
 
Dale Hodgins
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Do the horses browse the berries that are living ? They were a favorite of goats that my kids had. The goats ate every leaf and some of the smaller vines. I don't know that thorns were spit out. I think they chewed well and swallowed them.
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One real advantage I can see to using berry canes in hugelkultur is that they are like sponges, but the water is much more available than with many woods. While wood may take a few seasons to be really ready, the outer skin of canes breaks down quite quickly. The remaining material can hold several times it's weight in water.
 
Lisa Paulson
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No I can't say they do, I have seen horses nibble on the ripe berries but they don't like the barbs on the leaves . The rabbits and goats like them .
 
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Since this is Dale's thread I think I'll get a response. I have hemlock infested with wooly adelgid. I plan on pruning the infested branches and burying them in a hugel bed. This should be fine, right? The wood I'll be using is a mix of pine, witch hazel, and maple with the infested branches thrown in. Thanks in advance.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Aaron Festa wrote:Since this is Dale's thread I think I'll get a response. I have hemlock infested with wooly adelgid. I plan on pruning the infested branches and burying them in a hugel bed. This should be fine, right? The wood I'll be using is a mix of pine, witch hazel, and maple with the infested branches thrown in. Thanks in advance.



Technically, these threads are Paul's, but they belong to all of us. I'm rather adept at starting them.
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This disease is already endemic in your environment. It will probably do less harm buried in a mound than if left on the surface to blow around. I think that generally if an invasive species is unlikely to sprout roots and grow in a hugel bed, it could make a great dump site. You're not going to plant things that would be harmed by the offending material and you're not going to stop this blight. I say live with it and utilize the dead material.
 
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Hello: I am new to the Hugelkultur Gardening! I was recently in Texas and built a Hugelkultur Garden for my daughter before leaving for home. We used cinder blocks about 80 to build a rectangular waist height perimeter for the Hugelkultur Garden. We layered gravel for the foundation and used iron rods to give some strength to the walls. We layered drainage rocks, a layer of compost, aged oak fire wood to fill the garden except for the last 12 or 18 inches. We dumped in one year old composted X-mas Trees from the land fill site and then composted soils from the same site. My daughter then used a mixture of organic soil, vermiculite and peat moss for the next 8 or 10 inches. This was our first attempt ... Do you have any pointers? Did we make any mistakes along the way?

I am now wanting to build several Hugelkultur Gardens in Simi Valley, CA. I just cut down a huge Alder Tree in my back yard. From what I have been reading in these posts. Alder is a good wood ~ however ~ would I need to wait for one year or two years to pass by before using this wood in my Gardens? I have other cut up logs from last year when we trimmed a very large Chinese Elm in the front yard. This wood has aged about one year .. Would this be a good wood to use in my gardens. I am anxious to get started and I do not want to wait!! I could try trading my Alder Wood for Wood that has been aged for two years.

What types of wood are best? Oak? Not sure whether we have Cottonwood in CA. Sounds like Pepper Trees, Eucalyptus Trees and Cedar Trees are not the most suitable for this project. Is there away that I could use the Alder since I have sooooooooooo much of it in my back yard!!! Would it be detrimental to use this green wood? I was planning to use branches and small kindling to fill in between the logs. I might find some chipped wood somewhere. I will try to get some organic soils to bring home. I might try to pound some iron rods into the ground against my block walls. Tether wood pallets to these rods to keep the weight off of my old and weak block walls. I would place the logs piled up high and then slant another wood pallet in front of these logs ... tethering it to the rear pallet for strength. Padding with reversed sod, compost and soils. Giving me vertical gardens all along my block walls in my back yard.

Does this sound like it would work? I am simply a small little baby boomer with big plans and a huge imagination!! I left a 20 foot stump from the Alder Tree ~ I am planing to have a perch (sunbathing deck with a banister for safety) built on top of the stump ~ left 3 limbs for extra support for the wood deck. Add a rope ladder and a very young flexible senior (Raw Vegan) to climb up! Looking forward to all of my projects and simply looking for some advice!! I have another huge Chinese Elm in the back yard, which is going to be taken almost out! Leaving a strong support for my new Yoga Swing. I am tired of the worry these huge trees will fall on my home! Plus I need more sun in my back yard to grow more veggies and fruits! Raw Vegans are always HUNGRY!

Hope to hear from someone soon! Our rain storm passed by and we should be getting some sunny days to start my projects!! Whoo Who! Marjie Alias Mug! Sweet Dreams!!
 
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