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Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur article thread  RSS feed

 
Paul Cooper
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Location: N.W. Wyoming
greening the desert hugelkultur tiny house
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Has anyone tired using bales of straw or anything other than wood? [size=12] [/size]
 
Kevin MacBearach
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I have lots of holly growing around my place, was wondering if it could be used in the hugelbed.
 
Marc Troyka
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@Paul C: Yes, someone earlier in this thread mentioned accidentally making a hugel bed out of straw bales once. If that's the cheapest thing you've got available, go for it. I'd imagine the mass and nitrogen paucity of a straw bale would emulate wood pretty closely, and probably retain more moisture.

@Kevin M: Also yes, there's nothing particular about hollies that makes them unsuitable. The big question is do you really want to rob the birds and pollenators of all the food holly bushes provide? I wouldn't figure you'd get much wood out of them, either, unless you have some gargantuan holly bushes.
 
Cj Sloane
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Straw/hay would break down too quickly but it could be a good experiment. A long term HK would need logs though.
 
bill archer
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Location: Oregon Zone 8b
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Could I get more out of a new HK bed if I layer with some of the following stuff? I'm going to stock up on a couple of yards but am not sure what to get, so if it will help the progress of a new bed please let me know. The only thing I have laying around other than a bunch of fallen trees is the dirt from the forest, and in another thread I started re: using forest dirt for topsoil I'm a little hesitant now as someone pointed out that there could be bad organisms in the forest dirt, and someone else had informed me of the contaminated horse manure crises that is happening. While I don't want to pay out any money at all I'd rather be safe than sorry. There are a couple of local companies in Springfield Oregon which sell the following:

garden Compost, econobark (says it's a basic fir bark mulch for mulching in the landscape), Beautibark ("premium grind fir bark mulch for general mulching and natural weed control"), Garden Mulch, Hemlock Bark.
Compost:
steer compost, chicken compost, garden compost.
primary planting soil

I was thinking to layer on top of logs with leaves/twigs, then a mix of steer compost/garden compost/dirt from the forest.
 
Devon Olsen
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im lazy, so i would definately NOT make an official mix out of it, instead i would just take what i got around, say, local topsoil, local subsoil, woodchips, horse manure, steer manure/straw mixed, bush trimmings, truckload of city topsoil someone gave me and i would throw some here, some there, and just throw it together as random as i can think before covering with local soil and mulching with whatever i got
for you it may be something like, local top/sub soil, garden scraps/compost, econobark you have leftover from something or took leftovers back from a landscaping job, beautibark from something similar (though i would personally avoid stained bark), garden mulch/ local weeds, hemlock bark left over from hemlock getting burnt for firewood or similar reason as above, steer compost/fresh poo and everything between, if you have steers or someone who will bring you the poo, chicken poo/compost, that were in the vicinity of the bed, and primary planting soil that may be your local topsoil or delivered for free topsoil
bark takes a LONG time to break down from what i understand, its great to have in a hugelbed, especially still attached to the log it came on, but too much( like a LOT of bark man) may take a while to give back its nutrients and nitrogen, and may not help regulate the moisture in the soil as quickly(i could be wrong on that though) as inner tree wood)

i just wouldnt bother with the mix and buying all materials (though i have no excess of trees and bought a bunch from trees that were cut down by some in town tree companies - i do get future loads for free though...)
 
Me Wagner
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Location: SE Georgia Zone 8B
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I do believe I could sit and spend two or more days just reading this one discussion! Gees, I wish there were an easier way for me to determine if the 3 mounds (recently cleared land) of mostly pine, can be used for huglekultur! The mounds are about 20-25' roundish and 7-9' feet tall I would guess.

After reading portions of this, and visiting the link in the original post, I am envisioning spreading those piles into one REALLY LONG, tall pile, and making a hill to grow stuff on! This excites me because this is VERY flat..flat, land/area we live in! Then what to do, just let it sit for a year, add dirt now, or what.. I definitely have to read more about this!

TY all for the post and helping me to learn more.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Cj Verde wrote:Chopped wood isn't the same as whole logs...
Xisca Nicolas wrote:
How can hugelkultur works, when you know from BRF info that it is advised to NEVER bury any piece of the chopped wood!?!


tel jetson wrote:I'm not familiar with BRF. at least, I'm not familiar with the acronym.


BRF is chopped wood as mulch. What I said about BRF is the same about non mature compost or mulch: you are not supposed to bury any organic matter BEFORE it is composted.

What is not clear to me is how it happens that what is not supposed to be done in a technique can work fine in another technique!
 
Cj Sloane
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First of all, I think BRF is referring to Ramial chipped wood or in French Bois raméal fragmenté

Second, why do you believe you can't bury any organic matter before it is composted? Nature does this during landslides.

Third, very large pieces of wood break down much more slowly than large pieces which also means the wood is not locking up the N.

Fourth, this technique is based on very productive natural systems. It has been observed that plants grow better where there had been a landslide for example. Probably even better on a landslide mound that had whole trees gobbled up by the landslide. Nature does not put a whole heap of wood chips into a mound, ever.



Xisca Nicolas wrote:
Cj Verde wrote:Chopped wood isn't the same as whole logs...
Xisca Nicolas wrote:
How can hugelkultur works, when you know from BRF info that it is advised to NEVER bury any piece of the chopped wood!?!


tel jetson wrote:I'm not familiar with BRF. at least, I'm not familiar with the acronym.


BRF is chopped wood as mulch. What I said about BRF is the same about non mature compost or mulch: you are not supposed to bury any organic matter BEFORE it is composted.

What is not clear to me is how it happens that what is not supposed to be done in a technique can work fine in another technique!
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Cj Verde wrote:First of all, I think BRF is referring to Ramial chipped wood or in French Bois raméal fragmenté

Second, why do you believe you can't bury any organic matter before it is composted? Nature does this during landslides.



Thanks for this answer!
Well, this is not my belief but a common belief I have read a lot.
I was even very happy to learn that I could bury wood (and I suppose any organic matter).

It is said that nature does not bury organic matter (except roots from dead plants). Landslides are not so common. Less common than leaves and pine needles and other dry parts of plants.
This belief is based on the fact that nature piles up organic matter as a usual fact.
Many people say to put organic matter on the ground without burying it, except for very mature compost.
It also goes with the theory of non tilling, do not move the ground.
 
Cj Sloane
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Consider a what happens when a really large tree falls over. A bunch of soil attached to the roots of the tree get moved about like a very small landslide. It's know as "pit and mound." Looks like this:

Often the tree falls on contour (or gets moved there by water) and then it catches debris. Very common in temperate forests. That's what hugelkultur is trying to mimic.

Xisca Nicolas wrote:Landslides are not so common.
 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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bill archer wrote:...someone else had informed me of the contaminated horse manure crises that is happening. While I don't want to pay out any money at all I'd rather be safe than sorry.


Because I have a manure hauling business, I deal heavily in horse manure. I have yet to see the crisis hit my compost piles. I keep some finished compost on hand that has been innoculated with a LOTS of Spiny Aramanth, Lambs Quarters and "field weeds." I will mix some of that into a batch I've just finished and see what happens. Let me tell you, I can grow some seriously healthy Spiny Aramanth and Lambs Quarters in my compost piles (so no contamination). If nothing grows, that pile has a problem and further testing would be required. We are in Michigan so it could be some this region hasn't heavily used the herbicide causing such malevolence. Also, I have a feeling farmers would be more apt to use the herbicide on alfalfa fields than grass hay (horses should be primarily grass with little alfalfa; which would affect cattle more than horses.

My advice is to not rule out use of manure because of fear of someone elses bad experience. Use their experience to guide you in making a knowledgable selection of sources. You can use our strategy to test manure/compost sources for health. Talk with your source, do they primarily pasture their herd, feed lots of hay they grow themselves (fertilizers/herbicides used), buy their hay? If they buy hay there may be no knowledge what's happened to the hay, That's ok, you experiment with it. So take a small portion of manure, a 5 gallon bucket(use a small garden spade to take manure samples from different spots/depths in the pile), you can use it as a test batch. Gather some Spiny Aramanth and Lambs Quarter seeds (the toxin was developed to affect Spiny Aramanth in particular, if I remember correctly) and see what grows. If these plants grow healthy, you are not likely to have problems. Heck, if you get really lucky, the source pile will be COVERED with healthy Spiny Aramanth and "non-grass" weeds already and that would be a great sign of non-contamination, too.

I've used a significant amount of such manure/stall shavings in my hugelkultur. The hugel, the plants, fungi and small life are all THRIVING even in our drought. Don't be fearful... make it an opportunity to experiment!

 
James Colbert
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:I have a little naive question...

How can hugelkultur works, when you know from BRF info that it is advised to NEVER bury any piece of the chopped wood!?!


It's all about surface area...
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:
Thanks for this answer!
Well, this is not my belief but a common belief I have read a lot.
I was even very happy to learn that I could bury wood (and I suppose any organic matter).

It is said that nature does not bury organic matter (except roots from dead plants). Landslides are not so common. Less common than leaves and pine needles and other dry parts of plants.
This belief is based on the fact that nature piles up organic matter as a usual fact.
Many people say to put organic matter on the ground without burying it, except for very mature compost.
It also goes with the theory of non tilling, do not move the ground.


I think the issue of mixing the wood (chipped or not) with the soil is probably one of the big factors in creating a positive effect vs a negative effect. Some people also add nitrogen rich material to their hugelkultur beds during creation to help balance out any excess carbon issues.

I do not add any nitrogen rich material to my hugelkultur beds when i am making them. I tend to wait and let the plants "tell" me what they need and supplement if necessary. I have buried layers of whole logs and wood chips and not see any deleterious effects. Time will tell just how much benefit my soil receives from the buried wood. so far, so good... most of my trees seem healthy and my garden is growing well.

Time is probably another big factor in the sucess of a hugelkultur bed. More time for the wood to break down is likely better. In my climate, the warm season is very arid, so I expect a very slow (decade+) time frame for the buried logs to decay. I may not receive much benefit for several more years...
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Thanks, I like things to be relative, and this word "relative" is too easy to use!
... relative to what?

Yes, as in a compost, there is a relation between the amount of carbon and nitrogen! It makes more sense to me.

I think I see something else: "How many times do we move the ground?"
If you till/cultivate deep and several times a year, it is different from preparing the earth once
and then let the bacterias and fungi reorganize themselves after the big move.
 
Matt Ferrall
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Thought I would add to the HK narrative here.First off,I have built many HKs from industial size using heavy eqptmt to hand made and I have become a bit dissalutioned with the amount of energy it takes to construct and doubt it would pay off caloricaly.
Recently Ive been working with non irrigated annuals near the river in areas of deposition.Over the last couple of years,I have girdled many trees and have to keep moving as the soil eventually becomes depleted.Basically Im pioneering shifting cultivation for this bioregion.This year I cleared many areas completely of trees(20yrs old max as this is a constantly changing zone)and also had many areas that I left standing dead from last years girdling.
Well we have had a pretty bad drought the last 2 months and the results are interesting.Areas under cultivation for over 5 years are showing negative effects from the drought.Areas that were completely cleared of trees this year are lush and green and showing no damage from the lack of rain.Areas with standing dead are the best.So the question is,Why are the plants in the new ground not being affected by the drought?
 
Matt Ferrall
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Well the conclusion Ive come to is that areas recently forested have extensive tree root systems that are now dead and acting like sponges underground.Essentialy this is a HK but the trees did the work of putting the woody debri underground for me.Not sure if this meathod uses more or less energy for the clearing and such but areas that were just girdled and left standing are doing the best.I belive this is due to slight shading during the heat of the day from the dead branches.This meathod uses the least amount of energy of any Ive yet looked into as far as inputs and outputs goes because the trees do all the work.Oh yea..the trees are mainly nitrogen fixing alders.So there you have it-HK without the work!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Coppicing might also be a way to put material in the soil, as the tree will shed roots when the tops are cut.

 
Eric Markov
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Thanks Matt for posting your observations.


This year in my vegetable garden I dug a trench about 18" between the garden and the redwood trees whose roots invade the garden.

This idea was to cut the roots so the roots in the garden beds will die and decay.

I filled the trench back in right after digging, so the tree roots would grow straight back in, instead of growing down deeper where it would be harder to get them.

So the plan is to dig a trench every year cutting off the roots and then letting them regrow.

Hope this works. Whenever I dig into the garden there is a mass of redwood roots there as it is the only part of the yard which gets irrigated.

If it does work, it will add a lot of organic matter each year to the beds.




 
Cj Sloane
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Why are you girdling the trees and could this have anything to do with the soil depleting?

I am actually planning on girdling trees for the first time this fall. I have a heavily forested property and I need to open up the canopy for pasture and to plant productive plants. Killing trees is a good way to destroy the land. I attended a talk on silvopasture and they stressed that killing trees had to be done over several years so as not to damage the remaining trees. The damage takes several years to show up so you might not realize what the cause was.

Matt Ferrall wrote:Over the last couple of years,I have girdled many trees and have to keep moving as the soil eventually becomes depleted.Basically Im pioneering shifting cultivation for this bioregion.
 
Matt Ferrall
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well girdling trees is just less effort than chopping them down to bury like Sep.And yes,as the roots and woody tops decay,eventually fertility and water holding capacity wear out.Sep used an older forest in his HK so it will last alot longer but eventually it too will wear out and there wont be any more wood to make another one so yea,HKs wear out and their lifespan is porportional to the amount and size of woody debri.Girdling leaves the roots as the HK.For the record, over 5yrs of annual production,I transition these sites to food forest.I was just observing annual production over the course of time and before the food forests kick in.The parent soil is relatively poor so the worst I can do is return it to sand which is how it was just 20yrs ago when left by the river.
Eric-thats awsome!Redwoods are resistant to fungal infections so perfect for root pruning
 
Tyler Ludens
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Matt Ferrall wrote: so yea,HKs wear out and their lifespan is porportional to the amount and size of woody debri.


I see it as the basis for a system of permanent fertility such as a food forest...a sort of jumpstart.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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I understand that:
- if you have trees, cut them, and the Hk is done, with the roots that will die (if they do...).
- bury the logs where there are no roots in the soil yet!

I will soon have a lot of wood, as the orange trees are dying all around...
I guess I cannot use them except if I make charcoal with them.
i guess you cannot HK logs from tress that died of any disease (fungus/virus)
 
Tyler Ludens
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:
i guess you cannot HK logs from tress that died of any disease (fungus/virus)


I'm not agreeing with that because I think the decay fungi will kill the disease fungi. I wouldn't plant the same plant family in that hugelkultur, though, just to be safe. For instance don't plant any citrus in a hugel made from diseased citrus. I'm using diseased Oak in my hugels, because there is too much of it for us to use it just for firewood. I figure once it's buried, the disease spores probably aren't much of an issue. And I don't plan to plant Oaks in the piles anyway.

 
Xisca Nicolas
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I guess, you think, that's no proof, and I hope you are right.

I have learned that this fungi illness go into the ground with water, and how can we know they will be killed?
Fire (may be burn the outside of the logs?) is the safest for me against diseases as long as I have any evidence of analysis about their death in the soil by decay.

Is biochar a HK solution as well, if buried?
 
Adam Ormes
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So, I want to make some hugelswales. The wind blows basically parallel to contour, so I want to extend the boomerang of the berm round a bit further and make the beds themselves wavy. Thus therefore hence what I suppose I will do is wave above and below contour, ensuring that my berm is on contour. I suspect that the digger operator's going to love it...

I hear Paul talking about wavy line hugels all the time, where can I see pictures or videos of some? The best I've seen so far is jack spirko's video of the Sepp site in Montana, but it's hard to get a sense of perspective from that one. Ideally, one that has been designed specifically to slow winds.
 
richard willey
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I have a question and a thought.. Manure when decomposing creates heat..Has anyone tried putting 1 foot or so of manure in the bottom of their HB ,then the other biomass "logs" on top ,then the soil basically sealing the bed. wouldnt this extend your growing time in a colder climate?I dont have the means to test this theory,but am curious.
 
Devon Olsen
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i had a bunch of horse manure available when i originally built my first bed, i mixed it in and i used it for mulch in some spots
still awaiting results on season extension...
 
Paula Edwards
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i built my hügelbeds the following way so far: Chip up a pile of branches, lay them in shape on a layer of cardboard, topsoil is next to non exsisant so forget abot it, put grass clippings on the top of the timber, and then soil organized from somewhere.
I am just building another one and I think that it might be FAR better doing it like this: first brances, then soil and the grass on the top. I think it might be more stable because the soil holds the branches together, it might hold water better, it might break down faster too.
The way I have built them so far has some disadvantages: They are not very stable, the soil does not stick to the sides of the beds so I can only plant the top and they lose water very easily.
I plan now to change the method of not cutting of the branches into small pieces, but instead making bundles of them as discussed in another thread.
BUT I have no soil. What is if I simply call an excavator for a truckload of soil? That is subsoil. Is it of any use for the bed? What does subsoil do if used for planting? I think I would get this fairly cheap. I would have to get the stones out, but I would get bigger and more usefull stones too. Maybe I would have to shovel it through a sieve.
Second question: What happens to root vegetables if they grow into the woody zone of a hügelbed or into the uncomposted grass clippings, pine needles or leaves?
BTW I have planted trees in my hügelbeds and they have done well so far. Howver the bamboo didn't.
 
Meryt Helmer
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I have not managed to read this whole thread! I have a question though. I think on a podcast I heard that the ideal hugelkultur is 6 feet tall. smaller ones work and are great but if you can make one 7 feet tall and then it shrinks down to 6 feet tall it will be extra awesome. So my question is. I happen to be 4'10 and if i make a hugelkulture that tall i would have to climb onto it probably in order to reach what is planted on top. when people make really huge hugelkultures how do you reach the plants on top? sorry if this has been asked recently. if someone can direct me tot hat section of the thread i will happily read it.
 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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Olivia,

Neither of my HK's is the recommended size. My initial on-grade HK (now 2 + years old) has a finished height of maybe 3 feet and it is 4 - 5 feet wide and roughly 350 feet long. My new 250' HK is 2 feet below grade and extends 3 feet above grade... it should settle at about 2 feet above grade. I do not anticipate it being a problem.

I'm sure I'm trading longevity of usefullness and, perhaps, faster evaporation of water. But I expect at least 10 years of good service before I poke into one to finde out how the "core" looks.
 
Meryt Helmer
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thank you Sussanna

I guess I want to make really big hugelkulture because I have so much material. I am moving to a house with many fallen trees that are currently a bit of a fire hazard. I am just wondering about the logistics of a tall hugelkulture. i suppose i could make a lot of shorter ones though.
 
Devon Olsen
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from my understanding the reason for 6ft tall hugelbeds is to convenience a harvester that is 6ft tall
ergo if youre 4' 10" id suggest building a bed at 5 - 5 1/2 feet tall so that you can reach everything that you want to harvest
i also think that the perennials may be planted at an angle so as to grow at a managable height
 
Meryt Helmer
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I thought the height had to do with not needing to irrigate it eventually. if it is just for ease of harvest that makes things much easier!
 
Kelly Green
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I started a new Hugelkultur bed and am wondering y'all can give me input as to whether I am doing it okay before I go farther.
The hole is only about 10 inches deep because I got very tired of digging. Ha!
First I put in a layer of logs, then a layer of leaves. Then I put in another layer of logs and leaves. That is where I am at this point. Do I just keep going with these layers until it gets higher, then put soil on top? And straw? There is no sod available.

Step-three-hugelbed.JPG
[Thumbnail for Step-three-hugelbed.JPG]
 
Kelly Green
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My bed is also fairly small. It is about 3.5 feet wide and 6 feet long.
Here is a photo of the first layer before putting in leaves.
Step-one-hugelbed.JPG
[Thumbnail for Step-one-hugelbed.JPG]
 
Cj Sloane
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Kelly Green wrote: There is no sod available.


I don't supposed you saved the top soil? That should be the last layer on top.
 
Devon Olsen
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Olivia Helmer wrote:I thought the height had to do with not needing to irrigate it eventually. if it is just for ease of harvest that makes things much easier!


well that might play a role in it too for some people, to me, i decided that blocking the wind and creating areas that the wind would drop its load of snow and soil in the winter were a bit more important to me than having unirrigated tomatoes everywhere, besides from my one short year of observations, the bottom of the beds seem to have plenty of moisture in them anyway, and if i get a small section that i can grow tomatoes without irrigation at the bottom... thats more than i had before and i can cover the rest with drought resistant vegetables, fruits and grains

so even though i only get an average of 14inches of rain or so in my area, i decided that the tall, 6ft or more hugelbeds worked best for me

there are many factors that you may or may not want to consider when building them, but in the end i think its more important that the bed works for you and your situation than following rules of any sort
 
Kelly Green
Posts: 16
Location: Oklahoma Zone 7A
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Cj, I did save the soil. I figured that would go last since I don't have sod. Should I add 'green' to the pile or just keep putting on wood and leaves?
I thought I'd use smaller limbs next, then maybe some more bigger ones? I need to go back and re-read the whole thread to remind myself what others have done.
Of course my space is very small compared to some. No room for a bulldozer here.
The good news is I have enough material to make another, but will watch to see how things go and learn from that before I do it.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I put the biggest, slowest-decomposing logs on the bottom (large oak and juniper logs) and then gradually added smaller and more rotten pieces, topping with whatever soil or manure I could get from around the place. Final topping was a mulch of wood chips.

 
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