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Guerrilla forest hugelkultur  RSS feed

 
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I have a small forest near where I live and I wanted to harvest some rotten wood to make a hugel bed in my garden. I have done that in the past but it look dodgy to passerby’s when I load up rotten logs into my vehicle from city-owned parks. Plus it is a lot of effort to haul stuff to my small surburban lot. That’s when I decided to find a clearing and make my own private oasis and have a secret garden I can tend to within walking distance of my home. There is a wooded area filled with birdsong and only lightly used by people. And a plethora of rotting logs and topsoil to make my own garden. So far so good..
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The second attempt
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The first trial
 
Cameron Whyte
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Part of my desire to set up a forest garden was that allow me to grow a crop of runner beans in isolation. Apparently runner beans are highly promiscuous and need about half a mile from other scarlet runners. I grow lots of different pole beans and wanted to grow Purple Aerostar Runner beans I purchased from an amateur Welsh enthusiast who bred them himself. He kindly sold me a handful and in order for me to save the seeds I needed to grow them in isolation as my neighbors both sides of me like growing runner beans too. So it might seem like a lot of work for little reward to spend a few days making an almost six foot tall hugel bed but I have high hopes of getting a crop. As you can see by the photo below I grow a bunch of different kinds and flower colours.
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3 foot tall first bed
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My runner bean collection
 
Posts: 20
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
books food preservation forest garden
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Good luck with your guerrilla hugel bed!

I didn’t know runner brand were promiscuous but then I doubt my neighbours grow such things.

Anyway, I am interested to know how people using hugelculture find it. I have build a fair number of beds and am disappointed. The wood simply doesn’t rot but maybe there is something I could do it improve the situation.
 
Cameron Whyte
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Thanks Helen. May I ask how do you know that the wood is not rotting? You shouldn’t see it unless you are growing root crops and uncovering the soil layer as you harvest. If you use freshly cut green wood then we are talking years as opposed to wood that has lain decomposing on the forest floor among the forest duff. The more contact with soil life and fungi and decomposers the greater the decomposition. My old house I demolished a hugel bed when we sold the house as the real estate agent recommended we covert the lot to grass lawn. That felt so wrong but I could see the economic benefit that I relented and followed her advice. What had been layers of rotten logs stacked on top of one another to over four feet was indistinguishable from soil in less than three years. From memory there might have been a couple of hunks of wood that were recognizable but I was really surprised. That meant it was no longer storing water so I would recommend the very bottom layer should have those green logs or stumps if you don’t want to irrigate.
There is a downside in that they always seem to attract rodents. I like to fill holes with huge bags of coffee grounds liberated from Starbucks. I assume that they find spent grounds quite repellant as the smell is pretty pungent. I ram the grounds in with a stick like I’m loading a musket adding dandelion leaves and other green matter then place a rock over the entrance hole. First step before that is to introduce the garden hose and soak the newly excavated home and make a swimming pool. Rats and mice may have a purpose in the grand scheme of things but on a surburban lot they can do a lot of damage and in my opinion should be discouraged from setting up home. So that treatment works for me you just have to be vigilant and search for any openings. Hugel beds are great for lowering your latitude of growing (in the northern hemisphere). They heat up earlier and stay warmer at both ends of the growing season. Important if you live in the frozen north. Use a steep slope and watch the difference in germination and growth rates! The plan is not to irritate so hugel beds are one terrific answer to providing a receptive growing medium for plants during our long dry summers here in zone 8 near Vancouver. I realize that this is not quite the frozen North but it is if you live in the tropics. Hope that makes sense.
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
books food preservation forest garden
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Hi Cameron,

Thanks for your reply.

The reason I know the wood hasn’t started rotting is because last weekend my neighbour had a fence put in along that side of my garden, which led to this particular hugel bed getting partially unearthed. (Goodness knows what she and the builder made of the contents!)

Anyway, when clearing up last night, I noticed that some of the flimsier wood was just starting to decompose, so perhaps I was a bit hasty in my assessment. I’ve been using several varieties of wood and most is pretty much on the green side, which would explain the slow decomposition rate.

A shame you had to convert your garden to lawn but if I were to sell my property, I realise most people would be horrified by a working garden. Like you, as well as wood I stuff my hugel beds with nitrogen-heavy materials. In this case, it is the contents of my bokashi bin and compost heap.
 
Cameron Whyte
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Hi Helen. Neighbors and fences ha ha! May I be so bold as to ask if you were invited to share in the fence building or was it just placed there as a surprise? I like my two neighbors in my new home but that wasn’t always the case. I created a straw bale garden running the length of the three foot picket boundary and planted in it all in pole beans obstensively to make a 10 foot high obstruction so that I wouldn’t have to interact with my rather unpleasant neighbor at my old place. It worked although created a lot of shade in the afternoon sun. Maybe the message was too subtle. Anyway it amused me no end. I only like straw bale gardening if you know for sure you are buying organically grown straw. Otherwise it is not worth the risk. I wish I knew where the photos were. I was so sad to leave that garden. Friends of friends just list their land to lava and all the trees they planted and nurtured.  Now that would be painful so everything is relative...
 
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Helen, if you want to get that "green" wood rotting away quicker than what nature will do you can add mushroom slurries to the hugel bed.
To make mushroom slurries all you need are a blender, mushrooms (any kind) and water.
When I make a slurry I make one blender full then transfer that to a gallon milk jug, fill to lip with water, put the cap on and shake as I head to where I am going to use the slurry.
I try to spread out this gallon of slurry to get as much coverage as I can, the mushroom spores will sink into the soil, find that wood and the spores will start growing, eating the wood fibers, this is how nature rots trees in forests.
The more times you make and add a mushroom slurry, the better the fungi will work, doing what they do.

Redhawk
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Well, Cameron, my neighbour was considerate about the fence. It’s actually on my land, is a replacement for something which was both useless and an eyesore, and she paid for it!

Nonetheless, it was a surprise to find they had needed to dig out some of my crops and so I came home to a bit of a mess: rubble strewn by the new fence and apples which had got knocked off etc. I’ve also lost my morning sun on half the garden.

However, I only get sun in summer because of another neighbour’s leylandii. In the summer, we’ve got 18 hours plus of sunlight (I guess you must have that or more if you are in Vancouver?), so to lose 6-8 hours down half the garden isn’t the end of the world.

And the problem being the solution, I am giving up on annuals as they don’t grow in my sandloam with as little as 18 inches of rainfall p.a., hugelbeds notwithstanding. Instead, I’m extending the forest garden and building a pond

I like your story of the straw bales and beans. Sounds like you’ve got a better situation now, even if you’re starting from scratch.
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Hi RedHawk,

Thanks for the tip about mushrooms. In the autumn, one of my hugel beds has had mushrooms growing in it. Why only the one, I couldn’t say, but I’ll see if I can inoculate the others with mushroom spores
 
Cameron Whyte
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Thanks Helen for sharing your story. You have a very accommodating attitude. That is not a lot of rain you have compared to here and I like your idea of building a pond. I tried to make one with free pottery clay off Craigslist but it never amounted to very much. I could not get it to hold water but in the end the flowers loved growing in it. I too am veering away from annual vegetables into more of a food forest idea in my backyard. My little nitrogen fixing shrubs are growing more slowly than I thought but the seed was cheap and it is all an adventure. A big thank you for starting off my thread because how exciting to have Dr RedHawk himself add something to it. It’s like being visited by royalty! I am so excited to try this  mushroom soup mix incoculate. He really is a treasure trove of great advice and knowledge. Thanks again to you both.
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Hi Cameron,

I guess pottery clay might not be strong enough without being fired in a kiln. Anyway, good to use Craigslist - I am hopeful of getting some pond liner off our equivalent, Freegle. I’ve already got rocks for decorating the pond via that means.

Which nitrogen-fixing shrubs are you growing?
 
Cameron Whyte
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Hi Helen
I was just trying to lay down a thick layer of unfired clay and tamping it down to make a seal. I guess the water just slowly leaked through like osmosis. I mean I had buckets and buckets worth and the pond was only two metres wide in diameter. A pondlet. I didn’t spend too much time on it but I can see the attraction of liner. I know purists object and I can understand why but we can’t all be sepp holzer. I am wondering if frost heave forcing fresh stones to the surface is something to consider? Makes you want to ensure that the underlay is sufficiently thick to prevent punctures. It’s expensive stuff that liner so I hope you can get it free or inexpensive at least. I grew autumn olives two years ago with great germination and Pygmy caragana Siberian peashrub. Only one out of ten seeds made it and it is two years old and 16 Inches high. I hope it will eventually set seed and I can grow some more. Black goumi and sea buckthorn I bought this Spring from richters herbs. They look marginal and I hope they pull through. I am trying to nurse them along with comfrey mulch and watering them regularly. I tried tree lupines but the shrub failed and I suspect previous owners used roundup in the garden and it is supposedly susceptible to residue in the soil. Why is Monsanto still a thing? So many crazy things happening on the planet that I feel compelled to focus on the beauty in nature. I want to start honey locusts from seed but I wonder how happy they are being kept pruned to a small tree size? I should look on the forum.
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Hi Cameron,

No, we can’t all be sepp holzer!

I’ve not heard of the perennial shrubs you mention. I wonder if they would grow in NE England? Not sure how much space I’ll have left in my rather small garden after I put in the latest apple tree, hazels and a yew (I just love yews and they are a native tree).

Anyway, your pond sounds quite big. Mine might be roughly that size but I know tree roots will eventually grow into it, so I’m going to have to think of a long term solution. However, as I can’t visualise how it will look without living with it, I hope I can find some secondhand pond liner to tide me over.

Always lots of research to do as well as look after the garden, eh?
 
Cameron Whyte
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Hi Helen. There is always lots to do and ponder. I thought it rained more in the north east. I lived in Kent and Norfolk each for a year and England is really a giant garden. Such a rich heritage of having beautiful horticultural endeavours. I agree that the yew is a pretty special tree and it makes sense to support natives. I see super tall cherry and walnut trees in peoples’ yards here that dominate the whole front or back section and I am wary of losing growing space. The fig is nicely placed though in the far back corner and happily bears one crop a year. Thanks to the owner who planted it in the fifties. I would like someone decades later to send me silent thanks for having great foresight in my plantings.
 
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Location: Down the road and around the bend, Southern Ohio, Zone 6a/6b
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I love yew too!!
 
Posts: 93
Location: Tennessee
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Good job. Why stop with just one location? I have them spread all over the map. One "trick" near urban areas is to grow things that most people won't easily recognize.

Just noticed the pond building comment. With a good hugel bed going & a few strategically placed rocks to channel & temporarily pool the water after rains pond's aren't necessary for guerilla veggies. A few rocks &/or sticks are less obvious than ponds.


 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
books food preservation forest garden
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Hi Cameron,

I like your description of England - and you didn’t live the prettiest parts (well, in my opinion!). The NE is much drier than the NW because of the Pennine hills in the middle of the country sending the rain clouds from the Atlantic too high for precipitation. In general, the east is dry, the west is wet. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your time over here.

I love walnut trees but my garden is far too small for one of those - and here is perhaps just a bit too far north to get any nuts.

Both cherry and walnut are native here - as is hazel, which fortunately I can keep small with coppicing. I’ve only ever seen smallish fig trees but surprisingly (considering the walnut which is native doesn’t) they produce the fruit here.

Yes, it will be nice if in the future people appreciate our trees rather than cut them down!
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Shalom Eigenheimer wrote:I love yew too!!



Here’s a photo.... The yew!
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Cameron Whyte
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Hi Helen thanks for the photo. It is a pretty tree and of course I had to look up if yew berries were edible! I will try and take some photos tonight of my fig tree. It is weird how hardy figs but they need heat to ripen.
 
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