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Raised Bed/Hugelkultur vs. Natural Farming

 
William James
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Hello, this year has been pretty miserable farming, great weather notwithstanding.

One of my goals was to fix the problem of the hard clay soil in our area by using a technique I learned from the fukuoka mailing list. The idea is that you sow a bunch of Daikons and leave them in the ground. Then, if you want daikons, you sow them a second and a third time. Then you get big daikons without having lifted the soil at all.

Well. after sowing many, many daikons, I saw that the majority of the daikons didn't take root, or if they did it was just enough root to bolt into seed. I saw 2 daikon roots worth eating (and I can't even do that!!) in an randomly sowed 30 foot area. Perhaps they were sowed too close, or perhaps I don't have enough sun where I am (hence the bolting?)

So, I started to entertain the idea of doing a raised bed hugelkultur and using straw bales as the border. After 2 years and growing things on top of the retangular bales, I could just dig out and replace the walls and put them on top of the bed.

This kinda goes against my idea of not disturbing the soil, but I really am at the point with this damn clay soil to go for it. I'm going to be mixing in lots of manure (we just bought a soil test, but I have the suspicion the soil is weak), which also goes against the idea of putting organic material on the top, and not inside the soil. I'm going to take the risk of millions of hay seeds jumping out of the bed. Stupid hay.

Another reason I'm going for the raised beds is that the garden is in my friend's yard (zone 1), she's an architect and we need something that will make the garden look "structured," hence geometric shaped beds.

I'm also considering doing the same thing on another piece of land (zone 2) on a much more extensive scale. The soil is really heavy and has been turned once (didn't want that to happen, but it did).

Sooooo, I guess the question is this:
Why am I seeing a disconnect between natural farming techniques which seek to leave the soil undisturbed and hugelkultur or raised beds which put organic material underground and disturb the soil? Both strategies are being promoted, yet they seem quite different.

Thanks,
William

 
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit
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Daikon and radish in general are cold weather plants and dark germinators. Did you work the seeds in or simply threw them on the field? The seeds need to be kept moist, cool and dark. The bolting occurs when daikon is planted too near to each other and when they have water shortage.
 
                            
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If the ground is as hard as you say, you might want to think about digging it up one time, and then taking care of the soil and never tilling it again. This is advocated by Gaia's Garden. It would be much less frustrating anyway  
 
William James
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These two comments make a lot of sense.
We had a drought this spring.
I seeded too close together and relatively shallowishly.

That being said, I'm in the middle of creating a raised bed. I'll send pics.
Hopefully I can get some decent daikons before the year is through. Some for me, some for the soil.

I dug up 3-4 hunks of concrete about 10 cm down today. Who knows what else is under that yard.
W
 
Tyler Ludens
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William wrote:

I dug up 3-4 hunks of concrete about 10 cm down today. Who knows what else is under that yard.
W


I learned that plants don't do well when trying to grow in 4 inches of dirt on top of a rock.  Therefore, it made no sense for me to leave my dirt undug (Natural Farming) but plenty of sense to dig out the rocks and replace them with logs (hugelkultur).  Now my plants are doing great!   

In my case daikon would not have been able to conquer the rocks.  They may not be able to conquer your concrete! 
 
Brenda Groth
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I too have clay soil here, and sometimes it can be a pain to get things started in it.

It takes a while to break down, and organic material is the best way to break it down, pile on as much as you can.

but once you get things growing in it it tends to work well, at least that is my experience...you can check out my blog.

I have just filled a raised bed with some bits of apple wood, some green and brown compost materials, a bit of sandy loam and a LOT of clay, and am piling stuff on top of it, (rotted grape vines, rotted sunflower hulls, green plants cut from checker mallow and horseradish)..and whatever else I can find..probably won't be planting it until fall or spring.
 
Tyler Ludens
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My soil is clay also, Brenda, and the hugel beds have really helped - they attract massive numbers of worms who work like crazy to move organic material from the surface into the soil and make it nice and crumbly. 

 
William James
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Okay, so I went for it and I made a raised bed. Here you see it in all it's initial glory.

A few things:
1. It has some newly cut branches on the bottom. I guess they're supposed to be rotting or of the rotting type, but I had access to neither. I chose the most probable rotters I had. And I kept the branches thin. A couple logs about 8 inches long and 3 inches wide. Mostly branches no more than a finger wide. I had cypress and pomegranate.
2. On the second layer, there's just some plain soil from the pile. On top of that there's some grass clippings.
3. Third layer some more soil. On top the contents of a half-full trash-can of compost. Some oldish, some newish.
4. Fourth and final layer, lots of soil with cow manure mixed in. I really wanted straight-up rabbit manure, but couldn't make it happen. It was mixed with hay anyway. Had to settle for cow manure.
5. I planted lots of clover around it. That area was prone to weeds, especially bindweed, hoping to get a nice-looking homogenous green border. Have some parsley at 5 inch intervals around the edge.
6. I dug in straw bales. Any bets of how long they last? It's late july.

A few mistakes:
--I saw that hugelkulturs are supposed to be at minimum 45 degree angle. Mine's too flat I suppose, and I imagine it will compact and get even flatter. Should I fork it from time-to-time to get oxygen in there?

--The straw bales as borders is a dubious plan, I admit. My goal to plant on top of them and they will rot down. I'll fork them out and replace them and throw the newly-rotten straw on top of the hugelkultur.

Any thoughts, suggestions? Thanks,
William

raisedbed.jpg
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William James
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Oops, sorry.
I planted oats and flax on top to keep it from sliding in rain.
I plan to put in 6 inch tall brussel sprouts in a week.
W
 
William Roan
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Hi William
I read about using Daikon to break up heavy clay soils on this permies web site. The idea being the Daikon is a deep diver that works its way through clay, dies and rots to leave tubes of organic mulch.
The Daikon bolted in my garden also, but the concept got me thinking. Why not try hammering bamboo, pine 2x2s or fast rotting wooden stacks deeply into your clay soil. In the rainy season the wood will swale and rot, leaving tubes of organic mulch to help break up your clay.
 
                    
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I am having a lot of success with accidental corn.  I piled straw from my barn on top of my clay and rocky soil in the garden.  On top of that I put some rotting logs and tree cuttings, some more straw and a light cover of soil (about 1 inch).  The corn that was not eaten / not digested by the goats and mixed with the straw started to germinate almost immediately.  Now it is over 1m tall so I assume those corn roots are finding their way into the clay soil below.  No watering required either.  I was so encouraged by this that I took a few tomato seedlings (from thinnings as I hate throwing them away!) and buried them in the straw near a rotting log.  They are also doing great.  I wasn't planning on planting anything there this year but it seems to be working.  I put a few flower seeds between and the whole thing looks amazing.
 
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit
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I don't believe daikon alone can break up clay. Daikon like all radishs need deep and loose soil. The deeper the taproot should go the deeper the soil must be.

Soil preparation is essential. Manure, wood chips, straw, etc should AT LEAST sit over winter on the field. In early spring I would loosen up the soil two spades deep. And let it sit 2-4 weeks before seeding. I would seed daikon in rows and cover the rows with a thin layer of mulch.

Germination temperature of daikon is 2 degrees celsius, 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
Daikon needs at least 90 days to fully mature.

In that 90 days I would always keep the soil moist and the soil well covered with mulch. I wouldn't fertilize because all radishs need stable and established soil fertility. They hate quick fixes or late applications of fertilizer. No urine when they grow.
 
William James
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Dunkelheit wrote:
I don't believe daikon alone can break up clay. Daikon like all radishs need deep and loose soil. The deeper the taproot should go the deeper the soil must be.


Well, the theory as it was proposed to me was that you sow the whole area with daikon, and leave everything in the ground. You do that 2 or 3 times and the clay magically becomes something that can grow big daikons.

I did get one or two daikons to grow to a respectable size, something like a carrot. I left one in and ate the other one.
William

 
Kay Bee
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I've had good luck growing broadcast daikon seed in our clay soil. 

This past spring I gently crushed several handfuls of saved pods by hand and broadcast them on our hugelkultur beds.  I didn't work them in to the soil, so the germination/survival rate was probably quite low.  When you have handfuls of seeds to work with, a high rate of success isn't necessary.  We have quite a few now that are full size and setting seed pods.  The flowers are quite pretty and are a good draw for many types of insects.

If things progress like they did at our old place, the new seeds will find their way around the garden/orchard area and volunteer aggressively.

We also broadcast chinese cabbage, carrot, dill and fennel seed using the same system. They all are working well so far except the fennel.  My seed must have not been viable.  We have forests of dill, though 
 
William James
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http://www.star-distributing.com/howtoguides/woodrots.html

might be interesting for someone wishing to stick wood into the soil and get it to rot as part of an amending process.
William
 
maikeru sumi-e
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If sometimes you have a low germination rate from broadcasting seeds, take a look to see if birds, ants, and slugs aren't picking them off. I find all three culprits are the main reasons for high seed/seedling mortality in my case. Some people blame Fukuoka's methods for not working when actually other factors may be responsible.

For daikon fans, remembrance of Dokonjo Daikon:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article591348.ece
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4677262.stm
 
rose macaskie
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   Dunkelheit, I needed that information about dark germination. I need any and all information about growing things from seed i am hopless at it.  Dark germination sounds like something from Star Wars.
   William. Heidi Guildemeister who writes a, "must have", book on, gardening in a Mediteranean Climate ie., california, south africa, some part of australia and the mediteranean, says that when soil is bad the plants, in spring when they shoot, grow up very tall, very fast and seed early and that is what the oats in my garden used to do so I can corroborate what she says. As the years have passed and the soil presumibly got better the oats have grow in a more leasurely way and less tall etc., You would just have to wait a few years to get better crops of daikon that grow upward more slowly and that don't grow so high.

     Permaculture is a system that uses a lot of tools, engineering the ground to optimise water benefit and using companion planting plants that benefit other plants rather than that produce a yeald that can be eaten as well as plants that produce a yeald, and in a hot place you should use all these tools if you can.
    Fukoaka himself says that if you plant variouse grains of rice together, strangely, each different variety grows better than they do planted with only their own kind and he seeds the land in autumn, in some cases, not when he is growing dail¡kon, with rice, oats and clover, it would have been safer if you had planted your place up with lots of things so that you would have had a chance to find the best thing for your garden.
   Having H. Ludi Tyler writting about how his almonds are sufferring from the drought and refllecting on the young men who have breezily said they were going off to buy bits of deserts, i have thought, our talking here one day of one bit of the permaculture design and another of another could cause great trouble, if you are in wet England just try one or two of bill mollisons ideas but if anyone is going to go and green the desert they should go the whole permaculture hog, buy less desert and spend more money on acacias, prosopis trees, and decorative palms as well as fruit crop trees.  I should think nitrogen fixing trees grow faster in bad soils than other trees and so give the owner leaf as mulch sooner so you should put them in and mulberries for example that are acelerators, produce a hormone that increases the growth rate of surrounding plants  and they are accumulators, they take up a lot of nitrogen that gets laid where plants can use it on the top of the soil when their leaves fall, as well as daikon and radish. Japan is quiet wet is not it?
   Trees have even deeper roots than daikon and most likely provide their own shallow roots with water in a drought, drawn up by their deeper roots once they are well enough established to have deeper roots, this is called hydraulic redistribution, it keeps keeping the ground damper in a drought for a while at any rate. Also trees give shade which is important in hot countries. the permaculture way is, low plants like daikon and bushes and trees and creepers and root vegetables and you need all bill mollisons art in a desert.
 You will need all the other techniques too, lots of mulch, swales and berms on contour to maximise the absorption of rain water and drip irrigation and other nitrogen fixing plants and innoculating roots of what is planted with with micorrhyzae and buying the hens or duck or some animal to produce manure.
i did not put in am adding later and huggle kulture too maybe it should be mulch or houggle culture. For me it is a bit harder to get my head round making a huglekulture bed than putting on mulch because i have to think how to dig up enough earth to put on top of my piles of brush and piles of brush on top of th eground are a fire risk so there some ideas about the opros and cons of the two. 
   Doing everything Bill Mollison says you should is important if you are in a desert and also important if you need food quick, when a lot of mulch and chickens prehaps will help fruit trees to grow fast and produce fruit sooner as well as giving you eggs at anyrate iediatley  and you can always beg the scraps from restaurants to feed hens with if you garden is not yet producing much i suppose they eat chopped meat as swell as insects and vegetables. What restaurants throw away might be a good way of getting mulch too, composted first to reduce the meat content. agri rose macaskie
 
rose macaskie
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    Alternatives to the fukoaka method for bettering soils.
   I have just been checking them out.
   The method for growing food in bad soils Sir Albert Howard, Papa of organic farming, knighted because of his work on farming, saw used in India, was the combination of buckwheat and cowpeas, also known as black eyed peas, which is a dry place combination, though they say buckwheat, a cute little plant with white flowers on it that is good for bees and has a seed you can use as wheet is used, does not like excessive heat. These two plants are what paul wheaton suggested i should plant when i first found these forums. Then i did not know anything about them.
  Buckwheat has strong fiberous shallow roots that produce an acid that releases phosforus from rocks and stones in the soil, and cowpeas are a sort of bean with long roots so they break up the soil at some depth and fix nitrogen, this combination allowed people in india to grow food on poor soils. Used  s a green mulch it improves soils.
     If you look up organic green mulches you find different types of cereal crops mentioned for organic material in combination with buckwheat and clover. Types of oats with six foot stalks that produce 14 o/o more organic matter than other oats and lots of people seem to use rye as a way of producing lots of mulch in winter and then you can grow oats and rye in winter and some other mulch in summer and buckwheat that germinates and grows very fast between the two in spring or autumn. also sorgum sudan, and then there is burdock that has very long and edible leaves its seeds a¡make brushing your hair and the dogs haair very difficult as they are like velcro.
  Then there is yarrow that has deep roots if i remember right and comfrey, that i deduce to be an accumulator, it takes up a lot of nitrogen.  As minerals get washed down into the soil by rain water, it is usefull to have accumulators that pull them up from the depth and, when they die, droping where they grew and rotted so returning the minerals nitrogen, potasium, phospherus, chalk, iron and such, to the soil but to the top of it. Rain and plants complement each other, rain washes nutrients deep into the soil and plants pull them out and put them back on the top of the soil.
There must be lots of other things that are good for bettering soils to try with daikon, incase daikon can't handle your combination, weather,  and for biodiversity. verbascum has deep roots its seeds do not greminate well unless there is light so unless they are on bare ground. agri rose macaskie   
 
maikeru sumi-e
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William wrote:
A few mistakes:
--I saw that hugelkulturs are supposed to be at minimum 45 degree angle. Mine's too flat I suppose, and I imagine it will compact and get even flatter. Should I fork it from time-to-time to get oxygen in there?

--The straw bales as borders is a dubious plan, I admit. My goal to plant on top of them and they will rot down. I'll fork them out and replace them and throw the newly-rotten straw on top of the hugelkultur.

Any thoughts, suggestions? Thanks,
William




Beautiful hugelkultur. Don't need to fork, just make sure it has (or introduce) earthworms. They'll aerate for you. Straw bale borders are fine. Don't sweat it.
 
William James
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Just an update on how the bed is faring. Planted clover around and daikon within. Snipped off the heads of the daikon today, replanted the heads (an experiment).

Seems to be going well, about 8 months on.

William
Bed1.jpg
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Bed2.jpg
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Jordan Lowery
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i find that hugelkultur is a quick way of creating fertile soil, but natural farming like fukuoka did is superior in the long run. hugelkultur creates pockets of fertility, while natural farming once established builds soil everywhere in the earth not in mounds.
 
William James
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Anyone want to make a suggestion about what I should do when the bales eventually break down?

I'm clueless and the things I've dreamt up so far aren't satisfying.

William
 
Alex Curnew
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In response to your question. The Fukuoka method is better over time and for larger areas. for smaller areas and for perennial areas huggle culture is great. As is natural sheet mulching, try growing up some rhubarb so you have big leaves to use instead of cardboard or newspaper as your understory sheet mulching material. Depending on where you are at you might really want to consider some Andean crops. Some Yacon will really help chew clay and add fertility. Oca seems to grow well with clover, to keep the weeds down, and add more, again, fertility.
 
Matu Collins
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I am interested in ideas about the straw bale border too, I made a straw bale bordered bed last year with great success, but now the bales are shrunken and rotted and the soil is mounded up in the center. I have thought of just getting more bales and adding more amendments to the top, but I have a nice fat clover and a large thriving thyme that I don't want to cover up, and I don't want to spend money on inputs anyway.

I have thought of putting stones around the edge for a border but I don't have enough large stones. Currently I have just sown carrots and waited for inspiration. Sadly, while I wait, bindweed is invading.

The photos look lovely, very lush.
 
Peter Ellis
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William James wrote:
Sooooo, I guess the question is this:
Why am I seeing a disconnect between natural farming techniques which seek to leave the soil undisturbed and hugelkultur or raised beds which put organic material underground and disturb the soil? Both strategies are being promoted, yet they seem quite different.

Thanks,
William



Seems to me there are a couple of answers to your question. First is that both disturb the soil and put organic matter into it, but by different methods. Second is that there is no one solution that works for all situations, so there are a multitude of approaches tuned to a multitude of situations.

Just as an example of the differences here, hugelkultur provides a substantial added water carrying capacity, that doesn't occur with natural farming. If your situation really needs to hold as much water as possible, hugelkultur might have advantages.
 
Matu Collins
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Peter, I think you are spot-on. Permaculture has many techniques, because it can be used in any situation anywhere. We must observe observe observe. As soon as we become too enamored of one technique or idea we are robbed of the ability to truly observe what is going on.
Natural farming may take longer to achieve results and may work better in fields in the country than in small city gardens.
Soils are so different, conditions are so different, the expectations and needs of the farmers are so different.
I am grateful for the ability to take a long slow observing approach to my integration of permaculture ideas into our farm. Someday I envision a true food forest here. In some spots we have hugelkultur beds, in others we experiment with ruth stout style mulch, in others we have established trees and bushes we work around. Challenges abound, and answers though slow in coming are also abundant.
Let us not be limited in our solutions!
 
Clara Florence
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If you are dealing with an urban garden I'd favour mound culture (hugelkultur) for many reasons....Built on blocks lack something that many farming fields do not, topsoil. All the topsoil in urban yards is removed when they are built on. Builders don't put it back on the block once the structure is up. Trying to garden directly into subsoil clay will be frustrating. Its much easier to build mounds on top that will compost down and replace your missing topsoil. As they do so your garden will startt building up again all the topsoil wildlife that has been removed. Mounds create undulation and hence microclimates that retain humidity and nurture plants. Important when you have brick walls and concrete surrounding the plot. Both are heat sinks and can easily kill off neighbouring plants with the amount of heat they radiate and the way they funnel drying winds around the property. A flat claypan is hot and dry or cold and boggy, not conducive to a great diversity of plant life. Mound culture isnt practical on a broadacre setting, but urban environments are ideal.


 
James Colbert
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Masanobu Fukuoka buried wood in beds just like Sepp does. He called them ridges and he talks about them in "Natural Farming."
 
Adam Klaus
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Thanks for that little tidbit about Fukuoka, James-

I just finished reading Holzer's Permaculture, and my brain was really wrestling with the Hugel idea. My stubborn mind wanted to say it wasnt realistic for my 1/4 acre market garden. But the Fukuoka mention, and looking it up in Natural Farming, was the final straw that broke this stubborn camel's back. Wow! Fukouka advocating the same idea as Holzer? I am all in now.

So begins the process, I will convert the market garden to Hugelbeds. How could a rookie like me dispute Holzer and Fukuoka, at the same time, their insights arrived at independently? I cant.
I am not willing to run heavy machinery over the beautiful living Biodynamic soil I have developed, so I will use a rotary plow on the back of my walk behind BCS. Trench out furrows like for extra deep potatoes, fill with apple orchard prunings, and mound up with the rotary plow to form small Hugelbeds. Not going to be 2m tall, no chance of that without backhoes and major soil disturbance. But I will get the raised bed effect, the surface texture, the microclimates, and most importantly, the huge amounts of buried carbon in the soil. Fired up!
 
James Colbert
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Adam Klaus wrote:Thanks for that little tidbit about Fukuoka, James-

I just finished reading Holzer's Permaculture, and my brain was really wrestling with the Hugel idea. My stubborn mind wanted to say it wasnt realistic for my 1/4 acre market garden. But the Fukuoka mention, and looking it up in Natural Farming, was the final straw that broke this stubborn camel's back. Wow! Fukouka advocating the same idea as Holzer? I am all in now.

So begins the process, I will convert the market garden to Hugelbeds. How could a rookie like me dispute Holzer and Fukuoka, at the same time, their insights arrived at independently? I cant.
I am not willing to run heavy machinery over the beautiful living Biodynamic soil I have developed, so I will use a rotary plow on the back of my walk behind BCS. Trench out furrows like for extra deep potatoes, fill with apple orchard prunings, and mound up with the rotary plow to form small Hugelbeds. Not going to be 2m tall, no chance of that without backhoes and major soil disturbance. But I will get the raised bed effect, the surface texture, the microclimates, and most importantly, the huge amounts of buried carbon in the soil. Fired up!


Hey Adam, I would recommend that you make a few hugelkulture beds to start and then expand. I only say this because after building about a dozen hugel beds I know that after each one you will learn something new and want to apply it to the next bed. If you make all the beds at once there isn't much room for observation and modification.
 
Adam Klaus
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Definitely James, gonna start with one bed, and one at a time work my way across the garden. I figure I might end up with 12, hundred foot long beds in the end. That is going to take a while though.
Totally agree that learning as you go is the way to go.
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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in re reading my post above from 2011, I'd like to update here that that bed DID NOT WORK !! It was just too much clay in the soil in that bed and it failed miserably.

The problem was the clay baked to cement. Only a few things grew well in it..some kale, some catnip, podding radish..and that was about it. I had my son remove it this spring and I'm trying to figure out what to do with the lumber I had it boxed in with.

He removed all the soil to a pile we had nearby, and it sits there now. I just can't deal with a raised bed filled mostly with clay..the wood in it rotted well but it wasn't enough to make a real hugel bed as it was dry and cloddy clay on top of wood.

returning the area back to lawn.

I have another hugel bed on the property that I dug the topsoil out but not the clay..filled with huge rotting logs and branches and retopped with the topsoil..that bed is doing well however it had a lot of clover and alfalfa seed in it so i'm pulling and dropping as mulch a lot of clover and alfalfa..but that bed did NOT have a good deal of clay on the top like the previous one and it is doing quite well..but still dries out on top a lot
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 467
Location: Eastern Kansas
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I grew up with clay soil. I have clay soil here in Kansas also, though not as much so!

If the summer sun can hit the soil, it will bake and the seeds WILL die.

Where I grew up, we had a rainy season during the winter, and THAT was when the native seedlings grew! So, bare soil in the winter was not the problem that bare soil in the summer was. If you folks have a rainy season, I think that THAT would be the time to scatter your seeds!

In the summer, on heavy clay soil, large seeds like corn would grow, but only if you buried them an inch or so down to protect them from the sun. Small seeds simply died because they are planted shallowly, and when the soil dries out they die.. Seedlings could be planted, of course, but they did much better if a little shade was provided until the roots grew down. Not a LOT of shade, but some shade so the roots did not cook.

With the Fukuoka system, timing appears to be EVERYTHING, and the timing that works in Japan is different than the timing for my part of the USA.

Clay soil, by the way, is the main soil types here in Eastern Kansas and in Central California, where I grew up. Both areas are famed for their farming. I have learned through trial and error that it is not the clay soil that is the problem, it is the moisture. Under the summer sun, clay soil does bake and get dry, and that kills the seedlings. It is not the clay, it is the lack of moisture!
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1008
Location: Northern Italy
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For more info on working with Clay, see my post and chime in if you like.
http://www.permies.com/t/26116/permaculture/Heavy-Clay-Soil

I have been watering my hugelbed seen above a little more this year. Still had a crack running down it, but that seems to be better. You can tell that the soil is better for having been in a hugelculture, having had and initial kickstart with manure, having been cropped more or less constantly since it was started. Problems still exist, but I think it is just the problem with clay, and not with hugelculture in general.

I have started stamping down the straw bale edges and adding more straw.
Sometimes I add compost on the edges in an attempt to get more decomposition, but this year not much new is happening.

William
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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