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Hugelkultur and Natural Burial

 
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Location: south central Washington state
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At the Herland Forest Natural Burial Cemetery, we're working on adapting hugelkultur to the process of returning human remains to nature. If that sounds intriguing, here's a link to how we're going about it. Herland Forest. Comments are most welcome.  
 
garden master
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Hi Walt! Welcome to permies! That's an interesting application of hugelkultur.

I think the use fo woodchips might cause some problems, because woodchips kind of make good pill bug habitat. I'm nto sure if being below ground affects this and to what extent. Perhaps, throwing in leaves, twigs, and nonshrdded materials would make the water absorbing capacity last longer and help the fungi grow.

That's another concern I am worried about. I think hugelkultur is meant to help with storing water, and I'm nto entirely sure that is a good thing above a human remain- stored water.
 
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Location: Qld, Australia. Zone 9a-10
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I think a more standard style burial near a tree or hugelcuture mound is a much better idea. The human still goes back into the system and has much less chance of ending up scattered across the landscape, being carted around by wildlife and being unpleasant to put it lightly.
 
pollinator
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Frankly, I personally do not understand the motive/need of this attempt but here are my two cents:
Instead of planting trees directly on the body, why not plant next to it? There will be settlements, hugels sink a lot actually. You can plant smaller bushes on the grave like a year or two later (such as rose).
Instead of daffodils, you can plant many other aggressive ground covers.
Hugels are built for many purposes, but primarily it is a tool for building soil.
Putting some lime under and over the body will keep wildlife away. No need for wire-mesh. I don't know whether it is used in cemetery, but it is a common practice in farms and rural areas over here.
Why fruit trees? I gives me a very (VERY) unpleasant feeling to imagine eating a fruit from such a tree. It is literally the same atoms. Don't get me wrong, but makes me think it is a very twisted way of reincarnation. It might offend some people.
I don't think there is a problem of available land in Washington, but here in some areas of Europe there is not enough space to dedicate a piece of land to someone for eternity. Usually in 40-50 years (max), someone else will be buried in the same location. You can't do that when you have a wire mesh (might corrode?) and a tree on.
 
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Location: Southern Germany
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In Germany we (still) have very strict laws concerning burials, only very lately there is the possibility to bury outside a cemetery in a "forest for eternal rest" (beside the traditional seaman's burial for people who were actually sailors) - no urns allowed on your mantelpiece.
So the concept of a hugel covering a body is a bit strange to me, but a fruit tree sounds good.

Frankly I don't have any concerns about atoms that have been part of something else. All the atoms change places in the world numerous times, our own body consists of atoms that were formed inside of supernovae eons ago and lightyears away.

There is a classic short story of the spanish writer Pio Baroja (1872-1956) called "Las coles del cementerio" (The coles of the cemetery) where a humble man gathers the orphans of a village and in lack of other means feeds them and also sells on the market the vegetables he grows on the graves of the local cemetery. They are famous for their taste and healthy growth.

Here is a quote:
Las coles del amigo de Pachi, que son las del cementerio, tienen fama de
sabrosas y de muy buen gusto en el mercado del pueblo. Lo que no saben los
que las compran es que están alimentándose tranquilamente con la sustancía
de sus abuelos.

Edited to give a rough translation: The coles from Pachi's friend proceeding from the cemetery are famous for their taste and are much loved by the people on the local market. What they don't know is that with the produce they buy they are slowly ingesting the stuff their grandparents were made of
 
master pollinator
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s. ayalp wrote:
Putting some lime under and over the body will keep wildlife away.



Use of lime may retard decay:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22030481

The goal of natural burial is rapid decomposition of the body.  

 
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The cemetery here has one of the best soil I have ever seen, it is on a level, and you will rarely find a place here that is on a level and is not destroyed by agriculture, it has many trees and people here are lazy or there are no money to "put order", so the soil is pretty amazing, people have planted many different things on the graves and some have escaped, there is great fertility and diversity of plant species, I like to visit that place for no reason, just to look at the fertile soil!
 
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I think I would like to be turned into bio-char rather than ashes.  I wonder if this would be a huge change or if the big ovens could be still used with some modifications.  I often think about how many of our waste streams could become char and this seems like a good one to me.  Having a natural decomposition option like the hugelculture plus a longer lasting option to cremation seems good too.
 
Walt Patrick
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Thanks for the comments; I'll offers some responses in no particular order.

The key for us is to honor the wishes of the family; if they want a tree beside the grave, we're good with that, but our soil is clayish and tends to dry out in late summer to the point where it's difficult for most trees to get started. Our hope is that by creating a catchment under the tree, we'll have a greater survival rate.

Most of our burials involve the participation of the loved ones; I'm afraid that sprinkling lime onto the body wouldn't go over well. You're right, it would speed up the decomposition, but we're in no hurry. Still, if someone wanted to do that, we'd have no objection.

The metal screen is placed over the grave for just the first six months or so. After that point, the body will have decomposed enough that there's no likelihood of an animal digging into the grave. At least, so far we've seen no evidence of an animal trying to open up a "seasoned" grave.

Thanks again for the feed back,

 
gardener
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Is this new or are there examples that are several years tested? Im not here to discourage what you are doing. Its admirable. My only concern is the tree sinking after a couple of years. Both from the body and the woodchips.

That would be devastating to a loved one who came to visit.

 
Walt Patrick
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Natural burial is an ancient practice that got lost in the aftermath of the American Civil War when the practice of embalming bodies for transport came into being. As for planting trees on hugel mounds, we've been doing that for a few years and know about how much dirt to mound on the top of the grave to balance out the settling. For example, the base of this chestnut tree is starting out a foot above ground level.  

It's also a grown-from-seed tree so there's no graft joint to watch out for.

Thanks for the thoughts....
 
wayne fajkus
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Nice. Thanks for clarifying. Sounds like you have it figured out.

We put Moms ashes under a pecan tree we planted. I visited today and there were 10 pecans on the tree. Its an orchard of trees with a living memory plaque on each one.
 
Walt Patrick
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That sounds like a lovely practice. I'd like to add some cold weather pecans to our forest too. We're right on the boundary between zones 7 and 6, so I'm hoping that there'll be varieties that will do well here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Buster Parks wrote:I think I would like to be turned into bio-char rather than ashes.



The results of cremation are rather "chunky," not ash.  The chunky remains are ground by a machine called a cremulator into a granular substance called "cremains" or by most folks,"ashes."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TSFX-hFgIk
 
wayne fajkus
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I was told that the ashes you get are the ground up bones that remain. I saw a homemade bone grinder at an electric motor repair shop recently.
 
gardener
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Natural burial seems so ... natural. Just feed me to the bears.

Not to hijack the thread but fyi for the Centex crowd. Stumbled across Eloise Woods a few years ago. Thought it was very cool.
 
                            
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I think it would be hugel culture in the burial of animals here on my place.
When my dog killed a loaded possum I soaked her thoroughly with water
and let the water run in the area for a while. I the covered the body with
leaves, sawdust, and compost.
Years later...this year, I buried my companion dog the same way. Compost plus sawdust
lot of grass clipping (heat) and the same water treatment. As she died just before frost
there were lots of flower clipping, etc to add continually.

I like the concept... there are no bones left.Total back to earth.
 
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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s. ayalp wrote:
I don't think there is a problem of available land in Washington, but here in some areas of Europe there is not enough space to dedicate a piece of land to someone for eternity. Usually in 40-50 years (max), someone else will be buried in the same location.



Yes, one reason why cremation is the preferred option in Britain, I think.

Regarding how safe edibles might be, in the nineteenth century, people in Haworth (where the Bronte family lived) were being poisoned by the corpses from the cemetery there. Basically, the cemetery was over the village water supply and leached its nasties into that water.
 
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