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!!!!! Getting Started With Hugelkultur Beds  RSS feed

 
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All About Hugelkultur Beds

This week's blog post - Hugelkultur Beds: The Best Raised Beds for Your Garden is the first in a 3 part series all about hugelkultur beds. This first post is all about the basics you need to get started with hugelkultur beds. The next 2 will cover the types of hugelkultur beds and how to build them.

At their most basic level a hugelkultur bed is wood covered with soil. But there is a bit more to building them then just throwing soil on wood. This post will help get you started.

The blog post is broken up into the following sections:

- Mimicking Nature to Benefit Your Garden
- Basic Structure of a Hugelkultur Bed
- Benefits of Hugelkultur Beds
- Downsides of Hugelkultur Beds
- How to Get Started

I have built almost 250 feet of hugelkultur beds on my homestead and I have more planned. These beds can do a ton to help your homestead/garden and I highly recommend them. But for all their benefits there are some downsides that you need to take into account when building them.

Often the problems people have with them seem to be due to not taking into account the downsides or making errors while building them.

What about you? What has been your experience with hugelkultur beds?

Avoiding Problems with Hugelkultur beds



If you want to get started with hugelkultur beds but are unfamiliar with them then the above video is a great place to start. This week's blog post will fill in the gaps and give you the basics.

But one big issue that people seem to have are their hugelkultur beds drying out and having rodent issues. The drying out is ironic given that this type of bed is supposed to be very drought resistant. Luckily this issue can be easily managed.



From what I have seen these issues come from people just putting the dirt on top of a pile of wood without filling in the gaps between the wood. I call this the slash pile with a topping of dirt problem. It is not surprising that hugelkultur beds built this way would dry out in their first few years. But in the long run even beds built this way will turn into rich and abundant growing beds.

When I build my hugelkultur beds I'm very careful to fill in the gaps between the pieces of wood. Filling in the gaps also makes these beds less appealing to rodents.

If you live in a dry climate you might want to build buried hugelkultur beds by digging a trench down into the ground first. This does not have all the micro-climate benefits of a fully above ground bed but can be more effective in very dry climates.

The other issue I see people having is that they don't use big enough pieces of wood, the wood is too fresh, or the hugelkultur beds are not built big enough. I like to use logs and a good mix of rotten, fresh, and weathered pieces of wood. I like the wood to be at least 4 inches across and often larger. A diversity of material creates a diversity of habitats for a diversity of plants to flourish.

Some of my hugelkultur beds were built small--while these have some benefits (I'm noticing a lot of mushrooms around them) I have found that a hugelkultur bed needs to be at least 4 feet high to really have the advertised benefits and based on Paul's recommendations a 7 foot high bed is ideal since it is more likely to eliminate your need to water.

Getting Started With Hugelkultur Beds



So are you ready to get started with hugelkultur beds? Then don't forget to check out my blog post to make sure you have the basics covered. Over the next few months the next 2 blog posts in this series will be released covering types of hugelkultur beds and how to build one.

Another great resource is the micro-documentary offered here on permies all about hugelkultur beds. You can buy the micro-doc for just $3 or just 1 piece of pie. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on this thread you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

The micro-doc is part of Paul's World Domination Gardening series which you can also find on permies.

And don't forget that building a large hugelkultur bed is also part of the gardening aspect of permie's new PEP program!

So what do you think about hugelkultur beds? Are you going to build one? Have you already built one? Please leave a comment with your thoughts on hugelkultur beds.

Thank you!

Hugelkultur Beds

- Hugelkultur Beds: The Best Raised Beds for Your Garden
- More coming soon!
 
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sooo...im on board...looking forward to this thread and my adventure with hugelkultur beds...i have an abundance of fallen wood...and lots of ideas on what to do with it...i have played with hugelkultur beds before at my old place with much success...and a few failures...i will need this method here on top of a very very rocky mountain landscape...thanks for the post so that i can gain access to others playing along...really REALLY look forward to this!
 
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That was really interesting info about the nurse logs in the blog post about how they can be a natural type of hugelkultur and foster a great growing environment for young plants!

I've built some Mini Hugelkulturs that can be built around existing fruit or berry bushes to help create a Natural Drip Irrigation for young plants to give them a more steady source of water, especially during periods of low rainfall to help them get established the first year, and also to encourage their roots to extend out in all directions! This could be especially helpful if the soil someone is starting with is poor or very sandy, in areas with low rainfall, and in areas with hot and dry summers!

Here's the link to that thread!https://permies.com/t/101324/Mini-Hugel-Drip-Irrigation

It's really simple to make and can be an easy introduction to hugelkulturs for someone who's never made one, since it's just laying some branches around the plant and then covering it with a little soil and then mulch on top of that.

There are some basic photos in the thread above, and I hope to add additional photos this spring!
 
master pollinator
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One reason I have not yet built any hugelkultur beds on this property is that we don’t have sufficient and large enough material. Our last place was partially forested. This place is part of an old traditional farm and so there’s a dearth of larger old logs with which to build. I suspect we’ll end up having to buy some and age it. We have a neighbor with an outdoor wood burning furnace with which they heat. He seems to score most of the available freebie downed trees in our area.

I enjoyed this post and am collecting more info so that hopefully our next hugelkultur project will be better than the last.
 
Daron Williams
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teri morgan wrote:sooo...im on board...looking forward to this thread and my adventure with hugelkultur beds...i have an abundance of fallen wood...and lots of ideas on what to do with it...i have played with hugelkultur beds before at my old place with much success...and a few failures...i will need this method here on top of a very very rocky mountain landscape...thanks for the post so that i can gain access to others playing along...really REALLY look forward to this!



Thank you for your comment and good luck with building your own hugelkultur beds on your property! With all that wood ready to go you have a great start to building your own hugelkultur beds!
 
Daron Williams
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Steve Thorn wrote:That was really interesting info about the nurse logs in the blog post about how they can be a natural type of hugelkultur and foster a great growing environment for young plants!

I've built some Mini Hugelkulturs that can be built around existing fruit or berry bushes to help create a Natural Drip Irrigation for young plants to give them a more steady source of water, especially during periods of low rainfall to help them get established the first year, and also to encourage their roots to extend out in all directions! This could be especially helpful if the soil someone is starting with is poor or very sandy, in areas with low rainfall, and in areas with hot and dry summers!

Here's the link to that thread!https://permies.com/t/101324/Mini-Hugel-Drip-Irrigation

It's really simple to make and can be an easy introduction to hugelkulturs for someone who's never made one, since it's just laying some branches around the plant and then covering it with a little soil and then mulch on top of that.

There are some basic photos in the thread above, and I hope to add additional photos this spring!



Thanks Steve! I did a similar setup as your mini-hugel beds in an arc around a Japanese maple that the previous owners of my place put in a very hot and dry spot against the south side of my house. The hugel bed has been fantastic at keeping the maple going and I have not needed to water it I'm currently trying to get some lupines to grow on the hugel bed to fix nitrogen and cast more shade on the ground around the maple.

Thanks for commenting and sharing your project!
 
Daron Williams
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Myrth Montana wrote:One reason I have not yet built any hugelkultur beds on this property is that we don’t have sufficient and large enough material. Our last place was partially forested. This place is part of an old traditional farm and so there’s a dearth of larger old logs with which to build. I suspect we’ll end up having to buy some and age it. We have a neighbor with an outdoor wood burning furnace with which they heat. He seems to score most of the available freebie downed trees in our area.

I enjoyed this post and am collecting more info so that hopefully our next hugelkultur project will be better than the last.



Thanks for the comment and yeah--that is a challenge with building hugelkultur beds. I had to collect a lot of free wood but I live near a city so there was a fair number of options. But I also tell everyone that I know that I always need larger pieces of wood. The site chipdrop is mostly for wood chips but you can signup for wood rounds and logs too. Might be an option.

You could also try growing trees that are fast growing and that coppice and use them to get the wood you need for hugelkultur beds. But of course that will take time.

I would also recommend that you try asking around to see if people have old rotten wood. That won't be good for burning but would be great for hugelkultur beds. Your neighbor is unlikely to be getting that type of wood.

Good luck and don't give up!
 
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This is my first Hugel bed, I'm in South Texas so I did a buried style. Hopefully it works! The bed is about 2.5ft deep. The long side is oriented north-south so it gets max sun through the day. I'm planning on planting some moringa and/or a trellis on the west side to help protect against that afternoon heat.

The underground portion is mostly bigger logs, with random bits of chopped opuntia and cow manure. The mound part has some smaller sticks/branches, more manure, and coffee grounds. My only concern is that I didn't put enough smaller material on the upper layers

Any suggestions are welcome 😀
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Daron Williams
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Cory Ray wrote:This is my first Hugel bed, I'm in South Texas so I did a buried style. Hopefully it works! The bed is about 2.5ft deep. The long side is oriented north-south so it gets max sun through the day. I'm planning on planting some moringa and/or a trellis on the west side to help protect against that afternoon heat.

The underground portion is mostly bigger logs, with random bits of chopped opuntia and cow manure. The mound part has some smaller sticks/branches, more manure, and coffee grounds. My only concern is that I didn't put enough smaller material on the upper layers

Any suggestions are welcome 😀



Looks great Cory and welcome to permies! If moringa grows in your climate I think that would be a great tree to plant on the west side - just don't plant it on the hugel bed but instead plant it alongside the hugel bed. I would actually put a path between the hugel bed and the moringa to help with harvesting. The reason is that hugel beds tend to settle which can make trees flop over. But planting some trees/shrubs on the west side to provide protection from the afternoon heat is a great idea!

I would not worry too much about the smaller stuff. I honestly don't think they are that important to the success of a hugel bed. My suggestion is to instead just focus on getting a good mulch layer on top of the bed. I would also plant some annual vegetables that get a decent root system - Swish chard comes to mind but really any veggie would be fine - then at the end of the growing season chop them off just above ground level so their roots stay in the bed and decompose. That way you can get that organic material into the ground each year.

Thanks for sharing! I hope you will share more pictures as your bed develops!
 
teri morgan
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Daron Williams wrote:

Steve Thorn wrote:That was really interesting info about the nurse logs in the blog post about how they can be a natural type of hugelkultur and foster a great growing environment for young plants!

I've built some Mini Hugelkulturs that can be built around existing fruit or berry bushes to help create a Natural Drip Irrigation for young plants to give them a more steady source of water, especially during periods of low rainfall to help them get established the first year, and also to encourage their roots to extend out in all directions! This could be especially helpful if the soil someone is starting with is poor or very sandy, in areas with low rainfall, and in areas with hot and dry summers!

Here's the link to that thread!https://permies.com/t/101324/Mini-Hugel-Drip-Irrigation

It's really simple to make and can be an easy introduction to hugelkulturs for someone who's never made one, since it's just laying some branches around the plant and then covering it with a little soil and then mulch on top of that.


kk...well...we just moved here in april of 2018...so i had some waiting to do till i got my fruit trees in the ground this fall...the mountain and i decided it would be best for us to not put in an 'orchard' instead we chose to spread it out a little...a lot...something i have never really done...anyway...that is the only way the mountain would let me do it! sooo...for this particular issue...im taking it to darons thread because it just fits more into the 'mini' hugelkultur bed topic...although...as it grows...and if i live through it...grow it will...it should all join up and become one great big hugel in different stages:)  ill just go back and forth from there to here as time allows to document and exchange ideas...im gonna need some of those from you guys...i have ended up with 24 mini beds...all dug down to about 4 ft and 4' squares...mixture of pine, oak, and hickory logs...pretty advanced stages of decomposition...some charred from previous attempt to burn by previous owners...layered in some leaves, straw, mulch from pile that the forest gave me as a gift...soil came from that mound...was a treasure of gold!!! i am up off of the ground about 2'.  i lay cardboard i got from a furniture store in nearest town (45 min) around the outside of my 4'x4'x4' square...and then covered with mulch which the power company left behind after their preparations for winter...

after i dug my hole...it rained...so, i saw real quick...i needed to come up some...there was quite a bit of water retention there...and i didn't want my trees sitting in water...i think 2' up will do it??? itll settle...we get a lot of wind up here as well...so, didn't want the tree to be too destabilized...anyway...now , im not mulching all of the way up to the trunk of the tree...just around the square...that square belongs to that tree...i am gonna plant some clover i have been saving there to give it some company...

here is the deal...i now have about 4' or so...of sloped prime planting area for a guild...so, onward Christian soldier...that is where i am :)  im kinda torn here...cause i really like my chaos a little clean...and i am thinking...maybe i don't want a lot planted there...but, maybe extend out and start a longer hugel to plant in instead of a guild right up to the tree...that would leave me with a food forest surrounding my trees...with my trees having about 8' of pretty much just mulch and clover around each one of them...trails from one to the other...what do yall think? in some places i wouldn't even need a hugel...some places i am gonna need em

well...if you can make any sense of this post and you get to me before i get to it...i would love to have some objective critique and possible enlightenment...please keep in mind...all of this is done trying to wind through the shade cast down by hickories which are scattered here among the rocks :)  

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bed ready...will add horse manure in early spring...
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plum tree going in...initial prune will come after i finish filling in my hole with compost and soil
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this has to go!!! sooo...big pile of crap to burn and move to the landfill from our move...but, that mound of gold...it has a purpose!
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checking to see how the water goes down there
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there are rocks in these hills
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filling in the upper layers...big stuff underneath...layered...
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went down 4 ft...bartered with a neighbor for use of his tractor...to get through rock layer
 
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I've got the initial place for a hugel bed laid out. My lot had been mostly abandoned and there is a ton of standing dead wood, we tried to burn a lot last year but there is just no safe way to deal with that much wood without very huge fires.  We like to have fires at night but this sounds like a much better way to deal with excess wood. The hugel bed is going to act as a privacy/sound barrier for our closest neighbor. We mostly have sandy soil and have been told nothing grows well. My neighbors have for the most part been using containers for gardening. So this really to me is a great solution.
 
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Hi. Could I start a above ground 4 foot tall, 125 foot long  hugelkultur bed as a natural border fence?  I live in the city and  I already have multiple raised beds made from concrete blocks on my attached vacant lots due to poor soil quality.  I've done the lasagna method in my raised beds with success using wood chips, cardboard, etc.  The tree trimming companies around here love to give away free wood chips, so asking for logs shouldn't be a problem.
 
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Here is one of my beds with a French drain diversion trench filled with woody debris and chips for the path around it. It absorbs my duck pond and chicken runoff. I have a half dozen or so such basins that absorb nutrients and water that are wicked into hugel beds, and the runoff is much cleaner for the salmonids downstream. I never have to water perennials. I only water starts and seeds in the summer once or twice.
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Daron Williams
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teri morgan wrote:kk...well...we just moved here in april of 2018...so i had some waiting to do till i got my fruit trees in the ground this fall...the mountain and i decided it would be best for us to not put in an 'orchard' instead we chose to spread it out a little...a lot...something i have never really done...anyway...that is the only way the mountain would let me do it! sooo...for this particular issue...im taking it to darons thread because it just fits more into the 'mini' hugelkultur bed topic...although...as it grows...and if i live through it...grow it will...it should all join up and become one great big hugel in different stages:)  ill just go back and forth from there to here as time allows to document and exchange ideas...im gonna need some of those from you guys...i have ended up with 24 mini beds...all dug down to about 4 ft and 4' squares...mixture of pine, oak, and hickory logs...pretty advanced stages of decomposition...some charred from previous attempt to burn by previous owners...layered in some leaves, straw, mulch from pile that the forest gave me as a gift...soil came from that mound...was a treasure of gold!!! i am up off of the ground about 2'.  i lay cardboard i got from a furniture store in nearest town (45 min) around the outside of my 4'x4'x4' square...and then covered with mulch which the power company left behind after their preparations for winter...

after i dug my hole...it rained...so, i saw real quick...i needed to come up some...there was quite a bit of water retention there...and i didn't want my trees sitting in water...i think 2' up will do it??? itll settle...we get a lot of wind up here as well...so, didn't want the tree to be too destabilized...anyway...now , im not mulching all of the way up to the trunk of the tree...just around the square...that square belongs to that tree...i am gonna plant some clover i have been saving there to give it some company...

here is the deal...i now have about 4' or so...of sloped prime planting area for a guild...so, onward Christian soldier...that is where i am :)  im kinda torn here...cause i really like my chaos a little clean...and i am thinking...maybe i don't want a lot planted there...but, maybe extend out and start a longer hugel to plant in instead of a guild right up to the tree...that would leave me with a food forest surrounding my trees...with my trees having about 8' of pretty much just mulch and clover around each one of them...trails from one to the other...what do yall think? in some places i wouldn't even need a hugel...some places i am gonna need em

well...if you can make any sense of this post and you get to me before i get to it...i would love to have some objective critique and possible enlightenment...please keep in mind...all of this is done trying to wind through the shade cast down by hickories which are scattered here among the rocks :)



Sounds like you got a lot going on! From your comment it sounds like you are giving each tree its own little hugel mound with mulch and clover. Are you planting the trees on top of the buried wood? These beds can settle overtime which can make trees lean or even fall over if they are planted on top of the hugelkultur beds. I tend to plant my trees on the edge of the hugel beds.

Clover is a great plant to plant around your trees but I would also suggest adding some other plants. Perhaps some bulbs like daffodils or wild/perennial onions which could protect the trees from burrowing critters. You might even consider some shrubs like currents near the trees or hazelnuts. Both can grow and produce in some shade.

Having some nitrogen fixing trees/shrubs mixed in would likely help your trees grow too.

Good luck! Seems like you are off to a good start and have a lot of work but if you keep at it I'm sure you will see good results!
 
Daron Williams
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James Sullivan wrote:I've got the initial place for a hugel bed laid out. My lot had been mostly abandoned and there is a ton of standing dead wood, we tried to burn a lot last year but there is just no safe way to deal with that much wood without very huge fires.  We like to have fires at night but this sounds like a much better way to deal with excess wood. The hugel bed is going to act as a privacy/sound barrier for our closest neighbor. We mostly have sandy soil and have been told nothing grows well. My neighbors have for the most part been using containers for gardening. So this really to me is a great solution.



Hello! Sounds like hugelkultur beds would be a great fit for your space! Hugel beds can work great as a privacy/sound barrier. Just need to make them tall enough and plant them with plants that will grow and add to them. I have a hugel bed for this purpose and once it is fully grown up it should serve as a "solid" barrier up to about 10 feet.

Good luck and please share pictures of your project on permies as you work on it!
 
Daron Williams
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joanna Powell wrote:Hi. Could I start a above ground 4 foot tall, 125 foot long  hugelkultur bed as a natural border fence?  I live in the city and  I already have multiple raised beds made from concrete blocks on my attached vacant lots due to poor soil quality.  I've done the lasagna method in my raised beds with success using wood chips, cardboard, etc.  The tree trimming companies around here love to give away free wood chips, so asking for logs shouldn't be a problem.



Hello! That size of hugel bed can be done but it is a fair bit of work. Not trying to discourage you but just be aware of what you are taking on. I built a 100 foot long hugel bed last year that was around 4 feet high just using a shovel and a wheelbarrow to move everything around. Took me a couple months to get it all completed. But if you can get help it would go a lot faster. With mine I'm planting trees on the inside next to the hugel bed, with shade tolerant shrubs on the inside slope, big shrubs on the top of the mound, and sun loving / hedge forming shrubs on the outside slope (neighbors side). This way I get a nice solid hedgerow. On the outside slope I'm planting wild roses and some other wild plants that will form a nice thick hedge but also be beautiful to look at (nice flowers) so my neighbors won't mind

Good luck with your project!
 
Daron Williams
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Ben Zumeta wrote:Here is one of my beds with a French drain diversion trench filled with woody debris and chips for the path around it. It absorbs my duck pond and chicken runoff. I have a half dozen or so such basins that absorb nutrients and water that are wicked into hugel beds, and the runoff is much cleaner for the salmonids downstream. I never have to water perennials. I only water starts and seeds in the summer once or twice.



Nice and thank you for your comment! Sounds like you got a good setup for dealing with runoff. Thanks for sharing!
 
teri morgan
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Daron Williams wrote:

Sounds like you got a lot going on! From your comment it sounds like you are giving each tree its own little hugel mound with mulch and clover. Are you planting the trees on top of the buried wood? These beds can settle overtime which can make trees lean or even fall over if they are planted on top of the hugelkultur beds. I tend to plant my trees on the edge of the hugel beds.

Clover is a great plant to plant around your trees but I would also suggest adding some other plants. Perhaps some bulbs like daffodils or wild/perennial onions which could protect the trees from burrowing critters. You might even consider some shrubs like currents near the trees or hazelnuts. Both can grow and produce in some shade.

Having some nitrogen fixing trees/shrubs mixed in would likely help your trees grow too.

Good luck! Seems like you are off to a good start and have a lot of work but if you keep at it I'm sure you will see good results!




hi daron...each tree does indeed have it's own hugel mound...the top of the mound (4 sq ft) is the tallest point...tree is planted smack dab in the center of that...from there...i hugeled the rest at a slope to ground level...the total spread of the planting area is 6 ft  or there abouts on all sides of tree...now...i am planning on putting only clover up to the trunk of the tree...the rest i was originally planned on planting a community guild like you describe...but, was second guessing myself...thinking i should just maybe start the guild where the mound hits level ground...(about 6' from the trunk of the tree) i have horses and do my fertilizing with that...gives it somewhere to go...and i thought maybe of course garlic, onions, daffodils etc.  BECAUSE...im gonna wanna get in there and pick that fruit someday...) there will be a lane going past each mound...tying it all together...any way...i considered the sinkage...and planted the tree pretty shallow...i think it maybe shouldnt sink over a foot??? if so, that will still leave me a little above ground level...which will be good...i already have planted all of the trees...hugels already completed and planted with the trees...just the guilds around them remain...do ya think i ought to plant that first area of 4 ft...or i could wait and start at the 6' mark...all parts of the guild, with the exception of the clover,  would be planted mixed at the 6' area...and beyond on 3 sides...the remaining side being the lane...
 
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What a timely thread.  I am interested in building a Hugelkultur bed but have read that hardwoods are best.  I have a lot of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine logs and rounds but only limited maple and dogwood branches.  Do I need to worry or should I just jump in and see how it goes?
 
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I've got the initial place for a hugel bed laid out. My lot had been mostly abandoned and there is a ton of standing dead wood, we tried to burn a lot last year but there is just no safe way to deal with that much wood without very huge fires.  We like to have fires at night but this sounds like a much better way to deal with excess wood. The hugel bed is going to act as a privacy/sound barrier for our closest neighbor. We mostly have sandy soil and have been told nothing grows well. My neighbors have for the most part been using containers for gardening. So this really to me is a great solution.



James,

we have a lot of dying pines here, and I am building hugels approximately 12-15' high, packed down with the excavator. These won't be hugels right away, more like what the OP discussed as slash piles with a layer of dirt on them, but they will form hugels in a few years. This allows me to plant below them for things that are marginal here, as the hugels will route cold air to the sides (they are nearly on contour). I haven't really decided whether I want them to degrade quickly or slowly. The difference is how well you fill in the gaps- a loose pack will just rot and the carbon will be largely lost, but these are some massive piles of trees and they take up a huge amount of acreage (probably about 1 and 1/2 acres already in mounds). I have the same issue with burning, I was going to do a massive pit burn to generate char (maybe 200 cubic yards, go big or go home) but I can't get a permit because technically it is an open burn. That would have been my preference. Just getting the fire to temperature would have taken two to three days of constant supervision but that is a massive carbon input. The fire department wouldn't consider a permit.

The giant hugel lasting for many years is alluring because it would basically be my garden, and probably 20 other families as well. I am waiting to see if others in walking distance would be interested in one side of a mound as a plot. As others have mentioned rodents can be a problem the first few years, and I'm guessing that will be longer with enormous scale. Anyhow, I will get some pictures up when we get something near completion. Right now the issue is the weather, it is far too wet to run even tracked machines here. All that moisture retention biting me in the butt right now. It may dictate the project eventually because I only have the machines for a period of time. I need to get something done even if it isn't what I wanted completely.
 
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Wendy Smith Novick wrote:What a timely thread.  I am interested in building a Hugelkultur bed but have read that hardwoods are best.  I have a lot of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine logs and rounds but only limited maple and dogwood branches.  Do I need to worry or should I just jump in and see how it goes?



Paul Wheaton said in the World Domination Gardening DVD that any wood works for a hugel culture except perhaps cedar and one other I cannot remember.  I am using hardwood and pine, etc.  I seem to remember that Paul said that even cedar will work, but has a few negatives with using it.  Go for it!

 
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I agree with Ralph. I love to use hardwoods when I can but I have used conifers too without any problem. But it will take longer for the conifers to breakdown. This can be good and bad.

If I can I like to add a mix of hardwoods and conifers and a mix of wood in various states of decay. That way I get some quick boosts, I get some long term boosts and I have a good initial population of microbes and fungi.

But if all you have are conifers I would just use them. You could let them sit for a while in a moist environment (perhaps under wood chips or straw?) so they start breaking down. But if you are wanting to get started now just toss them in. I would add some extra soil or compost on top to give your new plants a bit more initial growing space since the conifers would take longer to breakdown.

Good luck!
 
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Wendy Smith Novick wrote:
What a timely thread.  I am interested in building a Hugelkultur bed but have read that hardwoods are best.  I have a lot of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine logs and rounds but only limited maple and dogwood branches.  Do I need to worry or should I just jump in and see how it goes?


The branches should be good to fill the spaces between the rounds of resinous wood and get the culture going to break the wood down. Resinous wood is more resistant to rotting when it is tight grained but trees that have grown fast and have wide rings will soak up water and break down faster. If cut in short lengths and/or split to expose the grain will also speed up the process. My experience is that fence posts made with ceader that has wide rings rot under ground in 2 years.
 
Ralph Kettell
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Daron Williams wrote:I agree with Ralph. I love to use hardwoods when I can but I have used conifers too without any problem. But it will take longer for the conifers to breakdown. This can be good and bad.



I am not so sure Daron that soft wood (conifers) rot slower than deciduous (hardwoods). There are of course exceptions, like cypress and redwood, but in the hardwoods teak and epe are very dense and very rot resistant as it white oak.  I know from experienced of loss lying around on my property that the pine logs turn into sponges much quicker than the oak ones do.  I hear that old growth pine can be somewhat rot resistant.

In general hardwoods are much more dense than softwoods, balsa of course being an exception.  A dense material, in general, other factors excepted, should be more rot resistant.

I was thinking that the advantage of hardwood is that it does in fact rot slower and so your hugel culture bed would not disappear so quickly as it rots.  After all don't you want the logs to still be there many years down the road still acting as a sponge for moisture.  Once completely rotted it is a very rich mound of great live soil, but not quite as good a sponge.

I am not claiming any level of expertise on this subject, and hope someone with several years more hugel experience can set us all straight.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
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You know Ralph, I was focused on the trees in my area and kinda forgot that the "rule" does not apply in other areas. Here looking at the native trees that grow in my area for the most part hardwoods rot fast and softwoods rot slowly (relatively). Some like red cedar last a long time! I do a lot of restoration design that focuses on creating new riparian buffers along streams with the ultimate goal of recruiting long lasting woody debris in the stream to benefit salmon. For this work conifers are viewed as the best because they last a long time. Our native hardwoods all rot quickly. So that was what I was thinking about and I forgot that trees in other parts of the world don't always behave the same way.

Thanks for the reminder
 
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Other things people sometimes forget:
1. The same genus isn't the same tree - for example a Sugar maple is slower growing and makes much better firewood than a Manitoba maple. Slower growing trees have tighter rings and more mass dried for a given volume and this will affect things.
2. A tree in its own environment, assuming a healthy environment, will have bugs/microbes that are familiar to it and happy to recycle it. For example, I don't overly worry about cedar on my farm as we live in a cedar forest, although I would still avoid putting it in a hugel unless it's at the very bottom of a very large one. Black Walnut is one to really watch out for as the juglans really discourage growies, but even it has plants that play nice with it. On a property with little or no cedar, importing it for a hugel wouldn't be ideal.
3. Some trees (I think pine has that tendency) tend to shift its environment to more acidic (but maybe not all pine). There are easy things to do to manage pH, but being aware of the potential problem is step one. If you don't want to mess with changing the pH, planting growies suitable for what you've got (blueberries love acid soil, cabbages *don't*) may work perfectly well.
4. Choose your goal: If you want a hugel to stay a big mound for a long time and you have a choice, choose logs that will decay slowly. If you have crappy soil and your goal is to build soil quickly, lots of small branches/wood chips particularly if mixed with chicken s*** or other high nitrogen sources, may be the way to go. Planting growies on the "soil building" mound would still be helpful for holding nutrients and encouraging micro-organisms, but you might lean towards nitrogen fixing growies. You might even want both types of hugel on the same property - some big, slow ones to provide micro-climates or noise dampening, some smaller, fast ones to build soil.
5. If you have to work with what you've got, adding inoculates/micorhiza/high nitrogen sources as you're building the hugel will help, and as Daron mentioned, making sure there's good dirt/wood contact.
 
Ralph Kettell
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Thanks Daron and Jay,

Great inputs and analysis.

Sincerely, Ralph
 
Daron Williams
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So I'm starting to work on my new kitchen garden which will consist of 3 large hugel beds. Just working on digging one of them out at the moment. Next steps is to finish digging and then add wood, sod, and soil and more wood, soil, etc. This will result in a mounded bed and then I will start building the walls of the above ground part and filing that in with some more wood and soil. I'm going to work on the beds one at a time. There will be a gathering area in the middle with a picnic table and eventually an outdoor kitchen. There will be 3 entrances to the inside gathering area. It is a lot of work but my son loves to help despite only being 2!

Here are a couple pictures showing the early stage. Now I'm off to do more digging!



 
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Looks like you have a good little helper there.
 
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Hi Daron,

Always nice to have an amiable helper.  I am jealous of your soil.  Our soil is more rock than dirt, sharp cherty little, medium and big rocks.  Try to put a shovel in the ground and within 0.1" you encounter some sort of rock.  The ground seems to breed them.  When it rains and you walk or drive on it they get pushed to the top, but we are working with what the Creator has given us and slowly hugelling away.

The 25 loads of free wood chips from last summer helps and the 30 cu yds of great composted cow manure and hay from the local farmers doesn't hurt either.  Unlike the poor folks that don't have logs, I have plenty downed trees to pick from on my land or on adjacent vacant lots.  No one complains when you remove downed trees from their lot especially when they are rotting.  Ummm umm hugellicious!

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
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Wow what a great thread to get folks doing Hugels right. I have sadly seen so many poorly done due to ignorance and misinformation, but this is a well organized and highly informative thread to get folks doing it well so they see the results of a proper hugel.
 
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I have been wondering if the 20 foot high, 30 foot long pile of "eastern red cedar" and whatever other trees and brush were growing in the gully can be hugeled? The county came through this winter and piled it all on a relatively flat spot on the prairie. They used a large piece of heavy equipment to tear it out of their right-of-way and pile it up on my place. This is windy western Oklahoma with average 23" of rain. I realize it would need to be buried at least some and that dirt could be used to cover it. Also I would have to hire big equipment to do all this at who knows what cost. There is no water to water it. Around here cedar posts that have been in the ground 50 years eventually rot at ground level and fall and then the posts lie there forever. Should I consider hugeling it? If you follow the link to my Clearing Invasive Eastern Red Cedar thread you can see the pile if you scroll down.permies clearing invasive eastern red cedar thread
 
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denise ra wrote:I have been wondering if the 20 foot high, 30 foot long pile of "eastern red cedar" and whatever other trees and brush were growing in the gully can be hugeled? The county came through this winter and piled it all on a relatively flat spot on the prairie. They used a large piece of heavy equipment to tear it out of their right-of-way and pile it up on my place. This is windy western Oklahoma with average 23" of rain. I realize it would need to be buried at least some and that dirt could be used to cover it. Also I would have to hire big equipment to do all this at who knows what cost. There is no water to water it. Around here cedar posts that have been in the ground 50 years eventually rot at ground level and fall and then the posts lie there forever. Should I consider hugeling it? If you follow the link to my Clearing Invasive Eastern Red Cedar thread you can see the pile if you scroll down.permies clearing invasive eastern red cedar thread



Hmm... that is a tough one. Since you mentioned renting equipment I would consider breaking the pile down so it is closer to 7 foot high and say 7 foot wide and then give it a good topping of soil. Though as the soil is being added I would try to have the equipment shake it all a bit to work the soil down through the wood.

If you made the piles into "S" shapes you could get some nice micro-climates and break up the wind a bit especially if you made it into say 2 or 3 hugel beds that were setup so the wind would not be funneled through them but instead be deflected.

Something like this (from Paul's mini-doc that I linked to in the first post in this thread):



I know that would all be a bit of work but I think the smaller beds would be more manageable and easier to ensure good soil cover.

As far as the cedar... I think they can work but I think it will take longer to get all the benefits normally associated with hugel beds since the wood will be breaking down much slower. The key would be to get good soil contact with as much of the wood as possible and then have a good soil layer on top. I would go for at least 6 inches of soil on top. I would then mulch it all too. The goal here would be to ensure the wood stays moist and does not dry out.

Planting some trees around the resulting hugel beds to further block the wind would help too. Then some good nitrogen fixing cover crops and some deep rooted plants would also help. I would just chop-and-drop these to help build the soil and get everything going.

Then just see how it all holds up. If these initial plants grow great then try more sensitive plants and see what works.

You could also pull some of the wood out by hand and build smaller hugel beds and each year just expand them. It would take longer but it would be a lot cheaper. You could use the technique Paul outlined in this thread.

Or you could just let it all sit and breakdown slowly and perhaps add some soil on top each year with organic matter like fall leaves. It would be slow going but eventually soil would build up and when you start noticing wild plants growing on it you could take that as a sign to try planting your own plants. This would just be the long slow process but also the least work and least expensive option.

Hope that helps!
 
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Exciting thread!

I am trying to get my herb spiral going this year and am thinking of making it a hugelkultur herb spiral. Has anyone done this? I'm thinking about 4' diameter and a 4' tall spiral cone.
This method is still very new to me but I have some big chunks of wood (old and fresh and rotting) and some sod I want to pull up.

Exciting!
 
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I'm excited to follow this thread and see the rest of the blog posts.  Hugelkultur is the reason I joined permies!  We have 11 wooded acres and have plenty of fallen trees in various stages of decay that are perfect for this process.  I much prefer finding something positive to do instead of burning everything.  I actually stumbled upon hugelkultur when I was researching online for raised beds.  Since we just entered our 60's, it seemed that raised beds would be easier on the back.  For our property, being able to use fallen trees and branches to build up beds makes a lot of sense.  Thanks for all the great info.
 
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Made my first mini hugelkultur bed! It is a modified herb spiral. I tried to make it have 3 tiers but it kinda just turned into a mound. When I collect enough rocks I will add some definition.

The logs are from a old white cedar limb that fell and totaled my car in December. I thought this was a good way to pay respect to the tree. I used the sod/moss from below the area and some mushroom compost I had on hand.
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Chris Emerson wrote:
I am trying to get my herb spiral going this year and am thinking of making it a hugelkultur herb spiral. Has anyone done this? I'm thinking about 4' diameter and a 4' tall spiral cone.
This method is still very new to me but I have some big chunks of wood (old and fresh and rotting) and some sod I want to pull up.



I built my herb spiral with a bunch of old logs and rotten boards in it.  I would imagine that it will sink as the years go by, but I'll just continue to top it off as it does.  Since the herb spiral is made with loosely stacked bricks, it'll be easy enough to reconstruct in a couple of years.
 
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