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Julie Ashmore

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since Feb 21, 2014
I know a young woman from Nine Mile
She gardens with joy in a new style
When I bring her some wood
She asks, "If we could?"
"In this pit we should build a big pile."

Good wood in the ground is a shame
Firewood cutters might be prone to claim
No smoke, fire or heat
No burning to warm up your feet
Some see it a waste, with no flame!

But the heat in the ground happens slow,
Helping all of those vegetables grow.
A process of making food from wood:
Slow burning this way is surely as good,
as the harvest will deliciously show

-By Lee Johnson
Near Molson, North Central WA State, Zone 5a
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Recent posts by Julie Ashmore

Clara Florence wrote:While I love the idea of vertical gardening, the reality is often less encouraging. Vertical gardening was one of the first techniques I tried and I gave it up because... Vertical gardens evaporate water really fast. The soil is exposed to a lot more evaporation factors than a ground based garden...



I can definitely understand that vertical gardening could have serious issues with water evaporation, if the soil is placed vertically. However, let's not forget about vertical gardening with the roots in the ground. At this link, http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2015/07/cucumber-tipi-part-3.html, you can see my cucumber tipi, which is growing out of a 5 foot deep underground hugelkultur bed. Tipis and other trellises can provide excellent vertical growth opportunities, without sacrificing the water retention of a hugelkultur bed. With so many varieties of vegetables that climb, one can avoid placing the soil vertically. For those plants that do not climb, permies who are pressed for gardening space can build above ground hugelkultur piles that are very steep and provide a significant increase in surface area for growing -- again, with water retention benefits instead of evaporation issues.
4 years ago
That's neat, Dave! Thanks for posting this photo.

Here's an update on the low profile bed covers I've been building on top of underground hugelkultur beds: http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2015/03/vegetable-jail-season-extension.html. It amazes me how many plants don't need more than 7" to grow, especially during the first couple months of growing -- radishes, carrots, beets, lettuces, etc. Very low profile covers work best for me, living in an area that gets gusty, powerful wind. Plus they are less labor and materials intensive, and I'm really enjoying this experiment.
4 years ago
I think it's a great idea to build a hoophouse over your hugelkultur, or any kind of structure that captures heat, such as cold frames, tunnels, etc. After the considerable investment of time and energy in developing your hugel bed, it makes sense to do something to help capture the heat generated by decomposition. Most of my hugel beds are buried underground. I've tried a few different approaches toward the goal of capturing their heat. One was an underground cold frame, with about 2 feet of hugel under it and hugel all around it. You can check this one out in the two-part blog post, starting at http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/04/underground-cold-frame-part-i.html. It worked really well in that my swiss chard overwintered here in North Central WA State! The downside is that I think I made it too deep and it doesn't get much direct sun all the way in the bottom of the pit. If I did it again, I'd make it longer in the direction of the path of the sun, so that there was more real estate beyond the shadow of the south wall. It was a good learning process. Even a traditional cold frame on top of a hugel bed is a good idea; this week I put one on top of my horizontal spruce hugel bed (http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2015/02/cold-frame-fun.html). Now I'm working on building simple, larger covered frames for some of the other beds and can post again when I have those done. Season extension is important where we live and hugelkultur can help make it happen.

How did it go with your hoophouse Paulo?
4 years ago
I appreciate you posting this question, Donald. I've often thought the same thing -- so many videos about building HK beds, but how did they turn out over time? My main beds were built from November 2012 through May 2014. I have not noticed that the first year is crappy; in fact the first year has been great in every HK bed so far. This may be because I make a point of stuffing the interstitial spaces with horse manure, clippings, leaves and compost. I just added a post to my blog today that shows quite a lot of growth activity happening while snow and ice are lingering on the ground. I've heard skepticism that HK would really extend the growing season since wood supposedly doesn't produce that much heat during decomposition. However, when combined with manure and other nitrogen sources, I have to say that it really seems like we do have growth earlier in the growing season. I am in North Central WA State and have shoots coming up through and near snow and ice. Seems like it's working really well to me! http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2015/02/despite-snow-and-ice.html Also I have noticed marked increases in yields for pumpkins, potatoes, greens, and tomatoes since using HK. Most but not all of my beds are below ground level. Please feel free to comment on the blog and/or here. I'm curious how many other people are seeing green growth while there is still snow and ice in the garden, i.e. how common or unusual this might be for some of the species shown in today's blogpost.
4 years ago
That is quite the set-up, Ty! Thanks for sharing. I may try something like this. It was great to see they followed up with data -- "Our mound produced more than 6 million BTUs over a period of 12 months, including a freezing New England winter." That is with predominantly carbon materials, with a casual suggestion, "add manure, if you have any." Michael, I have to think that hugel would produce some heat, even though it's not "hot" like manure. Even a pile of leaves can be very warm to the touch at the center of the pile, in autumn as well... I think I need to find a way to measure the soil temperature about 2-3 feet deep in the center of my hugel beds. Any suggestions on a device that would have a long enough probe to do that? Thanks so much for your comments!
5 years ago
I was using spent grains from a local brewery for a while, but I found they attracted local rodents and gave up on them... If you don't have a rodent problem, and your concern is about the effect on the nitrogen in the soil, then I would make a separate compost pile for them instead of putting them directly in the soil. If you mix them with carbon sources like leaves and hay, keep the pile moist but not too wet, then they will make beautiful compost and at that stage, should not affect the nitrogen in your soil. Just a thought.
5 years ago
GF, that is interesting! I'm glad your worms were happy and sorry to hear the heat didn't pan out. About how big would you say the hole was? Any idea what volume of manure went in? My underground cold frame doesn't have a massive amount of manure under it, but I'm hoping it will be somewhat heated with the combination of a decent amount of manure and the hugelkultur wood, about two feet below it plus whatever I put into the base of it before planting. It's pretty deep so I should be able to load it up with more manure.

I have one bed called the "Aspen Hotbed" because it has a lot of manure... over 10,000 pounds in the one bed... http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/03/aspen-hotbed.html. It grew very nicely last year and this spring I started constructing a mini greenhouse over it to capture some of the heat. Then I had a dust devil problem (http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/03/dust-devil-eats-greenhouse.html) and I reconsidered my design! This mini greenhouse was different than the one that got eaten by the dust devil, but not strong enough that I felt confident following through and putting the walls up (yet). Our place is really windy. It seems it's always something! I wonder for how long 10,000 pounds of manure/hay mixture will give off heat. I guess I need a soil thermometer with a really long probe...
5 years ago
Michael, that is a good point -- the sheer volume of horse manure that would have been available. I definitely can't match that. But I would think the hugelkultur wood would generate some warmth, too. I am lucky to have a neighbor with two horses, and she gives me all the manure I want. I think I will beef up the manure supply in the base of the underground cold frame itself. I made it extra deep so there should be plenty of vertical space. Thanks for your comments!
5 years ago
Hi George,

I'm using hugelkultur as the compost to heat my cold frame from below, and I've got the whole thing below ground to help insulate it: http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/04/underground-cold-frame-part-i.html I've heard that in France in the 1800's, horse manure was used to heat cold frames and more wintertime produce was grown this way than anywhere else in Europe at the time. It makes a lot of sense but I haven't found any drawings of the designs they used back then -- wouldn't that be neat?

If anyone has suggestions on where to take it from here, I'm all ears (see photos on above link for the stage it is at right now). I'm hoping to slant the cold frame toward the southwest by building the walls higher on the northeast side, and then I'm thinking to attach the window to a wooden frame that can sit on top of the rock walls. Have you seen any designs that include the cold frame being underground?
5 years ago
I'd love to see an update on how well this worked, what the internal temperatures were during different parts of the year, etc. I've heard that in France in the 1800's, horse manure was used to heat cold frames and more wintertime produce was grown this way than anywhere else in Europe at the time. I am in the process of building an underground cold frame that has a couple of feet of hugelkultur below it -- here's the progress so far: http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/04/underground-cold-frame-part-i.html

If anyone has suggestions on where to take it from here, I'm all ears. I'm hoping to slant it toward the southwest by building the walls higher on the northeast side, and then I'm thinking to attach the window to a wooden frame that can sit on top of the rock walls.

Happy growing!
5 years ago