Adam Rust

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Adam Rust


Since my initial post, we had a series of pretty heavy rain days. The new swale was tested, and it passed the test with flying colors...
7 years ago
That's mighty kind of you. I'll keep it in mind. If I'm ever in the Louisville area again, I'll look you up. It sounds like you are collecting a lot of things I'd like to have too. We've only been at our place for 1 year, and haven't collected much yet. So, having a few items from your collection would definitely add a lot of flavor to ours.

7 years ago
So, I spent my afternoon today digging a 250 foot long swale. There's a story behind this, which I will tell. However, if you're in a hurry, you can scroll to the bottom to see the pictures and to see what advice I'm looking for.

The Story...
We live on 23 acres, and about 98% of it is hillside. Our house sits at the bottom of the hill. What this means during rainy times is that the whole hillside acts as one big water shed that sends all the surface runoff toward the house. As you probably guessed, we have problems with water penetration in our basement. Many moons ago, someone apparently tried to manage all of this water by digging a swale at a sloped angle across the hillside. I'm not sure what they were thinking, but they dug the swale in such a way that it collected the run off and sent it toward the house. This seemed like a bad idea to me. So, I decided to intercept the water from the old swale, and redirect it into a new swale so that it would run back across the slope, away from the house.

In addition to all of this, we just sheet mulched a 12,000 square foot area last fall for this year's garden. It just so happens that this garden area is located a short distance directly down slope from the swale. So, I'm hoping to utilize the plume effect with the swale so that any water it captures and hold will slowly percolate through the soil down into the garden and help us keep the garden soil moist. We'll see in time if that theory works or not.

Finally, I am head over heels in love with hugelkulture, so I decided to incorporate a big pile of rotting wood into a portion of this swale. The first 80 feet of the swale contains about 10 tons of rotting wood waste that a local arborist dropped of at my place. Before anyone goes crazy on me here, I want to say that I am aware of the warnings against putting hugel beds on the downhill side of a swale. There are sensible reasons for avoiding this strategy. Time may prove me a fool, but I am cautiously bypassing the warnings in the name of experimentation. I believe that I have constructed my beds and my swale in such a way as to minimize any risk of bad things happening from using this strategy. Just for the record, I usually approach projects cautiously, so going against sound advice on this matter is no light thing for me. I certainly will keep an eye on this hugel bed to watch for any destabilization or risk of soil slippage. So far, the bed has already weathered some heavy rains this winter and it hasn't budged at all. Seems pretty stable, but we'll see how it does now that I've added the new swale to the system.

The swale contains a couple inches of drop in the first 1/3 of the length in order to encourage the water to move away from my house. The remaining 2/3 are perfectly flat, according to my laser level. The swale dead-ends into a small collection pond, with an outlet to the downhill side where the pond overflows to let out water along my property line and down into the creek below. The theory I'm working on here is that I can reduce erosion and increase water saturation in the soil by slowing the movement of the water and holding onto it for a while in the swale and pond. Previous to digging this, there were little water runways carving up my hillside where water would run straight down the hill at rapid rates of speed. It cut some pretty deep ditches in the hillside. This swale is designed to halt that fast-moving water and turn it into slow-moving (virtually stationary) water that can be absorbed and used by plants.

I Need Your Advice
So, here's the part where I ask you fine permie folks for some input. I need help figuring out what to plant on/around the hugel bed. Presently, I'm favoring the idea of covering the soil with some clover and vetch to get some roots in it. Then I'd like to add some nut trees (e.g. chestnut, pecan, etc.), or possibly mulberry or paw paw or something along those lines. There are already quite a few walnut trees growing just uphill from the swale. I'm also considering the idea of putting this year's pumpkin plants on the bed. My thoughts about what to put on the bed change from day to day. The possibilities seem endless, so help me narrow things down to a few good selections.
Note: The hugel bed runs east/west, so the main surface area of the sides faces south and north. It has full sun exposure all day long. We are in zone 6b.
7 years ago
Howdy neighbor. I also live in Kentucky (up in the northern-most regions, several miles south of Cincinnati). And, like you, I also have been working on a swale project (see pictures below). Moreover, I also keep a backhoe around for my earthwork, though my weapon of choice is the Case 580K. I'm sure my machine and your machine could be friends though.

Anyway, just wanted to say hi and encourage you to keep on truckin' along with your fun homesteading projects. It's a blast.

7 years ago
I couldn't agree more about all the maintenance expenses to consider. They are no joke.

It's funny you mention hydraulic hoses and fluid as well. I just blew a hose on my backhoe last week. Luckily it wasn't a geyser. More of a fine mist, but I still had to stop work on my swale, take the hose off, get a new one made, and get it back on. I ended up getting almost nothing accomplished that day. It was a bummer, but these things happen. As you said, it's good to be prepared for such scenarios when purchasing a piece of equipment.
8 years ago
Thanks for your input on this topic, Devin. I agree 100% with your assessment.
8 years ago
We have squash growing on our new hugel bed. And if you look carefully in the upper left corner, you'll see our black raspberry patch in the background.
8 years ago
I recently completed my first hugel experiment. It's about 8 feet wide at the base, about 30 feet long, and about 4.5 feet high. I am working with a bit of an advantage because I own excavation equipment and I have an arborist dumping waste wood (logs and woodchips) at my property, so I have no excuses holding me back from doing lots of hugel experiments. I kept this first one pretty simple so that I could get the hang of it before moving on to more advanced stuff.

I simply dug a pit about 8 feet wide, 20 inches deep, and 30 feet long. I put mostly branches in the bottom, then added whole logs and firewood rounds on top. I put in material that was already significantly rotted. Then I put on several cubic yards of horse manure (thanks to my neighbor's supply of it). Then a layer of woodchips to mix with the manure. Then I took the sod I had removed in the excavation and turned it upside down and draped it over the pile. Then I put the soil that I removed from the pit on top of the sod. I then finished it all off with another layer of woodchips. I did this entire thing in one day.

About a week after construction, we planted cantaloupe starts and squash starts on it. So far, the cantaloupe are struggling and the squash seem like they are doubling in size every day. I'm on the edge of my seat to see how everything works with this over time. We're keeping our expectations low for this first season, but I'm optimistic that it's going to produce wonderfully in subsequent years.

Note: This mound runs north/south, so the growing surfaces are mostly on the east and west. I wouldn't normally orient a bed this way, but we did so on this one because it's also serving the function of being an important landscape break at the end of our yard. We knew we needed to do something in that spot anyway, so I figured why not make it a hugel bed. My plans for future hugel beds will involve orienting them in an east/west fashion so as to optimize the southern exposure of our property.

I welcome any input, feedback, suggestions, etc. I'm still learning about this stuff. It's super fun!

P.S. I'm not sure if this is the best place to post this, but I thought it would be fun to add a case study to the "first hugel" thread. Let me know if I should post this somewhere else instead.
8 years ago
That makes sense. I'll keep looking for other options. Thanks for the input.
8 years ago
I'm new to cob, and looking for fun new applications. I'm toying with an idea of catching rainwater off a greenhouse roof and then directing the runoff into a catchment system inside the greenhouse to use later for drinking water. I'd like to build a big basin out of cob that could hold 200 to 300 gallons of water. I realize that such a thing would require waterproofing the cob. So, here are my questions:

1) What do you permies use to waterproof your cob?
2) Do you know of any methods of waterproofing that will be safe for use with drinking water?
3) Am I barking up the wrong tree? Should I be considering other methods of storing drinking water?

Any advice is greatly appreciated.
8 years ago