opabinia51
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HUGELKULTUR

Interesting title. Yes, it should attract a few people just based on the non english wording. Anyway, what is a Hugelkultur? Good question.

Well, in short I will say that it is a method of organic gardening using wood as a brown. To make a Hugelkultur you pile up branches or brush that is one to two feet deep/high and 4 to 8 feet long. Then, stomp on the pile to compact it. (I would actually dig a trench a foot or so deep and put the branches with so me grass in there.) Anyway, after stomping, put grass clippings and other compostables on top of the mound and top with an inch or two of compost then, dust with soil and plant with seeds or starts.

Apparently, potatoes love Hugelkultur (I just love typing that word :) ) Squashes, melons and other vining fruit thrive in this planting system as well. Also, with the mounding of the compostables, it creates more surface area to plant on.

:idea: And Rotting wood acts like a sponge to hold water. Therefore, less watering needed. :idea:

grandpasrose
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I would think that the branches and brush would have to be cut up fairly small? I can just see the loggers up here with their big piles!!!! :lol:
Have you ever read "Tips for the Lazy Gardener" by Linda Tilgner? I read it way back in 1982, and it was that book that turned me onto the way I garden now. There is a new edition out, but I don't know if it is a lot different or not.
Lots of cool ideas in it! 8)
VAL
VAL (Grandpa's Rose)

opabinia51
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When adding any woody material to any sort of compost (albeit sheet, pile, worm bin or what not) I have always cut up the wood but, in Hugelkultur you just leave the wood whole. The very slow break down provides a long term supply of organic matter and nutrients to the soil and plants.

I haven't actually read that book. I finished a book entitled Gaia's Garden: A guide to homescale permaculture a few weeks ago and I'm still using the book for reference. It is the best gardening book that I have ever read, and I've read dozens of them.

grandpasrose
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I just saw that book - so it is worth the $$$?
I think why Lazy Gardener stuck in my head so well was because she had so much humour in it and I got quite a few laughs out of it as well! :lol:
VAL
VAL (Grandpa's Rose)

opabinia51
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It's worth every penny, and more. I actually just checked it out of one of the libraries at my University but, I will definately be buying a copy of it at some time. A very worthwhile investment, as far as I am concerned.

Another really great book is: A Year At the Gardening Path by Caroline Heriot.

Though, you won't find it in most book stores. You have to order it from her website. It is a year long gardening guide.

opabinia51
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A slight oversite: the book is available at these bookstores in Victoria:

PENELOPE’S BOOKSTORE Island Highway, Colwood
DIG THIS STORES:
Broadmead
Oak Bay
Market Square
SIDE STREET STUDIO Oak Bay
TANNER’S BOOKSTORE Beacon Ave., Sidney
IVY’S BOOKSTORE Oak Bay
BRENTWOOD BAY NURSERIES Benvenuto
PLOUGHSHARE MARKET West Saanich Road
CROWN PUBLICATIONS Fort Street
GOLDSTREAM NATURE HOUSE
THE MARKET ON YATES, Downtown


but otherwise, I should think that ordering online or over the phone would be your best bet.

grandpasrose
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Thanks Opa! I am always looking for new insights for books!
I was fortunate with rose resources when I inherited all of my grandfather's rose books, American and Canadian Rose Annuals, etc.
I have a shelf full of other varieties of garden books, but there is always more to learn! :D
VAL (Grandpa's Rose)

The Helpful Gardener
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Interesting. The Japanese use a trench process called enpi, where you dig a trench around the plant, prune it, putting the cuttings in the trench, stomp them down and back fill. Now I know the German word for enpi! 8)

Scott

opabinia51
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Yes, and another method for using wood as a soil building material is to dig a trench and put rotting firewood or other rotting wood in the trench. Apparently, the slow decomposition of the wood does not tie up Nitrrogen because of the fact that the wood rots so slowly. Though, I would still be inclined to throw some grass clippings and perhaps some manure in there.

The Helpful Gardener
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Some hardwoods can tie up the nitrogen, but not by the time they are getting rotten (wood chips are the cause of many a flagging garden).

Just had a big thunder storm move through so there will be plenty of wood outside on the lawn...

Scott

opabinia51
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Yes, this point was taken into consideration in this method. The premise is that the wood decays slow enough to not have an large overall effect of Nitrogen Sequestration. Also, it is recomended to put some grass clippings or other "greens" in with the wood to supply a nitrogen source.

I would personally add more greens than what is recommended just because I would also be a little leary about the Nitrogen in the soil being tied up.

The Helpful Gardener
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But once the wood has been worked over by protozoans and such isn't it less of a draw on the nitrogen?

Don't really know; just asking my best possible source...:D

Scott
Last edited by The Helpful Gardener on Fri Oct 07, 2005 1:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

opabinia51
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Not to sure what "Lees a draw of nitrogen" means

but, after the protozoans, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, ground beetles and such have worked over the wood I would think that it would be soil. By this time, enough Nitrogen would be infused into the medium that it would not be a drain on Nitrogen. So, the premise is that it decays so slowly that not much Nitrogen is used at any one given time. If more greens are added, the quicker it will decompose. The same idea as adding manure, coffee grounds or other greens to you leaf mold pile.

Anyway, potatoes grow well in Hugelkutur.

Also, the decaying wood provides shelter and homes to a myriad of soil organisms, including plants. Have you ever seen a nurse log in a forest. They are mini ecosystems in their own right. I'm actually going to hunt around in my Grandmother's wood pile today to try and find some rotting wood.

opabinia51
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Thought that I would mention this:

It's on the topic of Hugelkultar:

When doing my sheet composting I rake up leaves for my brown layers and keep as many of the little sticks and twigs that are amongst the leaves. Very good for adding short term structure to the soil and long term source of carbon. I sort of think of adding the sticks and twigs as having a mini hugelkultar.

The Helpful Gardener
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Good point; the missus wanted to pick all those twigs and sticks out of our leaves and was suprised to hear I was composting them. But it's very true, a lot of the atmospheric carbon that everyone is worrying about when they are talking about global warming is tied up in trees (organic simply means carbon based). This is the the other side of deforestation; release of the greenhouse gases that tree used to make wood. If we can move that carbon back into plants, even on a short term basis, we are helping to cut down greenhouse gases. Of course the best of all possible worlds is to move that carbon back into a tree...

Scott

opabinia51
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You are correct Scott.


Though, not all carbon compounds are necessarily good for the environment. Take for instance, plastics. And there are some really nasty carcinogens that are made from carbon. Organic chemistry is a wild wild world of diversity.

But from the standpoint of gardening, keeping that carbon tied up in plants and not lost at carbon dioxide or mathane is a good thing. (Both are nasty greenhouse gases)

PatS
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Awake the sleeping giant!

Wow! What a fascinating topic!

My husband and I have very recently moved to the country. I have zip experience in gardening, but part of this big move was to become more self-reliant, so I am planning a garden.

We have cut down an ash tree in the front yard and trimmed a locust. While we are cutting most of it up for kindling and firewood, we have a HUGE pile of branches, an inch or less thick, that I would love to "recycle" rather than just burn.

Our soil is a very rich loamy clay, with an emphasis on clay. The groundwater is currently just three or four inches below grade. I choose to look on our "sub-irrigation" as a plus. However, it does mean drainage is lacking for a number of plants. Even in late August (our rains generally stop in April and resume again in November) our grasses are green and the groundwater is present at about six feet.

I was hoping this hugelkulture, which I have just discovered, might improve our drainage in certain areas and allow us to grow things, such as potatoes, that might otherwise have trouble in our very high groundwater. Is this just wishful thinking on my part?

Can I dig a trench and bury the small branches now, or should I wait until they have aged a bit?

What kind of plants can I try to grow immediately? I would assume such fresh branches just starting to decay might mean that certain nutrients are not yet available. (Nitrogen?) Assuming the branches I bury in a trench are only an inch and a half or less in diameter, how long before I am able to plant something like melons or strawberries?

I have never grown potatoes, but on this forum, it says that this method is good for them. Can someone give me instructions (and remember, you're dealing with a beginner!)? Do other tuberous things, like sweet potatoes and jerusalem artichokes, do well with this method, too?

Please! Educate me!!!

opabinia51
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Oh boy Pat! You have no idea how excited I am to hear about your enthusiasm on this topic.

In short, the answer is yes you can bury these branches in several trenches around the yard to improve the drainage and slowly over time add less recalcitrant carbon to the soil. (As the wood breaks down).

But, the main thing that you can do to alleviate the clayness of your soil over the years (in conjunction to adding the brancehs (chopped up a bit) to trenches) is to add leaves combined with manure or grass clippings as a cover mulch and in trenches. (Called trench composting)

For the hugelkultar, conventional methodology is described above but, I would advize you to bury broken up branches over the gravel layer then cover the brances with bit of manure followed by a layer of leaves (if you can find them) or another brown that is quicker to break down that wood. Then cover that layer with some of your clay rich soil, followed by another layer of leaves (or other brown) and finish the trench off with more of your soil. Top that off with the mulch layer that I decribed above.

To break up the clayness of your soil, plant Daikons and other tap root plants this spring and chop the foliage of (leave on the ground). The roots will decay and break up the clay.

You can plant cover crops like Rye, and buckwheat combined with some Nitrogen fixers like clover, Vetch, peas, beans and so on and mow regularly (allow clipping to fall to the ground) and then turn into the soil in the fall. Then, dig more trench composts and cover the entire area with the sheet compost.

Sheet compost:

Bottom
Cover crop layer turned into the soil
leaves (mulched or unmulched)
cofee grinds (available from coffee shops)
leaves (mulched)
grass clippings
leaves
chicken manure
top

Next year, you will be amazed how improved your soil is. The Hugelkultar will slowly break down into nutrient rich soil over many years.

But, if you trench and sheet compost and use cover crops, you will see a yearly improvement of your soil.

The combination of everything will provide you and your plants with the most lovely soil in the entire neighbourhood and should you choose to not use herbicides, pesticides and the like, you will have an incredibly diverse, disease resistant piece of property.

Furthermore, there will be no need to spend money of synthetic fertilizers.

Thanks for the questions and please feel free to post any comments and questions in the site!

PatS
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Thank you!

Great! Thank you SO much for your response!

I have ordered Gaia's Garden and it is on the way. I'm very impatient to get started!

A follow-up question. In your answer above, you mention putting wood above a gravel layer. I didn't recall seeing a gravel layer mentioned before, but perhaps I missed it. I sure we can find a little if it is necessary -- does it help with the drainage?

Thanks again for your detailed answer! With our windfall of branches, this information comes at the perfect time.

Pat

opabinia51
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Yes, I'm modelling the Hugelkultar on swale above there, sorry about that.

This will help with the drainage and allow the water to more freely move into your existing soil.

Wow, you've already ordered Gaia's Garden! Well, it's a great book and many organic gardeners use it as their bible. I can gaurantee that you won't be disappointed with the book.

Start off by reading from cover to cover but, after that use it as a reference. It is an easy read with a tonne of information.

our eden
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trees in the hugel

hi, what you were saying earler "Of course the best of all possible worlds is to move that carbon back into a tree... " so does that mean that you can plant a tree strate into a hugelkultur? or use them to mulsh around an existing tree?
pour your love into that which you love

opabinia51
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Gosh this thread is so old.... I'm pretty sure that I was referring to the fact that when we have carbon in the soil, it will break down and make it back into the atmoshpere quicker than if it is sequestered by a tree (via the atmosphere) and be held for hundreds of year rather than for tens of years..

Hope that helps.


Hugelkultar is not meant for growing trees in, potatoes do great in it as do some other plants.
Feed the soil, not the plants.

paul wheaton
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Hugelkultur is sooooo good at retaining moisture, it can be used in deserts where there is no irrigation all summer.

Here is a bed that I made:

[url=https://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur][img]https://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/bed_c.jpg[/img][/url] Hugelkultur

sweet thunder
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I just love this idea.

I'm chipping/shredding my way through a large brush pile right now and the bottom of the pile is all the smaller partially broken down stuff. I was beginning to think it would be a bit tedious to put all that through the chipper, and I don't really have the space to compost it all, but now I'm thinking I'll use it as the base layer for some sheet composting.

But can you tell me why Hugelkultur isn't recommended for planting trees? In the space I'm thinking of I was hoping to plant a couple of filberts as well as raspberries and rhubarb. Would it make a difference if I'm only using a layer of smaller branches and sticks as opposed to larger limbs and logs?

paul wheaton
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I think you would be fine planting trees on or near a [url=https://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur]hugelkultur[/url] bed.

I also wouldn't bother with a chipper/shredder.
Last edited by paul wheaton on Tue Jun 02, 2009 1:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

sweet thunder
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paul wheaton wrote: I also wouldn't bother with a chipper/shredder.
The chipper-shredder is mostly to help me deal with a LOT of brush on a small piece of property. I simply don't have the space to let it all break down by itself, even in a hugelkultur bed, and I'd rather keep it here and use it for mulch than have it all carted away.

paul wheaton
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I've been there.

I use hand pruners and loppers to make stuff fit into the hugelkultur beds. It can sometimes be slower, but it is definitely more peaceful.

2cents
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thunder, pull up a chair and get to lopping/pruning. It may take a couple hours, but the time will go by peacefully. It will make great mulch or Huglekultur bedding.

I have killed a couple trees, I am wondering, once the wood breaks down, are we possibly leaving a large air hole, underneath a now larger group of tree roots, that dry out the roots?

paul wheaton
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The soil will sorta leave air holes and sorta settle.

So the answer to your question is: sorta. :)

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