Hugelkultur Plans

JaimeeG(5b)July 17, 2012

Okay, I just joined this forum and spent the last several DAYS reading through the giant hugelkultur thread started back in 2005. I also read through several other HK threads, but I would love it if I could get answers to a few specific questions and make sure that I'm understanding everything correctly.

I want to create several hugelkultur beds around my property. Please let me know if these steps are sound:

1. I do not plan on cutting up the sod or digging into the ground for three reasons: one, it's a lot of work and I don't own digging machinery; two, the best spot on my property for vegetable beds is over the buried utility lines (any reason vegetable beds would pose a problem to buried phone/cable lines?); and three, I've read that buried sod turns into great compost. Should I first cover the grass in cardboard or do you think it will even matter?

2. My husband doesn't like the look of the HK beds by themselves, so he wants to build wooden frames. Is cedar absolutely necessary for this? It's so expensive! How high do you think we need to build the sides? I was thinking maybe a foot?

3. I have found a load of old logs and branches in a friend's yard. I also have some shrubs along the house that I don't like and would love to chop down and could then cover the branches and stumps Fukuoka style. So, next I just lay the woody debris down in the frame, piled as high as I'd like or have enough materials for. I gleaned from the posts that how they wood is arranged doesn't much matter.

4. Next I should add brown and green materials such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, fallen leaves, etc. to fill in the gaps. I was planning on getting the beds built this summer, laying down the wood, adding green material as I acquire it, and then waiting until the leaves fall in autumn to really pile them in. Can there be too many leaves? Do I need to worry about a good ratio of green to brown materials? I've heard of some people using wood chips to fill in the gaps... but there seems to be some concern with burying wood chips as their smaller surface area eats up nitrogen quickly. Is that right?

5. Next it seems most people add moldy hay, straw, chicken or cow manure, etc. I don't readily have access to any of this. But I do live in farm country by the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. It's a big ag school so they have corn/soy fields, cows, etc. all around town. What would you suggest I try and acquire? Does anyone have experience getting this type of material for free from a source like a university? Also I read to be careful that cow manure is cleaned... what do I need to be aware of? How thick does this layer need to be or does it really matter? Is this step absolutely necessary?

6. Next a layer of finished compost, which I'll have to purchase. Again how thick does it need to be? Would it need to be thicker if I didn't do step #5?

7. Next a layer of dirt. So, since I'm not digging to burying the wood, I won't have any dirt. Is this step necessary or can the top layer simply be compost?

8. Lastly, planting. Since I'll be building these beds after the leaves fall, I am wondering what would work best to plant. Would it be too late to get some overwinter crops planted? I'm in zone 5b, so it's typically cool and sometimes cold by mid-October when the leaves are falling. What about a cover crop like clover, alfalfa, or a legume of some sort?

9. In the spring, when I start planting again, do I get rid of the cover crop somehow, just plant into it, cover it with another layer of compost, or plant and later cover with wood chips? I watched Back to Eden and am thoroughly convinced of the benefits of wood chips, but I am wondering if this is more for conventional gardens vs. hk beds. I do plan on companion planting my crops, but I don't plan on doing a full on seed family mix like Sepp does so I figure I'll still have some bare areas in my beds. Wood chips?

Thank you so much for your advice!

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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day jaimee,

it is all about using what is available, generally economically, you have lots of basic questions all of which can be dealt with using some common sense. as for garden edging it is whatever turns one on and what can be economically maybe the demolition yard might have something that is cheap.

our gardens have always incorporated the hugelkultur process before it became the catch cry of sustainable gardeners.

we use mushroom compost from the farm for our final layer in the gardens, this time around we will be using corrugated roofing as edging to raise the beds higher (old timers), we pushed down some trees on our property and have some of this material for the first layers in the gardens, we have top soil from creating the building site, this will next be used (generally though we never add soil in as we don't believe in bringing in soil from an unknown source.

we can still access mushy compost so will still be using that as final layer, and we are currently gathering slashed 1 meter high grasses from adjacent properties that have recently been slashed this will save us buying mulch for a bit.

there was some soil here pushed into a heap from doing the septic which contains composted grass we have added kitchen scraps to this dirt for our second last layer. already holding stuff in the freezer to be added into the beds as we go.

anyhow for now check our bale garden feature:


Here is a link that might be useful: lens straw bale garden

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 1:51PM
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I'll do my best to answer your Qs:

Yes, smother existing vegetation with cardboard. Overlap the pieces & wet them down. Some people do remove the sod prior to hugelkultur, so they can save it to use in the upper layers of the beds to retain the top soil. It is a huge job to remove sod, so I understand your desire to skip. I am familiar with hugelkultur, but I've only buried wood in trenches and not layered up entirely. We have created many new garden beds by sheet mulching or lasagna gardening right on top of sod or weeds. Initially it is mounded quite high, but shrinks each season, so now some beds are just raised about 6" higher than the surrounding area though still higher in the middles as we built large berms for the beds to increase drainage.

Wooden sides are going to be expensive at the height to cover the old wood you're putting in. Once plants are growing the sides of the mounds will be less noticeable. Height depends on your wood unless you plant to split it to fit inside the sides. Shrubbery will be similar to wood chips taking a bit of nitrogen to decompose, but balanced with manures or other greens it works fine. I've done it only in trenches or chipped as mulch in paths to later be raked onto beds after composted at least a year. Remember the height will shrink in volume considerably as it decomposes, so with sides you'll need a plan for adding additional material.

Probably can't have too many leaves & the balance of greens to browns won't matter too much. If you start with brown & layer alternately & end with brown you're putting 2 browns for every green, which is the goal.

Yes, manure is very useful for soil fertility and to balance out the browns. Craigslist might be a good place to find it free. You could stop by a farm close to you that would be convenient. Most around here happily give it away free if you haul and some even deliver.

If you're already purchasing wood and making the sides your budget may be at max before you even get to the compost layer. If you're able to start a compost pile now you can then just spread that partially worked pile on top of the beds. Read previous posts about composting. If not, you can just add what compost ingredients you acquire by then.

If you have surplus dirt from elsewhere that might be useful because it won't shrink as much as the organic matter. I don't think it's necessary, but the volume of organic matter needs to be at least a foot deep over the wood so that by spring you have something to plant in for roots to secure your crops.

After the leaves fall it's too late to start any vegetables here, so might be the same for you in zone 5b. We plant garlic in October to harvest in mid summer of the next year or onions to harvest in spring as green onions. Everything else is planted in July, August & September to mature in fall for harvest over winter. Some of the later crops can be overwintered as seedlings to mature in early spring depending on protection provided and the severity of our winter weather.

Cover crops are usually turned over to decompose though we've planted right through self sown arugula and kale.

Mulch is useful to retain soil moisture, but usually only spread after soil warms in spring. When tulip petals fall is a good indicator of time to mulch.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 1:10AM
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