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» Hugelkultur
by Chilli-head 19th January 2022, 5:56 pm

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Post by Chilli-head 5th September 2016, 4:18 pm

Has anyone heard of this ? tried it ? Recommend it ?

It is a German idea, as you might have guessed, and seems to be a sort of raised bed. But it is formed of a mound over rotting wood. Googling it produces mostly permacuture avocates, but adding a touch of credance is this article by Alys Fowler in the Guardian.

Why am I interested, when normally I don't favour raised beds ? At the bottom of my allotment, my last bed is underperforming. It gets very wet down there, and the soil isn' t great. The light could be better but for an overhanging silver birch. My thought is that this is an ideal spot for a raised bed of some sort; I have a fair amount of already partially rotted pear wood, the good stuff being destined for the stove, and a small collection of stumps etc. The overhanging birch tree might come into play too, or at least the bits not big enough for use on the pole lathe ! I can also skim off my paths, which were woodchip a couple of years ago but are now well composted and growing grass; the whole lot could go on in an inverted layer. I have about half a compost heap of pretty rough compost too.

My main cause for doubt is that decaying wood might be expected to deplete nitrogen. Adding the grass sods should help, but also I could grow leguminous crops/green manure, and/or water it with high nitrogen liquid ( No, not that one, I was thinking of nettles decomposed in the vertical plastic pipe over a bucket method I mentioned before).

Anyone have any thoughts ?
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Post by Dandelion 5th September 2016, 10:32 pm

What do you reckon the time period for this sort of bed is? When the wood completely rots, do you maintain it as you would any other sort of raised bed? The reason I ask is that my first raised bed was at the bottom of the garden near to a conifer, which made the bed unworkable because it took up so much water from the soil. From this experience I would say that even if there's enough light, if it's near to a tree (as you mention, CH) it may be too dry.
I was interested in the fact that the tree trunk mentioned in the article was a leylandii - I would have thought that not much would grow around a leylandii because of the resin in it, but that's obviously not the case.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Ploshkin 6th September 2016, 1:11 am

I would have thought that you would get fungal things but perhaps not as the rotting wood is buried.
It reminds me of a conversation I was having very recently about having a dead animal in the hole before you plant a tree.
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Post by Dandelion 6th September 2016, 12:32 pm

I've always made sure that all the hamsters, guinea pigs and chickens have been buried around fruit trees after they have lived a happy life - it seemed a waste to not!

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Ploshkin 8th September 2016, 3:51 pm

hamsters, guinea pigs and chickens

I was thinking of something a little more nutritious like a sheep! Smile
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Post by Chilli-head 8th September 2016, 4:36 pm

Bob Flowerdew did mention cats as a composting material, I think. Mind you, he also listed children amongst garden pests !
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Post by Dandelion 8th September 2016, 5:25 pm

Ploshkin wrote:
hamsters, guinea pigs and chickens

I was thinking of something a little more nutritious like a sheep! Smile

crylaugh

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Chilli-head 17th October 2016, 9:48 am

Well, I am done in this morning.

Since I couldn't find anyone who's tried it, I had a go at making a Hugelkultur bed this weekend. On Saturday morning I cleared the remaining decent bits of my woodpile which was already sitting on where I wanted the bed to go. Brought home a barrow load of sawn and split pear wood for the stove and garden oven.

Yesterday was unexpectedly fine in the afternoon, so I got back to it, dug out 1 spade depth of soil, put in the partly rotten chunks of pear tree, an ash trunk section and some stumps I had been saving for the purpose. The remaining slug eaten brassicas went on top, roughly chopped by spade, then the remains of the climbing beans, and the grass from the paths. Heaped the soil I'd dug out back over - now I have a Hugel (hill) which looks very like a shallow grave for a 12' giant. I'll leave it to settle a bit, then put on some garden compost and sow broad beans on top next month. Perhaps in spring I'll sow green manure or dwarf beans on the sides - I'm thinking to go with nitrogen fixing plants to counter the inevitable nitrogen lock-up by the rotting wood.

So. I'll keep you posted. I half expect problems with nitrogen deficiency, but it is worth a go - it's not a big area of my plot to turn over to an experiment. I have this thought that in nature all sorts of stuff manages to grow in soil containing rotting fallen branches and trees covered by composting leaves, so maybe it should work.

The problem of the bed being near a silver birch tree will probably go away by spring. I'll need new pea sticks and a top up for the log pile Wink
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Post by Chilli-head 7th November 2016, 12:47 pm

I levelled the compost I piled on top of my Hugel a bit this weekend, and sowed broad beans in a double row on top. Let's see how they get on. I'll perhaps plant some other stuff on the sides in spring.
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Post by Chilli-head 30th May 2017, 3:56 pm

Well, the broad beans were a partial sucess. Partial in the sense that a lot died over winter, but more survived to produce than have in the same spot in previous years without the hugel.

I sowed some dwarf French beans into the sides of my mound, and planted out some lettuce modules. The soil does seem to be staying reasonably moist.

So far, so good, but the jury is still out.
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Post by Chilli-head 26th June 2017, 8:08 pm

I see Hugelcultur got a mention in passing on Gardener's world last week; though they were using in with a wood framed raised bed, mine is just a mound like a shallow grave ...

The lettuce and French beans seem to have fared well on it so far, despite no additional water. The broad beans are out now, I think I'll stick with legumes and put some peas on the top, and maybe some more salads on the sides.
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Post by Chilli-head 22nd July 2017, 10:01 pm

Goodness me. I've never seen anything like these dwarf French beans. Each stalk has great bundles of beans. Amazingly productive. There was a purple one, Amethyst, and a green variety who's name escapes me for the moment. But are they just good varieties, is it that they like the weather, or is it the Hugel ? And is there any way of knowing ?
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Post by Dandelion 22nd July 2017, 10:14 pm

It does seem to be a good year for beans of all sorts. A friend of mine at school who looks after the Special Needs garden hasn't had time to tend the garden much this year. Sher literally threw handfuls of french beans seeds into the soil in the spring and left them. She is now picking bag after bag of beans and giving them away.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by freebird 22nd July 2017, 11:15 pm

Yes I'm having a good bean year too.
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Post by FloBear 23rd July 2017, 9:50 am

Good broad bean year here. French beans went in late but are flowering so should be fine if the weather is kind.
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Post by Chilli-head 17th January 2022, 5:46 pm

Well, quite a few years later.

I've tried various types of beans, then strawberries. The beans did OK, the strawberries have been poor. Not moist enough in the fruiting season. I thought the Hugelkultur mound was supposed to be able to retain moisture in the rotting wood. Not in practice it seems.

It does seem to have been home to some burrowing creatures at some stage, maybe a good thing ... maybe not. But nothing has really grown better on there than on the flat, some things seemingly worse because in hot weather it dries out more (despite claims).

I can still feel quite hard wood down there when I poke with a fork. This doesn't really surprise me, buried wood doesn't rot quickly which is why we have preserved Viking and Anglo Saxon ships. And bog oak in the fenland peat. I watched a YouTube video where he exhumed a 4 year old Hugel and the wood was not much changed from what went in.

I conclude it is a useless method, in my circumstances at least. A lot of effort for no reward, It is coming out to be replaced by a more sensible system. No doubt that will be a lot of effort too ! I'll pile any wood that comes out down the bottom for the beetles to get at.
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Post by freebird 19th January 2022, 3:30 pm

I understood that wood rotting in the soil depletes the soil of nitrogen, as it is required in the rotting process. If that is the case, not sure why a growing system based on rotting wood would ever yield satisfactory results.
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Post by Ploshkin 19th January 2022, 4:25 pm

Rotting stuff does produce heat though. I do a sort of hot bed in my polytunnel for cucumbers and melons with a thick layer of partially rotted manure at the base. I don't know if they grow any better for it but it's supposed to give them a bit of a boost to start.
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Post by Chilli-head 19th January 2022, 5:56 pm

This was always one of my doubts. Fast composting involves mostly bacteria, I've read, and that's what goes on in a hot heap or hot bed. Slow decomposition by fungi of browns, like wood in big lumps, doesn't happen quickly or produce useful heat, but the fungi do borrow extra nitrogen from the soil. It does get released again eventually when they die, but can cause depletion in the meantime.

So how does that fit with the Hugel ? I know you add green waste on top of the logs to start, but that is consumed quite quickly leaving very slowly rotting wood. Which was why I planted beans on there as they fix their own nitrogen, and indeed they were happiest there.

I tried it to see if my preconceptions were wrong, and to hopefully get rid of the remains of a pear tree which were too rotten already for firewood. Hopefully some of it will have turned into useful organic matter to break up the natural clay, and any big bits left can come out and sit in a heap amongst the undergrowth beyond the end of the plot for the bugs to enjoy.
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