Back to Eden Gardening and Hugelkulture and other non-conventional garden methods

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by lazy gardener, Jun 16, 2016.

  1. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    I thought I'd start a new thread to deal with these 2 topics.

    I'm in the process of converting my garden to BTE, and seeing wonderful results. I've been gardening under mulch for years. Pretty much, I hate seeing bare soil, though my wide beds will be a bit bare until the vegetation has grown enough to cover the soil. Once it gets to that point, any weeds are not likely to compete enough to be a problem. This season, about 75% of my garden foot print is covered with wood chips. That's a lot of hauling. Since I have to do it one wheel barrow full at a time. The goal is to get those chips 4 - 6" thick over the entire garden 32 x 48.

    I put in an orchard late last summer, and have been working on a BTE approach with that as well. I have about 1/2 of the trees well protected with chips. The rest is growing up to a tangle of weeds. As time and energy allow, I put down a layer of cardboard to mash the weeds, and follow up with the wood chips. In the parts of the orchard that have been chipped, There has been an appreciable improvement in soil texture. I needed a pick axe to dig holes for the trees. Heavy, compacted clay, with lots of rocks. Rocks have been moved to the back of the orchard to start a rock wall (north) and should provide some microclimate improvement as they catch the sun. When digging to set some plants in the orchard "understory" last weekend, the soil was much looser, some worm activity, with the very beginning of a humus layer started. I was able to loosen soil with shovel and garden fork. FYI, Each tree has a circle of daffodils to repel voles, and garlic to repel other nasties. Over time, the understory will be planted with flowering plants to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. For now, there is sorghum, dent corn, strawberries, and squash planted here and there to take advantage of the bare space. Trees are being pruned to keep their mature size at around 8'.

    Hugelkulture: Started last summer. 12' completed. I did not have top soil available, so had to modify my design from the "they say" peeps design. Top is capped with weedy debris from garden clean up, planting holes lined with rotting hay, filled with top soil and compost and a bit of my old chicken bedding. The whole thing, after planting, is covered with more rotting hay and grass clippings. 3 hills of watermelon, 4 hills of squash. Old garlic cloves scattered here and there. Squash is now starting to run a bit. Completion of this project on hold due to medical hold on chain saw use. So... adding a bit of lasagna garden to keep the project going. Working up a 6 x 6 addition. Finished project will be about 35' x 8'.
     
  2. Mini Meat

    Mini Meat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Great Topic! Subscribing.

    I had about 10 loads of Chips dumped over the past year. They were dumped on a base rocked flat that I hope to rehab back to pasture. There had been no roots in this ground for 20 years.

    I haven't had the time to do much of anything with them yet so they are just stock plied and mellowing a bit.
    I toss scratch on them to encourage the chickens to add their fertility and work the piles a bit.

    Observations thus far:

    In the spring, after weeks with no rain, there was a small but steady trickle of water coming from each pile. The pile seemed to have held and distributed rain water slowly over a much longer period.

    The ground around the pile is bone dry now, but just 6' in from the edge, under the chips, the ground is quite moist.
    And I can see some small traces of insect activity where none was before.

    Some of the uneaten seeds have sprouted in the wood chips and managed to get their roots through the base rock. At this point anything that can get its roots through the base rock is welcome. I will be pulling no weeds for a few years.

    So even with very little addition effort thus far, I am seeing improvement.
     
  3. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    When you say base rock, I'm wondering exactly what you are referring to. Is it hard pan, or is it ledge of some sort, perhaps shale?
     
  4. Mini Meat

    Mini Meat Chillin' With My Peeps

    It is a flat area about 300' x80' that has had 6" of 3/4" and finer rock/gravel compacted down to prevent mud. We had rented it to a friend for equipment storage.

    It's basically a heavily graveled parking lot. I had to use a jack hammer to install my net fence.



    [​IMG]
     
  5. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    AAAHHHH!!!! I see! Too bad you couldn't sell that mess off, and start over with some decent soil, our just start HK, with the stuff removed. But... you'll at least have a nice dry base under it! What is your eventual goal for this section?
     
  6. Mini Meat

    Mini Meat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Right... but grow were your planted and all.
    My goal is to turn it to in to a meadow/pasture. And eventually plant some Mulberry trees for shade.

    I had some small success at the back end. I only had a bit of wood chips at the time so... I brought home every thing that I mucked out of my horses stall for months and dumped it in my grow out with +/- 90 juvenile chickens. They did the spreading for me. Then I threw down any kind of small seed that I came across, Mostly grasses.

    The results were spotty but considering what I started with I call it a success.
    [​IMG]

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    There is a low spot along the back edge of the flat that I plan to do HK in. It floods every winter. I don't know yet what I will plant there because it is in full shade but I hope it will at least help
    sub-irrigate the pasture for a few months in the summer.

    Behind the flat, up the hill, we had a land slide. The way the ground settled it has built in Swales. They are not perfect but the hold water for a very long time in to the summer. They still have quite a bit now. They are almost like finger ponds. Oh, and they can be feed by the over flow of our spring. I want to HK those as well in hopes of keeping that moister all the way throughout the year. I want to plant my main orchard up on that hill side.

    I think this is an important topic, like world changing important, and I can't wait to hear more about your project as it moves forward.

    I really believe that conventional AG is causing so many problems. I shudder to think what might happen if there is a break down.
    When I get too down about it I watch this vid It is not about BTE or HK but I believe it is in the spirit of this thread and is very inspirational.
    If, instead of working against and destroying nature we can work with and enhance nature, we can make a difference and improve the future. BIG TIME.
     
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  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Sounds like you have quite a plan. Do you have any power equipment?
     
  8. Mini Meat

    Mini Meat Chillin' With My Peeps

    If you mean tractors and such, no I don't. No tiller either but I don't think a tiller would be good for the soil food web anyway. So I empathize with your wheel barrow and pick ax work.
    I am making a list of jobs that require a tractor and will probably rent one for a day or hire someone to bust them all out at once. That probably won't happen for awhile though. I want to have a full 8 hrs of work for the tractor lined up first.

    I did pick up a cheap demolition/jack hammer from harbor freight. I have a 2500 watt inverter so I can run it off my truck since the flat has no power. It has been very useful in digging holes.

    I am wondering if the wood chips will have a cooling effect on the flat. It gets hot during the summer and I am really hoping that the chips will help some.
    Are you seeing any cooling effect from your chips?

    I have another out side the box idea that I may try this fall. During the winter we get very little sun. The flat had a few patches of moss start to grow here and there. I was thinking I might spray any barren areas with a milk/moss mixture just to get something (anything) growing on the surfaces.
    Any thoughts on that?
     
  9. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Power equipment: I was referring to a tractor with bucket/claw to help moving trees, rocks, soil and such. But, looking back through your post, I realized you are only doing BTE and not HK.

    Cooling effects: The wood chips work well to moderate both high and low temps as well as wet and dry. My neighbors who have naked soil can't get into their gardens, sometimes till Memorial day b/c the soil stays too wet and doesn't warm up well. When gardening under mulch, I have always had frost out of the ground several weeks before the naked soil folks. And the soil is loose, friable, and easily worked with hand equipment. (or could be tilled, but I agree with you there. I save the tilling for busting nasty stuff, preparing new ground, etc.) Mean while my neighbors may be complaining that their gardens are too wet to till, while I'm 6 weeks ahead of them in the planting. Add a bit of plastic tunnel, and the only thing holding me back from having warm weather crops in the soil before the end of April is the lack of time/energy. Also, I had glads over winter under my chips this year. Never had that happen before, even in normal mulching. So, I may leave them in the ground this year, and toss on a few extra inches of chips. As far as concerns about chips COOLING the soil too much for those warm weather crops, it's not much bother to pull the chips back from where you're planting them. I like to pop a milk jug over squash, small tomato, pepper plants to create a micro-climate, and help keep bugs off them till well established. Snug the chips up around the jugs, and they help to hold them in place.

    Seeding moss: I think I'd be inclined to seed some root crop that would survive in the high acid environment. I'd also work at bringing the pH up, instead, which will make it more hospitable to anything you would benefit from growing in there. Try an experiment: Over your area that has the oldest mulch, give it a good dusting of wood ash or lime. scratch it in a bit, and then broadcast about a pound of green bean seeds. Aim to get them about 4" apart, scratch them in. (soak over night to give them a head start) Best to do this before a good rain, as I doubt that you have hose access to this area??? I suggest beans b/c they are nitrogen fixers, and if by chance, they do grow and produce, you will get some good eating out of them. If they don't produce, hopefully, they'll at least add some humus. Do legumes for a bit, and then do a combination of legumes and deep mining crops. They will work well to break through that layer of (what we call it up here) rock dust. Depending on how much effort you want to put into it, you could plant some Bocking #14 comfrey around the edges. That mines 10' deep, does not re-seed, produces 30% protein in the leaves, is used as fodder for animals, and you can just cut the leaves and put them where you want instant compost benefits. I say "around the edges" because once planted, you're not going to get rid of it, unless you put a chicken run or goat pen over it! I have it interspersed through my orchard for it's benefits.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2016
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  10. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

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    If you ever rent that tractor, you might try pulling a subsoiler through that. That’s a kind of plow that goes deep just to open up the soil. I don’t know how well that would work in a former gravel parking lot, it may take a good tractor to pull it. Dad used to use one with horses to break up hardpan but that was nothing compared to how hard that parking lot will be.

    I have an old gravel road running through mine but I don’t think it’s nearly as hard as what you are dealing with. I’ve planted a few trees on it, oaks and a pecan, but they are not growing well at all. I used an iron bar to loosen it enough to plant the trees. If they grow, fine. If they don’t it will only be grass anyway, though the grass turns yellow and dries up in the summer. I have other areas to work on that are more important to me.
     

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