*Local Learning Series written by Samyol Soulfyre at Full Circle Garden Solutions in Nevada City.
Editor’s note: This article and other writings on our blog are what we like to call “food for thought.” This particular idea may not suit your location, slope of land, climate zone, water access, energy input vs output, but you may learn some ideas from the process to implement on your land. We recommend that when undertaking any land clearing, modification and digging that you consult with your local experts to determine what is right for you and your location. We recommend to always get a few consultations before starting.
It was brought to our attention by a local expert in Permaculture that Hugelkultur may not be the best option in the Mediterranean climate that we have in many parts of Western Nevada County, CA. However, with the right conditions Hugelkultur seems to be a wonderful idea. Again ask a few local experts before you start digging!
Feel you may have another technique worth mentioning? Are you local and would like to write in our next newsletter? Please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form on our website.
Is Hugelkultur Right for your Location?
A look deeper into the idea of: Berm it! Don’t Burn it!
Can Hugelkultur turn flammable, overgrown brush into water saving food forests?
Over the last 17 years I have studied and practiced with masters of many different permaculture and habitat management styles, and created a hybrid blend of all their best strategies I implement with my clients at Full Circle Garden Solutions. This has yielded a universal, easy to replicate method for instantly transforming fire hazard brush into productive food forest gardens.
One of the major components of my strategy is Hugelkultur.
Hugelkultur is any form of gardening that uses woody material as the foundation and fill of a garden bed. I found that above ground Hugelkultur on contour, with large logs on the outside and branches less than 2” on the inside, to be the most efficient and universally successful technique for instant transformations.
Below is a Hugelkultur hybrid in Nevada City, California.
Note the large logs used as border and wall pieces, laid on contour on each side of the 6 foot wide beds, with wedge blocks to prevent downhill rolling.
Branches are placed in the middle of the bed allow roots to utilize the whole bed depth immediately.
Next I chop all the branches flat, about 2 feet maximum length, with a chainsaw, using only organic veggie oil in the chainsaw bar oil compartment (100% Canola or 90% Sunflower and 10% Olive Oil works great) . We fill in all the gaps between the sticks with unsprayed organic straw.
When a flush level is achieved, I top the straw layer with 3” shredded organic alfalfa bales. Then ad 6-12” shredded organic straw. Add one more layer of alfalfa, 2” deep before the soil layer.
Add a ready to grow in soil layer (I love to use a mix of 50% manure, 25% lava rock and 25% decomposed granite, with 10lb BioLive pre 6 yards soil mix to feed and inoculate the soil and hugelkultur.
Make the soil layer sufficiently deep for what you want to grow on top of the thick woody straw and alfalfa layers. I find that 1” is good enough for leafy greens, 2” for squash, 3” soil for melons and large tomatoes, and 1-2 feet premium soil for cannabis production.
Fruit trees, large perennial plants, and Cannabis can be planted in “nests” of soil that are tucked 2 feet into the straw/alfalfa layer and surrounded by straw when finished to protect the root balls from the sun.
Finish all garden soil surfaces with a mulch layer of 3” shredded organic straw to protect the imported soil layer.
Soak the entire bed before and after each layer. This is best done by rain over the winter and spring. I have installed these beds mid-summer with drip or sprinkler irrigation for instant success, although summer is not the ideal time to install a hugelkultur.
Now you are ready to plant!
Above: 1 month after install, mid-summer of 2019 near Nevada City, we had instant vigor and booming garden productivity. Leafy greens were ready in 2 weeks, squash in 1 month, melons in 2 months, and the greens like kale and champion collards went through the whole winter unscathed by snow, producing delicious healthy food happily til mid summer next year without irrigation.
In Conclusion, through the implementation of this strategy we may be able to solve many of the following challenges we face in the Sierra Foothills:
- Fire Hazards: Arid regions become burning disaster zones every year. This creates a significant incentive to reduce fire hazards fuel loads and instead of burning, we create abundant Hugelkultur Mounds and Swales.
- Water Shortages: Hugelkultur Swales capture & extend availability of rainwater for the entire watershed below, using 50-100% less irrigation. Grapes, perennial fruit and nut trees can easily be dry farmed for food, medicine and profit
- Soil Pollution and Water Pollution: Berms of decomposing wood on contour, inoculated with beneficial fungi, capture sediment and reduce or eliminate pollution from soil and water which in turn benefits planet and people.
- Sudden Tree Deaths: Oaks and Conifers are dying in large numbers from being too close to each other, while also becoming large fire hazards. These stands can be thinned & dead logs buried, inoculated or made into berms on contour, or covered with wood chips and edible cover crop to encourage decomposition. Turn the hazard into a benefit!
- The need for more jobs & the want for purposeful eco-friendly work: Thinning out fire fuel loads, building berms, digging swales, filling the swales with woody material, & planting food forests can create living wage, good for the environment jobs for friends and family.
- Healthy Organic Local Food Availability: With Hugelkultur mounds we can grow healing super food and medicine to improve our families lives, and cure many of our ailments right from the home garden!
- Obesity and lack of human vigor and health can be improved by working outside in fresh air to build these beds.
Building hugelculture raised beds out of fire hazards is good, heart work!
Stay tuned for more heart work and Hugelkultur recipes and education from Samyol Soulfyre of Full Circle Garden Solutions.
Samyol is also available for phone consultations setup through his email or facebook.
About Full Circle Garden Solutions:
Full Circle Garden Solutions’ mission is to regenerate ecosystems, create local jobs & volunteer opportunities, and save water & other resources by using safe, sustainable, and resilient growing techniques and permaculture design methods. We currently manage gardens on several farms within close proximity to Nevada City. Contact us today for high quality produce, garden services, and/or design consultations.