Category Archives: Hugelkultur

Hügelkultur is a composting process employing raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds

Sage Brush Mulch

As we continue to try to build up the fertility of the soil at Quail Run Farm, we are trying to find creative ways to find mulch.  Utah is not know for it trees, and that is even more true in the valley that Quail Run Farm is located in.  The one thing we have plenty of is sage brush.  And we try to use that as much as possible and not let it go to waste.

As we clear our land and bring in new uses for it, we end up cleaning up areas that are covered in sage brush.  We do plan on leaving some of the areas on the farm as native plants, and leave the sage brush.  But some areas we have to remove it.

 

As we do so, we find ourselves making large piles of sage brush.  Sage brush has a bad reputation, and is removed as soon as people move into an area.

 

One of the many heavy lifters we have on the farm is this chipper/shredder.   I purchased this one because I felt it was the best for the amount of money that I had.  I would of liked to of purchased a larger one, but the funding was not there.

Sage brush can be turned into some pretty nice mulch, if you are willing to get dirty and dusty in the process.  Sage Brush tends to collect dirt and dust as it grows, making it hard on cutting tools, but this chipper/shredder makes pretty quick work of it.

 

This pictures shows some of the mulch that was made from the pile of sage brush in the first post.  We are constantly finding ways to turn discarded green waste into mulch to help us retain water, and increase the fertility of the soil.

Our Goals

rings_of_fertility

George Washington

“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.” – George Washington (July 20, 1794)

 

There has been a growing trend in the US and around the world.  I think that we are all starting to adapt the philosophy of Hobbits, and have a “love for things that grow.”  There are a lot of homesteading books, blogs, and facebook pages that have surfaced over the last few years.  We are also seeing a growing number of people that are turning to self reliance, prepping, food storage, and preparing for the unexpected.

I think we have also been caught up in this at Quail Run Farm.  We are being drawn to the Earth, to the magic of making things grow, and the feeling of accomplishment that agriculture can give.  We are being drawn to teach our children how to grow, tend, and productively use the land.  In doing so, we have done a lot of research and study.  You are going to see several different terms used on this blog, and in writings from Quail Run Farm.  The goal of this post is to give you a basic understanding of some of the terms we use.  Terms like Permaculture, Hugelkultur, No Till Gardening, as well as Drop Dead Swales.  I hope that after reading this post, you will have enough of an understanding to know what each of these terms mean as you continue to follow our journey.

Our basic goals.  There are a couple of rules, or guidelines that we like to follow at Quail Run Farm.  There are several things that are crucial to agriculture and farming.  The first is Water.  You can’t grow things unless you have water, and you do what you can to conserve and use that water to the best of your ability.  The second is soil fertility.  You can have all the water you need, but if you don’t have enough fertility in the soil to encourage and sustain growth, you will not win the battle.   So, we are trying to find ways, techniques, and procedures that will help us use and find water, while we build up the fertility of the soil.  In the process we also want to be good stewards of the land, so we try to have everything we do and plant have more than a single goal or benefit.

Permaculture

Permaculture is a term that is used often when you read about homesteading and gardening these days.  Basically, permaculture is defined as agriculture that is based on the principles observed in the natural ecosystem.  It is the philosophy of working with nature, rather than against it.  It is a philosophy that includes ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design and construction.  It is looking at integrated water resource management as well as sustainable engineering.  This is a huge topic, and I have only give you a very high overview, you can get more details from sites like permacultureprinciples.com.  Instead of removing and forcing the land, it is the philosophy of using nature and working with it instead of expecting nature to go away and be tamed.

Hugelkulture

This is a topic that I find fascinating.  Basically the principle of a Hugelkulture is to create a growing area that absorbs water, as well as increases the soil fertility.  A Hugelkulture is a bunch of woody organic material that is then covered with soil.  The woody material then absorbs water, stores it, and then slowly releases it into the soil.  In the process, the woody material breaks down and increases the fertility of the soil.  We use sunflower stocks, old Christmas tree trunks, and other material in our Huglekultures.  We also put ash from our wood burning stove, manure, and other green matter in them as we build them to help increase the soil fertility.   The majority of our Huglekultures I would consider Drop Dead Swales, I will go into more detail on that later.

Here is an example of a Hugelkulture bed.

Source: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

Eventually, over the years, the bed will break down and increase the soil fertility and store water.

Drop Dead Swales

The majority of the huglekultures that we have built are what I would call a Drop Dead Swale.  Basically it is a trench that has been dug in the ground.  The dirt is piled on the down hill side of the trench.  The trench is then filled with woody and green matter.   Then the dirt is raked over the trench to fill it.  This accomplishes a couple of things.  First, it creates a level area on the slope of the hill that you can then use to plant things on.  That level area also slows down the water run off so that it can then collect in the swale.  Second, it creates a pocket for run off water to collect.  That water is then absorbed by the woody material.  As the soil dries the water is then released back into the soil.  Third, it increases the soil fertility as the green and woody material breaks down over time.

Here is an example of one of these Drop Dead Swales that I created for our grey water system, and a place to plant our bamboo.

IMG_5773The theory is that as the water runs off into the trench, it is absorbed by the woody material, and then is stored for the plants to use.  We have created a number of these around our property.  We are using them to control run off from our house, as well as change areas to support plants that require more water.  We have them in our orchard, as well as using them to grow Bamboo, and Asparagus.   When we put in our peach orchard, we will be using them extensively around the peach trees to keep the water we do put on the trees in place and to protect that water from evaporation and run off.

No Till Gardening

The theory behind No Till Gardening is to disturb the land as little as possible.  There are areas where we can do this, and areas where it is not possible.  But the basic principle is, you plant your plants, without tilling the ground.  Then as your plants grow, you return their green matter back to the area that they were grown in.  An example would be as you weed around your plants, you just drop the weeds back on the ground around the plants.  This is supposed to accomplish a couple of things.  First, you are not disturbing the ground and allowing more weeds to grow.  Second, you are putting the nutrients from the green matter back into the ground.  Third, the weeds create a mulch that helps retain water.  Basically, instead of digging up the ground and putting the green matter under ground, you are building up the soil on top of the old ground.  As you place mulch around your plants, you conserve water, increase soil fertility, and discourage weed growth.  There are a lot of sites on the web that explain it better.  http://www.no-dig-vegetablegarden.com/no-till-gardening.html

We may change or modify how we implement these over the course of the years.  But the basic goal we have is to preserve and use water wisely, increase the fertility of the soil as we use the land, and work with nature and have it help us meet our goals instead of fight it.

Bamboo Prep

On the farm this next year, we want to start growing Bamboo.  We want to use it in several ways.  It will help filter our grey water, provide shade for the south side of the house, and give us materials to use for our bean poles and pea poles.  Not to mention that it would be cool to be raising and growing bamboo in the middle of the high desert in Utah.

To help get ready for the bamboo, we installed our grey water system (or the beginning of it).  We moved our bee hives out of the area and put them farther out on the property.   And we have started getting the area ready for planting the bamboo.

One of the things we were able to start over the weekend was to build the series of Hugelkulturs to retain the water from the grey water system, as well as build up the soil for the bamboo.  I was able to build two of the four that we are going to put in the area.

IMG_5780I started by digging out several ditches.  I had Tom help me out with the digging.  He used his scout shovel that he got from Christmas.  It is basically a scout/military travel shovel that allows you to modify it so that the shovel has several different angles you can dig at.

IMG_5773We then filled the trench in with a bunch of old sun flower stocks that were given to us by a relative.  I then also took one of the buckets we use to collect the ashes from our wood burning stove and poured the ashes in the trenches as well.  We then covered the trenches with dirt.

Like most things we do on the farm, we usually try to get as many little hands to help as possible.  Our two little girls help by putting the sun flower stocks in the ditch.  And of course, you can’t work on the farm as a little girl unless you do it in fluffy skirts.

IMG_5785 IMG_5784 IMG_5781Snow boots and all.  I really do enjoy working on the farm, and spending time with the kids as we build, grow, and work the land.

I also ordered the Bamboo.  There are a bunch of places it can be ordered from on the internet, but I found a place on amazon that sells two of the three varieties we want to try.  Here is what we have purchased so far, and we are excited to give it a go.

This is Phyllostachys Auerosulcata

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis', Golden Crookstem Bamboo, #1 Size Live Plant

This is Phyllostachys Bissetii

Box of 3 Phyllostachys Bissetii Bisset's Bamboo #1 Size Live Plant

In the future, I will probably buy from Bamboogarden.com.  I picked amazon this time around because of the pricing.  We are going out on a limb, and the least amount of money I can spend at this point the better.  If what we buys winters over well, I will buy a larger number from several different vendors.  They were very helpful in helping pick the variety of bamboo that would work in the area we are planning on growing it.