We got a lot of tree trimming done at the farm site. ( The property is surrounded by cottonwood, Willow, Chinese elm, and green ash trees. The green ash and Chinese elm are in bad shape, full of dead and contorted branches. The cottonwood and Willow trees are in pretty good shape, but some branches and trunks are so low that they interfere with walking along the fence, or are actually laying on the fence.) There is a lot of dead wood around as well.
We also got a five by five foot area dug out to a depth of about six inches, to start our first hugelkultur. (If you don’t know what these are, see this link on the website. https://saintisidoresociety.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/hugelkultures-the-raised-bed-of-permaculture/
We found that the soil is full of large rocks and chunks of concrete. This makes digging very difficult, though otherwise the soil is good looking, black and well textured. We will have to do something with all those rocks. Sun traps and mini retaining walls come to mind. We can’t figure out where the concrete came from; this was a plowed farm field before purchased by the current owners.
The rocks are another reason to stick with hugelkultures and sheet mulched beds over standard methods. Of course, hugelkultures require digging, but only once, and not to the depth that standard beds require, and they add more material to make up for a rocky soil. The rocks would make tilling very difficult.
Once the digging was done, we broke up a lot of the sticks and branches from our tree pruning and stacked them in the hole, creating a mound two feet above the level. At the next meeting, we will cut some heavier diameter lengths (four inches across or so) and use them to top the pile. Then we will add some manure, put the soil back on top, and mulch it. The manure contains nitrogen, so that the wood won’t steal it from the plants. To avoid this problem it is best to use rotten wood, but we have lots of fresh wood on hand, and only a little rotten stuff.
We will probably be putting off tree planting till the spring, but we can begin preparing for them now. We will be taking a soil test, after which we can mix in amendments and plant a cover crop on the orchard site.