This meeting was held at our Lakewood farm site. Despite the wet and cold weather, we got a lot of work done. We finished our second hugelkulture. This one was wider, longer, and a bit taller than our first one, and was dug deeper into the ground. This should help it hold more water. In arid climates, hugelkultures are a balancing act. The surface dries out faster than a flat bed. However, the core holds a lot more water than a ordinary flat bed. So, they should be heavily mulched, and contain more core than surface area. One giant mound seven feet high and thirty feet long would work better than many smaller ones. We would need heavy machinery to move that much soil. So we are building them a reasonable size for hand work; about four feet high, with a trench about a foot deep, and a width of five feet. We mulched it with a layer of wood chips, and then a layer of leaves. We also added coffee grounds and manure to the various layers, to add a little nitrogen and improve the water holding capacity.
Leaves are a good top mulch in a desert area; they shed water, which then runs between them and into the soil. Then, due to the waxy nature of the leaf, the water can not easily evaporate into the air again. Wood chips and manure can hold water, but can also slowly release it to the air. So we hope to top all of our sheet mulch beds with leaves eventually.
We are still working on ideas for our sign. It will probably contain our logo. See our Logo here.
At our last meeting, we dug up a short piece of I-beam. So we decided to do a full heavy metal test, as well as our lead test, to find any contamination in the fill on our site. The results of this should be back in a few weeks. Even if there is some heavy metals in the soil, we can continue to use the site, though we may have to adapt in various ways.
We also discussed our focus for the farm site, and came to the conclusion that we should concentrate more on things members would find it difficult to do in their yards; the greenhouse, fruit trees and bushes, rare perennials, animals, aquaponics, seed raising, and staple crops. And we are hoping to schedule various social events— a traditional blessing of the land for instance, or a potluck dinner in honor of a Saint’s feast day.
We have bought a membership with Seed Savers Exchange. This will enable us to purchase heirloom seeds from their yearbook, which contains more than twelve thousand varieties.
This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood. We continued work on our second hugelkulture, and as usual unearthed more rocks and other stuff. The hugelkulture is now a mound of sticks and small logs. We have been sifting manure and coffee grounds into each layer as we build it, to help trap more water. At the next meeting we will add about three more feet of wood, and then top it off with layers of manure, soil, and wood chips.
We discussed ideas for our sign, and other ideas for future land development. And we got fluorescent tape and reflectors put up around our work area, to warn people and to avoid damage to the beds.
I have been researching hugelkultures a little more, and I have found that in a dry climate, large hugelkultures work better than small ones, since there is a balancing act between the core, which holds more water than a flat bed, and the mound surface, which tends to dry out faster that a flat bed. The small mound has too little core and too much surface area. So we will be building our hugelkultures larger then at first planned.
I have also found that bone char is the best way to supplement our soil’s phosphorus levels. Bone meal, phosphate rock, and soft phosphate tends to be unavailable in this pH, and the manure we are getting may be too leached. It is also a very dilute source. I got some advice from a more experienced permaculture gardener. Here is what he said:
(This comes form the Permies forum, which is a good source of information about various permaculture topics. However, I disagree with many of the philosophical and moral opinions voiced.)
“Phosphorus is a tricky element to work with; if the pH is below 6, it gets fixed by iron and aluminum, if it gets above 7.3, it gets fixed by calcium. However, plants and their beneficial fungi can be persistent and un-fix the phosphorus, perhaps with some acidic or basic root exudates and enzymes, depending on what is needed. It’s unlikely that phosphorus is completely absent from soil, all sorts of critters dropping dead and decomposing provide a fairly constant source from above. The big question is the availability, and that’s where things like bone char can help tremendously. A piece of burnt bone, once colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, can be an oasis of phosphorous in an otherwise phosphorus-fixed landscape.”
So, now I just have to find a source of bone char. We could make it ourselves, and we might do that, a little at a time. However, to get things started, I might buy some, if I can find a source without too much shipping costs involved.
This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood.
We got another hugelkulture started at this meeting. At present it is a large half dug hole, with a pile of cut up brush next to it. We hope to finish it next time.
Also, we found it is very hard to build hugelkultures with our current number of members. The amount of ground covered each time is very small with this technique, whereas sheet mulching is faster, letting us compete more beds before Winter sets in. We probably will not build any more of them this autumn unless we can find some more local members. (Our membership is scattered across the Metro area.)
One of the reasons that hugelkulture building is so difficult here is that there are a lot of rocks in the soil, some of them very large. These take a long time to move, with only a small space gained for each. They will, however, be very effective at forming warm microclimates once we get them out.
We could, of course, do sheet mulch beds instead of hugelkultures. However, hugelkultures have a lot of benefits, particularly on this site.
And it would be easier to build hugelkultures at ground level, and pile imported top soil over them. But there is very little high quality top soil in Colorado, it costs money we don’t have, and the beds would probably be more drought prone that way, since roots would be less likely to move below the preexisting surface.
We plan to replace our rather messy temporary sign with something more elegant, especially so the neighbors don’t have to look at a piece of painted plywood against a tree all the time.