Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

HOMEGROWN Life: The Making of a Hugelkultur Bed

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Oh yes, I’m going to be talking a lot about hugelkultur beds because we just finished our first small 10′ section of it this afternoon. While it didn’t take very long to do, it was a lot of heavy lifting. Most of the work was actually clearing out the bed of raspberries (that never have produced a single berry) and weeds and then digging a foot of dirt out.

Building a hugelkultur bed doesn’t actually require you to dig up the dirt and sink it, but what can I say? We’re gluttons for punishment? No, actually, our soil has been so nicely amended and had this great texture that we decided to dig it out so we can add it back to the top of the hugelkultur bed. And in the past when we used to do raised beds we always found that when we included native soil in the beds they always did a lot better. My guess is that the native soil includes micronutrients and microorganisms that compost doesn’t have.

We then laid down sheets of cardboard. Of course, this is another step you don’t have to do but because we have such a problem with bindweed (which can have viable roots as far down as 20′) we decided that putting down cardboard would create a barrier to help stop the bindweed but eventually break down once it was no longer needed. Once the cardboard was down we started tossing wood of various sizes onto the pile. and a few old artichoke stalks for good measure. The wood is the key to hugelkultur. While it breaks down over time it will absorb water like a sponge while also releasing nutrients. The water absorption helps reduce your water use. If you make large 6′ tall beds you can go without adding any additional water during dry summers. Since our bed is not that high we’ll still have to supplement with summer water but we can definitely cut back since a bed that’s only 2′ tall can hold water for approximately 3 weeks. This leads to another important thing about these beds. You have to build them before the rains come, which is late fall here, so they can absorb as much water as possible before you can plant them. It’s best to use rotting wood which will hold more water and is also less likely to tie up nitrogen in the soil. Also avoid certain woods such as black walnut, cedar, redwood, black locust and eucalyptus which either contain rotting inhibitors or contain compounds that are toxic to other plants. Fruit tree wood also has a tendency to be too hard and take too long to start rotting.

After we got all the wood in place we placed a good thick layer of poultry litter which consists of straw with chicken and turkey manure and quite a few feathers (just because they are currently molting). Poultry litter is the best way we’ve found to get a compost pile up and running quickly so we wanted to use this directly on the logs to help get the breakdown process started. Again, this isn’t necessarily a step you must do to build a traditional hugelkultur bed, it’s just a step we chose to do.

Another step we chose to include was to cover the poultry litter with finished compost that we picked up at the local recycling/composting facility. $4.31 for a truckload, which you just can’t beat.

The final layer, which is really the only other thing you have to do besides using wood, is covering the bed with soil and smoothing it out. Yes, it’s a lot of work but the work we do now means we won’t have to work later. Hugelkultur beds are kind of self-tilling and since they are raised they’ll never get walked on, which compacts the soil. We’ll definitely finish off this one bed, hopefully getting more of it done tomorrow and then we can start thinking about doing some of the other larger beds. Eventually if this works out for us, I’d like to do all of our beds this way.

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter acre as humanly possible. With my husband, we run Dog Island Farm in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

Maker Faire: In The HOMEGROWN Village – Permaculture

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Over the past few weeks, we have been profiling participants in The HOMEGROWN Village at Maker Faire Bay Area 2009 in San Mateo, CA May 30-31. These passionate and creative people represent how many of us are using our hands, hearts and minds to Re-Make America.

Permaculture encompasses many of the topics that we talk about here at One of the HOMEGROWN Village exhibitors at Maker Faire, Terrie Miller, of defines it this way:

Permaculture is the design practice of creating truly sustainable human settlements that mimic, honor, and cooperate with natural ecosystems. As “permies”, we rely on deep, protracted observation of our natural surroundings to design systems that create conditions conducive to life around us.

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center defines it like this:

The word itself is a contraction not only of permanent agriculture but also of permanent culture, as cultures cannot survive long without a sustainable agricultural base and land use ethic.On one level, permaculture deals with plants, animals, buildings, and infrastructures (water, energy, communications). However, permaculture is not about these elements themselves, but rather about the relationships we can create between them by the way we place them in the landscape.

Other permaculture folks joining us in The HOMEGROWN Village at Maker Faire will be San Francisco Permaculture Guild leaders Fred Bove and Kevin Bayuk, who, with San Francisco Chronicle writer and novice gardener, Jane Tunks, will do a workshop on how a beginner can start a container garden the permaculture way. Fred has also agreed to do several seed-saving workshops on Saturday – yay! We feel that seedsaving is SO important to know about if we want to take back control over the foods that we eat.

The Greywater Guerillas are also representing an important component of permaculture at Maker Faire. We profiled them here last week.

Still not entirely clear on what permaculture is? The San Francisco Permaculture Guild Urban Permaculture Design Course begins on June 6th – the course synopsis outlines how much is included in the term Permaculture. Other permaculture courses and resources can be found at the Permaculture Institute web site, the The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center web site, and the Yestermorrow Design/Build School web site.

Financial Permaculture – a dose of hope

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

In light of the financial mess that the world is in right now, and reflecting on what Willie Nelson said on Saturday at the Farm Aid 2008 launch, we are looking to solutions:

“agriculture is the backbone of our economy…if the bottom rung of the economic ladder is agriculture, and it falls in, everything else falls down”

Some folks in Tennessee are holding a Financial Permaculture conference using the small rural town of Hohenwald, TN as a prototype.

Join community investment experts, permaculture designers and sustainability entrepreneurs for this dynamic gathering and integrative educational experience of Greening an American Community. Learn valuable tools and skills in real life scenarios to address the economic and environmental challenges of 21st century America. In this real-time Green Business Development Summit we will explore creating forward looking sustainable businesses, money cycling, local investments, and optimizing the local natural and human resources to implement models of regenerative business and local sustainability.

Click for more info about financial permaculture and the conference.