Category Archives: Hugelkulture

New and old beds

Last year I decided to redo the raised beds that run between my orchard rows. I now have two 4’x12′ beds along with my three original 4’x4′ ones.

4'x12' raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

4’x12′ raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

The bed above was whacked together in late fall/early winter. After filling the bed up with a bunch of stuff I called compost (really just partially decayed wood chips), litter from the hen-house, and some good old poopy dirt from the chicken run I heavily sowed it with oats, barley, and red wheat. The idea being to suck up some of that nitrogen from the raw chicken manure and mellow the bed a bit before spring. Red Wheat is all that came up and then not until about a month and half ago. It is hard to see but there are 5 tomatoes spaced about 18″ apart down the center of the bed with an artichoke anchoring the end in the foreground. Outside of the maters there is some spinach up at the top end with 10 chicory plants below that. My sweety Karen and Lexi picked out the pretty flowers to liven it up a bit and attract bees. Weekly I have been chopping and dropping the wheat forming the basis of a planned heavy mulch layer that should be in place by June.

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This bed didn’t get setup until a little over a month ago and it shows. The fill is composed mostly of my compost/mulch piles that washed under the oleander during last summers floods. Mixed into this is another big batch of litter from the hen-house made up mostly of partly broken down star and chicken shit. As you can see the bottom end is similar to the previous bed in that there is an artichoke plant but only one tomato. Above that I am trying a “three sisters” planting. Down the center of the bed is a double row of sweet corn with 6″ separation between the rows and seeds spaced 8″ along the 8′ long rows. Six inches outside of the corn on either side is a row of pole beans again spaced 8″ apart but offset 4″ to give a little more room. Finally 6″ outside the beans is a row of yellow and green summer squash spaced 12″ apart. As before the women in my life have claimed the perimeter for “pretty” flowers and herbs. This bed didn’t get any mellowing time and I am beginning to see a bit of chlorosis, probably from the raw wood chips scavenging up the nitrogen. Hopefully an extra spraying of cold processed liquid fish will help get this bed on track.

What a mess!

What a mess!

This was the first bed I put in last year. It has a lot of scrap wood and coffee grounds under the soil(my half-assed attempt at hugelkulture) I’m going to chop and drop all the mess then plant a couple of pumpkins or squash plants and see what happens.

Bed #2 from last year

Bed #2 from last year

It is probably hard to tell but this half-assed hugel bed has already been chopped and dropped from an overwintering of cereal plants. There are four roma tomatoes in here that will be mulched with straw as the get bigger.

Hugel Bed #3

Hugel Bed #3

This final bed is again a sorta kinda hugelkulture bed with scrap wood, wood chips, and coffee covered with a load of compost from the UNCE orchard. It did OK growing broccoli and cabbage over the winter, I am going to chop the rest down and toss it to the chickens then plant peppers in here.

 

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You make me spin right round baby

During an early morning web-crawl I stumbled upon an interesting post over at Permies.com about SPIN farming that intrigued me. I began researching and became even more interested and as usual my head is now “spinning” with ideas for my Orchard/Garden/Chicken Corral. On first read the concept seemed to be a strange marriage of Square Foot gardening and Multi-level marketing.

I first became enamored with square foot gardening back in the 90’s when we would spend as much of the summer as we could in our R/V next to the beach in Oceanside CA. San Diego’s public television station had Mel’s show on everyday during the week and it just made so much sense. I couldn’t wait to get the book and have since given several friends copies of the square foot gardening book whenever the discussion came up about growing vegetables. It was familiarity with square foot gardening’s simple common sense approach to backyard gardening that made Dave Wilson’s Back Yard Orchard Culture ideas so attractive when I discovered them last summer.

Am I planning on becoming a locally sourced produce entrepreneur? I don’t think so. It isn’t the marketing/business model of SPIN that I am interested in. From what I have read so far Small Plot INtensive gardening is the exact same concept as Square Foot gardening but with an added marketing component, my garden/chicken farm is relaxation/therapy for me. Growing stuff and tending my chooks helps refocus me and keep me going in a positive direction, it most certainly is work but it isn’t a job!

The part that grabbed my attention though is the suggested bed configuration of relatively long narrow beds that you can easily step across and straddle. Currently I have my sunken beds and my Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds between the rows of trees in my orchard. The orchard is laid out with with four rows 9′ apart with the trees spaced 4′ apart within those four rows. My sunken beds are 6′ long and positioned in between the trees in the first three rows. Basically: Emerald Beauty/bed/Gold Kist/bed/Splash ; Santa Rosa/bed/Royal Rosa/bed/Dapple Dandy ; Flavor Grenade/bed/Blenheim/bed/Mid Pride ; Flavor King/bed/Flavor Delight/bed/Arctic Star. My three Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are in between the last two rows of trees. The Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are going to stay where they are and in fact as soon as the weather breaks I am going to add a fourth bed in between those last two rows of trees. All of them are 4’x4′ straight out of Square Foot Gardening, I am comfortable with that configuration and think that I will have plenty of room around them for the tree branches. The Sunken Beds are another matter, their E-W orientation in line with the trees is a bit confining and I am finding it a bit difficult to work in them. Truthfully it has become an overgrown mess. I’m thinking that if the existing Sunken Beds were replaced with a single 2′ wide by 12′ long bed run N-S between each of the first three rows of trees I would have much better access while at the same time reducing competition for nutrients. Additionally I lost several trees this year due to wet feet, this new configuration would increase the distance between the beds and trees reducing the possibility of over-irrigation.

Last night I was thinking about how I had things all mapped out in my head in regards to garden projects for the fall, now one little blurb I read on the internet has turned my head upside down. All of those well thought out plans have rolled away across the tile floor leaving a big vacancy for new ideas!

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Barney(s), Comfrey, and Mullberry’s

My Barney hatching went off OK I guess. A 25% hatch rate ain’t great but at least I got 4 cute little Barnevelder chicks in the brooder. WOW that sucks! I just went in to take a picture of my 4 Barney’s and noticed that two of them are having leg issues. 😦 Karen and I just put hobbles on them but I don’t have very big expectations, I tried this once before and all it did was delay the inevitable.

You can see the one in the foreground that is rocked back on his bum, him and the one behind him are the two having issues. They were fine yesterday, I wonder if I am doing something wrong during incubation? Karen thinks maybe the flock they came from is inbred? If you have any ideas let me know!

Tomorrow I am going to plant my two Mulberry trees, one positioned on the west end of my orchard to provide shade from our brutal afternoon sun. The other I am going to plant just on the outside of the Chicken run so that eventually its canopy will overhang the run to provide some shade and drop fruit into the run. Both trees need a little trimming so I bought some rooting hormone and am going to try propagating a couple new trees. While I’m at it I am going to cut a stalk from my Timber Bamboo and try potting up several cuttings to see if I can get the start of a windbreak going.

The 4 comfrey plants are going to be planted in my orchard, two at the head of the lanes between the first two rows. I think I am going to put the last two at the bottom of the center two lanes where the ground dips a bit causing the area to be a little moister than the rest. I’m not quite sure on that though, the idea of putting in a fourth 4’x4′ raised bed keeps popping back up in my head so we’ll see.

Lastly I am struggling with an egg eater(s), I have isolated the likely culprits but my egg production hasn’t gone back up. Before putting them in quarantine I would find 4 or 5 broken eggs a day now I’m not finding any broken eggs or shell remnants but am only finding 1 or 2 eggs daily.

If you have any advice I could sure use it on any of these issues.

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Hugelkultur Fugelkultur

One of the basic pieces of permaculture is a raised bed construction practice known as Hugelkultur, to me that sounds about like that VW commercial from the 90’s but what do I know. Studying up on the practice of hugelkultur a bit I read claims about not having to irrigate your garden all summer, decreased need for fertilizer, and improved soil structure. While I am highly skeptical of growing tomatoes in Las Vegas without watering all summer any gardner here in the Valley should be striving to improve their soil structure. As previously mentioned in this Blog there is considerable open space between the trees in my orchard

So with the goal of putting in a couple of raised beds and the concepts of hugelkultur whirling about in my head I kicked Cammie outta bed, got in the Jeep and headed up to the Fruity Chicken!
Notice the Planks over Cammies Head
We stopped off at the local Lowes and picked up some 5/8″X6″X6′ dog eared cedar fence planks, I had used these same planks a couple weeks ago to make my sunken beds. Why these planks? Well they are cedar, but mostly they are cheap! Less than $2 a piece. I cut them to length and assembled them with gorilla glue and my brad nailer into 4’X4″ boxes, I did reinforce the corners with L-brackets because I had them.
 
The area chosen for my two raised hugelkultur beds is between the Eastern most rows of trees in the Orchard, I chose this location because of access and so that as the Fruit Trees grow they will give the beds some afternoon protection from the sun.
The next step after choosing the site and placing the frames is hugelkulture thingy of this project….filling the frames with rotten wood, wood chips, and coffee grounds. (the coffee grounds thing aint really in any of the Hugelkulture stuff I read but I figured it can’t hurt)
Above are my finished beds awaiting planting. On top of the wood and coffee I put about 6″ of compost. Bullshit you say! Those beds were only 6″ to begin with! Well I filled them with compost, watered them, pulled the frames up, backfilled around them, and repeated until the truckload of compost was gone. Tomatoes are going to be planted on North end of the beds with Peppers in front of them and I’m not sure what in front of the Peppers.
 
Cammie says all of this Gardening and Blogging is exhausting and it’s time for a nap!
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