Episode-1074- Contour Gardening and Woody Beds

As many of you know I have suggested that we call what most (not all) people are doing in America woody beds vs hugulkultur.  I suggest this for two reasons.

1.  People who don’t know about it already understand “woody bed” but look at you like you have a snake crawling out of your ear when you say hugulkultur.

2.  It is more accurate, hugul in the term hugulkultur pretty much means high as in high bed.  As in 1.5-2 yards high.  This is simply not what we are doing in America in most instances.

Since first learning about the entire concept from Paul Wheaton (as practiced by Sepp Holzer) I have worked with it in many different formats, from 6 foot high true huguls to in ground versions that appear like any typical framed in raised bed.  I have also studied the work of Permaculture visionary Geoff Lawton and become a huge fan of his swale based design systems.

As I continued both studying the work of others and putting it into actual field level work (I can’t stress how important that is) I have also learned how Geoff takes “swale like design” into raised bed gardening.   I have now found that taking the disciplines of swale style raised beds and adding wood core design to the mix is an incredibly efficient design structure.

Today I discuss the primary design structures of this type of system, why they work and what limitations each has.  From there we can see how a proper integration of all of them makes up a great deal for where each has certain weaknesses.

Join Me Today As I Discuss…

  • What is a swale and why does it work
  • What is the difference between a “swale like” structure and a true swale
  • How can contour paths act like swales when they are not below grade
  • Does it make sense to cut paths below grade (may be, it depends)
  • What is traditional hugulkultur
  • Why did Sepp Holzer and other actually bury wood in the first place
  • The limits of a “spongy core” based on mathematics as a simply reservior
  • What are mycelium and what role do they play in permaculture
  • How does the internal composting action protect roots in cold weather
  • Why isn’t the heat a danger in hot weather
  • Why deep mulching is a must
  • How you can practice polyculture, clumpy polyculture or even row mono culture
  • How does a contour based wood core system function end to end
  • Info on the upcoming workshop that will teach these techniques

Videos Of the Described Project – Direct Links to Youtube in the Resource List Below

Resources for today’s show…

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25 Responses to Episode-1074- Contour Gardening and Woody Beds

  1. Jack,
    I really like the permaculture idea from what I have seen so far. I need more study of coarse. How would you compare the information this video to what you prefer? It is a bit long but the results are amazing.
    http://vimeo.com/m/28055108
    I have taken into account his locationvs mine in Austin…..

    • Modern Survival

      I would call what that guy is doing very one dimensional. Yep it works in his climate, on his slope and with the scale he is working at. It is one component of the techniques laid out here.

      His solution is very simple and that is good but the more layers of a system the more resilient it is.

      In other words once established my system won’t need a constant addition of more wood chips, we may do it but it would do a fair job of capturing its own organic matter. What he is doing would fall apart in a single season if you stopped adding more.

  2. The Morgan Hill Homesteading Project

    Jack, do you have anything planned for the cinder blocks?

    • Modern Survival

      Well I am going to have a butt load of them, I may build a water tank, I just don’t know yet.

  3. Well, I have a degree in Agriculture, I shifted to “sustainable design” stuff 10 years ago. What I just heard and saw put just about every teacher, course, etc to flipping shame! All I can say is wow, the explanations of soil chemistry and hydrology alone taken to the laymen level was outstanding.

    I am not sure that a single one of my former professors could explain or even understand this system fully let along create and implement it by combining the work of others. Well done sir!

    I don’t always agree with you, especially politically but today I stand blown away, thanks for all the hard work that went into this. If I wasn’t so dang far away I would be happy to attend your planned work shop.

  4. Hello Jack,

    How did you get the broccoli so big in so little time. I started some plants in cups two weeks ago and quite frankly they are barely surviving. They have potting soil, enough water and at least 7 hours of sun everyday.

    I must be doing something wrong but I don’t know what.

  5. Notwithstanding snakes crawling in or out of ears, can we agree that the spelling is actually “Huegelkultur”, not “Hugulkultur”? In German, a hugel is a hill, and 2 of them, i.e. hills, are Huegel, or Hügel if you have a font that can handle the diacritics. (who knows, maybe the foregoing is booked as elitism south of the Mason-Dixon.)

    In closing, I find it strange but predictable that the nature of the severe climate change drought in CONUS and thousands of broken CONUS heat records do not rate a mention on TSP, month by month. It’s called “SUV Driver Denialism”, SDD.

    However, elsewhere on the Web, non-Right survivalists are in fact thinking about what if anything can be done in permaculture planting if the seasons get as erratic as they are becoming. That is, check out what a “Rossby wave” in the upper atmosphere is, and no, Al Gore did not invent it to slash your post-tax annual income. I won’t forget my amusement at Spirko sneering about climate change during an ice storm around/near Arlington TX at a time when Canada was experiencing record unseasonal heat. I mean, the fossil fuel shills in Australia who deny the Arctic meltdown can at least say (and they do) that the Arctic is a long way off, but how far is it from Arlington TX to the Canuck border?

    SEW (Socialist European Watermelon) -what

    • Modern Survival

      No we really can’t agree on that http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ looks like I am closer to what Holzer and Wheaten say then you are. I trust Holzer. I don’t really care how a bastardized German word adopted to English is spelled “correctly” if such a thing exists.

  6. Hey Jack,
    great show. i did have a question about using woodchips, or any high carbon material for that matter, in your raised hug beds. it is my understanding that the tropics have a very fungal dominated soil type. the majority of their biomass is located above the soil line (monkeys in trees, panthers, TREES etc…) whereas here in the temperate zones, the majority of our biomass is located beneath the soil (burrowing animals that die, lots of root mass due to deep soil vs shallow soil in tropics etc..). this information was taken from one of lawtons videos, so i assume it to be accurate. with that said, i know that trees prefer a fungal dominated soil, whereas herbs, annuals, perennials etc.. prefer a bacterial dominated soil. so if you are planting loads of carbon in your kitchen garden beds, wouldnt that soil be more fungal dominated (i.e. more suited for planting trees vs herbs, shrubs, annuals etc…) ? in your podcast you said you can use any organic material, but doesnt something that is carbon rich like woodchips vs something that is nitrogen rich like food scraps interact with fungi and soil structure differently? seems to me it would be better to put a mixture of woodchips and foodscraps so it doesnt get too fungal dominated and inhibit herb/shrub/annual growth. what are your thoughts on this, as i am a newbie just trying to learn! thank you.

    • Modern Survival

      You’re using factual info to draw an non factual conclusion.

      Fact soils in forests are primary fungal based and soils in a savannah are primary bacterial based.

      Incorrect conclusion Trees can’t grow well in bacterial based humus (um that would be compost) and herbaceous species can’t grow well in fungal ones (um slash and burn agriculture “works” right?)

      The way these soils form is based on the functions of the systems. Forests are cool and wet (comparatively) and plains are hot and dry. Herbivores mob graze on plains leading to high concentrations of Nitrogen in many areas, in the forest a bear might shit in the woods but 5,000 of them don’t do it all on one acre in one day.

      Humans make soil mostly with fungal systems (garden mulching) and bacterial systems (hot composting), it doesn’t really matter though how you build soil, just that you do. We understand the systems only so we can replicate them. If you want to build soil without composting and you want to do it bacterially (dominantly anyway) you need animals and LOTS of them.

    • ooo right right that all makes a lot of sense, thanks for clearing it up. have you talked to lawton about your integration of ideas (swales+hug)? seems very advantageous to combine the strategies, i wonder if he will start testing it out as well.

      • Modern Survival

        Lawton feels Hugul in general is valid outside the tropics. I laugh at that because a banana circle is basically a form of hugulkultur. I find that really funny.

  7. James Prigioni

    Love the podcast Jack!! Just finished reading Seps book, and I loved it. I am working on my backyard to help lead more towards a permaculture type design. I also built an A frame the other day and I’m going to be making some water harvesting systems like swales and such.

  8. Hiya Jack, great show, but can I propose an alternative phrase? To incorporate Hugel and swales…Hugelswale?

  9. Jack, regarding your iron problem, I’ll bet you have a break in the line somewhere underground. I had the same problem you describe. for years my water line to the barn was unusable due to “iron”. Material would gum up any hose screen in about a day. I found a break in the line years later, fixed it, and my water problems cleared up.

  10. Highly motivating show. I like how you explain the breaks in the raised woody beds to allow some water flow to the next bed, and how you address managing access around your perimeters. I have about 50 ricks of firewood I’ve collected over four years that would be perfect for the woody raised bed concept you so aptly demonstrated, as much of it has started to become spongy.

    I’m trying to noodle how to do your fedging concept with regard to perimeter screening vs water capture on contours, for those property edges where the property line is on a slope.

    On the subject of identifying contour lines, many mapping systems have a contours layer. The Collin County TX GIS system has a contours mapping layer with 2 ft demarcations on it, which provides an excellent tool for figuring out gross water flow directions and raised woody bed layouts.

    My permaculture swale research recommended that for my avg 34 inches per year of rain, that the swale spacing should be every 30 feet or so for developing a good food forest. It seems that your tighter spacing might be better for a garden than for a food forest, as trees will be using more water than gardens as the trees mature.

    • Modern Survival

      Ah sloping permiters. My plan is go Holzer on it. You can’t do contour so S shaping them is the best bet in my mind.

  11. Can you give us details about the laser level you are using?

  12. Jack,

    Looking at your videos, it seems like the slope is slight enough that you could reshape the contour with a tractor (especially out front by the road). Harder than it looks?

    I put my raised beds almost even with contours and am thinking that I might be able to extend them on the ends and match them up to the contours.

    Thanks.

  13. Jack,

    Your analysis of the Back to Eden video is in complete contradiction to what the guy said he does in practice. He said the last time he added chips was ~10 years ago.

    In my own experience and since I have left over raised beds from prior to my hugel indoctrination, I decided to do something similar to this guy. I’ve found course saw dust (think chain saw) to break down fairly fast but not fast enough that it would require reapplication every year. Perhaps 2 years if it is a thin layer, but definitely not yearly. The course chips that he is using would take on the order of 5 years or more to break down in my PNW climate.

  14. Jack – it’s nice to see you back in Texas. I’m here in Mesquite so I deal with a lot of the same issues (i.e. weather, water or lack thereof, fire ants, and of course weeds and grasses) my question to you is about the latter – grasses. I have not been able to create a raised bed, lowered bed or anywhere on my property that doesn’t get invaded by grass rhysomes and quickly get overrun. How would you deal with that in these types of beds you’re creating? It looks to be that there are no borders and grass would just jump at that fertile soil you’re creating.

  15. Jack,
    Around 10:30 minutes into the show you mentioned that snow cover will keep plants at 32 deg F. As far as I know that is not correct. Temperature of snow and the ground under the slow can be colder than 32 deg F. Snow will offer some protection and as it gets deeper this effect will increase but it will not keep the ground and the plants at 32 deg F.