Monthly Archives: October 2010

Getting stuff done: Hugelkultur beds and greenhouse bed

https://i1.wp.com/farm2.static.flickr.com/1334/5121718534_83ca50b72f_m.jpg?resize=240%2C192With questions about my residency I’d put a few projects on hold but now that it’s all cleared up I’ve gotten back to work.

I doubt it is possible to mouse-proof a greenhouse but I did my best. Last year they ate up my greens, this year hopefully it won’t be so easy for them. I put some semi-composted chicken bedding into the soil and got some kale, lettuce, spinach and chard planted. We’ll see what happens. I’ve also stapled up the remaining bubble wrap on the inside ceiling for an added layer of insulation. Last, I’ve got the north side wall that is shared with the chicken coop stacked up with an internal straw bale wall. I’ll also put bales on the east side. I noticed last year that while the water filled black barrels never froze up they also never gained any noticeable heat. Yeah, they were thermal mass but not warm. What I did notice though was that the straw bales that were in there warmed up really well. I figure it can’t hurt and will likely help a great deal. I’ll share data as the winter progresses. I’ll keep one barrel inside filled for watering the plants.

https://i1.wp.com/farm2.static.flickr.com/1087/5121715482_453199f84c_m.jpg?resize=240%2C192Next on the list, start the Hugelkultur beds in the little keyhole beds outside my cabin. For those that don’t know, Hugelkultur is a form of raised garden bed using wood. This is especially important for me because the soil in this garden is contaminated with lead. Years ago this area was heavily mined and in fact the whole area is called the lead belt. The history of these towns is all based on the mining. Years later folk that probably shoud have known better but apparently didn’t started using the tailings piles for roads, driveways and anywhere gravel, rock, or sand might be used. They used it around the lake on the roads and back in the 1970s and 80s they used it all around this place for the camp sites. Not smart. I could have them come in and take out the soil but frankly it is a huge mess and I don’t necessarily trust the “soil” they bring in to replace the bad stuff. There’s certainly nothing fertile about it as it is the brightest red clay you’ll ever see. So, my intent is to build keep these beds raised high above the ground level, contaminated soil. I’ll just rebuild them every couple of years until I’ve gotten several feet up.

Hugelkulter is not hard to explain but I found this excellent post that does the job well:

Hugelkultur: Using Woody Waste in Composting:

Hugelkultur is an ancient form of sheet composting developed in Eastern Europe. It uses woody wastes such as fallen logs and pruned branches in order to build soil fertility and improve drainage and moisture retention.

If you walk through a natural woodland, you will see many fallen logs and branches on the ground. The older these logs are, the more life they sustain. A log that has rested on the forest floor for five or ten years will be covered in moss, mushrooms, wildflowers and even young trees. Poke at it a little and you will notice that the decaying wood is damp in all but the most vicious of droughts.

Hugelkultur is designed to take advantage of the natural fertility and moisture-conserving qualities of rotting wood, while speeding the process of decomposition up. The heat produced by decomposition also helps protect cold-sensitive plants.

In the photos above you can see I’ve got the semi-rotted wood hauled in and ready to be covered with straw, chicken manure, the last several scoops of wood chips we have. That wood is stacked up about 20 inches.  I’ve got some good soil from our old wood pile (where this wood came from) and will just wheel barrel it down and add for the top layer. It’s great stuff full of the rotted bark of lots of logs and is not contaminated. The final beds should be 24 inches above ground level.  I’ll post photos of the beds when they are completed. These will absorb water all winter and in early spring will be like water filled sponges. The decaying wood will rob the soil of nitrogen so I’ll have to fertilize these beds heavily with chicken manure but I think it will be good and is certainly better than digging and growing in contaminated soil.

Land Update

Sunset on the Lake

It’s been a crazy roller coaster this past two weeks. Since my last update we went back and forth several times first thinking we had it worked out to then not and back and forth again. I didn’t want to post until things seemed to settle into something solid enough to report. While there is no final resolution I feel pretty good at where we are at with things. Basically we are back to square one with much better communication and understanding. The land has been taken off the market and if it goes back on it will be up to each of the three siblings to keep or sell their own third and when it happens it will be offered to siblings/family first. If this pans out as it looks my dads share is safely within the family for many years so our work is now, in theory, protected. I don’t want to say much at the moment but yeah, we’re good. I have a feeling I’ll be here for a long time to come. The side benefit is that after the past two weeks of thinking I was going to lose the place I now have a new appreciation for what I had come to take for granted.

Thanks to you all for following along and for your thoughtful, kind comments in the last post. Your words offered a great deal of comfort and encouragement and I greatly appreciate it.

Sad, Sad, Sad

Well, I’ve got some sad news to report. For me personally, actually, it is far beyond sad. Though it is not decided yet it is looking like our land is to be sold off which will mean the end of my little homestead project. My dad will be meeting with my uncle and aunt on Saturday. Of the three my uncle has no interest in keeping the place and is ready to sell immediately. My aunt, I think, does not really know. My dad wants to keep it since I live here and his children and grandchildren spend alot of time here. I really don’t know which way it will go but fear the worst.  I don’t have a clue as to what I’ll do if it sells. I know that for certain I would leave immediately because I have no interest in staying any longer than I have to if it is to be sold. In my heart, if that is the case, I won’t be able to bear looking at the trees, bushes, lake or anything else that is here. I knew one day the issue of ownership would need to be resolved but never thought it would come so soon or that there was such a strong tendency towards selling it rather than keeping it.

If it sells I’ll have a share of the money but it goes without saying that it is nothing compared to the land and the lake and is certainly not enough to buy anything close to resembling the place. My siblings will be here later today and we’ll be talking about the future. Not sure if they will want to pool resources to find another, much smaller bit of land or if I’ll be on my own. I think if I’m on my own I’ll be looking to find an established eco-village to live. I hate to leave the area and this little town that I’ve grown so fond of but I don’t see myself renting a place in town, don’t know that I’d want to buy a place in town either. Feeling kind of lost at the moment.

A Little Village

Salvaged WoodYet another building is almost finished. Our well house, shower, guest cabin in process. We began by “harvesting” a couple of trailer loads of 2×4, 2×6, and plywood lumber from an old shack behind the dam. We’ve now salvaged enough from that old structure to build three buildings and have exhausted all the material that was useable. The idea was to rebuild our well house which was very small and not at all easy to do maintenance work in. It needed some work anyway. Rather than just repair it we decided to build something a bit bigger in which we could also put a shower and have some room for storing paint and other items that need to stay warm in the winter. I don’t have much room in my cabin to store that stuff and last year kept in a sectioned off part of the chicken coop which is not an ideal place for it. New well house and bath house Once we started building it we got to thinking that we had enough salvaged lumber to add on a short second story for extra sleeping space. The only added cost would be the plywood for the loft floor and the exterior siding. We had the old kids’ playhouse which was originally built from shipping crates and pallets so that wood has now been repurposed twice! We cut them down to size and put them up. Well house progress The top floor is now mostly enclosed with roof on, will sleep 3-4 folks though at 5.5 feet it is not a standard height and requires a bit of stooping. With my nephew at 14 he may be wanting to bring down friends then there is my brother and his hunting buddies and I get the occasional visitor so having some extra sleeping space would be good. Little Tower We purchased the siding and metal roof, all other lumber was salvaged as was the insulation. And yes, my brother in law Greg did come down off the roof eventually. I love the crazy shape of this thing… kinda feels like a tree house or a watch tower. We’ll probably be putting a deck/walkway on the west and south facing sides. The view from this top floor is really nice. Not only the lake but the garden and other structures we’ve put up. It is really starting to feel like a little village.