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Keeping up the water : Chokoes and Hugelkultur

'Tis very frustrating here at maison D'ave.

The wind seems relentless and so often very gusty when the norm in SEQ has been subdued breezes outside of August, of course -- the Ekka winds -- or as part of any heavy storm showtime.

The little moisture we are getting is soon parched both  from soil and leaf  as each bit of rain is followed by strong winds -- prevailing dries  from the north east.

I mulched a layer of newsprint over all my beds and sprinkled what grass clippings and sundries I had atop this  but as there's not much precipitation to be had, my mower men aren't cutting the grass because it isn't growing.

Around town, atop of the underlying sand, it's dying.

So no mulch for me, aside from whatever I can collect by any means necessary.

Chokoes: right size for picking

This means that my methods aren't working -- leastways in these harsh  conditions. Since I am green mulch dependent I am held hostage to my supply lines.

The  recent wall to wall garden bed carpeting with newspapers -- which will need to be at least an annual routine -- isn't enough. I need another edge to my irrigating ways and means.

While I'll need to consider  some wind protection options (despite how enclosed my garden already is) I am hampered by the absence of shade cover for my trellis. My many choko vines are well away and are now fruiting, but the tendril creep hasn't covered all the space I wanted shaded below.

While the chokoes are nice and sweet, underneath the leaf veges are still suffering from heat exposure and dry winds...

But I suspect -- via this trial and error -- I am getting somewhere as each glitch often suggests another tack.

I've been reading up, once more, on Hugelkultur:

Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets - so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water - and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.

I do a version of these Hugelkultur principles already -- but I bury stuff -- mainly newspapers, cardboard and twigs. I can't see any reason why I should start  raising my beds amid all this sand as drainage here is not an issue.

I think what I need to do is collect and bury more stuff but consider where I bury it with  greater intent.

I'm thinking that if I open up my garden beds and start running Hugelkutur type channels along their length, buried just below the surface -- I'm going German in like mode, albeit with eclectic adaptions.  If I run these underground channels parallel and close  to my Leaky irrigation pipes, I'll be offering more  excuses for water to stick around.

Leaky type sweat irrigation doesn't work  in sand and I'm still far too sandy for best effect.

That means each week I gotta go out foraging for newspapers and junk mail which fortunately is distributed  in the hood nicely rolled up. I bring it home. Soak it in water -- often a water and seaweed and whatever mix -- before burying these wet tubes lengthways in the garden beds. I could also bury  pieces of wood, branches...with the proviso that some species, esp natives, are a bit problematical as they exude  their own herbicides (eg: Sheoak and Malaleuca).
Sandy loam from sand via buried junk mail

Every place I have buried junk mail and stuff in dug holes, has broken down to a rich sandy water retaining loam in the space of 6-8 months.

My garden is 'potholed' with these locations. 

Truth to tell these exercises have produced much better soil underneath and tio greater depth than all of my exertions sheet mulching.

My sheet mulching experiments have created very shallow soils which are still prone to drying out quickly. This is amazing when you consider how much effort I have put into spreading  barrow load after barrow load of grass clippings over my garden beds. 

 I may start also collecting wood and cuttings from the neighbourhood and stacking and burying what ever I get. Already I collect old palm fronds from my neighbors but maybe if I consciously seek more in way of branches and logs, I can find creative ways to bury whatever I collect.

Collecting timber is gonna be a lot cheaper than making mulch purchases from professional tree cutters. 

Been there. Done that.  But at those prices you ain't gonna bury the goods.

So while I'm on a good thing, I just gotta stick with it.

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Comment by Dave Riley on November 16, 2012 at 1:50

Well, the thing is I seek to use what ic an get -- preferably for free -- and to build up my soil it takes a lot of importing. I actually use my neighbors' cane/palm fronds in the garden but they are hard to trim back to a workable size, especially at the base. They can also savage your hands. I've used a lot of them building up organic matter on my paths between the beds, and while the the leaves could by separated to be sprinkled on the beds the stems are a bit brittle. 

To trim them/cyr them -- what tool do you find works best? Clippers aren't big enough and sometimes I have to use a saw. My preferred method is to chop up the stems with a sharp shovel  blade.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on November 14, 2012 at 15:44

Wicking is just ripe for experimentation. I reckon those trench mulchings that you do are as good as ... on flat land it should work well.

Comment by Dave Riley on November 14, 2012 at 11:31

I've considered the wicking stuff but it's a bit too engineered and fiddly for my preferences. I experimented a  bit...and rejected it. But on the sort of Hugelkultur approach I am now simply throwing rolled up newspapers, banksia pods, twigs, branch cuttings, etc atop of my garden beds and sprinkling  green mulch on top of that.I found that if I dug down to bury matter like this I disturbed the good ecology underneath. So I've reverted to a local version of Hugelkultur . Until I get worms in residence-- and that's my marker -- that organic laying on has to continue any which way. If my garden was wetter now than it is, there would be less stress out there as I know from previous seasons. But the string winds and  sun has had its impact on my shallow soils. I'm not angsting big about this as it is a challenging hobby and I learn to relate to my environment so much better as I tackle all this. 

I used a version of wicking which I describe here (it presumes there is 'some' water in the neighborhood):

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on November 10, 2012 at 13:59

There's a great deal to be said for wicking beds on sandy soil. There's a garden group on Bribie Island who had a demo about wicking beds a few years ago. Seems ideal to me. The setup for actual beds rather than the bins I use, is quite hard work but once done, they're done. You can add worms and have a 'wicking worm bed'. I always add compost and worms to give the otherwise-isolated bin some natural micro-organisms. - worth a read and with some new info since I last visited.

Comment by Dave Riley on November 10, 2012 at 9:05

I should add that there's a gardening bias against burying wood for fear of termite infestation. But the termies are all over anyway and they are welcome to my garden so long as they leave the house alone.

Comment by Dave Riley on November 10, 2012 at 9:02

Thanks Scarlett. Its' not clear but I do get deliveries of grass clippings all the time -- ie: when the grass is growing.That's my main mulch supply -- from commercial mowers. I have a spot on the nature strip set aside for deliveries.I'm not sure about the sign though as you'd never be certain what you'll get. Mulcher machined stuff is occasionally useful as a weed suppressor, of course, but the stuff I'd be after  are simple prunings....however my most reliable supply line is ready access to newsprint: two local newspaper thrown on nature strips every week and uncollected by residents.  In comparison cardboard is hard to manage. I dress with K added Blood and Bone occasionally but I'll consider Dolomite too.  My feeling is that rather than relying on organic chemical compounds I want to seed the soul with bulk -- bulk that serves as a sponge. While my methods have been very effective  they have not been deep enough.  So working on that dimension is my next goal. As I say, trench mulching works and has better consequence than sheet mulching methods. 

Comment by Scarlett on November 9, 2012 at 20:19

If you make a bay out the front of your house with a sign, people will often dump their prunings and lawn clippings there for you, rather than paying to have them taken away - although you have to be specific in the sign so you don't end up getting unusable junk

my parents live on deep sandy soil and it has taken them twenty years of relentless sheet mulching with bark chippings (free from the local council) by the trailer load to build up about 10cm of decent dark topsoil. they also spread blood and bone and manure (even though they have a native garden - but they had to watch what/ where they planted). I suspect pulverised charcoal - for the potassium and also for the activated carbon soil building/ water holding capacity/ cation exchange would be a good addition. try dolomite too for the magnesium - very sticky for organic complexes to build on.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on November 9, 2012 at 15:57

Your results from buried junk mail speak for themselves! The Hugelkultur idea is a brilliant one, giving a mix of types of material and sizes with odd air-pockets. Scarlett wrote something about leaving rough mulch on the surface under trees to allow various creatures to make their homes amongst it. I guess that the Hugelkultur is similar only buried.

There's posts and some pix on Hugelkultur on this forum. Not sure anyone has followed-up though, I know I didn't.

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