Ask a Question forum: Hugelkultur wood

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Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
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BarbaraSATX
Jun 6, 2015 8:16 AM CST
I created a border for my little 'wildflower area' using branches from a neighbor's discarded Chinaberry tree, and I also used same branches to create a Hugelkultur bed. Much to my dismay some of the branches are now sprouting and growing leaves - in both the border and in the hugelkultur bed.

I can easily dismantle the border and put all the branches on the curb for organic pickup - but I have sweet potatoes and cantaloupes growing in the hugelkultur bed and I really don't want to tear it apart now. I have used pruner to cut out the sprouting parts that I can see. However, I'm concerned about whether it will continue inside the bed and I just can't see it.

Any suggestions?

kalahari
Jul 15, 2015 12:26 PM CST
Hi Barbabra,

Hope all is well.

The best answer I have for you as a young gardener is to coppice them. This will stunt the root growth too.

I was so glad to find your question clearly stating you have vegetables growing in your hugel made of chinaberry wood. Everything I've researched says the wood is too allelopathic for a veggie garden. We live in the Kalahari desert in South Africa. We have this wood in abundance as most all farmers see them as too messy to keep long term and cut them off once a year.

I would like to ask however if you have experienced any allelopathy (stunted, not fruiting or seedlings not germinating) in this chinaberry bed.

Happy Gardening,

Waldo & Tilani
[Last edited by kalahari - Jul 15, 2015 12:27 PM (+)]
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Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
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BarbaraSATX
Jul 16, 2015 8:06 AM CST
Thumb of 2015-07-16/BarbaraSATX/975cf2

Waldo and Tilani, I have to admit I had to 'google' the word coppice and learned it simply means to cut them off as that is what I did.

I didn't know there was a problem of allelopathy with the Chinaberry, melia azedarach. I knew I couldn't use cedar which is readily available here in Texas. My neighbor cuts her tree back every year and I simply helped myself to those branches she had put at the curb for recycling to pick up. Had no idea I shouldn't use it.

I found this as part of a info article I read: Ecological Threat: Chinaberry outcompetes native vegetation due to its high relative resistance to insects and pathogens. Its leaf litter raises soil pH, thus altering soil conditions for native plants and seed germination. Chinaberry is a very fast growing tree that reaches 18 - 24 feet in height in 4 - 5 years. May reach 50 - 60 feet in total height.

Re your question about whether things are growing. I planted 4 cantaloupe plants and many acorn and butternut squash seeds. Only two cantaloupes survived and they were very small, but I think it was my fault due to lack of enough water. I wound up putting them in the trash. The squash seeds germinated like crazy, but we have had a great deal of rain during April and May so I think lack of insect activity to germinate was the reason I didn't get very many squash. (Maybe the bees didn't like the Chinaberry?) I did harvest a butternut squash yesterday and it seemed normal to me. I also have 8 sweet potato plants and they are growing nicely. Whether I actually harvest potatoes next month remains to be seen.

I was thinking ... when I built the hugel I used dried leaves and mushroom compost. Maybe that had something to do with the seeds and plants growing so well? Maybe in some way they counteracted the negative aspect of the chinaberry?

The bottom line is I haven't a clue. I've sure made many mistakes while attempting to garden in my small space. I've made every attempt to be an organic gardener so maybe my good intentions are helping things grow. Now that I know about the negative affects of the chinaberry I will most likely pull the chinaberry branches out of it and add something else. The base of the hugel is ash tree logs, or at least I think they are. I gathered them from another neighbor's recycling pile as well. HOWEVER, if I did up healthy sweet potatoes I will leave everything as it is.

Thanks so much for responding and I'll definitely let you know my results.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Jul 16, 2015 8:53 AM CST
Tell me about the problem with cedar. I use it to mount epiphytic plants.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
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BarbaraSATX
Jul 16, 2015 9:35 AM CST
Ken, absolutely love your 50/50/90 rule! Definitely seems to be how things turn out for me.

I know there are some trees that shouldn't be used because of their chemical makeup. I thought cedar was not used mainly because it takes FOREVER to break down - and that is what you want in a hugelkultur, for it to breakdown and feed whatever you have planted. This link lists the various woods you shouldn't use: http://gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/412/what-woods-...

I think alot of it has to do with what you intend to grow. Your epiphytic plants don't actually draw food from the wood, correct? You are simply using it for something for them to adhere to.

This was my first year to have a hugel. I pretty much flailed around until I had what I thought was right. Mine is small 4' x 8' so if using the chinaberry turns out to be totally wrong I can dig it up and start over. :)
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Jul 16, 2015 9:43 AM CST
Yep, you are correct. The wood mounts I use for orchids, staghorn ferns, bromeliads, and tillandsia just use the wood to anchor to. There is no nutrient value. One of the primary reasons to chose the woods I use is the very fact that they resist rot and some of what I use won't rot for 100 years! I was not familiar with the term, hugelkultur., Barbara.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 16, 2015 10:19 AM CST
Barbara, I think if the chinaberry wood was allelopathic you'd be seeing a lot more problems with your veggies by now. Maybe it's just the leaves that fall under the chinaberry tree that suppress other plants. The wood breaking down under the soil probably wouldn't secrete enough of the stuff to affect your veggies on the surface. Plus if you are watering your veggies as I'd imagine probably daily, the allelopathic agents would be washed downwards away from your plants.

I'd proceed with optimism and keep an eye out - you have a built-in excuse for any failures now, too! Big Grin
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Jul 16, 2015 5:44 PM CST
Welcome to ATP, Waldo & Tilani! Thanks for such a helpful post.

We have 4-6 members from South Africa, but it doesn't look like any from the Kalahari Desert.

http://garden.org/users/memberlist/location.php?my_location=...

If you put an address into your "Profile", even just "Namibia", your screen name would appear on the ATP member map, and members could search on your location to find you.

Welcome! Welcome!
Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
Coppice
Jul 17, 2015 8:52 AM CST
drdawg said:I was not familiar with the term, hugelkultur.,


The theory behind hugelkultur is to create a very large raised bed of mostly waste logs. and some other yard waste. often creating a very raised bed.

The first year isn't a hugel bed most fertile. On subsequent years the logs go mostly rotten and punky, which holds water. The intent is more to store water than add fertility.

Claims of never watering the bed again has never proved true for me.

It will be several years before you can till a hugelkultur bed again, so liberal mulching is also in order.

IMO they look like a volkswagon grave yard. If you bury your hugelkultur bed enough you run the risk of an anerobic sink. I never got that on sandy soil, and have not tried it on Ohioan clay. So this last is one I can report but have no direct experience with (anerobic problems)
Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
Image
BarbaraSATX
Jul 17, 2015 9:56 AM CST
Tom, Hilarious! That is exactly what my neighbor said. She asked "who did you bury there Barbara?" Now that it is covered completely with squash and sweet potato vines I think it looks pretty cool.
Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
Coppice
Jul 18, 2015 10:35 AM CST
In the fullness of time (like year three or four) you can probably till again and your burial ground will be mostly flattened. If you are building for a post-SHTF paradise work in some home made charcoal with your hugel.

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