Thursday, March 27, 2014

Growing Grapes in Hugle Mounds

As mentioned in the wood burning stove post, there is a grove of trees near my drain field. I don't want rooting to become a problem, so they were recently cut down. The trunks and large branches were cut up for firewood, but there were a ton of smaller branches. The first idea was to stack them up and rent an industrial chipper shredder, one large enough that comes on its own trailer. Unfortunately, this would cost a couple of hundred dollars and be a pain to maneuver back to the area.

As I was stacking the branches along the fence line, another idea came to mind. Why not build hugle mounds and plant into them? A hugle mound is a mound with a wood core and organic matter over the wood core. Plants are planted into the mound and the wood retains water as it breaks down.  By holding more water there is less of a need to irrigate. The breaking down of wood adds more bacteria and fungi to the soil as well as organic material. This in-turn helps the plants thrive.

The wood was stacked in a U shape, sort of a sun trap with the opening facing south. I'm not sure how this idea will work, but it was worth a try. The wood covered about 50 feet in length with a width of 3 foot and a height of about 2 foot. There was even enough wood left over to make another 10 foot stretch of mound in a shadier area.

With all this wood, the question quickly becomes where to get enough organic material to cover it. A quick search on craigslist revealed that horse manure is given away by the truck load. Some horse boarding facilities even load with a tractor, others are hand load. The manure is generally mixed with pine or cedar shavings or sawdust. Most of the manure found was well seasoned with thousands of worms in it; therefore, there was no fear of it being too hot for plants. It took about 15 yards of manure in 6 different loads to cover all the mounds.

Even though, the manure was seasoned, I still did not want to plant into it. Therefore, I picked up an additional 7 yards of a compost soil mix from a local wood recylcer to put on top of the manure. While this ended up costing about $200 in my mind it was better spent money than a chipper. At the end of the project there was over 60 feet of 3 foot tall mounds to plant into.

The biggest problem with the horse manure is it has grass seeds in it. Therefore, covering with compost helped kill a lot of the grass that has started to sprout. Unfortunately, some grass is growing through the clean compost. Therefore, vetch, clover and Austrian snow pea were planted into the mounds. All three are legumes and fix nitrogen in the soil. When the weather warms the legumes will be cut back inside the circle. The goal is to plant squash, flowers and herbs into the mounds on the inside. The outside will be left as nitrogen fixers and be used to feed our rabbits. On top of the mounds grapes and honey berries have already been planted.  Finally, on the mound that has more shade currents were planted on top.

After this project, I rethought horse manure. I think horse manure would be great for adding fertility to a pasture.  Possibly sheet mulching on top of it would have suppressed the grass growing back through.