Broad Valley Orchard

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Hugeling past Near Record Rains (and Snow)


It has been far too long since I have had a few minutes to sit down and relate the insanity I have been caught up in this awful wet year.  September and October set some records.  Of special note was a wet snowy Nor-Easter that hit us just before Halloween Eve.  Although we have seen  rare October snow flurries before in our 28 years here, they have been light and quickly melted.  This storm was like nothing I’ve seen before, and hope never to see again.

Many lower elevation sites around here saw 4″ of snow.  Since it was falling on trees still in leaf, it caused some tree limbs to crash, many of them taking down power and phone lines, and blocking roads, and even collapsing sheds.  Up here on our 1200′ inter-montane ridge we got 14″ of snow.  I spent ten hours frantically clearing snow off our hoop houses which were groaning under the load.  I also had to get up on a ladder, and clear the ice and snow dams off our spouting.  I actually got up on our carport, and the ‘snow trap’ that our goat barn became, lest it come crashing down.  At 62 I’m getting too old for such roof-dancing!

September had been or record-setting month for rain (16.7″), and our soil was awash, too, unable to channel away the snow melt.  This wet summer we lost too many crops in our very fertile (but very damp) lower garden.  We have a semi-artesian well up here at the house.  This aquifer’s underground ‘stream’ usually expresses itself several feet under under this lower garden, meaning we seldom need to irrigate.

But this year,  it surfaced in the garden, causing washouts and root rot.  Usually we are able to channel its minor run-off with a series of shallow interceptors (between the raised beds) that flow into a center drain, and down into our wet wood lot.  This year we futilely mucked out these trenches three times while they continually  silted up from the slumping raised beds.  I admit, I was at wits end, and considering resuming my former failed career as a drunk.  But then I looked at our little 12′ x 16′ “Test Hugel” which held up to the floods, did not sink, and seemed erosion proof.

So rather than get depressed, I got angry.  Armed with our chainsaws, Matt from Heathcote,  and I took down a bunch of standing dead  pine and spruce snags, and also ‘worked’ three big piles of  downed rotting trees, that had crashed in previous year’s windstorms.  By the time we got done, I had several big piles of rotting wood, totaling 6 1/2 cords.  I then picked up a shovel.

We have had a lot of experience dealing with run-off; the state road has ditches running down our east and west properties lines, which had been gaping 8′ deep erosional nightmares.  For nearly three decades I have been building check dams, and planting trees along the ditches’, so their roots can help stabilize it.  We then back fill these check dams with woody debris.  Over the years these erosional eyesore have self-filled to 4′ deep.  We also have a troublesome goat path (as well as troublesome goats).  The barn drainage flows down their ‘goat path’ to our main field, and was turning into another ditch.  We used old de-nailed Black Locust fence posts to make a “cordoroy” road for them to walk on.

So, when I learned about Hugelkulture from Heathcote Community’s PermaCulture Design Course, I decided to expand my Hugel efforts.  The first, second and third phases of this plan were to created a 140′ long, 3′ wide, and 18″ deep east and west interceptor trenches running along the contour, which both halves sloping down to the low center of the Lower Garden.

There, they converge with a 25′ long, 2 foot wide, and 1′ deep  Main Drain, which flows perpendicular to the contour.  This is filled with 2 foot lengths of big, water-logged White Ash logs that had fallen into a swamp.  This ditch is not covered with dirt, so if it silts, I can pull them out and re-muck the ditch.  So far, the bit of water passing thru it is clear.  I have observed that the lower garden (under a cover crop of  winter rye and hairy vetch) has now remained dry even after heavy rains.

We are so impressed by this success (no matter how much back-breaking hand labor was involved) that we are using the remaining 1/2 cord of Hugel wood to re-build a couple run-off  distressed beds in our 2 hoop houses.  The first results of this look very promising.

Now I look forward to next season when we plant the two new “Mega Raised Bed”  Hugels!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        thom

PS:  When the October blizzard ended and the sun came out, it was rather surreal, watching surviving trees melt out to reveal leaves still in full autumn colors, and bright green grass showing from under snow drifts.

PPS:  We must also thank our CSA workers, as well as the student gardeners from Gettysburg, Wilson, and Dickinson Colleges for making this project a reality

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