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Hugel Hoops: The Circle of Life

The latest landscape feature at our urban permaculture home spins me right round, baby. If you are too young to get the reference, make yourself useful and grab my Geritol® while I talk about it.

The topography of our suburban lot is as typical as you can imagine. It’s flat from the street to the fence at the rear of the property. The feature that makes it a dream for teenage lawn mowers across the country makes it less-than-ideal for permaculture purposes. Let me explain…

One of the foundations of a permaculture design is water. You want to keep as much of that good stuff on the property as possible, slowing its movement when heavy rains would normally cause it to make a beeline for the nearest storm drain. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, including rain barrels, heavy mulching, and swales, but the easiest way to slow its journey is to give it a few twists and turns.

Hugel Hoop Building at My Earth Garden

Think back to the last time you were on a long stretch of road, so straight you could see the curve of the earth ahead. You’re all alone on that road, so of course your foot gets a little heavy on that pedal.

Curves AheadThen you get to a few hairpin curves in the road. What do you do? Slow down, of course. The same principle applies to water. If you want it to have more time to soak in before it leaves your land, you need to give it a reason to stick around.

So now that you understand why flat land is no bueno for permaculture, you will better understand the mechanics behind the brand-new hugel hoop I just completed in the front yard. A hugel hoop is the perfectly-named creation of the folks at Our Fertile Earth in Jacksonville, Florida, based on the centuries-old composting process known as Hügelkultur.

Hügelkultur is a method that mimics the natural decomposition and composting process that happens in the woods.  Felled trees and branches line the base of a ditch, and are covered with wood chip mulch, leaves, and other fine debris. The lot is then covered with soil, creating a hill or mound. The mound can then be planted, the buried materials act as a water sponge while they decompose and add nutrients to the soil.

In a hugel hoop, the process is used to form a large ring around a tree, beyond the root line. This creates an ongoing food supply for the tree while simultaneously creating a water collecting basin at the tree’s base.

Hugel Hoop in Process

The photo above shows the hugel hoop in-process. The right side has been dug and filled with limbs and mulch.

I dug a trench about ten inches deep around our peach tree. The bottom was then lined with branches, followed by enough wood chip mulch to create a mound about six to eight inches above ground level. I soaked the ring thoroughly, giving the wood a chance to drink up all of the water it could.

On top of the mulch was added a layer of shredded leaves, which were then covered with the dirt I removed from the trench. At this point, the hoop is rather substantial and ready for planting. It should be protected with a layer of straw before watering everything in to help keep the soil in place while everything settles.

Below is a basic design sketch of the planting scheme for this area. As you can see, there will be a lot of herbs (5 different types), as well as edible annual flowers that will be used to adorn salads throughout the season.Peach Tree Hugel Hoop Planting

Photos of the completed hoop coming soon!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Robert Kourik June 7, 2015, 6:45 pm

    Nature does not “The lot is then covered with soil, creating a hill or mound. ” in the woods/forest.

    • Michael Nolan July 2, 2015, 11:47 am

      I’d suggest you look again.

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