Homestead Heaps to Hugelkultur

When we purchased our “raw” land, there were no buildings, no home, nothing but trees and grasses. After the purchase we received a letter from the former owner who used the land for camping with family.  She explained that when they owned the land there had been an old Finnish homestead (very typical in this area), including one remaining building, the home. It was in such poor condition that they tore it down for safety reasons. We now know exactly where that home was, the stone foundation remains (and we intend to leave it), along with some of the wood from the floor. We love to think about the history of this homestead and it became obvious to us that it is here because there is an established orchard, rock wall and posts with barbed wire, a patch of rhubarb, two old wells (now filled in for safety) and various other clues that I could go on and on about.

The snow is melted and the grasses have just started growing, as this is our first spring here, we are begining to notice stuff that is around that has been here long before us.  One specific area near our yurt has several heaps of old rotting wood.  In the summer, the wood piles are hiding from sight in tall grasses and heirloom roses (also a sign of an old homestead). But now that I can see the old piles of rotting wood, I feel the need for clean up. But, what to do with it? Well, we have the perfect solution: build a hugelkultur!  A what?!

Midwest Permaculture defines that “Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth.” If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of hugelkultur, read on what Permaculture Magazine has to say about it.

A quick snapshot of what we did:

1.) Uncover all the rotting wood, various spots within and next to the orchard.

2.) Move the wood to our two spots we determined would be good for hugelkultur. The wood ranged from 10 foot hand sawn 8×8 inch logs to decayed crumbled pieces. Moving it all by hand was a tiring but felt so productive.

3.) Once completed, we moved dirt (with a tractor thankfully) from a pile we had excavated from the yurt site prior to the yurt build and dumped it on top of the hugelkultur.

4.) We completed 2 hugelkulturs.  1 is approximately 5 feet high and 20 feet long.  The other is smaller, at approximately 3 feet high and 10 feet long.

A dream of mine is to create a food forest amongst the current original homestead orchard.  The hugelkultur are integrated into that space and will be home to plants that provide food.

5.) The last step was to plant some trees and bushes to get our food forest started. We planted 5 Hazelnut bushes, 3 Highbush Cranberry, bushes and 2 Patriot Blueberry bushes.

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Build in process. Large wood at the bottom, piling branches and twig sized wood on top, and a final layer of small chips, grasses, mulch. Last layer is dirt, not shown here.
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Tim atop the hugelkultur! Working to even it out to get it ready to plant.

Another benefit to the hugelkultur is that as our nut and berry bushes grow, it will create a visual barrier from the road toward the yurt.  We very rarely have any traffic, however, I still love to guarantee my privacy.

We strive to practice permaculture methods here at White Sky Woods Homestead, so building the hugelkultur, which a method promoted by permaculture guru Sepp Holzer, seemed a natural fit.   If we didn’t have the materials, perhaps this wouldn’t have made a lot of sense, but the hugelkultur allowed us to clean up the homestead and unload a huge pile of dirt we’ve had sitting around.  Plus, it got us moving on the food forest dream I have.  Hopefully more on this in a future blog.

While we uncovered wood, we also uncovered other things…..glass bottles, tin cans, beer bottles, Michigan Licsence plate from 1954, intact door with porclein handle….and more!  Check out this Facebook post and weigh in on our findings!

The next week is fully focused in the garden, my happy place!

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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Meet the Livestock at our Homestead!

It hasn’t been yet a year since our move and our homestead has been growing and has more growth on the way.  Coming into this, we had very little (ok, none whatsoever) experience with livestock. First we just had our chickens. You can meet the flock here. Right off the bat we saw how each of them was different in personality. Flora (our 8 year old), quickly corrected me to say they do not have personalities, they have CHICKENalities. Clever girl. The rooster from that original flock fell ill and didn’t survive, it was our first homestead fatality. The hens however have been laying faithfully, survived the long winter, and took kindly to our replacement Rooster – Alabaster.

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Alabaster – The Rooster

Last fall we also brought home 2 pigs. The pigs have given us many exciting, humorous and frustrating times.  Just click here for Nat’s explaination of his recent escape.  In months where there is no snow cover, our pigs are pastured, eating a natural diet and tilling up our soil for future crop planting. In winter, we cleaned up the pen daily and kept them happy with fresh bedding. Our first agenda with these pigs is to breed them and sell the piglets as feeder pigs. All signs show that our female, Frannie, is pregnant and due in mid-June. Time will tell what our long range plan for keeping pigs will be, but they have been very enjoyable to have around! They are living happy lives, I mean, c’mon….just see here:

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Pig Snuggles. Frannie (Pink), Nat (Brown).

Our newest edition was an ask from Flora. She even paid for 2 of her own! DUCKS! Yes, they have duckinalities… 😉 The kids are adoring on them. The goal is to keep the females from each breed and 1 male from each breed. Perhaps in the future we can allow them to raise some young to have more ducks for eggs and/or meat. Any extra males will make a meal that we will be so very thankful for. The ducklings are currently 1 week old. We have 2 Cayuga’s (black ducks) and 6 Swedish Blue (Yellow ducks). They live inside until it’s warm enough and they develop their feathers.  Then they will go out and till up our garden for us. Major AWWWWW-factor here:

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In May and June our livestock population should grow.  First, chickens. We will be working on having one of our chickens “go broody” and sit on eggs from our flock.  If we can grow our own flock, it’s a sustainable way of providing more food (eggs) for our family.  If all goes smoothly, we should have chicks in late May.  In mid-June if our calculation for Frannie’s due date is correct, we should have piglets!  As someone who is new at all this, I’m hoping for a successful delivery for her, and a small litter.  Time will tell!

The animals have really made the homestead complete. While there were some cold, winter snowy days that I dreaded animal chores, I am so happy they were out there giving me reason to get out, get fresh air, and get moving. The little extra effort is well worth the reward.

What should be next?  Comment on what type of livestock we should consider for our homestead and why!