Center for Sustainable Community November Perma-Blitz

(See this Perma-Blitz’s description and invitation in this former post.)

The Center for Sustainable Community November Perma-Blitz went well for our first Perma-Blitz. Our aim is to create a no-cost skill-building Permaculture Event (Perma-Blitz) each month. We also hope to be able to support some local permaculture Meetup groups around the state once a month. The organizers of the November Perma-Blitz were Hayden Wilson, Ernest Rando, and Megan Krintz.  Our participants were Steven, Ruth, Wayne, Drew, Bill Wilson, and Jodi from the Suburban Chicago Permaculture Guild.

We set out to build a Hugelkultur Keyhole garden bed with the Hugelkultur beds dug into the ground. The details are in the photos, but we used a space about 18′ x 23′. At the highest spot we placed a large compost pile ring (in the center of the garden bed), but then slightly sloped the soil away from the compost pile and then leveled it out so that the water settles into the body of the Hugelkultur beds. The wood in the beds will then soak up all the water like a sponge. We hope to grow all the compost that is needed and soak up and store all the water that we need within the keyhole garden bed area. Next year, we are going to measure and pay more attention to the garden resources and yields, and we hope our only input is seed! We also had time to double dig one of the beds in an experimentation plot as well. Enjoy the photos.

This is the east bed 4′ x 18′ flagged for digging. We will turn this bed into a Hugelkultur bed.  The bed at the edge of the photo we double dug into our rich soil, but there is still a lot of clay in our soil once you go down 3 inches. The western-most bed which is out of frame is the no till or light till traditional garden bed. We won’t use any chemicals and we hope to establish a perennial guild that supplies compost, perennial fruit crops, herbs, and annual greens.
This is a picture of the east bed and central bed. You can see that we have a lot of grass in our community garden. We hope to be able to grow our own mulch so that we can eventually wood chip the areas that are intensively cultivated.
 After the experimental beds we flagged out the keyhole garden. We basically have a 6′ wide ‘U’ shape. We will have a large compost ring made out of garden fencing in the center of the ‘U’ shape. The ‘legs’ of the keyhole are at a lower elevation than the compost bin. The legs also have a level trench in the center of them to collect water for our giant sponge.
 Laying down tarps is very helpful when it comes to hand shovels and earth works. We dug down about a foot all the way around. You can start to see the shape now.
 Here is Jodi from the Suburban Chicago Permaculture Meetup group. You can also see how the first leg of keyhole bed has a level trench going through the middle. Once we pile on the logs, wood chips. and soil we hope that we will have created slight microclimates because of the angle of the beds.
Here is a good close up shot of the bed and our soil which has a couple hundred feet of clay beneath the soil you see here. And of course the Midwest Permaculture mascot (Macy the dog) proudly serving and helping out.
  Here is a look at the logs that we used to build the foundation. You can see that we wanted logs of many different types and ages. Many of these had simply fallen down in the community orchard.  We found a good use for them.
 Then we piled on wood chips and filled in the gaps. The more different types of wood that you can use,  the healthier your Hugelkultur bed will be.
 We also wanted to make sure we put down a layer of soil before adding another layer of wood. Realizing we should have mixed the soil and wood chips instead of layering the two materials, we made sure that on the other leg of the Hugelkulture bed we would lay down the wood chips and dirt together. We think it is possible that the the materials could potentially create an impenetrable layer that would prevent moisture movement. I guess we will find out next spring.
  This is the garden fence compost ring (R). Basically we want to come back in five to ten years and dig up this stump and see how long it takes to decompose. We are hoping to keep it filled with chop-and-drop material from the keyhole bed. It would be interesting to try and demonstrate a system that needed no additional inputs other than perhaps seed from other places in the garden.
 Stephen and Megan made a most delicious meal for us in the afternoon and helped build the Hugelkultur bed in the latter part of the day.
 Here is a really good picture of both legs of the Hugelkultur bed. You can see the second layer of wood on the left. Featured in this pic is Wayne Malchow. He often gives tours of his indoor cob rocket mass heater stove and straw bale garage. His home is also made from AAC block which is an aerated concrete that is super light, easy to build with, and has a great R value. He also keeps some hens and bees.
We used a truck bed and a half of woodchips to fill into the Hugelkultur bed. That is Mint Creek Farm’s goatherd out in the distance.
Layers of wood chips and dirt, not to mention so many worms we dug up!
 This is the end of the morning on day two of the Perma-Blitz. We got some new helpers as those from day one could not stay overnight. Drew Wilkerson (R) lives in Stelle.  We often give tours of their passive solar home during our Open Houses. Steven, our t-shirt guy, videographer, and past Permaculture student, also came down and helped out as well. He is active in a few projects in the St. Louis area and a pretty good chap to boot! All we had left to do was lay down a cover crop of clover and some other seeds and toss on the straw.
 This is the double-dug bed, one of the experimentation beds.  We removed the top layer onto a tarp, and then moved the slightly compacted soil beneath. When it was finished, this bed was about half a foot higher than the ground. Sadly, we didn’t have time to get the test Hugelkultur bed dug yet, but we got a lot accomplished during this Perma-Blitz. It was also good to see past students getting more permaculture practice. Spending time with new friends and old and doing something to make the world better than when you found it is what permaculture is all about.

I hope these Perma-Blitzes will not only help us become more aware of the Permaculture projects that are going on across the state and Midwest, but to be able to provide some hands-on learning and sharing experiences for Midwest Permaculture Graduates and anyone else interested in taking a design course in the future.

We plan on having a December Perma-Blitz on Dec 22nd on orchard pruning, and hopefully we can schedule a trip in January to help the Suburban Chicago Permaculture Meet-Up group or have a tool sharpening event with them.

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