Input re: my yard

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by howdymr, Dec 7, 2015.

  1. howdymr

    howdymr Junior Member

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    We picked up this repo about three years ago, knowing that we had our hands full. It was crazy - totally gutted (not even cabinets in the kitchen). The yard was DEAD. There are a few trees and shrubs, but the ground was bare dirt. We didn't even have weeds that first year. So, I concentrated on making the house livable and we let the yard mostly go, doing very little.

    The second year, we started getting some weeds - mostly amaranth. I'd cut them when they started getting big, but mostly tried to leave things alone, confident that they were helping the soil. The next year it started getting a little crazy, so I'd cut more aggressively. Someone complained to the city. :/ This year the property went nuts. "Weeds" are growing everywhere. The variety of amaranth we have isn't great for food, but I figured it'd compost well and help the soil, so we just cut it and put it in a pile. It seems our perseverance has paid off, in spite of a few visits from the city. :)

    I did put in a couple of beds and worked a little on keeping water from running off our property. But that's about it, until this year.

    In order to try to create microclimates and a smooth flow around our front yard, I'm using a combination of planters, hugelmounds and paths around four trees we have. Hopefully the image helps show what I'm doing.

    The middle circles are four trees, which are all already planted. Two are mature pecans, the other two young mulberries. Around each of them (leaving 2' diameter for trees), I'm putting in 2' wide planters. I dug down about three feet (except around mature trees, obviously), then sheet mulched on my way up, with logs at the bottom. We spread woodchips on top liberally. So, it's sort of like a sunken hugelculture/sheet-mulch hybrid I guess. We call it a Sonoran planter. I have a few of them, in various shapes, that I've already built. They do nicely here in the hot Arizona climate.

    As I noted, the planters are 2' wide (to make access easy), then a path of wood chips is around each one. The next rings are six foot wide hugelmounds that I'm still working on. They'll likely have a buried french drain or similar material so I can water deeply if needed. We'll see how that goes, but it's easier to bury it in as I build than do something later. And it's an experiment i want to try out to see how it goes.

    Since we get most of our rains during monsoons, with almost all the rest coming in mid to late winter, I'd like to get at least one built so it can get a good soaking. It's slow going though, so I'm not holding my breath. Getting more wood is required and I'm having a hard time getting enough woodchips. Eventually, I'm hoping to have the entire project covered in as deep of woodchips as I can get here. Funds are pretty limited too, so I can't go as fast as I'd like. Most of it is grunt work, but not enough for me to just forge ahead.

    So far, the trees are planted, three of the inner planters are installed (finished one yesterday) and two of the path-rings are set up with woodchips. I'm working on the third one right now and should get it completed tomorrow. Then I'll try to make more of the paths to help define things and provide my boundaries.

    Any thoughts or concerns? Anything I might be missing?
     

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  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Very mandala-like design! PurplePear would be proud.
    I'm surprised that your hugelbeds work in Az ... without ongoing drip irrigation, I've not had any luck with my hugel experiments, but I'll sure be trying your sunken planter design.
    What will you be planting for cover crops on your hugels?
    Do you get any irrigation benefit from the "canal" shown in your excellent graphic?
    We have been using stones for mulch/shade/windbreak here when straw mulch is in short supply. Not sure if that would help in your situation for borders, etc.
     
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  3. howdymr

    howdymr Junior Member

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    Thanks!

    For this part of the yard, I was trying to develop some flow of movement with the parameters I'm given. It took a while to come up with this, but since the trees are equidistant apart, it seemed to flow well.

    We're checking on the canal. I've closed the gate during rain events to see how the flow is, and can see how I can use it. We're told that at one time our property was beautiful, with many fruit trees. I'm assuming the owner used the canal. But right now it isn't serviced. To open this branch they have to get a minimum amount per year, so if we're the only ones on this branch that want it, we pay the whole thing. We'll see how it goes. I'd like to eventually get the property mature enough that I can back off of needing the canal water, but it sure would be nice to get production going quickly. Municipal water isn't good quality and gets expensive quickly.

    The Sonoran planters are perfect for here. One of mine is next to the garage. Before I put it in, it was granite covered plastic. The water would literally pile up against the wall, sheeting across the garage. Obviously that's not too good for things inside, including the walls. Now it'll harvest all that water nicely. I tried to upload an image, but it's too large. I wonder if SmushIt or another compression plugin might take care of that automatically?

    I'm not sure the hugelmounds will work here without watering either. I'll run french drain piping under it so that if I can use the canal, it'll help get moisture into it. And I'll provide access, in case I want to water it that way. Since they're round, I'll vary the cover according to the angle of the sun and microclimates I'm creating. Purslane will be good for starters, with some other indigenous plants and pollinator attractors to add to the mix. We've discussed sweet potatoes too, since they spread so nicely. And we'll probably plant some trees on the SW side of a couple, since it gets the harshest sun. Bushes around the outside is an option too, perhaps wolfberry or something like that to promote the microclimate of the hugelmounds. At the very least, the mounds will help protect the Sonoran planters, even if we aren't too successful with their production.

    We aren't really using borders. It's all getting covered in all the woodchips I can get my hands on and will just sort of flow together. If I find that we need to mark the trails better, I might do something. With the areas we have done already, that's looking like it might be a problem. Another option is to simply put pavers along them, so it's more obvious. But I'm shaping the soil underneath so that the paths are higher than the planters, hopefully providing for any rain/water to tend to move off the paths and into the planters.

    A lot of this is experimental for me, because of our location. It's certainly going to look better than the patch of dirt we got when we moved in. :) Right now my wife is very intimidated by the amount of planting space I'm creating, so it could take a while to find out how much of this is working as planned and how much we'll have to adjust. The yard continues around to the right side of the house too (we're on a corner), so we have more to build once I get this section finished.
     
  4. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    it is easy to feel intimidated by such a large project, but things can happen in time, just ask her to be patient and to figure out what is most important to be done first (instead of EVERYTHING!!!!! :) :) :) )

    for our hardscaping we've got some areas that are well defined and others that are not and it works for what it is. the actual planting beds are where you really need the most definition as you don't want to walk on garden soil areas if you can help it. the rest of it could be considered pathways until you improve or amend it. if you want specific pathways then you could use stepping stones or small rocks placed at intervals as markers. we've used lines of bricks too when we can find them.

    we have tons and tons of crushed rinsed limestone as a mulch. it reflects a lot of light. for some areas to create some variety we have brought in bags of colored rocks or different types of rocks to fill. i've done small walls to create borders and then as we get closer to actual dirt i switch to wood and wood chips.

    we also have things like rust gardens, broken old glass gardens, bottle gardens, driftwood, etc. pretty much whatever we can find that looks interesting.

    edit: i forgot to mention the many other things we've done here like the mirror pyramid, the wishing well, the lighthouse, the birdbaths, the rock pie, spirals of rocks, etc. it has taken many years, but we've had a lot of fun and we keep at it.

    the other p.s. is that all of that stuff has been moved a wheelbarrow or bucket at a time.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
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