This summer, I used my LTE to investigate the water holding capacity of hugelkultur beds in order to assess their possible application to areas impacted by land degradation and karst rocky desertification (KRD). That sentence included quite a bit of jargon, so let me back up a bit and define a couple of terms.
  1. Hugelkultur (hoogle-culture): a permaculture or permanent/sustainable agriculture method where, most basically put, you bury logs to create a mound you can plant on. It was first developed by Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzter, with the aim of taking advantage of the natural nutrient cycling and moisture conserving properties of rotting wood.
  2. Karst rocky desertification: a karst environment that, as a result of human influence and climate change, becomes more desert-like. It is often precipitated by large amounts of soil erosion; without soil to hold it at the surface, water quickly sinks to an in accessible depth.

laffoonhugel

No previous research has been done concerning hugelkultur, so I started by
evaluating the water holding capacity of hugels already establish around Bowling Green by collecting and drying biweekly soil samples. This allowed me to project the amount of water that could potentially be held in one hectare of hugel. When compared to water-saturated soil from a mock KRD area, the hectare held 3 to 10 times more water.

This research experience provided me the opportunity to not only learn more about hugelkultur, but also to share my knowledge with others. Over the course of the fall I was able to share my research at an urban agriculture workshop, both a local and state-wide Sierra Club conference, and at the annual National Cave and Karst Management Symposium. I’ve learned so much about how to communicate my ideas clearly and have grown much more confident in public speaking.

It was discouraging at some points—it is a little difficult to study desertification during one of the wettest summers—but such is the nature (pun absolutely intended) of environmental and agricultural research. But each challenge is just another opportunity to stretch my problem solving muscles. The Lifetime Experience Grant gave me the opportunity to challenge myself and build up essential skills for a future career in agriculture, or really, a career in anything.
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