Hugelkultur. Hoo-gull-kull-two-er. No, I have not just gone mad (or should that rightly be madder). Hugelkultur is a real word, albeit a German one. It’s a way of building a raised (or sunken) garden bed. Ok, now I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself but I’m not. Hugelkultur is where a base of logs are covered in nitrogenous materials then soil, built up like a berm of earth then planted out. They’re a cool thing I tell you. 🙂 And after receiving a blog post that linked me to this page I did some further reading. The sounded cool. They look cool. They happen to work well when built on a bed of certain trees including poplar. Ok, easy. I’m in! 😀
We have several piles of chopped down poplar branches, leaves and logs all needing moving, drying and burning as we figured that was one of our only options. Once I read this though I figured I could lash up one of these easily enough. I started up Trevor our tractor, loaded in some branches and, with 2 kids riding in the trailer too, drove the branches around the front and lined them up on the cardboard base I’d laid out. Now, normally these are built using logs, and fresh cut are best, but for a practice run I used what I had, some large logs and lots of branches with leaves.
My hugelkultur bed is not the best looking thing but it IS a hugelkulture and I’m stoked. Being the height of summer, we have nothing here that even closely resembles grass, let alone something I can mow and use for nitrogenous materials so my brain ticked over for a second or 3 until I remembered that I really needed to clean out the chooks nesting boxes. I cleaned out the old sawdust and straw and of course all of the poo they so sweetly deposit into their bedding and spread it over my branches. Not enough but I will feed the bed with nitrogen to counteract the limited supply available at the time. I then purchased a cubic metre of compost soil as we also have nothing resembling soil here I could use or even easily access and hey presto, I have my very first hugelkultur garden bed built. I am thinking that planting it with some form of vining flower will work well as it will cover it over and help hold the soil in place whilst it settles and begins to break down. I am planning to finish building our raised veggie beds tomorrow and depositing the rest of the branches we’ve cut down into the bottom of the beds before loading soil and compost in on top. Waste not want not hey. 🙂 I may also get my long suffering husband, if time and energy and all that permit, to chop down another poplar for me in order to build another bed but I suspect that may have to wait until next weekend. 🙂
Now the concept of these types of garden beds is to harness the energy inside the wood and expend it slowly, over say 10-20 years rather than over 30 minutes when the wood is burned or just chopped up or mulched. They are often built over 2 metres high and over time decompose down much lower. They increase the available garden surface area (I’m sure I’ve just found my first ever use for parabolas in real life application – DAMN!) and they also retain water beautifully as the logs will soak it up and allow you to not water or irrigate the beds. I also plan to use ours to direct water away from where we don’t want it, like swales or channels as our front garden is a little uneven at this point in time and tends to gather water where it’s not desirable. Why not have some beautiful little hills of flowers and greenery doing the job for us? 😀
They are also a great way to grow veggies. From what I’ve read, plants like pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis and presumably all their relatives love these raised garden beds and will do their bit to help hold it in place and prevent erosion and the beds help them too by providing moisture where it’s wanted and not where it isn’t and helping them grow better. Win win there. 🙂 Trees planted near them will also benefit from the nutrients in the beds and from the fungi that help to break down the logs. Strawberries would also do well as they go well on raised beds/mounds anyway. Imagine having your front path flanked by 2 hills of chest height absolutely covered by beautiful strawberry plants in flower and later, fruiting!
Now, as I mentioned before, they can also be built up to be level with the ground or indeed even lowered in to cause a water trap in arid areas. It just depends on what your starting level is. Either dig a trench or lay flat on the ground, a tightly packed layer of logs. Either long logs in a pyramid shape or shorter logs put together tightly like a puzzle. Big logs at the bottom, smaller ones on top. If you have freshly mown grass then this is perfect for your nitrogen layer although I guess any nitrogen rich source would do. Chicken or horse manure I am thinking should work well. Top it off them with your soil. If you’ve dug out an area in which to build your hugelkultur then you will have soil a-plenty. 🙂 Water it well and I am thinking it would be best to plant out quickly too to prevent erosion from wind and rain. Voila, a hugelkultur garden bed. 😀
Other advantages of hugelkultur beds are that the added nitrogen causes the soil to warm up as basically you have a layer of hot compost under your soil which means you may be able to plant out your gardens earlier and the increased planting space will allow you to increase your plants. Depending on how high your beds are you may end up with a LOT more surface area. I think they sounds like a completely amazing idea and plan to put in a few more around the place. If I can talk Martin into getting goats we will be able to utilise every part of our poplar trees – the goats can eat the leaves, small branches and even the bark and the larger branches can be used to build garden beds or be seasoned for burning in Ignisa. I am just happy at this point that I can now remove all the piles of branches and leaves dotting our back garden which are not only unsightly and in the way, but also snake havens. They will hopefully be gone by the end of tomorrow. 🙂
Now, if I plan to do all that work tomorrow then I had better get myself off to bed. Night all. 🙂