And today I built a…

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. πŸ™‚ And after receiving a blog post that linked me to this pageΒ 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! πŸ˜€

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 logs, branches and leaves laid out on a cardboard base. I'm not sure if the cardboard is necessary or not.

My logs, branches and leaves laid out on a cardboard base. I’m not sure if the cardboard is necessary or not.

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

My scant nitrogen source.

My scant nitrogen source scattered over the branches.

Starting to load on the soil.

Starting to load on the soil.

 

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? πŸ˜€

Nice and easy to harvest too

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ˜€

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. πŸ™‚

Now, if I plan to do all that work tomorrow then I had better get myself off to bed. Night all. πŸ™‚

 

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22 thoughts on “And today I built a…

  1. narf77 says:

    I think that you can use Hugelkultur on big or small scale. I inadvertently discovered this with chopping up limbs of trees and hurling them into the base of some garden beds that we made the week after my mum died (in an act of pure guilt πŸ˜‰ ). I chopped up the branches (about 3 – 4cm across) into 10 – 12cm pieces and tossed them into the base of the coregated iron garden beds and heaped up their leaves and whatever else I could grummage on top. NO thought process…just pure miserated guilt that I hadn’t made my veggie garden beds before mum died and that I was too stubborn to make an old lady happy! They got left (as they do…) and when we decided to make REAL veggie garden beds (doing research and EVERYTHING…), being the economical and monetarily challenged hippies that we are, we decided to use these garden beds as the base for our new garden beds. We hauled them by wheelbarrow over to the other side of the property (don’t ask…guilt makes you do strange things and putting our first beds underneath the wattle trees in the shade shows just how clueless we were for horticulturalists delving into a new area of horticulture πŸ˜‰ ) and deposited them in the base of our new raised garden beds. Once they were topped with our black gold compost, heaps of horse muck straw (spent bedding) and planted out we noticed that the garden beds that we used the chunky branches in have been the best for productivity. I know it has to do with air spaces, and allowing the microorganisms to have somewhere to move about in and live and I know that it has something to do with retaining moisture and fungal (mycorrhizae) development and I KNOW it is magic :). Those beds proved to me that nature is amazing. I am planning on reducing all of the smaller branches that we don’t use on Brunhilda to chunklets to put into a heap and use in the base of our new garden beds we are building in autumn… Mini Hugelkultur…”Hugelkulturettes” πŸ˜‰
    Not sure about the “vining flower?” Be careful of vining flowers! Vinca major, morning glory…terrifying things! You could try kudzu, at least you can eat the root! :). I would use ground covers like strawberries and lettuce or plant pumpkins directly into the soil. May as well get something out of it as well πŸ™‚
    I get the feeling that when Martin hears “MAAAAARTIIIIN” these days he hides! ;). Steve can often be found (hiding) busy in his shed these days πŸ˜‰
    Another great thing about Hugelkultur beds is that they can act as swales to redirect water flow, collect water at their base and retain water for times when the soil needs it. A perfect example is a drain that was dug out last year and heaped up on the side of the road (lazy council didn’t want to haul away the dirt so they left it behind the drain…) and it is green (including the drain that is full of blackberries) where the rest of the drain is bone dry and full of dead tumbleweeds! (I should read ahead before I comment but the West Tamar council are not the only lazy bollocks in Sidmouth and I am going to leave that bit in πŸ˜‰ )
    Is it raining in Ballan? It certainly is here! I love your energy Jessie…so much of it! Can I have a bit?!!! By the way, Audrey made the most amazing chocolate cake and cinnamon muffins yesterday and said “HI” from Serendipity Farm :). Steve sampled them all (along with some English muffins that we won’t talk about but that turned out more like pikelets…need to make the mix thicker next time πŸ˜‰ ). And the chocolate cake got some soured kefir (the grains have gone ballistic and have joined together in a floating raft of great happiness) coffee icing to seal the deal…DELISH! I also learned that to get a less sour starter you feed it twice a day if it’s out on the counter! With everything that I know about cooking and baking that makes TOTAL sense now…pity my brain didn’t have the sense to work that out when I was wrestling with my lactobacilli rich Herman! He could set concrete he was so rich! ;). Have a great day Hugelkulturing and think of me sitting inside in the warm with a mug of tea saluting your extreme energy whilst reading the rest of my Patricia Cornwall novel πŸ˜‰

    • You have rain?! Oh I am so JEALOUS! We are due some light showers tomorrow but no real rain here sadly. We need it.
      Guilt is indeed a strange beast. I’m glad you have learned of hugelkultur though as its a brilliant way to build gardens the penniless way and also I’m thinking, fences! πŸ˜€ A 2.1m high hugelkultur acting as a water directing swale, garden bed and front fence for both privacy and keeping kids in works for me. Not sure we’d be welcomed building them though. Not that high at least.

      Woot woot yippee for muffins and cake. I found the cake smelled funny but tasted divine and the cream cheese icing is zingalicious too. The English muffins dough needs to be thick like wet bread dough to work. Make the half batch with 7 cups of flour and a scant 3 of water which makes a thick but sticky dough. I then use a bit of flour patted on the outside to make them manageable but not kneaded in if that makes sense? Rustic muffins are nearly a staple breakfast here now. We had them yesterday but its going to be toast this morning. I have a beautiful loaf of tangy sour bread (4 days in the fridge ZING!) as well as another loaf to tackle although that would only take toast and sandwiches to be gone. πŸ™‚ We all love our sourdough here. πŸ˜€

      As for energy, my milk siphon has also siphoned off much of my energy overnight so I’m looking for motivation desperately. Energy and sleep too. 😦 Ah well, time to get up.

  2. Ingrid says:

    Parabolas indeed! Lol

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. gardenoflisa says:

    Cool! This would be a neat way to surround your property πŸ™‚

  4. narf77 says:

    I just found this…I am trying not to heave…
    http://gormandizewithus.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/chayote-con-maiz-costa-rican-chokos-and.html
    Especially for vous! πŸ˜‰

  5. LyndaD says:

    This is all too cool for words. In my permaculture course I learnt that everything had to have more than one purpose. EG. corn is not only food but also a stake for things to grow up and it creates a microclimate behind a group of them etc. These beds fulfil so many purposes they are awesome. Cant say it would work in my neat trim backyard but for those with the materials and the space, go for it. I updated my blog with two posts on my new veggie patch. Im glad we can all do our own thing and appreciate that the choices we make maybe different to what others would choose and thats OK. Im really into your kind of gardening but it doesnt suit my family or my yard. I know some will look at my beds and think OOh that must have cost a fortune (i made them if they kept reading) but that’s not the point. Not everyone grows veggies for a food source. Some do it for the love of growing something and because it adds magic to a stressful life. Im healing through growing veggies.

  6. Dave Sayers says:

    Love this idea and have never come across it. Will give it some serious reading and try myself. Great work.

    Dave
    http://tassiegerminations.blogspot.com.au/

  7. Jenny says:

    Up until just recently I had no idea what these were. I saw them on a blog somewhere and thought they were just too cool. Unfortunately we have no trees. As in none. So I don’t know how we would go about one but I’m pinning the idea for future use.

    • Keep an eye out for people chopping down trees. I don’t know if you have council tree clean ups (we do around the roads to keep them clear and presumably lower fire risk too) but they might be a way to get branches. I also saw a pic of one made out of those big round hay bales too. I have no idea if they work the same inside but externally they would and they would also offer you a windbreak for the rest of your garden. Chuck some low maintenance flower seeds on them and hey presto, pretty gardens and a windbreak in one. πŸ˜€

  8. Joolzmac says:

    Hello, I’ve hopped over from Rhonda’s DTE blog – I think the work you are doing on the land, nurturing your children in a country environment is the most important work you will ever do. I’m a bit like Rhonda, I get happy when I see other people happy, living a happy, good life.
    On another note, I was wondering if you know this Victorian blogger who is also doing Hugelkulter – Slow Living Essentials – here is the link:

    http://slowlivingessentials.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/a-hugelkultur-experiment.html

    We live on 2.5 acres just outside our country town in SA and currently run a flock of 2 sheep (whoop!). My husband works way to hard and I help him in our business so I am not home during the day. Both our girls are grown up and living in the city. My dream would be to work 3 days a week, leaving the other 2 to be more of a homemaker. I want to teach myself basic sewing, be able to sit and knit or crochet. I want to have 2-3 chooks. I love to bake and cook from scratch so that battle is already won, it’s just that I need more time to do it.

    I do hope you like the link, I feel you have lots in common. Have a lovely day,

    Cheers – Joolz

    • 2 is a flock (I think) and I am envious. I am hoping for a lawnmower sheep (dorper or other wool dropper) and 2 goats for eating roughage and weeds and providing our dairy. We have heaps of chooks but most of them are destined for the dinnerpot. πŸ™‚ If you get chooks, go for 3 as they are flock animals and if one dies you still have a flock. That was the advice a friend gave me. πŸ™‚
      Time. That funny element hey. I have found though that the more I delve into this lifestyle the more time I get as I ditch more and more of the old lifestyle. If I can get off the ‘puter more I will have even more time! πŸ˜‰

  9. […] rain but I am hoping to pick up the digger tomorrow. We spent the rest of our time digging up the trial hugelkultur bed I built back inΒ early FebruaryΒ and it was exciting to see that despite the fact it has rained very very little since it was […]

  10. […] blogged before (here,Β here, here, here, here, here, andΒ here) about our ongoing hugelkultur experiments. Hugelkultur […]

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