Hugels in the making

I’ve blogged before (herehere, here, here, here, here, and here) about our ongoing hugelkultur experiments. Hugelkultur literally means “hill culture” and they are raised garden beds built up upon a base of logs. The variations that you may find between them is using logs to line the base of a standard edged garden bed, creating the traditional hill from the logs and covering it with the various layers of nitrogen and compost, building them into dug out areas (great for extra water holding in arid areas), circles, lines, 2 foot high hugels or 6 foot high ones. Anything goes really, but the basic model is the wood in some form in the base to rot down. You can even mulch it although you do need more nitrogen to compensate for the greater surface area of the carbon layer. 🙂

Our first hugelkultur beds growing peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries, chard, a peach tree and more.

Our first hugelkultur beds growing peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries, chard, a peach tree and more.

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More kultur than yoghurt

Hugelkultur that is. 😀

I finally found motivation and got my backside out into the garden to a) tidy up a little (not enough), b) build some hugelkultur beds and c) finish off some more of the pond.

We spent the morning heading out to Newlyn where there is a lovely antiques store and heritage fruit nursery and also a water gardens nursery which was sadly closed (I will be back!) before heading home to a cold rainy and windy afternoon. Why is it that when I have motivation the weather decides to do her best to thwart me? So, armed with snow jacket, gloves and a hat I got stuck in.

The over hang of the plastic is held in place with stones and poplar logs

The over hang of the plastic is held in place with stones and poplar logs.

The logs will decay over time, absorbing water and attracting wonderful mycorrhizae to the soil

The logs will decay over time, absorbing water and attracting wonderful mycorrhizae to the soil.

At first these garden beds will be lower in nitrogen as the nitrogen is used to assist in breaking down the wood, making these ideal for plants that are not nitrogen lovers.

At first these garden beds will be lower in nitrogen as the nitrogen is used to assist in breaking down the wood, making these ideal for plants that are not nitrogen lovers.

These will make wonderful beds for corn, pumpkins, zucchini, watermelons,  even potatoes.

These will make wonderful beds for corn, pumpkins, zucchini, watermelons, even potatoes.

I plan to grow strawberries here as a permanent crop although I think they might be a year or two off being planted here. I need the soil structure to be improved first.

I plan to grow strawberries here as a permanent crop although I think they might be a year or two off being planted here. I need the soil structure to be improved first.

In soggy fashion (but without melting) I moved a peach tree we’d planted last year, built up the pond side hugelkultur bed and the next one too, laying down poplar branches and logs, lucerne mulch and then finally some blood and bone to help it all break down. It’s been a good afternoon. Jasper came out to help me and was a champ at breaking up the lucerne (he loved that the bales break down into the smaller biscuits of lucerne – Mummy NEVER gives him 20 biscuits ever! 😉 ) and also helping bring over branches. We got both beds finished too which is amazing and the rain will be washing the blood and bone down into the mulch and timber (hopefully not washing it away though), soaking into it all and getting it nice and ready for soil on top which I hope to be able to organise in the next few days.

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The miniature peach is on the very edge of a hugelkultur bed which means it will benefit from the nutrients and soil life in the bed but it will not be affected as the beds rot down and shrink.

The peach is just in the bottom left hand corner here. The cardboard area in the middle is large enough for a small seat which will be pleasant as the peach grows a little taller.

The peach is just in the bottom left hand corner here. The cardboard area in the middle is large enough for a small seat which will be pleasant as the peach grows a little taller and provides some shade.

My little helper attacking the biscuits.

My little helper attacking the biscuits.

He probably moved nearly 1/2 of the lucerne mulch! A highly efficient worker.

Jasper probably moved nearly 1/2 of the lucerne mulch by himself! A highly efficient worker who had a blast helping Mummy out in the rain.

Next step is to organise some mulch to spread out for the pathways which are currently just cardboard and then to lay out more cardboard over the next section of lawn weedy grass and get the next bed or two in place. I’m considering putting my name down on this free mulch site I came across as well as checking out local transfer stations (tips) once we get a tow ball for our new car (Mitsubishi Delica turbo diesel 4×4 known as Samson).  There are still plenty of poplar trees standing that need chopping down and they will not go to waste. We are hoping that by chopping down the large trunks they will send out local side shoots (hopefully not widespread) which will allow us to harvest the leaves at a manageable height and feed them to our goat(s). It’s all helping to close the loop and keep everything on our property – little in, little out. Closing the loop brings us more in line with permaculture principles. 🙂

As for remaining work to be done in the next few months or sooner, there is the huge pile of firewood logs that need moving and chopping up (which you can see in the background in some of the photos) before storing somewhere to continue to cure, about 3 or 4 cubic metres of red gum logs that need to be shifted from their current location in the middle of the driveway to our front deck (also in the photos, behind the bath tub) so they can continue to season as well as be easily accessible for the fire , the espalier posts and wires to be sunk and fitted where the firewood logs currently reside, the cherry garden bed to be built along the front deck, and then the blueberry and (hopefully) cranberry garden bed to be built too. Not much really. 😉 The list seems endless but the advantage of a last frost date of November means we get a little more leeway for planting out some of our veggies (I hope). Still, we are into their last month or two in which I can realistically plant our fruit trees and shrubs so I need to swing into action with a little more frequency. Fortunately most of what needs doing is just heavy lifting and we don’t need to budget the finances for hard slog. Here’s hoping the next few weekends bring motivation and finer weather than we’ve had here today. 🙂

It's hard to tell in an iPhone photo but the rain is coming down pretty heavily. I only wish we had a water tank hooked up.

It’s hard to tell in an iPhone photo but the rain is coming down pretty heavily. I only wish we had a water tank hooked up.