(Taking a little break from Home Dairy Month to talk about gardening today. Look for another home dairy post coming on Friday!)
I’ve always been a pretty basic gardener.
Although I’ve always totally admired what I thought to be the “fancier” methods like raised beds, Square Foot Gardening, or lasagna gardening, but I never thought they were for me… I figured I’d always be a “use a tiller to rip up the dirt each year and plant in normal, straight rows” type of gal.
I’m still licking my wounds a bit– and to be honest, I had a pretty bad attitude when it came time to order my seeds in January.
But, I decided that I needed to not only change my attitude, but also change my methods… So I started researching some of the “fancier techniques.”
When I first heard mention of hugelkultur, I totally blew it off. Not only did the name sound weird and complicated, I was just *sure* it would be way over my head.
So I continued to scheme about how I could scrape up enough extra cash to build about a bazillion raised beds.
Then somewhere along the way, I ran into another hugelkultur article and I finally read it and realized, “Hey! I might be able to actually do this!”
Hugelkultur in a Nutshell
- Hugelkultur basically means “hill culture” in German. I’m sure there is a proper way to say it, but I butcher it with my American accent and just say “hoogle culture.”
- Hugelkultur has been practiced in Europe for a long time and it is considered to be a very sustainable method of gardening.
- In layman’s terms? A hugelkultur bed is just a big pile of rotting wood and manure. And then you plant stuff on top. It’s a permanent bed and gets better with age.
- Over time, the wood decomposes and creates a sponge-like bed underneath. This holds in moisture and produces lots of nutrients.
Why I am Loving Hugelkultur so Far
1. There doesn’t really seem to be a right or wrong way to do it. That is totally my style.
2. It requires less water than other gardening methods. Some sources I’ve read say that they only have to water established beds a couple times per summer. I’m not sure how that would translate to dry ol’ Wyoming, but I figure anything can be an improvement over last year.
3. It uses up stuff I have laying around my yard. Some of the other gardening methods I’ve read about call for special ingredients to be added to beds. That is a deterrent to me because (a) I really don’t feel like driving 40+ miles to buy that stuff, (b) I doubt the stores in our town even carry most of it…
Because of our drought conditions, we can rarely burn brush piles. So, I have had several large, unsightly, piles of tree limbs and branches sitting in my back yard for about 2 years now…
Hugelkultur turned those piles into a valuable resource, as I was able to haul them over to my garden spot and use them as the base for my bed. Hubby even cut down a few old trees which needed to be taken care of. It was like yard clean-up day and build-a-garden day all in one.
I also threw in several wheelbarrow loads of ash/half-burned wood from our burn pit. And it was a great way to use up some of my half-composted manure (I have a mountain of that.)
4. It was totally FUN to build the big pile. Yeah, seriously. I loved that there weren’t really any “rules.” I don’t know why, but I had a blast building the big heap out of our yard “trash.” (Hey, I never claimed I was normal…)
How I Built my Hugelkultur Bed
This article from richsoil.com has wonderfully detailed instructions on building a hugelkultur bed of your own (complete with pics). However, here are the basic steps I took to building my bed:
1. I dug/hoed a shallow trench along one side of my garden. It’s a couple feet wide. The main reason I did this was so I would have some topsoil to place on top.
2. I filled the bed with all of the tree limbs, branches, and sticks I could fine– the more rotted, the better. I placed the biggest pieces on the bottom, and filled in the top with the smaller ones. Raw, unpainted, untreated lumber scraps will work here, too.
3. I hauled 4-5 wheelbarrow loads of ash and half-burnt wood from our burn pit and dumped it on top of the wood (Not a requirement, but I had it, so I figured I would use it.)
4. Hubby used the tractor to dump a LOT of half-composted manure over the whole thing. I loved the fact that it didn’t have to be 100% finished compost. It’s important to have lots of manure or kitchen scraps, since it helps to balance out the wood as it breaks down. (The decomposition process of wood can tie up a lot of the nitrogen in the soil. High-nitrogen items like manure or kitchen scraps help to counteract this.)
5. I threw the topsoil that I had saved back from my trench over the top. It only ended up being a couple inches, but the sources I’ve read thus far say that is o.k.
So, Now What?
It’s still a little too early to plant here, but I have planted a handful of onions, and a couple rows of lettuce and snap peas on one end of the bed.
Only time will tell if my bed is successful, or if I made some sort of fatal error, but I’m guessing I’ll learn something either way. 😉
I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be my garden-experimentation year, so I have plans to try out several different permaculture techniques. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!
Have you ever tried hugelkultur? Any tips you can pass my way?
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