After learning more about permaculture techniques that can help save water and naturally self-fertilize, I decided to try building my first hugelkultur bed (hugelkultur information). These are my newest and most productive garden beds. In late February of 2017, I dug a level channel approximately one foot deep and filled it with chicken waste and blood meal (these are my nitrogen) and logs, branches, roots, and leaves (the carbon) from a few small trees that had to be removed in January 2017 to build the base mound of this hugelkultur bed. I then covered the mound with the displaced soil, a little compost, and a layer of mulch to retain moisture. I should have started the bed in the autumn to give the ingredients time to break down into useable nutrients – so this has been a bit of an experiment – but it has actually turned out to be my best performing garden bed!
To the North of the long hugel bed, the stump from an old apple tree I had to cut down has been buried in soil and compost and then top-planted with salad greens, melons and flowers. By burying the stump in a mound of soil I am encouraging the busy soil residents to begin breaking down the stump for me. No fuss, no chemicals. The water I apply to the mound for the plants encourages further microbial breakdown of the wood. In an additional benefit, the slowly-degrading wood acts as a giant sponge to hold more water for the plants which keeps the soil cool and moist on even the hottest days.
Now that I feel adequately comfortable with the results of a hugelkultur bed, I plan to replace all existing garden beds with this method. It seems to give much better results, is easier to work on, uses up large slow-composting wood and weed waste that now doesn’t have to go to the recycle center (keeping a closed, waste-free loop!), requires less water and maintenance, as well as offers more flexibility on design from year to year. I’ve read it takes about 3 years for a 3′(h) x 3′(l) x whatever-length hugelkultur bed to fully break down and at that point you can either rebuild as-is or redesign the space to be even more productive!
Hugelkultur fodder – near the end of the tour you will see a lovely old peach tree in the backyard (West of the house) that Jason’s grandmother planted many years ago and has fallen victim to peach borers. It bravely gave us it’s final crop in 2016. In the coming weeks I will be taking cuttings and seeing if I can propagate new little peach trees from the remaining new growth before cutting it down. I will then use the trunk, branches and leaves as the base of my next hugelkultur bed I build so that there is no waste from this sweet old tree, and it can go on to fertilize new crops and keep feeding our family even after it’s demise.