Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Creating a hugelkultur garden bed

It's been a few months since I've posted anything and I wish I could say that it's because we've just been so overwhelmingly busy with gardening, too busy to write about all of the things we've been doing, but I can't say that. What really happened is that central Texas summers are brutal and we were completely wiped out after our move across country. We took a couple months off to recuperate while hibernating inside our air conditioned house and planning for the time when the weather got cool enough to make it possible to do some work. 

Finally though, we got tired of waiting for cooler weather. We want a nice fall garden so we had to get to work. In all of our planning for what to do with our property, we know we need to fortify our sandy soil with as much organic matter as possible. It appears as though compost has never been added anywhere to the property, including the large garden area or around any of the trees. We started our first compost pile but we're going to need a lot more compost piles to meet our needs. 

What we did have readily on hand was an incredible amount of wood piled up in various stages of decay. We chipped what we could for walkways around the raised garden beds but we were left with a bunch of rotted woody matter and some very large pieces that are also in various states of decay. 

I came across a very good website about hugelkultur that said I could help save the world and end hunger with my rotten wood so I decided it would be irresponsible not to give it a try.    

Hugelkultur will keep my plant roots out of reach of the the gophers that the minions can't catch.

Basically hugelkultur is a method for building a garden bed on top of wood logs. Rotten wood is best because as wood rots it releases nitrogen but it locks it up for awhile as new wood begins to decompose. I strongly suggest you read the website I posted above and check out Northwest Edible Life's Half Ass Hugelkultur post before you go out and copy me. I am simply experimenting with materials that we have an abundance of on our property already.

I started with cardboard under a layer of logs that have not decomposed much at all yet. 

Then added a layer of more logs on top of the first. The picture doesn't portray the upper layer of logs are rotting. 

Then we filled in the gaps with more rotten branches.

We got the kitchen compost bin out and filled gaps with rubbery carrots, corn husks and other scraps on hand.

"Really?" Yes, really.

Then we dismantled the compost pile we had started the week before and threw all of that on top. 

Next we covered it with the pecan leaves and small branches that we had just pruned from the trees.

Finally we covered all of that with some of the compost rich soil that we had left over from the raised beds and mulched.
I think it looks like a Volkswagen beetle got swallowed but what it lacks in aesthetic appeal, I am hoping it will make up for in very low water food production - eventually. The bed is probably too carbon heavy right now to produce an incredible crop the first year out but as it breaks down over time, it will get better and better.  One of the greatest benefits to growing this way is that it should need very little water as the wood pieces break down and create an almost sponge. It also stays between 5 and 7 degrees warmer than the rest of the garden which helps extend the season.

After we covered it all with soil, we put in a sage plant, some seeds and then mulched with pine straw because that's what we have on hand. We could get into a whole conversation here about pecan leaves and pine straw and whether those are good choices for the nutrient balance of the soil. They can be too acidic for a lot of plants to thrive in but they were grown here in our alkaline soil so some would argue that they really aren't that acidic after all. I do not know for sure but I'm not going to worry about it. This entire bed was constructed from things we already had on hand (including seeds) so it didn't cost us anything except time and sweat. 

Peas coming up in front, direct seeded zucchini on right and zucchini transplants on left

I've been adding plants from the raised beds as I thin them.

A couple of cucumbers on top of the mound.
We've also put in seeds for chard, spinach, bok choy, and a few others. We'll keep you updated about how it goes and I hope you'll try this gardening technique in your own neck of the woods.

Gidget asks, "Are you serious? That is not a garden, it's an eyesore!"

I guess Gidget prefers the new beautiful garden beds.


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