Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hugelkultur Plans

I just learned about Hugelkultur from Sue at The Little Acre That Could.

Hugelkutur is basically a raised garden bed filled with rotting wood and topped with topsoil.

The idea pleases me, as it makes a great deal of sense, and it's possibly one of the easiest things I could do.  The added bonus is that the heat in the decomposition is supposed to help heat seaking plants, and some years, that's each and every plant here!

So I've done a fair bit of reading online, and as eager as I am to get started, I'm going to do a couple of cheats before I do the real thing.  The real thing apparently draws a lot of nitrogen away from plants the first year, so unless you have a lot of yard/kitchen waste to add into the pile, it may damage your plants.  Yard and kitchen waste are also known as animal feed at my house, so I think it's best to set the real thing up, and let it sit for the first year.

The cheats that I am going to try for this year are much easier, and may show quicker results.  They won't have the long lasting effects of the real thing, but hopefully will give a much needed boost to some already established plants.

First, there are a row of black currant bushes on the edge of the garden.  The previous owner told me that he'd planted them years before, and they never fruited.  Our first summer I vigorously pulled the weeds and crab grass around them, laying them around the stems as mulch.  They grew a fair bit taller, and seemed healthy and vibrant, but no fruit.  That winter, we parked our trailer to the side of them, which created an accidental wind break, and also led to the snow melting faster in that area in the spring.  We also dumped a lot of ash from the wood stove over top of the plants all winter long.  That summer a few of the bushes flowered, and we ended up with 6 currant berries.  I haven't done anything with them since, figuring the effort wasn't worth the pay off.
However, this hugelkultur thing...  Not far from the garden I have a pile of crappy firewood.  It was from a scrap pile of wood that the loggers had left behind, and not very good when I cut it, 3 years ago.  We use a bit of it for outdoor fires, and I suppose if I ran out of firewood and was desperate, I could still pick out a few of the better pieces for the house.  Mostly it is sitting there rotting and being an eyesore.  Perfect for garden use!
The black currants are technically on the lawn, about a foot or so higher than the garden.  They're planted in dry, sandy soil.  Well, mostly sand, very little soil.  My first cheat will be to lay a row or two of the crappy firewood around the currants, then cover it with compost.
My second cheat, also in the garden, will be to add some crappy firewood around the asparagus plants, who also battle weeds and dry sandy soil.

 I just grabbed a couple of armfuls of crappy firewood to play with while I was taking pictures.  There's a long ways to go yet.

Third, I had plans to add pathways to the raspberry patch.  I was thinking of buying planks to put in where I wanted the pathways, but why not use the firewood?  It'll still give me clear pathways, but cost me nothing, and as a bonus, they'll fertilize the raspberries as they rot!
 The raspberries don't look like much at this time of year, but through the summer the patch is a huge mass of green with no place to move.  We're constantly walking on plants and making new paths through them to get to the raspberries.

Fourth, my rhubarb patches get a similar treatment.
 It must be spring, because if you look closely, there's the first new rhubarb spike just breaking through the ground.  (the little red spot).

Then there's the flower bed/herb/perennial garden (aka, the front yard).  The front yard has about 10 feet of grass from the road to the row of lilac bushes.  There's a driveway on either side.  Between the lilacs and the house there is a 15 pace square area (less than 30 feet, 'cause I have short legs) of what used to be lawn.  There's another lilac bush to the right of the front door, a forsythia kind of in the middle on the right side, and a rose bush about two feet away from the lilacs, front and centre.  The well head in to the right. 
There was an overgrown flowerbed to either side of the front step when we moved in.  Well, I looked at that front lawn that first year and decided that needs to go. 
We don't even own a push mower, and there's no way the lawn tractor was going to maneuver around in there.  I consider it my mission in life to fence the areas the beasts can 'cut', and remove the grass from everywhere else.

So, I expanded the flower beds, laid out cardboard, landscape cloth, and carpet, attempting to kill that grass.  I transplanted rhubarb, perennials from my mom, asparagus seedlings, grew tobacco one year...  There are still big patches of grass poking through.  The biggest problem, is that I putter around in there in the spring, wanting to play in the dirt, but knowing that it's too early to do the real gardening.  Then once the gardening season begins, I all but completely ignore it.  The grass grows three feet high, the weeds are out of control, anything that isn't pretty right now is considered a weed, and I really just don't care.  I get too tired working with the things I can eat, I don't have the energy to deal with the things I can't.

This year, however, I bought a bunch of perennial herbs and medicinal plants, and I was making plans to turn that front yard into something worth having.  I always make plans, but with money invested, it's more important to me to make it work.  I had figured on bringing over a few loads of composted manure to enrich the soil, but how much more effort would it take to add a layer of rotting firewood in first?  My plan for now, is to add a row of firewood around the things I can identify in there, and a pathway of rotting firewood across the yard in front of the step.  Then add a layer of firewood in the areas that I'm pretty sure I haven't planted with anything.  Some spots will need to wait for more spring like weather, so I can start to see what's in there.  Then the big idea, a proper hugelkulture mound along the driveway on the right side.

I'm debating putting mounds in to the forest garden area, and/or adding wood around the apple trees, but I don't think I'll have time to do either this year.

Flurries off and on today, 5°C, but a sure sign of spring...


  1. Wendy - because we spent the winter and past few weeks getting more raised beds built and tires ready for planting - i am only planning on trying Hugelkultur in a small way - 2 small hills with pumpkin and squash. but i am definitely thinking about trying this method for our transplanted berries. i am looking forward to learning from yours, Sue's and my experience over this growing season - we might really be on to something ladies - woohoo!

    your friend,

    1. I am so glad Sue posted about it! Keep us informed of how yours goes as well!

    2. Hey, Wendy! You sound like a woman on a mission with all those garden planned. Can't wait to see how it all turns out. I just thought I'd mention that with wood as punky as yours sounds, I don't think nitrogen loss would be a big problem. I've read that it's fresh wood that causes the beds to be nitrogen hogs, but I haven't tried it first hand. Keep us posted on how it goes.

  2. Wendy,
    I am intrigued and will be following this. It sure seems like stacking is easier than digging. Plus, you won't disturb micro organisms in the soil.

    What determines whether a firewood is good or bad?

    1. Our property was logged about 11 years ago. The loggers only take the pine and birch, leaving the poplar and alders in scrap piles to rot. The previous owner used some of it for firewood, as did we. The longer it sits, the worse it gets. The stuff that's sitting on the ground gets water logged and punky (rotting from the inside), while the stuff on the top gets really dried out, almost like paper. The dry stuff will burn quickly, and makes good kindling, but doesn't put out the heat like fresher wood does. The punky stuff doesn't burn at all.

      We cut wood from the top of the piles about three years ago and stacked it in the yard. For outside fires- cooking and campfires, it works ok. For heating the house, not so much. The rows were about 40 feet long, so there's a lot that has been sitting on the ground going punky as well.

  3. I found this hugelkultur post very interesting! Glad I found your blog, I saw your comment on CITR about bare feet around horses. I had been thinking the same thing... once that young lady has been stepped on she'll be buying a pair of barn boots. She needs to wear jeans to ride, too, but I guess she'll find that out on her own. I know people are afrad to criticize or "advise" the blog author, so I was glad to see your comment was allowed to stand.

    1. Thanks Mary Ann, and welcome!

      I wasn't meaning to criticize, I just know that they're new to the horse world, and totally in love with Patriot. Which is great, but... My mare, Tori nearly broke my foot once, with boots on, because she had a horse fly bugging her while I was brushing her. She stomped her foot right down on mine. Seeing those bare feet just gave me a flashback of pain.

  4. Sounds like you are going to be very busy this summer.