Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Hugelkultur Experiment

One of the things I am enjoying with the school year routine starting back up is the return of the veggie gardening group I am in. We meet once a week at someones house and after the essentials of morning tea and conversation (highly important!), we get to work in the host's garden. Edible garden that is.

I was also happy to have my turn to host early in the term, while the weather is still warm and I had a project niggling at me to get started!

But not before The Essentials though...remember?


Even the pooch had a play date! What fun they had!

The work started with a shovelside 'conference' as it so usually does. "Which is the best way to tackle the project?", "What needs to be put where?" and my favourite.."Just where is the best site for it?"


A plan was formed and soon the hard work commenced. I had been excited to read of Hugelkultur in the comments section of a recent post and was just bursting to give it a try. Especially given all the fallen timber we have on our property! It seemed like a perfect solution to use some of it up.

For those of you like me, a little fresh and green to this style of gardening, Hugelkultur is basically a way of creating garden beds by burying big piles of rotten timber. They are then mounded up with soil and planted out. This permaculture technique apparently creates a beneficial place for seedlings to thrive due to the raised soil temperatures as the wood decomposes, and the increased nutrient levels as the worms and good critters move in, turning the rotting wood into wonderfully rich humus. As the timber decays, it acts like a giant sponge, holding water within the bed, thereby reducing our watering time and usage significantly which is an absolute bonus!

Just exactly why wouldn't I give it a try? 

Termites. Oh yes. Those worrying little guys. Yes, that is the one potential drawback I have discovered on my researchings. The consensus however, seems to be to ensure your beds are at least 3m/10' away from the house and not to use timber more than about 10-12cm. Ok, I admit it, mine were verging on this, and some quite over, but as the beds were a good distance away from the house I was willing to persevere. After all we had just pulled up the majority of the rotting timber for this project from the very edge of our verandah....two sets of very sad looking railway sleeper steps that anyone walking in high heels on would be asking for trouble! The beds they were being used in were well distanced from where the sleepers had previously....slept, so I felt quite comfortable relocating them.

Ok, then, onto business!

The soil was first dug out of the existing bed I wanted to improve and the timber was positioned. Anything from the rotting railway sleepers and scrap pallets to twiggy branches and some dead but not yet rotting timber was used.


This was then piled over with paperbark that falls so readily from our gum trees along with a couple of barrows of their leaves..


After adding the original topsoil back over the timber pile, the chook pen was cleaned out and the chooky straw was layered onto the soil. The following layer consisted of a combination of some broken down compost and some still in the process of breaking down. Finally, the whole lot was finished off with a good layer of organic mushroom compost mixed with organic mulch which I purchased in.


{Elsewhere in the veggie patch, other jobs weren't forgotten about - raspberries get a good tie back in preparation for next seasons growth!}

As it was discussed in the Shovelside Conference that the bed I had planned to improve was in a less than desirable position (shade for half of the day), it was with a good deal of enthusiasm that we formed another hugulkultur bed a little further out, closer to the driveway and in a sunny position for most of the day!



More heavy lifting for the ladies but they held themselves so well. Stacking sleepers inside the bed, more stringy bark, chook straw and mushroom compost. And then, voila...a whole new second bed!

A little edging needs to be finished off on the first bed but it is pretty much ready to start planting in, after the return of its soaky hose that is my garden's new best friend...

The second bed out the front..in it's gloriously sunny aspect, whoop!

I think I will try the half sun/half shade bed with some cooler weather crops such as beetroot, celery, coriander, rocket, lettuce and so on, while saving the sunnier bed for the winter brassicas. I'm excited!

Have you heard of Hugelkultur? Have you tried this method of gardening?
Success or failures? I would love to hear!

 (please link back in the comments section if you have posted on this subject,
so we can share in your experience!)

Links:
THE golden page of Hugelkultur (by Paul Wheaton)
The Art and Science Behind Making a Hugelkultur Bed (Permaculture Research Inst. of Australia)


29 comments:

  1. This looks great. Also a great way to recycle old timber! I would love to try something like this - not really enough space in our back yard though I think.

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    1. A fantastic way to recycle timber, Alysemae, the beds can be any size you like..no need to just be HUGE hugelkultur beds! :)

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  2. Oh gosh, how I would love to belong to a gardening group like yours...

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    1. Our group has been going for several years now, Suzanne, and it's actually a little strange - for the first time there was just one pre-schooler present last week, the rest have grown up and gone to school. It feels very odd and rather quiet! Nothing a little raucous conversation doesn't fix though... ;)

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  3. WOW! You gals got a LOT done in one day! I'm looking forward to reading how these beds develop. This is definitely an idea I will add to my gardening journal for future reference.

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    1. You and me both, Becky. It will be really interesting to see how the growing conditions compare with other areas in the garden.

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  4. thanks for hosting such a beautiful day, love the doggy friends shot.

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    1. Thanks for all your hard work, my raspberries look a thousand times better!

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  5. I heard of hugelkultur last year and was thrilled to learn a word that I can use to make it sound like turning unburned brush into garden beds was something I had planned on all along! ;)
    There is a very limited period when brush-burning is allowed in my area, and then only with a special 6-hour permit which may or may not be granted on the day (or which may be recalled mid-burn!) depending on local conditions. This means I actually manage to burn brush about every 3rd year. Now I have a back-up plan!

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    1. Lol, yes it's wonderful to appear wise all along, isn't Quinn! Wow, your burning restrictions are very restrictive, here we can burn off from usually the start of May until the end of November..no permit required during this time.

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  6. Oh my, and I just thought I was being lazy last year when I threw the spent corn stalks into a couple raised bed and threw dirt over them. I have never had a better pepper crop in my life than the ones that I planted on top of that mess. This year I threw canna stalks in the beds. Yesterday, I scooped up a shovel full of soil. Nice big juicy worms in there!

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  7. It does sound like fun - especially with so many helpers! I don't have the room, but think the idea looks good.

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    1. Ha, there is something to be said for 'lazy gardening', isn't there, Quiltedtime! :)

      I don't think I could've tackled this task without my generous helpers, africanaussie. It was just too much work for one person..at least in one day!

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  8. Very interesting. I wonder if this would work with all the raspberry canes I cut each year. I am going to give it a try this summer. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. I don't see why not, Natalie.. it would be interesting to see. We have a small pile of canes too..I shouldn't have given the big pile to the goats!

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  9. What a great use for all the prunings (as always, the ones we can't use for cooking wood!). And I love your gardening group. We're about to start up a cooking group, but now I want to do a gardening group instead LOL

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    1. Aww, no reason you can't do both Tracey? Maybe the cooking group will turn into a gardening group when you start bringing some beautiful homegrown produce along? :)

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  10. I'd love to read more about your veggie gardening group - how did you organise it, how did you go about agreeing how to run the group etc. etc. That is something I'd like to get involved in here..
    Never heard of hugelkultur before, but I'm intrigued. We have so many prunings around here.

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    1. Hi Paola, my friend Kate has written an article on how the group began, see here:
      http://vegiegroupes.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Kate

      The link below will take you to our group blog home page where some of the members have posted about how things went when they hosted:
      http://vegiegroupes.blogspot.com.au/

      It really is a whole lot of fun and something we all look forward to each week - so much so that those among us who work outside the home try and shuffle their days around to keep veggie group days free! :)

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  11. You're always up to something interesting! I love how you make sustainable living look like so much fun! :)

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  12. Wow, Christine - I'm REALLY happy to see this come together for you! I'm keen to try this technique as well... we have several stacks of rotting wood just waiting to be put into use. We just need the snow to melt first! Great pictures as always - thank you for sharing!

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    1. Pesky snow, Sherri! It is an amazingly fast way to put garden beds together.. I'm suddenly eyeing off all the fallen timber on the side of the road now with new eyes, lol!

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  13. Your veggie group sounds awesome. Great friends and a great project. :-)

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    1. Yes, those veggie groups gals are an amazing bunch, Kathryn. :)

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  14. The sooner Tony and I get our own property and vegetable garden the better! It kills me to see all your gorgeous garden projects!! I look forward to see how your Hugelkultur experiment pans out :) (love that word too, hugelkultur.. do you know its origins?)

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    1. Lisa I just KNOW you would get so much out of your own little patch, I can't wait for the time when you can do so!

      Hugelkultur is a German word, and saying it is just SO much fun!! :)

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  15. This sounds awesome and is the first I have heard of it Christine. Thaks for sharing I love all of your photos too. x

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    1. It really is amazing, Tammy, I am really looking forward to observing how the plants grow in these beds. Thanks for stopping by! :)

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Hi there, so nice of you to stop by! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I love hearing what you are up to. Christine x

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