A while back, when we decided to take on the project of cutting down our 70-foot tall (plus or minus) honey locust tree in the back yard, I began doing research on what in the world we’d do with all the wood. As you may know, a lot of the smaller branches have become mulch for the garden. But someone from the Take Back Urban-Homesteading(s) community on Facebook suggested to me to build a ‘hugelkultur.’ A hoogle-whater? So, of course I Googled it.
I’ll try to save you some time. A hugelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture” – I think), is basically a raised bed in which wood or other carbon-rich materials is buried. Some people lay logs directly on the ground, use a tractor to dump a pile of dirt on it and then start planting on their new, hill-shaped bed. (I like the info in this link).
The advantages of this method of gardening is that the wood, as it rots, acts as a sponge, making it so you don’t have to water much. Additionally, it releases nutrients over time into the soil, making it so you don’t need to fertilize. And, as it rots, it leaves plenty of air space in the soil, so you don’t need to till. Basically, it is a no-maintenance, self-composting bed. The first year or two, especially with green wood like ours, it will actually draw nitrogen from the soil in order to start decomposition. But thereafter, it will supposedly do nothing but give back.
Sounds like a good plan to us! So we decided to give it a try in the boys’ backyard garden bed. We don’t have lots of spare topsoil just lying around everywhere, nor the desire to buy any, so we thought it would be a better use of what we do have to dig down into the ground and bury the wood with our own topsoil and subsoil.
We dug down a good 12-14 inches. Then we laid in some of the branches that were too thick to go through the wood chipper. Then we buried them. This left us with basically an instant raised bed, as promised. We used some of the bigger, straighter limbs from the tree to make an edging (not yet complete). Otherwise the boys would truck that dirt all over the back yard before anything could be planted there.
Fortunately for us, we have plenty of nitrogen-rich compost, thanks to the chickens. We mixed a bit of that in to compensate for the initial anticipated nitrogen loss/Tonka truck compaction. Henry wants carrots, tomatoes and watermelon in his bed this year. We’ll keep track and let you know how it goes!
Does anyone out there have experience with a hugelkultur? What about deterrents for little boys and their ride-on toys? ;)