When the going gets tough, the tough go gardening. And this should definitely include Hügelkultur.
But let me digress a little. Raised beds are always on my veg garden agenda. Part save the knees and back, part stop the animals ‘playing’ amongst the veg (more the latter really, but I don’t like to lay blame).
My ultimate goal is raised beds made of corrugated metal sheets and wood. They look pretty. But at the moment, as I don’t have the materials, I will have to make do with simply mounding up the dirt. It’s tried and tested so worth repeating for another year.
In clearing my medieval restoration garden, I ‘uncovered’ some old rotting logs and branches. That’s where that tree went! I found the roots of a tree by the duck pond. It seems the pervious owner had cut it down (smart since it was near the wall of the house) and then dumped it in the corner of the garden to disappear under the growing weeds. It was like Christmas discovering it.
Rotting wood to me means – Hügelkultur! (Or Huegle culture if you are not German inclined). I had come across a ‘how to build a raised bed using Hügelkultur’ video for my previous garden. So since the rotten pile of wood needed clearing from my garden, what better way then using it to aid my garden in growing? It also meant I wouldn’t need to cart it very far. Win win.
What is Hugelkultur?
But what is this Hügelkultur you keep mentioning, I hear you ask? Essentially it is the reusing of natural matter; old trees, branches and twigs to lay a foundation. Rather like what happens naturally in the forest. Trees fall (making a sound or not?), then slowly rot and become part of the forest floor, nurturing new plants.
In terms of a garden; you dig a trench, lay old wood in it, including any branches twigs, etc. Really any garden matter that will decay, and maybe too large for your compost bin. You make a good pile, filling it up. Then top with mulch and compost. Then top with soil. Et voilà.
This is also perfect for me as areas of my garden have been used to bury or burn rubbish, from the days before trash collection. Soil has mounded up over decades at the upper end of the garden. So much so that I have discovered a hidden bench in the wall. I thought it was a shelf, until I started digging down.
So the intent is to dig away this mounded up soil and use to add to the hugelkultur bed. The wonderful thing about decades of soil build up, and thus breaking down whatever was dumped there, is it creates such gorgeous, rich mulch soil. The biggest worms I have ever seen are testament to this. (And no surprise why the ducks are particularly keen to assist me when I garden. I only have to pick up the shovel and they follow me with great excitement to help me dig.)
Waste not, want not. The wonderful thing about hugelkultur is it means you can have a raised bed without having to buy very much soil. Or in my case, this year, any soil at all. Because I wish to dig down the mounded up areas to become more level paths around the garden, I have to find a place to get rid of this excess soil. So not only are my hugelkultur beds getting ‘rid’ of my rotting wood pile, they are also getting rid of my excess soil build up. Win win yet again!
The many benefits
OK, so hugelkultur can help rid you of old woody stuff, and cuts down on soil purchase. But what does it actually do with regards to planting? Eg why would you do this? Well, the rotting wood as a base will continue to rot and breakdown over the course of many years. This will ultimately fertilise your garden bed from underneath. Thus providing more nutrients in a slow release action to your planted plants.
It truly works. In my previous garden, and first attempt at this method, I had done a single hugelkultur bed alongside regular mounded up raised beds (no rotting wood underneath). The difference in my plants growth was phenomenal. Those planted in the hugelkultur bed were much stronger and bigger, and ultimate surprise needed less water.
Is it all roses? Of course not. This method needs time, and energy. It is hard work. And as I have a very large pile of woody detritus to get rid of, and wish to ideally make my 4 planned raised beds with this method, it is going to take quite some time. And a lot lot lot of shoveling. (And very happy ducks.)
Because I have a lot of soil, and wood, I am digging down to a deep enough depth that the wood can go in and be below the main level of the ground. Then I have to put the removed soil back, covering the wood (loosely). And then, add on the additional soil coming from clearing and lowering my pathways.
It’s a good excuse to get out daily into the fresh air. Take in some vitamin D. And ultimately play with the ducks. Okay, really it is the latter that is my incentive to work on the beds each day. They make me laugh every time, with their under foot aiding antics.
I have given myself 3 months to get it done. That will bring me into planting season, starting with potatoes. By the way potatoes truly love hugelkultur.
Gardener Gifts from My Shop
If you are a keen gardener like me, or know one, you will find a number of unique vintage and antique gardening gifts and ideas in My Shop:
(Simply click on an image to see more.)
If you wish to join in and support Pumpjack & Piddlewick, do check out my Nourish page. I have a wish list on there, amongst other areas of support, of which a good portion is garden work related.