Sunday, December 16, 2012

Logging in... so to speak. *grin*

Hello everyone! How have you been? I've been learning something new! It's an Eastern European way of building raised beds in the garden, called "hugelkultur." (The best I can do on the pronunciation is "hoogal culture.")

Anyhow, hugelkultur is based on the fact that rotten wood holds water like a sponge. You lay down a bed of logs, then cover it with an active compost pile, a layer of leaves, and a layer of soil. If you have manure to hand, you layer it in with the leaves. At every step you water the hugelkultur bed thoroughly, unless you live somewhere that is already soaked by too much rain. Here in Kansas we are suffering in a drought, and so we HAD to water the ground in order to soften it up enough for digging before we even started our garden bed.

Hugelkultur beds can be built at ground level, in a trench, or in a deep trench. The beds which are built at ground level can be up to six feet high... which is rather daunting for a home garden, lol... a three foot mound of logs covered by three feet of compost and soil. If you have a three foot layer of rotting logs filled with water, you can go a couple months at a time without watering your garden bed.

Me, I am not so ambitious! My layer of logs is only one foot thick, and I anticipate a garden three feet high. We dug a bed for the logs, so the first foot of the bed will be underground, bringing the top of the bed to two feet--a good height for a raised bed.

A project like this calls for help, so Mr. Muscles came over from mext door. He and Gryph did the heavy work. I am so grateful! This is our third big project of the fall; the first two were moving the compost pile and moving the utility-shelf garden bed. I took pics!
Here is what remained of the old compost pile. Most of it has already been used on the existing garden beds; the rest has been now spread around Grandmother Maple's roots.

Here is the new compost bin. Utilitarian yes, beautiful yes. It is holding seven bags of leaves in this pic; they've settled a lot.

This is the utility shelf that we never knew what to do with. Last year, we laid it down on its back under a hackberry tree and filled it with oak leaves, then planted potatoes in the leaves. Fail. The taters sprouted and grew enough to bloom, but never set spuds. This year we mixed in finished compost and an extra bag of potting soil, then planted herbs and blackberries. Half-fail; the parsley, thyme, and lemon mint all did well, as did the volunteer morning glories; the sage died in summer's heat; the blackberries languished and one of them died. Then came the BIG fail: the bermuda grass invaded through my neighbor's fence and completely colonized the bed. So the parsley, the thyme, and the blackberries have been transplanted to the raspberry bed and the shelf has been pulled away from the soil, taken to a new place and refilled. This year's batch is mixed leaves, mostly-finished compost, and another bag of potting soil. This planter also gets to winter over fallow and will be planted come spring... unless I change my mind and plant something in it now. You never know.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, hugelkultur!!! This two-shovelfuls-deep bed has been dug out in stages, because we had to water it a couple times to get it diggable. The soil is unrelieved clay. Here you see the bed all dug out, with various pieces of rotting wood gathered from around the yard. We filled it to the top with water and it drained pretty quickly becuse the subsoil is so very dry from this drought; that clay just sucked the water right in.

Here they are, Gryph and Mr. Muscles. You can see the sacrifical logs, the utility shelf bed, and the hugelkultur bed in this pic, as well as the pile of soil Mr. Muscles dug out the bed.

The sacrificial logs. These came from our neighbors ash tree a couple years ago, from a huge limb that fell in a storm... I guess that makes them the sacrificial limbs.

Gryph and Mr. Muscles depleting the woodpile, ever so very slowly depleting it that is. It's a pretty darned big woodpile. The dead-looking plant in front of Mr. Muscles is my witch hazel, which I grew all summer in a five gallon bucket and which Gryph and I transplanted a couple weekends ago. The hole we planted it into had been used for a mini-compost pile this past summer.

Beautiful! See how that top piece is already rotting? Gonna hold loads of water!

Nothing if not practical, Mr. Muscles solves two problems at once: how to reach every corner to put in all the wood without getting his shoes muddy, and how to get the logs into good contact with the ground.

OH yeah, baby, now that's what I'm talkin' about! We are logging in!


Now that the bed of logs is laid, it has to be watered again. We filled it till the logs started floating (so much for good contact with the ground, lol). Next step comes tomorrow, transferring the top foot of the compost pile to the logs. Then it will be watered again, covered with a thick layer of leaves, watered again, and covered with that mound of soil that came out of the hole to begin with. And, yes, watered again! At that point, we'll have to consider putting some kind of weed barrier around the bed to keep it from being colonized, like the utility shelf bed was colonized, by bermuda grass.

This is the beginning of the next hugelkultur bed. That tiny spot of bright green in the photo's upper left is the holder for the clothesline... dunno if we got it too close or not. We're limited by tree roots in a lot of the yard. You can see by the remianing water that the yard slopes pretty noticeably.

These bags are filled with ivy and weeds that came off the north wall of the house a couple months ago. They are laying on the site of the old compost pile, which had been built over a layer of sand left from masonry repair work. The compost is spread out but the sand still sits there, irresistible to our many neighborhood cats--so we covered it.

Now what? Hugelkultur is burning a groove in my brain and I did seriously wonder if these bags packed full of dry roots and vines could be the base of a raised bed, but they really aren't dense enough. I think they are the beginning of a second compost pile. Now we just have to get more stakes and something to use for sides.
See you the next time I take pictures!

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