Hugelkulture is the practice of composting large woody material to create a raised garden bed. It is a way of dealing with excess amounts of woody garden wastes, for example prunings, hedge clippings, brassica stems, or brashwood.
The name comes from German - hügelkultur translates as "hill culture".
The technique involves digging a circular trench about 1' (30 cm) deep and 5' (1.5 m) wide, in the centre of which is dug another hole 1' (30 cm) deep hole. The material is piled in. Turf (grass) is then stacked face down on top, then layers of compost, well rotted leaves and manure, etc as available. The layers break down slowly and creating rich humus over four or five years. It is claimed that this is ideal for growing hungry crops such as zucchinis (courgettes) or strawberries.
As the years pass, the deep soil of the raised bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets - so your hugelkultur becomes self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm the soil giving a slightly longer growing season, in temperate and cold climates.
Our goal was to create two Hugelkulture beds on contour with a path in the middle for access. We started by digging out the beds and piling the soil we removed next to them. We then gathered several truckloads of partially decomposed timber from the surrounding forest and placed it at the bottom of the beds, trying to fill in gaps by breaking the wood up into pieces and filling holes with smaller chunks. We then gathered leaves from the forest and placed them on top of the wood, followed by a mix of the soil we removed from the beds and some finished compost. We alternated leaves, compost and soil and then placed the remaining top soil on the beds. The result was two wonderfully heaping Hugelkulture beds!
The energy from the mob was inspiring. The beds seemed to dig themselves, materials marched out of the forest and came to rest right where they needed to be, and in a matter of a few hours we were finished!
After accomplishing so much in so little time what were we to do? First we spent some time warming up by the wood stove and enjoying cookies that Alexis had made for the group. After our bellies were filled with delicious treats we loaded the crew in the bed of Tom's truck and went down to the soccer field in the Celo Community to witness the unleashing of a 20 foot wide pendulum constructed out of locust posts, rough sawn lumber and bowling balls! What a sight!
When we arrived back at Janey's Farm Keenan got right to work preparing an amazing feast. We dined on trout that were raised in the spring fed pond the Keenan caught a few hours before we arrived. A delicious salad prepared by Becca and Ryan with greens from Mountain Gardens. A beef bone, squash, barley and quinoa soup. Topped off with a smattering of homebrews. What a meal.
After such an amazing day how could it get any better? Waking to a mild sunny morning with buckwheat muffins, an amazing quiche and a fruit salad, thats how. Thank you to all who made this day possible! Looking forward to the next one!