Our facilitator Jennifer’s been creating a hugelkultur raised garden bed and sharing her journey with us along the way. Here’s her final blog post.
Now that I finished my hugelkultur bed (yay!) I have reflected on what I learnt during the process and what in hindsight I might have done differently.
Huge thank yous!
First, I want to thank Anna Kary from the Compost Collective for posting my blog for me. Second, I want to thank my partner Rory Fogerty from Permakai for videoing and editing the videos. I couldn’t have done this without the help from each of you!
I started this blog during the Covid-19 lockdown and was grateful for something useful I could do during that time. Here are the secrets I didn’t share with you earlier, as I created the hugelkulture bed. I made mistakes. I’ll share them with you now so you can learn from them!
I went back to my first post and looked at the cross section of a hugelkultur bed.
Diagram by unknown author – http://permaculture.wikia.com/wiki/German_mound Originally attributed to Wikipedia and marked as GNU Free Documentation License., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7643256
I wish I had made my bed in that shape! It is rounder and less steep than my bed. I found it hard to keep materials on the sides of my bed due to its steepness. I also noticed the leaves mixed with soil included in the cross section above. I tried to put leaves on my bed but they just fell off. Of course a less steep bed would help them stay on but mixing them with soil is a great idea to try.
To get the shape above would require the logs to be layered in a much flatter triangle than the steep triangle I used. Next time, I will aim for the side view of the hugelkultur bed to look like a wider flatter version of the above profile. It would be flat on top but each end would slope down gradually. This gentler slope would make it easier to cover and plant on the ends. To do this, the logs in the higher layers would need to be shorter than the logs in the lower layers. This might require more cutting of the logs.
The ends of my hugelkultur bed are very steep. This made it hard to keep soil on them and hard to plant on them. A more gentle slope would solve this issue.
I would have turfed a bigger base for my hugelkultur bed, turfing at least one extra spade width on each side of the bed, maybe two, I also would have dug long turfs one spade blade wide, with not too much soil attached, so they could easily cover the logs and would stay in place. My turfs were too small and thick and were difficult to position on my steep hugelkultur base.
I also would have kept my turfs separate from my topsoil. I put all of mine on the same tarpaulin to begin with and separated them later.
Size and Tarpaulin
Next time I would allow for much more space around my hugelkultur bed by starting with a smaller flatter pile of logs and leaving bare ground on all four sides as a contingency for the possibility it could end up bigger than planned. My plan was to have a 2 metre long, 1 metre wide bed. The width expanded to more like 1.5 metres as the sides refused to be as steep as I wanted them to be. The materials just fell off! The reason it didn’t get longer is that the wooden ends of the log pile were so steep that the materials fell straight down rather than down and out.
I piled the initial topsoil I dug out onto a tarpaulin on the east side of the hugelkultur bed site. It was too close! At least 30 centimetres of the tarpaulin were covered with the materials falling down the sides of the hugelkultur bed. I needed to move most of those materials off the tarpaulin before I could pull it out. In future I would leave at least 50 cm of space around the area designated for the hugelkultur bed before placing a tarpaulin to put soil onto.
I may not use a tarpaulin at all as I found it difficult to scoop the soil off the tarp with a shovel, making sure I didn’t put a hole in the tarp. It might have been easier to just scoop the soil off the ground, perhaps with a little grass included too.
An idea to try would be to create two soil piles, one on each long side of the hugelkultur bed, so soil does not need to be carried to one side of the bed to the other when putting the soil on top.
I would use grass as a mulch on top, or as a layer well inside the bed where it would be well covered by plenty of soil and compost. The steep sides and ends of my hugelkultur bed made it hard to cover the grass with soil.
Other Green Materials
I wish I had added other green materials such as food scraps and animal manure early in the layering so they were well covered. I did not want fresh green materials close to the surface as they could harm plant roots.
I was lucky that due to the drought there was very little rain during my making of the hugelkultur bed. However, when it did rain it washed some of the soil off. It would have been wise to cover the bed through all the stages until after the soil was added (before seedlings were transplanted) to avoid rain damage. Once the seedlings were planted the bed was mulched immediately to provide some protection.
I wish I had planned accurately in advance when I would complete each stage so that I could have planted the seeds at the right time to have small healthy seedlings (rather than long leggy seedlings) when I was ready to transplant them. My seedlings grew too large and should have been transplanted earlier. I also would have sown 2 boxes of seeds as I didn’t have enough seedlings to cover the hugelkultur bed.
Health and Safety
Recommendation to self: follow my own health and safety instructions at all times!
There were moments when I did not bother to use gloves and I ended up with splinters (from logs) and a blister (from piling wet soil back on top after rain helped it slide down the sides)!
There are lots of advantages to hugelkultur beds:.
- Nutrients provided from decomposing logs
- Warmth created by decomposition
- Fertility increases over time
- Logs retain moisture so very little, if any, watering required
- More surface area to plant on due to its sloping sides so more food can be grown in a small space (planting in triangles also helps maximise what can be planted in a small space)
- Way to use up rotten/scrap wood
- Keep carbon in the soil where it belongs (rather than burning scrap wood)
- Provide different microclimates on each side allowing a variety of different plants to be grown
Use whatever materials you have or can get for free (e.g. sharewaste.org.nz) and do it in your own time.
Plan in advance so you have the materials and seedlings available when you want them.
Remember the Compost Collective provides free composting advice.