asked me if I'd ever heard of Hugelkultur. I thought the
answer was no, until I googled the term and discovered that hugelkultur
similar to the mounds
I built last fall using dirt tossed over decomposing branches. Putting a name to the
method really expedited my research and turned up a lot more
information than I thought was out there. Thanks, Davia!
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The idea is pretty
simple --- adding wood to a raised bed acts as a sponge, evening out
soil moisture so that the ground doesn't become waterlogged and also
doesn't dry up. As the wood rots, it turns into wonderful organic
matter a lot like the stump
dirt I rave about.
However, I think I made
a few mistakes with my hugelkultur beds. If you research the
technique, you'll discover that the correct way to make the beds is to
bury the woody material at least a foot or two under the earth. I
just built up piles of partly rotten branches and shoveled dirt in the
gaps, a method that worked okay for the hazels and wildflower mixes I
grew there, but that wouldn't have worked for vegetables. I'm
sure the branches are locking up nitrogen out of the soil as I type,
but everything I put in the beds is extremely resilient and seems to be
The real problem is that
my beds are too dry. The wood hasn't rotted down enough yet to
act as a sponge, and the loosely shoveled clay has a lot of air pockets
that let water drain right through. Granted, I located the mounds
in an area where the groundwater is so high nothing will grow there, so
this "problem" isn't so bad --- it made a nice spot to put in rosemary
without ending up with root rot the way my rosemary plants usually do.
Problem number two is also
related to my haphazard construction. I left bits of branches
sticking out around the edges, which made Mark very leery of mowing up
to the sides of the mounds. Add to that the fact that my mulch
mostly blew away over the winter and I forgot to refresh it or weed the
mounds, and the result is a weed thicket. Surprisingly, the
thickly seeded wildflowers seem to be holding their ground against the
weeds, and the honeybees consider this area their second home, so all
is not lost.
Now that I know more
about the technique, though, I want to try hugelkultur again as another
winter project. This time, I'll bury the wood deeper and plant a
cover crop to add fertility for the first year or so before planting
anything important. I'll be curious to see how quickly the
rotting wood starts benefiting my plants.