ANOTHER dry cool day, another pile of prunings. It’s inevitable at this time of the gardening year that we want to cut back, tidy up and plan for the warm growing season.
No worries. I am going to solve a few problems with that pile and pass on a tried and tested method for doing the same at your place.
It is called hugelkultur, from the German for mound, and is a quick and easy way to use logs, branches and twigs to create a raised growing bed that improves your soil and retains moisture.
Queensland farmer Ted Nichols noted that undisturbed woodland contains an abundance of fallen logs and branches.
“A log that has rested on the ground for a few years is usually covered in moss, lichens and fungi. The longer they’ve been lying there, the more life they sustain. As they slowly rot down, they return nutrients to the soil.”
He says the rotting wood acts like a sponge and stays damp in the soil.
“I kick myself when I think of the tonnes of wood I’ve burned over the years. Not only was I wasting valuable nutrients by sending them up in smoke, I was also unnecessarily adding a fair amount of pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”
I’m quoting Ted because after first reading about his experiments with hugelkultur in 2010, I tried it in my garden, on a small scale, and found it worked well. A bit more research revealed it is a traditional European technique used in permaculture gardening.
First I have to figure out where I can fit this extra bed so that it gets northerly sun, as I would like to grow more vegetables next spring and summer.
Then I’ll follow farmer Ted’s method:
- A hugelkultur bed can go on earth, gravel or other surface, even concrete, at a distance from the house.
- A mix of rotting and fresh woody offcuts breaks down quickly but newly cut matter is fine.
- Dig a trench of at least 30cm and retain the soil, if any.
- Place the largest logs on the bottom of the trench, stamp on them, then add smaller branches and twigs, packing them down until your mound is between 30 and 90cms high. It is recommended that you add mulch and kitchen scraps, grass clippings and leaves as you go, to add extra nitrogen to the carbon-rich wood pile.
- Cover the pile with soil and mulch. Water the pile well and leave it for a few weeks to settle. If you have lime, sprinkle a little to counter acidity from the rotting wood.
- The experts recommend planting a green manure crop first and digging this in before planting up for warm season crops. Green manure seeds are available in a premix pack and can be used on any beds you may want to rehabilitate before the spring.