This week marks 9 months since we’ve been living on our block. It’s not a significant birthday but it does seem to signify a change in direction on our life here. Gone is the focus on the bus (there are still a few minor jobs and the issue of mould to do before next winter.) Instead we are now shifting our attention outside to the garden, to the yoga studio: to the creation of other spaces.
The first of which has been to create some garden beds. Originally our idea had been to create raised wicking beds but as we collected a pile of logs our cleared trees our thinking shifted. Instead of raised beds we thought we’d attempt a hugelkultur bed. It would provide the water retention over time and would clear up some of the timber we hadn’t been able to mulch.
Step 1: Dig out your hole.
As the article link to above illustrates the rules for creating hugelkultur beds are general in principle. The main elements being to bury some wood, cover this with leaves and manure, add top soil and mulch. Reading through a variety of articles it was difficult to determine how deep to dig the hole. Working backwards from the height above ground we settled on digging out our bed to the depth of 30cm. This meant that over a course of a few days Deirdre and myself took to digging up our clayey soil creating a bed roughly 7 metres long and a 1.2 wide. For ease of access we added a few keyhole paths coming off one of the sides.
Step 2: Add your wood to your hole
In our case this meant a pile of 50-150mm diameter lengths of mainly silver wattle. We had some stringy bark as well but due to it’s allopathic quality we put them aside instead choosing to use the silver wattle. As the woods varied in lengths this meant some chainsawing before. To speed up our chainsawing I rigged up a wooden log holder from some off cuts.
Once the wood was cut to lengths of between 600 and 900mm we then carried them up to the bed and added them in. We started with the bigger bits on the bottom adding the smaller pieces on top of this.
Step 3: Wet down the logs (to promote breaking down)
With the wood in place (roughly up to the height of the hole) we then watered the logs to help promote breaking down.
Step 4: Add leaf matter
After watering the wood we then set about filling in the gaps with some twigs, mulch, leaf matter as suggested from the article. This was the hardest part of the construct as we had scrounge around trying to find some leaf matter. We ended up settling on some green leaves from some prunings and a pile of bracken and broken down leaves from our wood piles.
Step 5: Add manure
Once the gaps had been filled we added in some manure. This was sourced from roadside stalls around the valley. We added it to about a 5 cm depth over the top of it all. To this we then added a few bags of biochar that we had created. Our rational being the biochar will help with the water retention.
Step 6: Add back some of the top soil.
The next step was to add back some of the soil that we had dug out. The reading we had done talked about adding the topsoil with the roots back. A little difficult given we were starting from a place of no growth. Instead I chose to add the more looser soil from around old tree roots to the top of the bed. Hopefully it doesn’t add to much clay to the bed, only time will tell I guess.
Step 7: Add extra top soil (optional step)
As mentioned our soil is mainly clay and therefore a little tricky to grow into straight away. Since we wanted to plant in our bed ASAP we order in some extra manure and soil. This was then added to the depth of about 10cm above the previous soil.
Step 8: Add mulch
With the soil added it was then time to add some mulch. Normally we would have settled on some straw from the local nursery but with the dry 2015 winter and spring and 15-16 summer the availability of straw is limited and so we settled on pea straw from the hardware.
The next step will be to plant it out with some seedlings and see how they go. This would have happened this week but our little greenhouse blew down in the winds this week and so we will have to start all over again.
All up the bed took us probably two-three hard days of work. Most of that being digging and chopping the wood. Once that had happened the rest of the steps probably took no more than a day. Hopefully the work has been worth it. I’ll add a part 2 on after summer to report on how the bed has gone.