When we are doing cleanup at the log yard, we usually just bag up the leaves to put on the potatoes later. We typically will have bags and bags! We also have a lot of decaying material from aged mushroom logs — this material is wonderful! We just move the logs to an area and just keep piling on and let them break down. This fall, I started thinking: I need to incorporate this material into a more usable and sustainable plan.
What is Hugelkultur?
Most definitions are simple: German for hill mound or "hill culture". It's considered a form of no-dig gardening. It is sometimes referred to as a raised garden, garden bed, or a type permaculture gardening with downed logs.
You can read about this form of gardening and find many different variations and ideas. I suggest, as I always suggest, use a method that fits your needs and situation. The beds can be just that — raised beds. The more traditional type/size will be from 3-5 feet tall, tapering at top (in a mound) and can be as wide as you want or as narrow.
Basic Material Needed for a Hugelkultur 'Build'
These materials will be used in layers.
Wood is the major component to your build. Wood can mean anything from cut cordwood to pruned branches to downed/dead material you can find lying about. This material will break down and be "usable" for some time — it's not just seasonal gardening. Most often, the "wood" material will be used as the first layer. If you have green or fresh wood, this should be used as the first layer. (All green or un-aged materials should be used near the ground layers with the more mature and aged materials on the top layer). We will be using mostly our decayed mushroom logs and leaves that are raked up from around our logs.
Manure is good to use to help break down material by "heating". If you have aged manure, which has actually turned to compost, this can be used in layers and on the top layer of your bed. (I do not recommend using humanure on the top layers, even if it is aged). We will be using green goat pellets in the bottom layers to help "heat" and break down other material. We will be using aged pig manure and soil in the top layers.
Green organic material such as garden waste should be used in bottom layers. These bottom layers of green material will heat and break down over a longer period of time. This helps to hold the moisture in and not need as much water as conventional garden beds.
We are building these beds now, fall and winter, in order for the material to be composted enough to plant in spring.
The first build is decayed shiitake mushroom logs, leaves, green goat pellets (manure), dry corn cobs/shucks, dead limbs collected from around the log yard. The final layer is aged pig manure. This will be left until March or April and then planted. We are working on several of these beds and will give an update on other materials we will be using.
Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that have been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Read all of Susan's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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