Experiment in hugelkultur

Carol has decided to experiment with hugelkultur in the garden this year. A hugelkultur garden bed consists of decaying wood and other compostable material from plants. This technique is supposed to create more fertility in the soil, and improve water retention. Given the ongoing drought here in northern California, improved water retention alone makes this technique worth trying.

Rather than build up a mound of decaying material, as is typical with hugelkultur, Carol got me to make a raised garden bed; with the tiny amount of space we have for our garden, this seemed to make the most sense. We got some cheap boards from a lumberyard, I scrounged some scrap wood for the corners, and in about an hour we put together a bed 96 inches long and 25 inches wide. Then we put in some partially finished compost, along with twigs and small branches.

hugelkultur raised garden bed

In the photo above, we’ve put down a layer of partially finished compost; the two buckets behind the raised garden bed are more compost waiting to go in. Carol has started laying some twigs and branches on the compost. After this, she put down another layer of compost, and then added a layer of potting soil we purchased from the hardware store across the street.

Carol is also planning to set up a greywater system (she is something of an expert on the topic). We already collect greywater — we have to run about two and a half gallons of water before the water in the shower gets hot, so we collect this and use it for watering the garden. Given how bad the drought is, that wasn’t enough water, so she is looking at other easily accessible sources of greywater that we can use without annoying our very nice landlord.

If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see potatoes growing in the raised bed behind the new bed. Today they started wilting a little. The National Weather Service predicts “dry weather and above average temperatures are likely to persist into the first half of next week”; we’re going to have to start watering the garden now, right in the middle of the winter-wet season. This is global climate weirdness happening in front of our eyes; maybe hugelkultur is one small way to help restore some balance to an out-of-balance world.

another view of hugelkultur bed

Above: The bed with more twigs and branches, and more bins of partially finished compost ready to go on top (photo credit: Carol Steinfeld).

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