Dream Seed Farms

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hugel Kultur? Hugel Kultur!


Have you ever had a swath of garden, a pile of rotting logs and five hours of time you didn't know what to do with? I found myself in that very predicament today. This is what I did:

Cut the weeds

Started digging a trench

Finished the trench

And wondered what to toss into said trench

How about this unsightly heap of logs and branches someone dumped near our garden?

I didn't plan or measure anything at all





Next came a layer of branches

Then a layer of dry leaves

And I ad-libbed a layer of palm tree fiber

Piled the dirt back on top

Mulched it over with the cut weeds

Tada! Hugel Kultur!!!

Hugel Kultur is a Permaculture idea brought to us by our German speaking friends in Austria. A 'hugel' is a hill or heap, and 'kultur' is culture. In this case it is a pile of whatever you might naturally find on the bottom of a forest floor organized into a big heap intended to store and slowly distribute water and nutrients to whatever is growing above it.

Observation is a key component of PC Design, and Hugel Kultur is a prime example of employing observations about the nutrient cycle of a forest towards a biomimetic gardening application. Basically, old trees and dead fall decompose on the forest floor and release their stored nutrients back into the environment. Throughout that process, the wood soaks up water like a sponge, and harbors all kinds of life that feeds off and transforms the wood back into soil.

The idea is to utilize that natural cycle to produce food with minimal effort. Instead of having to water and fertilize regularly, all we need is a bit of rain to get caught up in the logs, and to plant something on top. I tossed a handful of seed balls over the Hugel (from my last adventure) that had cracked open. We get to test two of our projects in one go. Woohoo!

This is also an ideal way to tidy up the yard, wood lot or even a construction site, as nearly all manner of woody scraps can be used (no treated lumber though). Dead wood or dry lumber seems to be better as it seems to be able to soak up more water. The branches and twigs are optional but lend additional nutrients. The leaves are important for two main reasons: more nutrients and, as I found, to keep all the dirt from falling down into the cracks. In addition to the unruly pile of trimmings someone dumped by our garden one day, we also had two dead palm trees hindering access to our compost bin. I stripped the fibrous coats off the trunks until I reach solid wood and added that on top as I didn't think the meager amount of leaves I managed to scrounge up would suffice. I will use the palm trunks in a hybrid Hugel Kultur / Herb Spiral later on...

For now this Hugel is done. Rather, my attention and energy put towards it is done. It will do its own thing now. After a few days the height will drop a little and then a little more as rain compacts the dirt and washes a bit of it down between the logs. The fiber and leaves will start to decompose, and then the branches, and it will sink some more. The weight and the metabolic action of the myriad beasties inside will likely raise the temperature a bit for a while, so it might be nice to try some season extending experiments in the fall. For now we will just sit back, observe and gobble up anything that happens to grow.

I had been thinking about building my very own Hugel Kultur for quite a while. I was at the end of stretch of available garden space with no more seeds to plant, and I actually needed to clean up the pile of branches to make way...for more wood. Thankfully, we were able to salvage some rather sizable timbers that washed ashore after the tsunami. They are three to four meters long and stout enough to support a roof, so we are going to save them for when we finally start building our own house. I happened to choose the hottest day so far, and the digging and the sukanpo pulling and the sukanpo wrangling and the sukanpo cursing really took it out of me.

This half smile was all I could muster before I passed out
In the end, our garden is a little neater, we have more food planted and I must have burned off 10,000 calories, at least. The new resident critters of our Hugel Kultur won't be the only ones feasting tonight...

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