Hugelkultur – or how to bury a big mess the permaculture way

Karen buries the evidence...err builds a hugel bed

Karen buries the evidence…err builds a hugel bed

Moat-like and bramble-choked, a drainage ditch dug long ago surrounds our garden, the most valuable asset in our quest for food self-sufficiency. Who dug the ditch and when is unknown, but over the past few decades parts of it have succumbed to the relentless creep of the surrounding red alder.

A pioneer species that colonizes open ground, alder has many benefits. There’s no finer wood for smoking wild West Coast salmon, alder roots host nitrogen fixing bacteria that improve the soil productivity and it breaks down quickly in the earth feeding mycelium and the soil ecosystem.

In the northwest corner of our garden the alder roots clogged the drainage ditch leaving that part of the garden flooded and soggy into the spring, delaying planting and potentially competing with food crops for nutrients.

The solution?

Our neighbour John, his excavator and my chainsaw.

Two blokes and a machine can make one hell of a muddy mess in the middle of winter, and we did. A shocking mess.

So what to do with a two dozen alder trees, branches and root balls? Bury it of course.

John excavated two long trenches in the garden to Karen’s specification. I bucked up the trees into three foot lengths and Karen buried the evidence. A layer cake of red alder, top soil and in a few weeks a thick dusting of acid-rich Douglas fir sawdust from last year’s sawmill work. It’s the future home of our blueberry patch.

Known as Hugelkultur in permaculture circles, this sort of large scale raised bed provides innumerable benefits. Rich moisture retaining substructure to hold water during the dry summer months while keeping plant roots out of the wettest levels when the water table is up during the winter rains. Over time the alder will break down and feed a complex soil ecosystem, which will massively benefit the blueberries.

So out of destruction erupt nutrients and the sweet promise of luscious anti-oxidant rich food.

It’s still a mess though. We couldn’t bury that.

 

The not so drainy ditch

The not so drainy ditch

The Mess

The Mess

More mess

More mess

Karen's beloved wild, native elderberry that escaped a falling alder by 6 inches.

Karen’s beloved wild, native elderberry that escaped a falling tree by 6 inches.

IMG_9703-building

Building the hugelkultur

IMG_9689

IMG_9698

Bed number two

Karen stacked some alder for future salmon smoking. Yum!

Karen stacked some alder for future salmon smoking. Yum!

Our hippy garden shed

Our hippy garden shed made from scrap materials

Karen also prepared Mia's personal garden!

Karen also prepared Mia’s personal garden bed!

 

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