hugelkultur

I am living in my friend’s backyard in town. I call it ‘Kim’s farm’.

People often ask about the arrangement Kim and I have made. 

There is no formal ‘arrangement’ between us. We simply agreed it was a good move for us both for different reasons. I needed a place to park my wagon, grow food and have some good company. Kim wanted company too, as well as someone to help take care of the yard and grow a garden. Kim didn’t know much about growing food and I didn’t have a suitable place for my wagon following last year’s massive flood.

I am so grateful to Kim for having me around and I hope I have been a valuable asset in my time here. It’s certainly been lovely for me to have a blank canvas to play with – gardening is where my creativity blossoms.

The garden beds, although slow going because of my grieving process during this time and the regular need to flee town for a fix of country vibes, are proving to be peachy.

The choice of hugelkultur was based on the need to raise the garden beds quite high to allow smaller floods to leave them untouched. Also, the soil here is possibly slightly contaminated and is heavy and boggy at times.

The placement, in a yard surrounded by trees, was dictated by access to sunlight (I’m still not sure if there’ll be enough winter sun) and Kim’s eagerness for a fire pit.

With some resourceful innovation, we came up with a circle of raised beds around a central fire pit using mostly locally-sourced, second-hand and waste materials.

This is a photographic timeline of the progression of the yard to date:

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The first weeks of living in Kim’s yard
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Sitting on my ‘deck’ (pallets) in the winter sun, planning. Watching how the sunlight traverses the space, thinking about flood mitigation and the garden and fire pit size and placement.
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The arrival of Spring (Jacaranda and Silky Oak in bloom in the background), planning over and experimentation with raised hugelkultur beds starts – using very locally sourced, free materials.
THE PROCESS:
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Step 1 – old corrugated iron sheets cut and stuck into the ground and attached at each end with old timber offcuts. Cardboard and newspaper sourced from local recycling bins is then placed in a very thick layer on the bottom
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Step 2 – The beds are half filled with sticks and wood – the neighbour’s dead wattle tree and some mulberry tree trimmings.
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Step 3 – Cover with woodchip and work it into the gaps. I have a friend who is a tree lopper with a lot of waste so a load was dropped in the yard for free. I’ve also been collecting urine in a special wee bucket and throw it in at this point for added nitrogen.

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Step 4 – Cover the woodchip with a controversial layer of sawdust/manure stall scrapings from the local racecourse. My theory is that it’s under the topsoil and any bad stuff should leach away before the plant’s roots start getting into it.
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Step 5 – Cover the last 20 cms or so with soil. We used ‘green waste compost’ from the local tip. This was the first cost to Kim ($35) other than fuel for a couple of kilometers in the ute to collect the cardboard and sawdust.
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Finally, a layer of mulch on top of it all – this shows three of the four beds completed by December (with the fire pit in the middle).
Inaugural planting
We started planting in the first bed in early December. This was our inaugural vegetable planting moment!
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The view from Kim’s window in December as we prepared for our New Year’s Eve fire pit party. Can you spot Venus present?
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The view now……with the wagon moved into its flood-ready position. It was moved in February to this spot closer to the street. The fourth bed is almost ready to be planted with potatoes. Yum!

 

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On a break in the building process – the ends are designed to sit on. Very comfy too!
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I’ve also been creating a perennial ‘food forest’along the length of one boundary fence. This is for all those food plants that can’t fit, or don’t belong, in the raised beds. It will also improve privacy for Kim in years to come.

 

Conclusions: 

It’s all an experiment so I observe with interest.

I’ve noticed the soil levels drop about 10 cms since planting started in the first two beds. They’ll need topping up with compost soon. The third bed is better because I made sure the bed was packed really well.

I’ve never used this kind of system before. The beds haven’t been left to settle before planting so I expect some repercussions. We’re getting some food out of them but maybe there’ll be some losses in the first season or two as the system matures.

So far we’ve eaten some cucumbers, loads of beans, a bit of parsley, chives, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, zinnias and capsicum from the first three beds (actually that’s pretty much all from the first two).

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There’s lots of winter stuff going in over the next few weeks to fill all the gaps. By late winter I expect the garden beds will be looking great as long as we don’t get a flood that over-tops the beds. We are currently in the middle of flood season.

Kim’s one request, the fire pit, is delightful. We need to use it more often, and coming into winter, I’m confident we will. Is burning wood unnecessarily a low-impact choice though?

High-impact fossil fuel use in the making of the garden has me concerned too. We have used fuel in vehicles, and there were fossil fuels used in the making of the compost, the chipping of the wood, the cutting down of the old wattle, the delivery of the second-hand corrugated iron to our place and more. Using materials that have had a previous life (i.e. not created specifically for us), is OK in my world, but not this extra production of carbon emissions from direct fossil fuel use.

The only alternative, as far as I can see, would have been to develop the garden a lot more slowly using only the ingredients available within biking distance of us.  Still possible, but the time pressure to produce food and get the yard sorted has trumped that option in this case. Next time maybe……

 

 

 

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