I added a new word to my vocab recently- Hugelkulture. My husband, Eric, and I spent about 5 minutes riffing on that term yesterday- saying it first in a German accent at a very loud volume, of course, and then traveling around the world of accents and mispronouncing it in hilarious voices. It was a classic Dieter household chucklefest. I recommend you do the same.
I first heard about Hugelkulture from this article in Edible Austin Magazine. Basically you use wood logs as a base material for building raised beds. Then you layer smaller branches and twigs on top of the logs, followed by a layer of foodscraps or manure. The food scraps and manure provide a nitrogen source for microbes to use when they start eating the wood to break it down into new soil. Then the whole pile gets covered with topsoil, and you can plant right into it. It’s like a compost pile with a garden planted on top of it. The Hugelkulture method is transforming my thinking about my own yard.
Overgrown with bamboo, plagued by two aging Arizona Ash trees that are falling apart, located on a slope, my backyard is a landscaper’s nightmare. As a landscaper myself, I felt overwhelmed by the options and potential cost of getting the yard of my dreams. Eric and I don’t have a ton of money and we have other household projects that take precedence in terms of finances. We have lots of wood and sticks from the bamboo and ash trees, and I need a way to level out slopes. Hugelkuture can solve all of these problems!
In addition to those issues we also inherited a deck built by the former homeowner -my friend Ruth- to accommodate an above-ground pool which no longer resides in my yard. Ruth has the pool at her new house. Built into the side of a hill, the deck had a 6 foot drop off where the pool used to be. It was an accident waiting to happen. Our cats loved to sit on the edge of the deck, and sometimes they would get a little over-zealous in their sunbeam rolling and fall right off the edge. Cats always land on their feet and were only momentarily phased after each fall. A friend who has had a few too many at one of our house parties may not be so agile. After a possum died underneath the deck and infested our cats with fleas and filled our house with stink, it was time for the deck to go.
We tore out the deck a few weeks ago. I added some shredded cedar mulch to the flat area to create a seating area where we will put our firebowl. But that left me with this weird spot where the ground sloped down to a retaining wall next to where the pool used to be. It is about 30 inches deep at the deepest point. I decided to try a hugelkulture bed here using logs from tree limbs that fell during storms. These logs are too big for us to burn in our fire bowl. I will spend some time collecting food scraps from friends and businesses this week. Then I will cover the layers using compost from my giant landscaper’s compost pile that is about 6 years old and has lots of topsoil mixed in. Here is a pic of the wood layer in the hugelkulture bed so far.
Finally, this spring I will plant some medium sized shrubs and perennials in there to keep our guests from falling over the edge. This is right near our kitchen door so I will probably focus on edibles like herbs and chile petins. I also plan to put a stone topper on the cinder block wall to make it look presentable.
Someday Eric and I will build a giant back porch on the house, but until then this will make for a nice seating area with edibles near the kitchen. I will keep you posted on how it turns out. Wish me luck! Are you familiar with Hugelkulure? What do you think about this concept?