With a new bokashi bin ready and a spring-like day, there has been no better opportunity to enjoy some time in the garden. Another of those long-awaited days arrived this morning, when I could put my back into the next phase of the garden makeover.
The project in question was a hugelbed to use up all the wood I have accumulated from excavating previous beds as well as other branches I’ve collected. I’m going to be scaling back annual vegetable growing as the forest garden develops but I don’t want to give it up entirely. I’m too fond of my own broad beans and tomatoes.
The spot I’d chosen for the hugelbed is undoubtedly the sunniest, getting some winter sun in spite of the high fence and tall trees on the east side of the garden. From past experience, whatever I grow here does tend to do well.
First of all, the bluebells needed to go. Then it was some feat to get the soil moved, there already being wood from making a hugelbed in this position previously. Over time, the soil settles into the nooks and crannies.
I could of course have left the wood that was already there and piled the rest on top. However, I want the soil on top of the mound to be as deep as possible. In the short term, I need to conceal the whiff of bokashi and, in the longer term, I need the soil to be deep enough to grow things.
What I’ve found over the last four years of growing on such mounds is that, once the soil settles, there isn’t enough for plant roots and they soon hit solid wood. You might wonder why I’m going to the trouble of putting the wood in the soil then. Thus, the reasons are:
- As the wood rots, it should soak up water which the plants can then use. With my soil being sandy loam, should the wood eventually rot and indeed become a sponge, hopefully therefore the hugel beds will be less drought-prone.
- Also as the wood rots, it should turn to long-lasting compost and increase the depth of top soil. With mine being so thin, to have even a few centimetres’ extra depth would be excellent.
Even though I have yet to experience these advantages, I am hopeful that the theory will come true in practice, once the rot starts. Since beginning the experiment in 2015, I have learned that it is better if the wood has already started to decompose before it goes in the ground. That is logical but supplies of such, for me, are hard to come by.
As my soil is also naturally dry, the decomposition process is going to take longer than it would in a wetter climate with a different soil profile. In fact, I dare say the environment in my back garden would be an archaeologist’s dream if there were any historical artefacts to be found. But perhaps they’ll never need to puzzle over all the branches they discover a thousand years from now if climate change wipes us all out.