One of the many things I like about gardening is having to come to terms with nature. It is such a powerful force, just when you think you have it worked out it throws you another curve ball. There is the weather, pests, disease and trying to find a balance between what you want and what nature is willing to let you have is certainly a challenge. One of my favourite expressions in coaching is you learn more from losing than winning and if that is true then I must be a genius. This obviously also applies to my life in the garden.
I do love to experiment and test out various techniques and approaches to growing and I have an on-going experiment in what we call the big field. Down at the bottom, too far away for the garden hose to reach I have been building a couple of experimental flower beds.
The first is just a regular bed, one I made by taking off the turf and digging it over, the ground is pretty poor with a high level of clay and in this particular bed I think I discovered an old gravel heap. Last year I planted some wild flower seed, candytuft, love in a mist and cornflowers and it gave a nice colourful display. Around the edge I planted some potatoes and added organic matter as a way of improving the soil. I got a reasonable crop of tasty earlies, I used “Nicola” which has some blight resistance as well as eel worm and scab resistance and even though the crop was not abundant I was pleased with the result and I am hoping the bed will improve fertility this season.
The second bed is a turf bed. This is where I laid turf upside down in a circle creating a mound. I have added some manure, wood shavings and grass clippings as the mound grew. I am hoping that the top soil will break down and give me a decent layer of soil. The advantages to this are it was a lot less work than the first as it didn’t require any digging of the bed itself. I did have to cut the blocks of turf to lay them but I didn’t have to turn the ground over which proved hard work on the first “conventional” bed. I made the bed at the beginning of the winter and I was hoping that it would be workable by spring, my idea was to cover it in plastic to help the process but with a the storms we have been having I couldn’t keep the plastic on it for any length of time, so it looks like it might take a little longer than I hoped.
The third bed is based upon the Hugelkulture principle. I came across this awhile ago while reading about permaculture and I thought I might give it a go. I believe hugel means mound in German and that is basically how you construct it. The idea is to mimic a forest culture by laying branches at the heart of the hugel, these will break down over time releasing their nutrients, the other advantages are that it holds and retains water and some claim as it breaks down it naturally “tills” the soil. A lot of what I have read about appears to be popular in places like California especially with their dry climate. Water retention in Ireland has not proved to be much of a problem but as the bed it too far for the garden hose this might be an advantage in the long run. Large hardwood logs are not that common around here but I do have loads of hedge trimmings and an old apple tree that saw its last some years ago that needed to be removed. Pine and spruce is not recommended which is a shame as I do have quite a bit of that. So I took these logs, branches and twigs and laid them in a horse shoe shape on a space between my two other beds and began layering.
The second layer was made up of leaf litter from under my hedges, mostly from fuscia, escalonia, elaeagnusand and oleria with a few bits from hazel, sycamore, elm and blackthorn. In fact it was a great excuse to clean up around the place. I then covered the whole lot with sawdust and shavings. My brother in law is a carpenter and uses our barn as a work shop so by cleaning up the shed for him I get access to lots of shavings and this seemed a good way to use some.
I then added coffee grounds, again I collect used coffee grounds from the local café and from a nearby garage, I think they make great composting material and smell great! On top of this I put seaweed, another great gardening material I get access to, not so sweet smelling as the coffee but great for the garden.
Another clean up job around the field and I have a wheelbarrow of horse manure to spread on top before the top soil. I am calling it my frugal hugel bed because it sounds good and because it cost me nothing but an afternoon’s work clearing up around the place.
Proper authentic hugelkulture beds just have a large layer of logs, debris and it is recommended to build them up to 6 foot tall. I don’t have that much wood or top soil at the moment so my little mini frugal hugel horse shoe will just have to do.
I’ll let you know how it progresses later in the year.