One of our many interests is that of permaculture. There are many ideas all lumped together under this topic, and one of them is hugelkulture. This is a German word meaning “mound culture”. Hugelkulture consists of building a raised garden bed on top of branches or other woody matter. A google search turned up the idea of using logs, whether green or rotted.
I started one of these beds about 13 years ago, entirely unaware of anything called “hugelkulture”. Our land is forested, and that has meant finding uses for branches and logs as we expand the garden and open up areas for pasture.
The builders of this house left a pile of logs alongside of an embankment. It was quite the log pile, stacked up against a slope and extending two to three feet above ground level. I had no use for the logs.
The area seemed like a great place to put a perennials garden, but moving heavy logs was more than I wanted to do. So I thought maybe I would toss some dirt onto them, and then stick some plants into it. It seemed like a way to disguise the logs and start a garden bed at the same time.
|This log is much smaller than it was|
It took a lot of dirt. With grubhoe and shovel I excavated an embankment producing wheelbarrow loads of stony sand. Load after load was tossed onto the logs. I worked in some compost, and planted a few perennials. They did not grow very well.
Over the years I’ve had to continually add more dirt. Apparently the dirt sinks down into spaces between the logs. Holes would suddenly appear. I kept adding more dirt. Wheelbarrow loads of it. I had to take out the plants and then replant them afterward.
After about ten years the logs started to rot. I’d walk on the pile and things seemed squishy. Areas again started to sink. Holes reappeared. I tossed on dirt, added manure or compost, and re-situated plants. Around this time the plants were starting to look a little healthier.
Now, after 13 years the log pile garden has shrunk considerably. The plants are doing very well. I’ve even put my favorite shrub there, a Japanese quince. This year the quince is flowering for the first time since it was moved here 13 years ago.
The logs are still there. A couple of them show above the dirt in spite of all the dirt and compost that were piled on. The logs appear to have shrunk and their surfaces are rotting. I expect the pile will continue to shrink.
Gardening on rotting logs is said to take advantage of the ability of rotting wood to retain moisture and release it gradually to the roots of the plants. One might take note that mulch does the same thing. What is interesting is to observe over the years how wood incorporates into the ground. What I’ve seen with rotting logs in the woods is they dissolve down to almost nothing. If you thought you were getting a raised bed out of your soil covered logs, it’ll be a shrinking one.
I’m not discounting the hugelkulture concept. I actually think it’s a wonderful idea. Certainly, in an ashes to ashes kind of way, it is a part of the permaculture philosophy. There is a little bit of work involved, but in the end it seems like a fine way to use up old logs. -jmm