Loving Garland Green members Charlie Bevilacqua and Liz Berry assisted in the installation of a hugelkultur at Watson Tech here in Garland. If you don't know what a hugelkultur is, visit our site at lovinggarlandgreen.org. Hugelkultur translates mound or hill culture from the German. This name is descriptive of the shape of the bed when it is completed--it's a small mound (although some hugelkulturs can have mounds as high as four feet.)
1. In the beginning, it was dig dig dig: about two hours, 15 minutes of hard labor
Two students, second grade teacher Jennifer Clements, a parent, and Charlie and I dug a pit approximately four feet wide, twenty feet long and a foot deep. If you want to know how long that takes, it's about 2 hours--with six people digging. It's tough to dig through the clay of our Blackland Prairie soil.
2. Then came the rotten wood: about 10 minutes of easy work. (Rotten wood is not heavy.) Rotten wood is the bottom layer of the hugelkultur.
3. Next we piled organic matter on top of the rotten wood. In addition to that we scattered two 40 pound bags of chicken manure over this mixture. Spreading the organic matter (shrub cuttings, grass clippings, compost, watermelon rinds, banana peels, etc.) took less than 10 minutes.
4. Here are Jennifer and I, standing in front of our almost finished hugelkultur (I'm the one whose eyes are closed on the right. Apparently, I didn't realize how tired I was.). The part of the process you don't see is what it took to put the soil back on top of the rotten wood and organic matter. That process was almost as difficult as digging the pit. (Jennifer thought more so.) Initially when digging the soil out of the bed, we placed it on top of a tarp we had spread along the edge of the bed. Once the wood and organic matter were placed in the bed, we shoveled and raked the soil back on top of the logs. After moving about five inches of soil into the bed, we then spread a forty pound bag of expanded shale over the top of the soil and mixed it in.
Next we shoveled another five inches soil onto the mound, spread another bag of expanded shale and mixed that in. All total we added five 40-pound bags of expanded shale to the North Texas Blackland Prairie soil. Our north Texas soil is great in terms of its nutrient value, however its clay texture leaves much to be desired as it often smothers plants to death as they are not able to derive nutrients due to the density of the soil. Moving the soil back into the bed took about 2 hours, but it seemed a lot longer because we were tired.
5. Here is our finished hugelkultur. As the final step we spread two bales of straw over the mound. This mulch will protect the organisms in the soil from the heat of summer. I pushed aside some of the straw today and planted a Turks Cap that I had grown from a cutting. It's that little green spot you can see on the straw pile. This plant is just an experiment to see how/if it will survive the summer. The hugelkultur will not be planted by the second grade students until fall. Over the summer the straw will decompose and in the fall a layer of compost and garden soil will be spread over it. At that point plants will be installed and seeds planted. This garden is intended to be used for vegetables as well as a few plants for pollinators.
It usually takes about a year for the micro ecosystem of the hugelkultur to kick in. (The decaying wood holds water and other nutrients and makes them available to the plants on a natural time release. This micro ecosystem emulates what happens on the forest floor where trees and leaves fall, decay, and subsequently provide nourishment for new trees and plants.)
LOTS OF INTERESTING BOTANICAL EVENTS ARE HAPPENING IN THE WATSON TECH GARDEN
Four new raised beds were built today while we were building the hugelkultur. For the next few months the two unplanted beds in the foreground will be used for a scientific study on milkweeds that is being conducted by a graduate student from Midwestern University. The other two beds will be used by students at Watson Tech. (Note: there are already several existing beds and a greenhouse in this great schoolyard garden area.) One of the fun things that happens at Watson is that at the end of the growing season a meal is prepared for the gardener students and they have the opportunity to reap the rewards of their harvest and eat what they have grown.