Soil-Building through “Hugelkultur”

“Soil is the basis for food,  feed,  fuel and fiber production. Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline.”   -Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General

In August, three box elder trees fell into our garden. Box elder is a fast-growing, short-lived tree, considered an invasive species in many parts of the country; its soft, wet wood is not suitable as a heating source. The plan was to cart all that wood to the landfill. hugelkultur

Then we learned about “hugelkultur”, a composting process using decaying logs, brush, leaves, and other compostables as a planting bed. The gradual decay of wood is a source of long-term nutrients for plants. The logs and branches act like a sponge; rainwater is stored and then released during drier times. Soil aeration increases as branches and logs break down.  What a great opportunity to put those logs to good use! When life hands you “lemons” . . . make soil!

Doug McGrath, Facilities Manager of the Lebanon Rec Dept. was willing to help with our project. He cut up the wood and hauled it to our hugelkultur site, placing the logs in the form of two arcs. DSCN8769DSCN8774

Next, we laid branches and sticks across the logs, intertwining them for stability, stuffing newspaper, leaves, and grass clippings into the interstices as we went along.


 DSCN8814 (In the foreground, leaves and grass clippings fill the space between the branches; in the background, infill has yet to be done.)


In between the layers of leaves and grass clippings, we spread coffee grounds from the Lebanon Co-op and manure.


Doug topped off the piles with well-aged wood chips with lots of mycelia.


DSCN8844Next summer, we’ll plant and see how this experiment plays out. Can we create an adequate planting medium from materials at hand: logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, wood ash, newspapers, wood chips, and manure?  Our plan is to grow squashes and pumpkins down the western side where they will get full sunlight, and plant greens and flowers on the eastern slopes. Thanks to Doug McGrath for all the help, to Helen Brody for those great loppers, to Bob Follensbee and Frank Mastro for the leaves, Polly Gould for leaves and grass clippings, Joan McGovern for the donkey/mule manure, Janet and Bill Wallace for the llama “beans”, the Lebanon Co-op for the coffee grounds, and to Cherry Angell for the use of your truck!

For more info see:

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  – Rumi



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