|Couldn't have known what a big job it would be.|
We're nearing the end of our rolling programme of covering large areas with black plastic each year, for digging new beds the following year. The ground down there is quite heavy with clay, borderline boggy. The original intention was that it should be this year's potato bed, but when I started digging it, back in February or March, I soon concluded that it was far too wet and stony to be ready in time for planting potatoes! We found a better spot for the tatties and put this one on the back-burner for a little longer.
Happily, at just this time, we heard about Hügelkultur (literally mound- or hill-culture). This is a land management technique long practised in parts of Germany and Eastern Europe, in which marginal land is made cultivable by creating mounds of wood, woody waste from around the garden, plant and grass cuttings: basically whatever organic material is handy, with compost and soil over all. The result is a bed with a decaying core of organic matter that acts as a moisture store, while gradually breaking down, enriching and contributing to the soil.
Typically, the material is simply piled up on the surface of the ground, over an area of about one by two metres, to a maximum height of approximately one metre. In our case, the area we wanted to cultivate is considerably larger (of course, we could have just created a series of small mounds), and is also very windswept. Although we have planted hedges to break the wind, it'll be a few years yet before the shelter is really good and in the meantime we can't get into vertical gardening.
|By this stage I was starting to realise the scale of it.|
|Couldn't have done it without the fishbox soil sifter.|
We had just invested in a Mantis tiller, which proved to be the very tool for the job. With that, I was able to gouge out the stone zone layer, into piles of earth and stone the we could shake through our homemade fishbox soil sifter. The soil was thus kept to go back on top and the stone added to our ever-increasing mound of rubble in the bottom corner of the garden.
|Probably couldn't have done it without beer either.|
That's where the trench met the level of the ground water, and soon there was water pooling in the bottom of the trench, even though we were weeks into an unusually dry spell of weather. This hopefully means that the new bed won't ever need watering.
Now it was time to start filling it all back up again. We started out by sacrificing a couple of large sitka spruce firewood logs to the cause, providing the substantial, slowest-decaying core.
|Step 1. Logs|
Next came a layer of scorched gorse bush remains, which our neighbour had burnt off a nearby hillside the year before. Still woody matter, but much smaller pieces than the core logs.
|Step 2. Brush|
|Spent winter brassicas|
|Step 3. Garden waste|
|Step 4. Manure|
|Step 5. Grass|
|Step 6. Tilling and covering|
|Step 7. Wood shavings to be mixed in|
|Just add seedlings|