Friday, April 19, 2013

My experiments with Hugelkultur and No Till

The weather here has been cooler and wetter than normal. I have finally gotten a lot of our garden in and I am excited about a several of my experiments for this year. So here we go with two of my experiments.

Things I am trying this year for the first time; I am going to try a modified Hugelkultur bed. Hugelkultur (hoogle culture) can be defined as the ultimate raised bed. The term Hugelkultur was first coined in Austria and is built by starting with a wood core and piling dirt on the tree trunks or stumps. This has been practiced since ancient times. Once completed the bed would be about six feet high and would be at a very sharp angle. The sides would then be cultivated with food bearing plants. Please see the image below.

Even in extremely dry areas irrigation is reduced to a bare minimum. The general consensus is that the wood core becomes spongy and retains water that is slowly released into the soil. Others believe that the wood core promotes a fungal network that works with the plant to harvest and utilize available water much more efficiently than other methods.

I have modified this type of agriculture. I did not mound the dirt. I dug a trench and buried the wood, then planted on top of where the wood is buried. I believe that this will produce excellent results. I have a couple of plants that are a control group. They are just planted in the ground the way I always have. I have 12 tomato plants in the ground. Six are planted above woody beds (I am not going to call them hugel beds because they are not). I also have six planted in the ground like normal. One is planted straight into the area where my last compost pile was and two are planted in the spot where my chicken tractor was. The remaining three have had no special preparation. I am also going to make my first attempt with no till. I am trying the no till only with the tomatoes as well. I mowed the area really good prior to planting. After I planted the tomatoes I surrounded them with cardboard as a weed barrier. I like cardboard better than landscape fabric because the cardboard breaks down much faster and actually helps improve the soil. (A thick layer of newspaper can be used in the same way.) On top of the cardboard I am mulching with wheat straw. The cardboard should stop grass and weeds from coming up around my plants. The wheat straw should help retain moisture and assist the cardboard in retarding grass and weed growth. Both of these resources will slowly breakdown and improve the soil quality.

Later I will mix compost into the wheat straw. This will allow nutrients from the compost to leach out and into the ground every time it rains and will speed up the break down of the straw. If this works like I think it will, I shouldn't have to weed very much at all and in the future I will only till when I am working new ground and even then I will not have to till the ground as hard. I will keep you all informed as to the progress of this experiment. Below are some additional resources if you would like to learn more about hugelkultur.
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For more information on Hugelkultur:


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