Hugelkulture. It’s a german word. I think it was invented by a guy with a lot of stumps or downed timber. Basically it’s a system of gardening where you bury wood, limbs, stumps, branches etc. and mound dirt over them. The idea behind this is that the wood rots and as it breaks down it provides moisture for the growing bed. This is great for areas with low water or areas that are hard to water. I was excited by this technique because it involved getting rid of: stumps, branches, logs, TREES, of which I have plenty.
I observed hugelkulture on my property when I was clearing land for our orchard. Logging is not always an efficient operation and much of the slash piles or non marketable timber is often left on the ground to rot. If you have plenty of time, say like eighty years, this will rot down into some fabulous soil. I didn’t have eight years but I did notice when I started clearing areas, the slash piles that rotted had a very nice layer of topsoil that I was able to save. Digging around the old growth stumps also produced nice soil that was distributed through out the orchard.
As previously discussed, okay I rambled about it for days to anyone who would listen, I have about twenty five old growth stumps that are simply too big to remove in a cost effective way. They range in size but the average stump is about three feet in diameter. For almost all of these I was able to have them cut almost flush to the ground. Some of them I buried with dirt and planted grass on top of them. Those were the stumps that were able to be cut at grade. Most of them were not. I piled stones on top of them so I can see them in the spring when I mow.
I bought a crapy push mower off of Craig’s List just for this purpose. I’ll be able to mow tight to each stump which I wouldn’t be able to do with a brush hog. A few times of mowing should keep the weeds low enough that the alpacas can graze everything.
Back to huglekulture! An enormous stump cluster, which appears have been three trees growing close together proved impossible to deal with, excavator, bull dozer and tractor all gave it the thumbs down or the middle finger up, however you want to look at it. I covered this area (about eight feet long by four feet wide) with sticks and leaves and dirt and a couple of road kills. I topped the entire thing off with a tarp and let it sit for about seven months. I was hoping to rot the thing down somewhat. I recently took the tarp off in a stretch of good weather and was surprised to find it still moist. This stump cluster is in an area I want to have a vegetable garden. I thought about huglekulturing it right on up except it would have been about seven feet tall, not ideal!
In order to make the mound smaller I made a fire on it. Everyone knows to make big hot fire you must first make little hot fire. My husband reminds me of this constantly. I built a fire and used a leaf blower and some diesel gas to get it going. I am not recommending starting a fire with gas. It is however, very effective!
This fire would have needed to burn for about six weeks and reach a temperature of four billion degrees to completely take out the stumps, I certainly didn’t have time for that. My goal was to burn the thing down enough to make it manageable for a huglekulture bed.
This took some time. About seven hours. Even my helper pooped out on me.
The fire eventually died down, in the above photo you can see the center burnt the best, the two stumps on the end were too wet to really burn. After several days, the fire was still warm in the center, I spread the ashes out and examined what I had. The end stumps still remained but the center was nicely burnt down, practically flush with the ground. I had my husband cut the two end stumps with a chainsaw so that there were much lower to the ground and then we had a snowstorm so…photo unavailable.
I plan to make my huglekulture bed when the snow melts. I will dig down a bit and add some wood and organic matter (thanks to alpacas and their use of dung holes I have no shortage of manure) and cover the entire thing with dirt. I will most likely make this my composting spot as well and top the entire thing off with wood chips which we have no shortage of thanks to the wood chipper PTO. It’s going to look like I buried a cow but I’m hoping over the course of a few seasons it will continue to rot down and maybe before I die it will even be flush with the ground.