In the article I wrote called Creating the Backyard Homestead for Brink Of Freedom, I outlined a plan to institute a way to enrich the soil by using a hugelbed. I won’t go into the details of how a hugelbed can help improve soil quality in this article, but know that I have wanted to do a hugelbed since I first heard about them on The Survival Podcast.
After careful analysis of my situation , I decided to place the hugelbed in an area that would allow the most water retainment. It seems that when it rains the water leaves the patio area and then forms a bit of a channel then flows off the property. I placed one end of the hugelbed to capture this flow and direct it back on contour to hold and disseminate in a more even pattern.
As you can see in the photos that my hugelbed has a bit of a dog-leg to its pattern as this follows contour and allows for maximum absorption from water run-off. As it happens this is also prime area for growing as it is in the middle of our lawn and gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day.
Let’s break down the project for others to follow, we started by removing the section of the lawn to possibly transplant elsewhere. Then we started at one end and dug down about a foot and then extended that across the length of the bed. Next we took the whole hugelbed down to 24″ and scraped the walls as we went.
With the hugelbed now 15 ft long and 24″ deep we removed the final dirt and prepared to line with cardboard. While digging we encountered mostly clay, but occasionally hit some gravel and larger rocks. Digging in clay is exhausting work, but the rocky areas were made easier by breaking the areas up with a pick-axe instead of a shovel.
After the hole was dug and cleaned out, we soaked some pieces of broken down cardboard boxes in our rainwater bin and placed out across the bottom. Next we placed some smaller twigs, branches, and sticks. Then we put in some longer sticks and branches, before adding some unfinished compost. I wanted some fill material to this layer and wanted to use something that would provide some good bacteria to the bed to aid in breaking down the wood.
The next step was to add some larger pieces of wood, that we got from our left over fuel wood from last winter. Focusing mostly on pieces of wood that were round and still had bark on the outer surface. Additionally, we added some bigger pieces that were not split to this layer of the hugelbed.
We managed to get this far in just a few days with a couple of teenage boys. The majority of this work was completed last weekend.
We have more to do as we continue to place branches and sticks into this layer mixed with chicken poop, rabbit droppings, and possibly more compost, along with the ash from our fireplace, grill, and fire pit. Now we are building the fertilizer layer as we add a mixture of green and brown materials to improve the decomposition of the bed.
Our goal is to get this bed about 4 feet tall, but in reality we might be lucky to get it around 3 feet. Digging in clay and rocky soil is at best a chore, but with the right tools you can be effective.
Clay may be difficult to work with in a garden setting, but I will take clay over shale or granite all day long. Additionally, I am still researching the best ways to bring fertility back to a clay soil base. Seems most things don’t really mind clay as much as we like to think, and along rivers and streams where lots of clay gets deposited we can find lots of plants growing there. So now I am finding myself becoming tempered with the realization that clay is not the end of the world, and though it might not be the best growing conditions, with a bit of management and some hard learned experience we will be able to manage our production and produce a yield.
Even as we continue to work on the hugelbed, I am going to wrap up this post and provide updates and a few more pictures after we complete this project. Please check back for a completed photo of the bed and our champions who took on the challenge and made it happen. Thanks to Grant, Michael, and Hunter for all their hard work.