Then we went to a permaculture techniques day with our permaculture group, and looked at some hugelkultur and swales at the Bottle Tree Hill Organics farm. Swales are kind of like contour banks across slopes, consisting of a trench uphill and a mound downhill, used to hold water on the surface of a slope for longer, to allow it to soak into the mound of dirt and to direct water towards dams etc (diagram and info here). We have plenty of slopes, erosion, dry spots, so we could definitely see the need for swales of some kind, or maybe more like Peter Andrews style contour banks to direct water and fertility (a contour bank doesn't have so much of a trench on the uphill side). Even though we have the little tractor, we weren't sure that it was up to the task of digging trenches and building mounds on a large scale.
We decided to build more of a hybrid hugelkultur-swale to help with the rehabilitation of the particularly eroded area on our property and as somewhere to plant any extra seedlings! The hybrid hugelkutur consists of a pile of logs and branches on the slope above the drain, which has virtually no top soil left. On top of that, I put 3 wheelbarrow loads of cow manure and then a big load of hay (that our
|Our hybrid hugelkutur-swale-contour thingy|
Unfortunately the first part of this summer was not as wet as initially forecast, and the occasional 10 mm of rain here and there, interspersed with impossibly hot days, was not enough to sustain all the plants, particularly with no shade over the mound, and some plants didn't make it. I tried to be blase about the hugelkultur, but I did end up taking water buckets up there and giving it a few drinks, just to keep something going (if only the microbes and the worms). Now finally it has rained, and I can see that some of the plants are doing well. Its quite fun having it as an overflow garden. It doesn't matter what survives and what doesn't. It doesn't matter if I don't ever harvest anything, and it doesn't matter if its full of weeds, as long as something is growing up there and starting to establish some top soil on the slope.
Already we can see sediment and organic matter accumulating on the slope above the hugelkultur, this is all fertility and potential soil that would have been washed away in the past. Last year I did pile grass clippings on the area, but without the logs to stabilise the heap, it didn't last long. We also learnt that its better to spread out a small thick pile of grass rather than spread more thinly over a larger area.
Since building the first part of the hugelkutur we have continued to to extend it across the slope, with more logs, manure, grass clippings and hay as they become available. I also put down some wet newspaper under one part of the pile because the pile of useful newspaper was getting too big. And when we spent some time weeding the garden, the whole lot when onto the hugelkultur as the compost was full. We hope this will be the beginning of building top soil and eventually a stable grass cover in this area.
If you are wondering how this would work in a smaller garden, see the post on Craving Fresh.
Sometimes it takes a bit of thinking to work out how a permaculture concept can work on your property, at your scale and with your resources, but when you come up with something that works, its a great feeling!
Have you tried hugelkultur?
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use and Value Renewable Resources
Produce no Waste
Design from Patterns to Details
Integrate, Rather than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions
Use and Value Diversity
Use edges and value the marginal
Creatively Use and Respond to Change