Sunday, July 13, 2014

Landscaping: Reclaiming our property with Hugelkultur

We live on a hill, a very lovely wooded hill. We have a nice home and property, we just bought it at a time when it has been worn down by age and some neglect, but it has lots of potential. The upkeep, repairs, and trying to get the house and yard at a point where we would like it is exhausting, and many of  the projects we need to accomplish quickly also come with a pretty serious price tag. So in the process of keeping up with the needs of the property we have been researching some more economical ways of fixing some of the issues that we are being faced with.

At some point I came across an article on key hole gardening which was really fascinating. It is a way of piling debris and yard litter into a big pile and lining it with rocks, or sticks, or other materials in order to build up a large raised bed that is typically shaped in a circle with a pie shaped portion cut out making it look like a key hole. The material composts over time feeding the plants that are being grown on top, but also being able to hold in and maintain months worth of water even in typically dry climates, this is becoming a popular planting process in areas of Africa. Very cool idea, but not exactly what we were interested in least at this time. What we really need is a way to stop the erosion issues that we have, and reclaim some of the areas that have washed out over time.

The quick way of fixing this is call up a company that has fill dirt and begin refilling the areas and restructuring the property the way we want. So that takes lots of hard earned money...with five kids to raise that doesn't tend to stay in the bank. So enter the Hugelkultur! It is ingenious, and I really like to say the word, it's just fun to try and use in general conversation. It's a German word(obviously) that means mound culture or hill culture. This has been practiced in Europe for hundreds of years.

It's like a compost pile on steroids. You begin by putting large logs down. On top of those you begin layering other yard debris such as sticks, leaves, grass clippings, hay, etc. on top of that, a layer of soil, or compost is placed. it creates a mound on which you begin to plant. Over time the whole mound begins to decay and this helps to feed the plants that you have placed within the soil layer. The composting material also creates and retains moisture, so the pile can essentially keep plants watered for several months without needing to be watered. This is why it is such a wonderful idea for dry areas that typically make growing food difficult. When I saw this it seemed like a perfect solution to our erosion issue, and we could start building the property back up one mound at a time until we got it back to where we want it. My hope is to terrace the property in large areas of flat space down the hill so that it doesn't wash away again.

Today we began to fill in a problem area near our drive way. The top of the hill near the house is about 15 feet(or more) higher than the lowest part of the yard near the road. This area seems to be creeping closer to our paved driveway and it needs to be fixed before it gets there. We have lots of dead and dying trees on the property that we are slowly taking care of, or nature is taking care of for us. Today we finally took the pine tree that has been sitting near our driveway for a year, cut it into manageable pieces, and began layering it into the area we want filled in. As we get more yard debris, trees, or others that may want to get rid of their yard debris, we will continue to pile it into the area until it fills in completely. Eventually as it decays I would like to purchase some dirt to layer on top and begin planting.

We will continue this in the back yard also and work toward terracing. It is going to be a long and arduous task, but I think that it will be worth it in the end.

Part of our front yard hill

After hauling most of the dead Pine

Where we stopped for the day

This is where we started
Looking up the hill

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