One of the main reasons Greti and I started gardening was to reduce some of our living costs. We figured that if we could grow our own food or at least part of it, our grocery bills would be smaller.
At the same time, like many other gardeners, we’re doing this out of a pure passion for gardening, tending to plants and enjoying the beauty of nature.
That being said, we want our garden to be productive and healthy, but also good looking. When it comes to the latter, things get complicated. A good looking garden usually requires a bit of financial investment in the beginning, but that would go against our effort to reduce all costs.
Luckily, with a bit of planning and forward-thinking, you can make amazing things with repurposed or locally sourced materials.
We have a small fence that is separating our front yard from the orchard and the garden in the back. While this is a great way to keep larger animals at bay, it proved to be inefficient against dogs, who managed to squeeze under the fence freely. We wanted to stop our dog from getting outside, and the neighbours dogs from getting in.
This proved to be a great opportunity to create two more hugelkultur garden beds that would soon be full of beautiful flowers and fresh delicious peas. We also wanted to avoid buying soil or compost, so we needed a better, cheaper, more practical solution for filling up our new garden beds.
I’m a big fan of hugelkultur beds, both due to their high fertility output and for repurposing woody debris that would otherwise end up burned. Therefore, I figured that building a hugelkultur bed alongside our fence will tick all the above.
Building the bed was really easy and it didn’t take a long time. The whole project took about two hours from start to finish.
I started by sharpening a few stakes that I then hammered in the ground every one meter or so along the fence line. I left around 30cm between the fence and the stakes, enough to create a garden bed that could accommodate a few flowers.
After putting the stakes in, I used some long, straight branches that I had laying around to build the edge of the garden bed. I simply stacked them inside the bed, using the wooden stakes as support on one side.
While building the outer edge upwards, I started filling the inside of the bed with wood debris, leaves, and hay. This pushed the branches outwards and helped secure the wall in place, so I could continue stacking the branches to raise the wall higher.
In less than an hour, we had two rustic-looking flowerbeds alongside our fence, full of organic material. On top of that, I added several centimetres of forest soil and homemade compost and I did my best to shake the soil into the cracks.
Hugelkultur beds become more fertile after their second year. The wood inside them needs a year or two before it starts breaking down and releasing all the nutrients.
So whenever I build a new hugelkultur bed I do not expect any miracle growth in the first year. However, leaving the bed empty is a waste of space, time, and resources. Planting something, even a cover crop, is a good idea since the plant roots and the leaves’ shade creates a nice habitat for all sort of beneficial micro-organisms.
My crop of choice, whenever I have a newly established hugelkultur bed is either peas or beans. They don’t require much fertility to grow and I’m not looking for a high yield. My main focus is fixing more nitrogen into the carbon-rich bedding below.
It’s important to know that the bean plan itself doesn’t fix nitrogen. The decomposition process of its roots is what fixates nitrogen in the soil. So plan the beans, and leave them over-winter in the ground.
Going forward we plan to fill up these two beds with wild strawberries, thyme, bay and flowers. We might even continue plating beans to make use of the fence that is already there.
By next year the rain would’ve already pushed the soil as deep as possible within the empty spaces between the wood branches, so I will have to add another think layer of soil. Since the hugelkultur beds are so fertile, there’s no need to add compost, especially for growing flowers and wild strawberries.
So far they kept the animals on the correct side of the fence and the peas we planted there gave us 500g of fresh peas already. All in all, this was a very easy project that didn’t cost a dime, so I will call this a win!