In the Trenches

The start to the new year typically involves long evenings reading at the Weed Patch. The young Jedi is absorbed in a book about a time travelling 12 year old who is smack in the middle of World War One. My partner in crime is unravelling the mystery of a lost nuclear bomb in BC during the 1950’s. I’m spellbound with tales of women in the US Civil War. And then we spend our daylight hours digging and filling trenches… How fitting.Step One: The TrenchIn between our English walnut quadrant will be a series of alley crop rows to accommodate the Styrian pumpkins and some cut flowers. We decided to transform 40 metres of row into Hugelkultur beds so that we could utilize our assorted collections of woody debris, compost and woodchips. Step one is to dig a trench at least 30 cm deep; 1.5 metres wide and as long as you require. Add one visiting Sergent Duck Toller to supervise the excavations.

Step Two: fill the trench with coarse woody debris

Step two involved filling the trench with as much coarse woody debris as we had available on hand. In our case, alder logs, corn and sunflower stalks from the fall and winter fruit tree prunings all ended up in this first layer. This slowly decomposing mass of wet wood will act as a sponge and a slow release nutrient source for the next several years in a portion of our field with shallow soils and a high water table.

Step Three: Add composted wood chips

Step three was to add a thick layer of well rotted wood chips. Now it’s time for a break while the rains soak these first three layers. But, by the end of January we will be adding the clods of upside down turf; horse and sheep manure; spoiled hay and chicken nesting box bedding; and then a final layer of compost which will be the planting medium for the Styrian pumpkins in early June. The entire mound will be mulched at planting to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. The use of Hugelkultur as an alternative to tilled rows in small scale agriculture is gaining popularity and appears to be a great approach at the Weed Patch where we have field conditions that lend themselves well to raised growing mounds utilizing copious amounts of biomass that we have readily available. These rows will be in production of Styrian pumpkins and hardy cut flowers for several growing seasons until the nut trees close in their canopy slowly, in stealthy mode over the next decade and claim their territory… Time for some light fiction, I think.

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