WHAT IS A HUGELKULTUR GARDEN?
Hugelkultur is essentially a growing system in where a tightly packed pile of organic matter is covered in soil to create a type of raised garden bed. The organic material underneath can include a range of branches, logs, wood chips, twigs, leaves and other biodegradable plant biomass, which break down over time, releasing vital plant nutrients and ensuring greater water retention. Hugelkultur gardens have been used for many years in Germany and other Eastern European countries in order to help build soil on poor mountainous soils, before the concept was taken up by permaculturists and further developed. In recent years many Permaculture experts have advocated their use and they have consistently been shown to increase productivity and create soil over the long term.
WHY A HUGELKULTUR SYSTEM?
The many benefits include
* the re-appropriation of biomass that would otherwise go into landfills or be burnt.
* the creation of a long term nutrient and water bank for your plants.
* the creation of humus which will improve the health of the soil.
* a more biologically active soil.
* increased growth and productivity of the plants.
* increases the cultivatable area and provides a raised surface for you to garden.
Although it isn't anything new, hugulkultur hasn't yet been widely used in urban settings. We feel that the system adapts itself well to gardens however and can be incorporated into many garden designs. When making a system we are very conscious of the organic matter we use, as there are a number of factors to consider, such as how they will decompose and what is the toxicity potential. Natural chemicals such as tannin or resins, as well as a whole range of man made toxins can create situations where decomposition is negatively affected. We prefer naturally occurring products from on-site or within a close proximity, giving preference to broad leaved tree off cuts, cardboard, leaves and garden waste. We choose materials which will decompose at different rates and which contain different elements. This helps create more ecological niches, encourages biodiversity and improves the health of the soil. Depending on the type and age of the material used, it could also be inoculated with various species of edible mushrooms to create even more diversity in our garden.
The hugelkulture beds are normally covered with on-site soil, however in the situation where this is not possible (due to quality, toxicity, quantity, etc) we can bring in additional soil to ensure an adequate cover over the organic matter. The positive effects of the decomposing biomass are generally not encountered in the 1st season, but over the following years the positive effects accumulate as the biomass decomposes.
WHAT IS A STRAW BALE GARDEN?
A straw bale garden is an alternative type of raised bed that uses straw bales or other compressed biomass as both the container and the substrate for growing plants. Once the bales have been prepared they can be used to grow almost all annual vegetables, herbs and flowers. The decomposing bales provide the nutrients the plants need through out the season and possess a substantial potential to hold water. This system allows the season to be extended, as the straw generates heat during its slow decomposition, which helps keep the plants warm at both ends of the season.
WHY A STRAW BALE GARDEN?
Not only are straw bale gardens typically cheaper to install than a regular raised bed garden, but they also have a high production capacity, with the sides of the bales able to be planted, as well as the top surface. Straw bale gardens are temporary structures which last typically 1 - 2 years as a garden bed, but their use doesn't finish there. The remaining decomposed material is rich in humus and this can be added to other gardens to improve the soil structure, chemistry and ecology.
Urban settings can bring many challenges for gardeners looking to produce their own food, such as contaminated soils, paved surfaces and uncertain occupancy terms. Straw bale gardens offer a solution to many of these problems and allows us to avoid many of these challenges through the simple, yet effective nature of this growing system.
In order to support plant growth the bales need to be pre-treated with water and a source of readily available nitrogen atleast 2 weeks before planting them out . We pre-treat our bales with natural, locally sourced fertilizers, rather than synthetic fertilizers. Our natural nutrient sources also contain many other important elements, giving the bale even more potential to support plant growth. Once prepared the bales can be installed in many different ways. Several bales could be placed together on the ground to create a large "raised bed", laid out in a single row along the side of the drive way to form a narrow garden bed, or even incorporated into a hugelkultur system. Straw bale gardens offer a great way to start a no-dig vegetable gardens and to create an ideal biomass for soil enrichment.