hugel culture

Organic Life

By: Robert Patrick

Lakeside RV Retreat @ Indian Creek Farm

“Compost” the gardener with the most compost wins and he who has bees is twice as lucky.

Compost is the life blood of a healthy and productive garden, at no time in my gardening life have I ever had so much compost and my gardens are a testament to its ability to enhance the soil. In the past couple of weeks I have been moving compost or almost compost into a new area here on the farm. The area in question was turned a few years back for the first time as a garden spot, but I found the soil was a bit heavy for my liking and I sorely wanted to improve the tilth. I started with the 5 gallon bucket method in the first couple of years of using the spot, but it seemed to me to be like paddling upstream if you know what I mean. So in the third season I abandoned the area for a season and began to think of how I was going to improve the area and get some good use out of it. During this time I took a job as a ranch hand on a local exotic wildlife ranch, the Owner has allowed me to reclaim the spent and spoiled hay for use in my gardens, he has also allowed me to haul said hay/compost to my farm using the ranches 4 yard dump trailer, this has truly be a gift from above.

Over the years the bison and the longhorns (the cowboys) as we call them were feed in several primary places, a large round bale and 8 big animals will produce a lot of manure, now move forward in time, this manure and the hay over a season turns into black gold and into a physical mountain/mound (abet spread over a large area). This was happening on its own until I entered the picture and knowing about compost, I started to speed up the process by turning the mass of hay and manure on a regular basis. In the year I have been at the ranch I have developed about 100 yards of quality material, many of them were built by nature in the slow composting method, others by the faster method of developing heat for the breakdown of the materials in question.

The last bunch I started moving over was not quite fully composted, so this stuff will need to sit a while before I can use the bulk of it to grow crops, but I am hoping it gets busy and finishes off the hot part so I can put some seeds in it, I can almost not try it now, but then again, I should give it some time to cool off.

My other compost, the deer based manures, along with the goats, kudus, pere davids, lamas and others to numerous to list and the excellent hay source (Alpha) builds up pretty fast around the central feeding location. The area were I pile this compost is near the big burn pile (ranch nearness) so from time to time I will turn in a tractor bucket of wood ash to the mix, this is a mixture of charcoal, not quite burnt limbs or chunks and ash, all of which will improve a quality soil even more so, not so much a poor soil as it would bind up many of the nutrients for future use and being a poor soil, the plants need that food now, not later, a very healthy soil has nutrients in abundance and saving some for later is a good thing. Most of this compost was ready and could be used for planting, so I decided to build up the fallow area. My first attempt was to build a compost/lasagana garden, I spoke about this in my last article, I used a lot of bad hay, hay that had a fungus in it from getting wet and sitting to long in the barn, the cowboys would not eat it, so I rolled it out, two bales wide and 100ft long, then started the lasagna process, hay, manure, compost, until I had it about 24in tall and let her sit for the winter, I am planted in this section now and the plants are hugh.

Next to this and built as part of this bed I started something new to be, Hugalculture.  Ok, not a fully developed Hugalculture bed, but a start at it. Here on the farm I had a few trees die from drought, so I cut them down and used them as borders/containment sides for one side of the lasagna bed and on the upper slope I did the same, in the area in-between I put in all the smaller branches and big limbs, those that I could back the trailer over the top of and began to fill the area with trailer load after trailer load of the composted material, its been 20 loads, 18 to fill the area and two more as a cherry on top. It’s mighty deep for a top dressing but then I know it will drop a bit after it finishes composting and settles in. The two cherry loads are for the parts that are less composted than the rest, 11 loads were ready, 7 loads needed more composting and the two were hauled and placed to be separate beds, but attached. You folks need to read up on Hugalculture practices, you might find it useful.

OK, with all that said, you gardeners and farmers need to find your own source of compost, its all over the place, beer manufactures, horse ranches, timber companies, lawn services, find a source of the carbon, get ya some rabbits and chickens, find some manure, bag your lawn clipping and start a lasagna garden, you will love yourself for it, God gave us everything we need, we just need to take his example and move on it.

If all were normal my crops would be in full production as this time, the soil is right, the rains have keep the moisture in a good range, but the lack of pollinators is worrying me to know end. As of this righting I have seen very few bees in the gardens. Next month we will talk in length about bees and other pollinators and the need to help them help us. I am working with a local bee keeper /  hive builder in putting together a hive or two for here on the farm. Both the European bees and the native solitary bees and wasps are very important to our gardens health, its easy to build nests for the solitary bees and warps and I suggest you do so.

Robert Patrick

Master Gardener

Master Naturalist

Master Forager