Time for a Little Hugelkultur.

Basically, Hugelkultur is a system of layering logs, limbs, compost, leaves, and that sort of stuff to create a compost system a gardener would plant on top of or create a large pile of compost.

Back last year or so, I expanded my compost pile and this year, I reaped the harvest of some really great compost. But the garden is getting bigger, and more compost is needed, and even more in the coming years.

One of the failed experiments was the Branch Office of the Compost Complex, where I piled up branches, threw leaves on them, and waited for the branches to turn into compost. It not only did not happen, but a large pile of branches was the only product.

The next plan of action was to get a wood chipper, which seems to come in two types; very large and very expensive chippers, that work well, but are loud and smelly, and very small ones, that are like oversized plastic pencil sharpeners, which work very poorly and get bad reviews.

My Facebooks friends, when they weren’t referencing Woodchippers in movies like Fargo, and listing items needed to dispose of a body, one of them came up with Hugelkultur.

 Hugelkultur is composting vegetative matter while using it to grow plants. A multi-layered approach, Hugeltur promised to render the Branch Office into soil, and if I wanted, I could grow something on top of it. At this point, I need more compost.

Just as I was about to begin, the thought arrived that this might be the time to take my neighbor up on his offer of free manure from the cow pasture. Away I went, got a load in my truck, and then back to the Compost Complex and the Death of the Branch Office.

Load of manure!
This is the Branch Office when the sun came up this morning.
After clearing all the branches and logs away, this is the area I was going to work with.
This was all the stuff stripped out of the Branch Office
The first layer of logs, if you can call them that, was pushed down in the compost that had formed under the Branch Office. Yes, it had worked better than I thought, but I had no access to the compost.
The second layer was branches, some of them old, some of them new, but the directions said to walk them in, then add grass and leaves, then walk that in, too. Notice the water hose. Moisture is a big part of compost. It’s not a nice neat pile but it’s what it needs to be.
The logs in this layer are more rotted than the first. I added some stuff on the side, larger stumps, and I hope that will start to decompose as well.
This was the end result. I hit it with a lot of leaves and grass, a little manure, then flooded it with water.
The Dung Heap, all the leftover manure. I’ve always heard about these but I have never had one until now.

I don’t have much left over from the Branch Office. What I do have will be made into another Hugelkultur tomorrow, or the next day considering how tired I am right now. But this seems like it will work, and it has everything it needs to do so.

Stay tuned, next April or so, when I start really gearing up for the garden!

Take Care,


The Good Dirt

It feels good to work with dirt, with soil, and to see material that might have gone to the landfill now returning to the Earth as all things should. Sweat is my salary now, sore muscles my vacation from sloth, and sitting too much to write. My arms ache with the heat of work, hard work, physical exertion that will provide the garden with its food, so it might provide me with mine, and enough to share, I hope. Years ago, I discover there is very little that will cause as much joy as giving away produce that is home grown.

Rain is supposed to come in later in the day, but clouds scud and drift, blocking the sun, providing shade, and I looked up. The photo up top is what I saw, and the picture was taken, stored in my cell phone camera, and I sat down, looking at the photos taken this very day, of fog, dogs, spider webs, of the sun, and clouds. How many generations of humans had no cameras, no way of sharing the wonders they saw except with joyous outbursts of words and facial expressions, and how many people have listened to these descriptions of wonder, and knew they would never see it, but it was enough that the sight made someone else so happy?

Sixty-one years and a few months slow me down now, and I hesitate before returning to my toil. The earth around this area of the world has been tilled before. This was part of the nation where slavery thrived, and enslaved people were worked for generations, doing very much what I am doing now. I wonder, my mind goes back to the days men and women night have, on the very spot I sit, been forced to work long hours, longer years, with no hope of knowing any other life but hard labor. Were there those among these poor people who would look up at the sky, see some marvelous cloud, and were told to get back to their task? Would an enslaved person hope for such a sight, for some rare treat in the day that might offer some beauty in a world devoid of anything resembling anything but misery?

Look back at the last 400 years, at the music composed, the inventions, the works of art, the poem, the books, the wonders humankind have created, and then see the shadow the light of that creation has cast. Those who were enslaved, and those who were descended from slaves, have lived in this shadow. First as kidnapped workers, and then as second-class citizens; Jim Crow and Red Lines, Peonage and Lynching, the light still withheld, the freedom and justice still denied, and it still goes on this very moment.

Yet given rain, and not too much, given warm weather without scorching heat, given luck and some skill with plants, the earth will provide those who farm a bounty, regardless of the color of their skin. Mother Earth will receive a body, if it is allowed to rest in a natural state in the dirt, and from this life will begin anew, such as it always had, and such as it ought to be. Kings and dogs, slaves and statesmen will all turn into soil, accept seeds, and grow whatever is tended, or not.

The wind blows now, the sky grows dark, and I am inside, clean from a hot shower, and writing the words you see before you. I hope you liked my photograph of a branches and sun, and clouds. I hope the photo stirs in you some sense of wonder and beauty. I wish for you to remember not everyone has ever had this, some were denied it, and some still do not have it. It is luck, chance only, that you and I do.

Take Care,


Compost Again

The night shift project, actually two of them, lasted about a year or so, and then I retired. Then came surgery that flattened me out for a couple of months, and god dammit it, then a plague hit, and I started working again. There really wasn’t for a garden two years ago, or last year, or this year, and I didn’t worry about it. The compost pile, subject of many an essay on life, death, decay and rebirth, fell into disuse. I maintained the fenceline, and that was all I had time or energy to do, and for a while, that was enough. 

A month or so ago, I finally bought a riding mower, and I told myself if I ever bought one of those things, I could go into composting in a big way. Today was the day I went big. The last couple of mowings produced a lot of clippings, and I did dump all of it on the old compost pile, which is now the new compost pile. 

It took five rounds, at six bushels apiece to mow the lawn today, and now I have to expand. But I also needed new logs, rotting logs, to use to delineate the compost pile. Rotting logs are one of the keys to a great pile. They already have all the bacteria and bugs a compost pile needs. Old logs retain moisture and they’re good starter stuff for decay. I dragged a few out of the woods, and I’ll add a few more next weekend. I also started the process of turning old compost in with the new stuff, and making sure there’s enough moisture in it all. 

I realized that I miss that sort of work, and I miss the process. 

The clippings from two weeks ago, which didn’t amount to very much, were already dried out and powdery. The grass catcher’s chute clogged up many time during the first mowing because the grass was so high. There’s a couple of cardboard boxes, no colored ink, underneath the powder so it all gets some time with the water hose. I spread it out, mix it in, water it, and repeat. 

Soon, in a matter of days, the grass and leaves will begin to decay. The bacteria and bugs in the logs will move out and begin to feed. Other insects will move in to feed on the bugs that are feeding on the decay. Frogs and toads will move in to feed on those. Termites will make a home here, and the toads love that. Birds will drop in to check out the buffet, and the dogs will slip in to dig up any rodents that show. 

Eventually, not any time soon, and certainly not even this year, a layer of organic matter will begin to form at the bottom of the pile. Decayed vegetation, the waste of a billion microbes, the dead bodies of countless insects, and much more, will begin to accumulate. That’s soil. It’s what makes vegetables grow. It’s the purpose of composting, other than repurposing the stuff usually discarded. For not only grass clippings and leaves, but the remains of any organic matter from the kitchen, from orange peels to eggshells, to the ends of peppers unused, will be tossed into the pile, and be turned into dirt. 

It’s been a while since I did any work in the woods. The paths need help. I broke my bush hook today, cutting the branches of a downed tree. I got worn out by hacking on the tree, and almost overheated. 

There’s honest sweat here. There’s hard work and I’ve always said yardwork was the best gym in the world. The bush hook busted on a tree I should have moved six months ago, but now that I started on it, the realization returns of why I miss doing this so much. Skill, determination, muscle, and sweat will turn part of the tree into a bonfire, and the rest into compost pile boundaries. But it’s a damn good workout. Back muscles, arms and shoulders, and all the body is used to pull a heavy branch towards the burn pit.

I miss this work. I miss turning waste into soil, and therefore food. I miss being outside in the woods, even with the insects getting their fair share of blood, and I miss making my heart pump hard to get things done in the yard. 

It’s time to return. 

Take Care,