Hügelkultur does not traditionally include the trench we added, but Mike got sold on the idea after seeing a YouTube video about it. He likes the fact that if the soil becomes saturated after days of torrential rain, excess water can drain out of the trench from the sides.
Here is a photo diary of the steps we took:
5. We lined the box with plastic to protect the wood from moisture, and to protect the vegetables from any chemicals from the boiled linseed oil I had rubbed on. We got the idea to use plastic from our son Brian, who has a raised bed. You'll notice that we added a 4x4 belatedly along the bottom of the box, as a support against warping. Thanks, Handyman Jeff.
7. We started to drag bags of debris we had gathered from a neighbor's curb,14 bags in all. Thank you neighbor, and thank you little red wagon. We weren't sure what was inside the bags the neighbor had set out for City pick-up, but we figured they contained usable sticks and leaves. Mike was originally planning to take our trailer and pick up branches left out by neighbors, then break them up himself. Hauling bulging lawn-and-leaf bags was much easier than creating our own debris.
8. The 14 bags were indeed full of usable leaves and twigs. Once we dumped them, we stomped them. It was strange to come upon pockets where we'd sink down. I wondered if stomping grapes might feel a bit like this. (Sorry there are no pix of Mike. He was determined to document our effort and now I'm glad he did, so I could share this.)
10. A little more stomping by our grandson Max.
11. Next, we added the dirt we had taken out when we dug the trenches. We mixed peat moss with that soil.
12. We topped it all off with another layer of peat moss to retain moisture.
13. Adding our own compost as he went along, Mike planted peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, beans, radishes, and "companion plants" marigolds, basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley. He used a modified square foot garden approach, setting the plants fairly close because we don't need a path between them; we can reach them from each side. He surrounded the veggies, herbs and flowers with shredded mulch from our neighbors' felled tree, to hold moisture. (Thank you Gretchen and Jim!) Last, he painted some rusty metal cages red, orange, and blue and propped them around the tomatoes. Adding bright bits of color is based on his Romanian ancestry, not any advice from YouTube.
It's only been two and a half weeks since Mike planted the garden, and it's going great. The bean seeds he and our grandson stuck into the ground sprouted and grew like something out of "Jack and the Beanstalk." I haven't seen a weed yet, but the garden is right outside our side door and high off the ground, so it'll be easy for me to attack interlopers. I may not be a planter, but I really like weeding.
If we had needed to buy gardening soil to fill those two big boxes, we would have spent a bunch of money and done a lot of back-breaking schlepping. The frame cost about $385 for lumber, bolts, and our handyman's labor. Add some bucks for linseed oil, peat moss, seeds and starter plants. We won't harvest $400 worth of vegetables this season, but at 70 years old, we two have some years of sowing and reaping ahead of us, Lord willing and the Kinnickinnic River across the street don't rise.
Anyone who does gardening knows you don't plant a garden just to save money. You do it to eat the freshest, most delicious organic food. You do it to watch beautiful plants grow. You do it to be a partner in God's creation. There's a lot of satisfaction in that.
Thank you, Josiah, Iman, and YouTube.
Gail Grenier is the author of Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, Dessert First, Calling All Horses, and Young Voices From Wild Milwaukee, all available on Amazon.com. Proceeds are shared with local charities.