I thought the hay/straw mulch I used in the raised beds last year was just brilliant. It dramatically slowed water loss from the soil – summer watering was cut from a daily ritual to a weekly one – and it suppressed an enormous amount of weed growth. So this year, as the area under cultivation has spread, so (thanks to 12 bales I managed to secure at the back end of last year) has the straw.
One of the most rewarding aspects of starting to explore polyculture and companion planting in the new raised beds have been the effects of growing flowers – both ones we’ve planted and ones that grew themselves – amongst the vegetables. It’s not just the visual impact of so much colour in the garden. All summer long, the garden has been full of butterflies and bees.
When I wrote about this site on its home page “It’s our virtual scrapbook, repository of working ideas (I can’t lose them if I put them here!) …” I was kind of half joking, but having just spent a good hour trying to find the piece of paper on which I scribbled last year’s vegetable planting schemes, I should have paid my own words more heed.
With Spring now on a pogo stick, the clocks sprung forward, and the weather getting warmer by the day, work in the garden is now a dawn-to-dusk priority. It’s become a race to get trees planted and raised beds built before the season overtakes us.
Having completed the raised beds on the yurt terrace, I’ve moved on to the terrace immediately below the larger of the two buildings. This terrace faces southeast and is the other side of the barroco from the main part of the valley around which the terraces on this part of the quinta wind. While it’s separated from the yurt terrace by a linear distance of only a couple of metres, its extra height and aspect takes it out of the flow of cold air which comes down the valley with the stream. This small change in position is enough to create a 5°C or more difference in air temperature between it and the yurt terrace.
Things are moving along. The raised beds on the yurt terrace are now substantially complete. Just one more hügelbeet section left to create and the new beds will be ready for their first growing season.
It sounds Germanic and it is. Hügelkultur, Heugelkultur, hugelkultur is growing things in Hügelbeets (“mound beds”) and they have a long tradition in Germany.
Raised beds then.
Yes, but they’re raised beds with a difference.
The base of the bed is a thick layer of wood in various stages of decomposition. Largest pieces go to the bottom, followed by smaller lengths, clippings, brush, bark, etc, then straw, hay, leaves, followed by the upturned sod or topsoil removed to create the bed. The idea is that the wood as it decomposes not only constitutes a source of organic material and fertility for the bed, mimicking what happens on the forest floor, but acts as a giant sponge, holding a large reservoir of winter rainfall and releasing it to plants as they grow through dry summers, reducing the need for irrigation. A deep enough layer of wood may be sufficient to hold enough water for the entire summer.
I’ve been wanting to build some raised beds for the vegetable garden. Our experience last year proved that borderless beds were effective to a degree, but we had a lot of casualties at the boundaries despite basing the beds on a double-reach, no-dig principle. With no available mulch material and no difference in level, the proliferation of summer greenery soon blurred the boundaries and we were forever accidently straying into growing areas, so I wanted to distinguish permanent ‘growing areas’ from ‘treading areas’ much more obviously and effectively, especially with moving to a more diverse and mixed companion planting regime, with perennials as well as annuals.
The first year’s conventional-style plantings of annuals served well enough to see what grew well and what didn’t, to monitor the water and light availability across the plot through a growing season, and to gradually clear the soil of its impenetrable tangle of bramble and nettle roots, but it was hardly ‘permaculture’. And as we now have some home-made compost and mulch to add to the beds for the next growing season, I wanted to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable way forward.