Over autumn, I am working on a permaculture project with our kids. It is really important to us, that they feel a part of what we are doing here and the best way to do that is to get them involved.
As I have a lot of winter veg seedlings waiting to go in the ground, we kicked off the project by creating a hugelkultur bed (or no dig hill bed) in our kitchen garden.
I thought that this would be a great task for them, because there was plenty for them all to do and it is a complete transformation, which is always very satisfying. We began by reading about hugelkultur beds and drawing diagrams of the various layers. Then we had a think about the resources that we have to hand and decided what to put in our layers.
Keen to get stuck in, we headed off to the beach to gather some nutrient rich seaweed. We have used it a lot this year, to give our veggies a good start and we wanted a nice thick layer of it in our hill bed.
Autumn appeared very suddenly in the Orkney Islands and it brought the strong winds with it. That meant that a huge amount of seaweed had been washed up onto the beaches here.
With several sackfuls collected, we returned to the garden for a bit of turf removal.
On their first attempt, my 13 and 10 year olds, didn’t even manage to make a dent on the strip of garden that was earmarked for our new bed. I got stuck in with our 16 year old and we showed them how to remove the turf more effectively.
I think a bit of competitive spirit must have kicked in, because they soon wanted to have another go and this time there was no stopping them!
We piled up the lumps of turf, ready to put back onto the mound after the first layer.
With that done and a cool drink and snack for everyone, it was time to start layering up.
The first layer of every hugelkultur bed that we had looked at was greenwood. Fortunately, we always have a plentiful supply, as we have a large amount of trees in our rather wild back garden. Put in by a previous owner, to block out some of the wind, they have been left untended for years and I have been trying to tidy them up. So we had plenty of ready cut wood to get us started.
Once that was in place, it was time to put the turf back on, but this time upside down.
My garden helpers were a little less enthusiastic about having to move the turf a second time and even less so when I said that we were going to need more to get a really good mound sorted.
I had a big pile of turf further down our land, from having removed it for veggie beds earlier in the year. It really helped to get that mound shape started.
The next layer was supposed to be fallen leaves or grass cuttings. We didn’t have any grass cuttings and although the leaves have started to fall, there wasn’t really a big enough quantity to make it worth gathering them up. So our next layer became a bit of a mixture and we worked on it over a few days.
In the end it contained; some long grass pulled by hand (without any seed), vegetable scraps from the kitchen, old cardboard, flag iris leaves and to even it out, a layer of wood rush (which we have in large quantities).
All that remained now was a layer of compost. We had to wait for a trip to the mainland for this bit, because although we have started a compost heap here, we don’t yet have a good supply.
This morning we finally got the chance to finish it off. With the compost on, we were ready for planting.
I have to add, that this kind of no dig hill bed should really be left to settle for a few months before use. However, we really need the extra planting space for our winter greens and as they all have fairly shallow roots, we’re planting straight away. We will be make two more hill beds, which we will leave to sit over winter, ready for planting in the spring.
We had a large amount of winter purslane seedlings (which we can use for salads and soups), that were hardened off ready for their new home. We also had some more kale seedlings, spring onions and chives to go in.
There was plenty of room for everything and still more room for some turnips to go in when they’re hardened off.
In the spring we will be able to consider our planting more carefully and have a good look at companion planting, but for now we were just using what we had.
The new hill bed has given some protection to the flat bed that is next to it, giving our kale a welcome break from the strong autumn winds.
We are hopeful that we will be able to grow a lot more next year and putting some work in now will really help.
We were pleased with our new hugelkultur bed and I was really proud of my middle three. They worked really hard and I could see from their faces that they got a lot out of helping towards putting food on our table. We added some rocks that they decorated with sea treasures a few weeks ago, which I think will look really nice when the plants grow in around them. They really mark it as being their bed. I think they inspired their little sister too, who has been making her own pretend layer beds. She also had a lot of fun helping to move the turf and climbing on it!
I can’t believe how full the garden is looking as we approach October and it gladdens my heart!