My family recently asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day, and I replied that I would like straw bales and soil. They used to look at me strangely when I made such requests, but they now understand that May is always about gardening at our house. My husband came through in a big way – he went out to do some errands and came back in a large Home Depot rental truck with 30 bales of wheat straw and about 600 pounds of soil and mushroom compost. It was the perfect gift!
There were 2 gardening methods I had been wanting to try for awhile: Straw bale gardening and raised bed Hügelkultur gardening. This delivery gave me all I needed to get started. I decided to focus on the Hügelkultur spot first. Hügelkultur translates to “hill culture” and this method has been used in Germany for centuries. Basically, you dig a trench and fill it with wood debris of different sizes, adding green brush or any organic source of nitrogen, then add top soil, and let it “settle” for a few weeks. The branches at the foundation of the garden help retain moisture, reducing the need for irrigation, and the space between branches helps to improve drainage. As the tree branches break down over the years, nutrients are released into the soil, reducing the need for fertilizer (though extra nitrogen may be needed when the wood is first decomposing).
Here is a slideshow showing how we created these two types of gardens in our yard. In researching various ways to build the Hügelkultur beds, I visited several permaculture sites and used what I thought were the most logical ideas. For straw bale gardening advice, I read Joel Karsten’s excellent website (he is a horticulturist and author of Straw Bale Gardens).
I will post a follow-up article once the beds are planted. Hope you enjoy the slideshow!