There are many reasons to like the idea of creating raised garden beds right over the top of piles of brush wood and old logs. One is that I really don’t like burn piles – it seems so wasteful to send all that good organic matter up in smoke. On the other hand, the sound of chippers and chainsaws is exceedingly unpleasant and not at all in keeping with my preferred aural backdrop of twittering birds and gentle breezes sighing through the trees.
Hugelkultur is a German term for a permaculture technique where you pile up stacks of brush and then add soil over the top. Here’s a good description (with pictures) describing various ways to do this.
I‘m experimenting with this technique in combination with some lasagna gardening over top of the area where the pigs moved through and turned everything over for me. My friend Chloe (permaculturist, gardener, and soil scientist) did some snazzy site sketches showing the contour lines of the new garden area and also the various seasonal springs and directions of water flow across the hill.
Armed with this information, I rotated my beds 90 degrees so they more or less run along the contour lines. The theory is that the biomass created by all those logs and sticks and shavings and duck poop and hay and pony manure and straw and goat droppings creates a kind of sponge underneath the more fertile layer piled on top. If this works as I hope it will, this should slow the runoff from the hill and create a kind of reservoir under each bed. As the sticks and logs break down, they create air pockets, space for roots, and lots of room for creatures to get to work composting and decomposing. A bonus of the process is that during the first couple of years when the composting process is most vigorous, the beds stay just a tad warmer and extend the growing season.
What’s not to like about this system? I figure that if it looks terrible and nothing grows, I can just retrofit the area with raised beds built as I have built them in the past. I’m not going quite as steep or as deep as some of the examples I’ve seen, but my guess is this is still a better way to deal with the gazillion sticks, twigs, branches, and logs that otherwise are destined for a smoky demise.