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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Underground Cold Frame - Part I

Here's how it happened:
Using the backhoe, my husband dug this pit down to the bedrock, making it as deep as possible. The idea was to have a full hugelkultur layer with a cold frame on top of it, but also underground.

I'm happy to say that with a bow saw, I can now do a LOT more than I used to. Thank you, Lee! I good friends who help me see things from a different angle. This was the first load of wood that I cut, just elbow grease and a bow saw, plus my 7 year old daughter sometimes on the other end of the saw, working it the old fashioned way with me. Great memories... She also liked jumping on the logs to try and get that final break to finish each cut. Nature's trampolines!

This is the base layer of random rotting wood from around the property, mostly Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir -- with horse manure on top.

After finishing off the first manure layer, I discovered that a mister is the ideal way to hydrate a hugel bed in progress. It provides just enough moisture for the organic materials to wick it up, but not so much that the water runs off. A mister is a great addition to any garden -- it will cool you off in the summer and provides interesting low-flow, gentle irrigation options!

A second load of wood, also mainly scrounged from around the property with a bow saw. What a great workout, whew! There are also a couple of large diameter spruce pieces from Lee's property. (Thanks!)

More horse manure, gotta love how *hot* it is, for these base layers especially.

At the half-way mark in filling this pit: a helping hand in creating a soil layer

Part two begins, with a solid layer of hugel below the soil.

Enter rocks for the underground cold frame!

A few rocks at a time… building muscles in the universal gym of the great outdoors.

Just trying it out -- this is the concept I'm after! Thanks, Dad, for the window. :-) Yes, I brought it all the way from Vernon, BC (they didn't mind at the border). He even drilled holes in the aluminum frame for me, and provided me with hinges -- wow!  I my Dad.

I added some hay found on the side of the road by a neighbor (when you are burying the hay this deep, you don't have to worry about weed seed). Man, I love living where we do -- what a great community. Our neighbor showed up with a trailer full of hay after his family hay rides were over. Sweet! Thanks, Ron.

Dry fitting rocks is a lot more difficult that I realized, but fun in a puzzle sort of way. I still can't believe I moved that front rock -- but sometimes bigger is better and it was definitely worth the effort.

With the main part of the cold frame set in place, I was ready to layer in hugelkultur materials around it.  First horse manure...

…then wood. This time my husband, Bob, bucked up a bunch of rotting wood into roughly 3-4 foot lengths, mainly pine that was laying around ever since the fire on the property around 10 years ago. I added in some alder from Lee along with some other longer pieces I had laying around, and managed to add another full layer. My mantra is generally, "Use what you have available!" 

Note: Sometimes it makes sense to put the wood in horizontally because you have smaller diameter wood readily available, and also there may be time constraints in bucking it all up into short lengths that can stand on end. When possible, I like to put the wood in vertically to provide plant roots the opportunity to utilize the direction of the vascular tissues in the wood for accessing moisture. That way, the tubular structures of the xylem and phloem that run lengthwise through the trees may provide easier access to water as roots grow down into those structures. The xylem and phloem are opened into cross sections when the logs are cut to length (like straws within the logs). However, with very rotten wood, all of those structures eventually break down, and then the orientation of the wood placement won't really matter. Most of this wood has been in the process of decaying for a long time, so I'm not too worried about the orientation.

Yet more horse manure -- I really want this bed to cook, and help heat the cold frame!

The final step was to spread soil over the hugelkultur and around the underground cold frame.

Bob pulled in soil that was piled in the surrounding area, from when we dug this pit. Unlike other areas of the garden, this spot actually produced a lot of soil instead of mainly rocks -- jackpot!

 Full circle! The soil that came from the pit is returned to the bed.

I smoothed the soil with a shovel, piling it closely in around the rocks. Now the cold frame is actually underground, as intended.

Next will come the finish work in turning this structure into a functional cold frame. But that will be for another post. It was a long process getting the bed to this stage, and I'm excited to see what will grow in this sunken rock space, not to mention also around it on the surface!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Sprucing" Things Up - Horizontally

This post tells the tale of the "Central Horizontal Spruce Bed," 
from August 2013 to April 2014.

"Before" (August 2013)

The making of a pit

Wood Layer 1: 
All of the wood in this bed was laid horizontally, and I'll be comparing the results with other beds in which the wood was placed vertically. When I built this bed, I hadn't yet heard about the potential benefits of vertically placed wood. It makes sense to place it vertically, though, since water flows vertically through the tree when it is alive and you can imagine plant roots digging into the wood more easily into a cross section. 

I placed lots of leaves, garden trimmings, etc between the layers of wood. 
(I call this the "central" horizontal spruce bed because it is located very roughly in the center of the garden.)

Water is important between every layer that is added.

More horizontal wood, mostly spruce

Wood Layer 2 complete: 
I like to mix the diameter size in order to have smaller pieces that break down -- and therefore function -- quicker, along with bigger pieces that might last longer. Same goes for mixing green with dead and rotten wood, when possible.

What do I mean by "function?" This refers to the three main benefits of rotting wood in the garden: water retention, the heat of decomposition, and self-tilling via creation of air pockets when the wood breaks down. 

More leaves, greens, and water

Wood Layer 3: 
Longer pieces of spruce, also horizontal

The cherry on top: a dump trailer of aged manure and top soil, mixed

Fast forward to October: time to plant garlic into part of the central horizontal spruce bed. I laid cardboard out, then cut X's in it for planting.

The planting X's are opened and the garlic seed planted, ready for mulch.

Fast forward several months to April 2014: the garlic is up! Spanish Rojo, Romanian, and Elephant garlic, one row each. Because of the cardboard and leaf mulch, there will be no weeding needed in this bed. I am not planning to irrigate it much, either. 

I'll post an update on this bed again, once there is more growing across the whole space. This is such an exciting time of year!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Garbage to Good Eats: Alderwood Patch

Previous owners of our property had a garbage pit in what is now the garden area. Here they burned scrap wood and who knows what else.

We knew from Day 1 that this garbage would have to go. 
This is what it looked like during the summer of 2013.

Enter the dump truck and backhoe team: the long-awaited day.

Boy, was I glad to see that stuff go!

We scraped the pit out and removed some of the soil as well.

Now that's more like it! The first layer was spruce, with greens and hay on top.

Next, manure, wood chips, old grass clippings...

...and other good stuff, whatever organic matter was handy.

A layer of soil

Spreading it out

Making a bed of soil for the next layer of wood

The remainder of the bed was made with alder wood. Thus it is now called, "The Alderwood Patch."

Spreading old grass clippings over the top

Rotting wood happiness, delivered to us by... Lee Johnson and Truckula!  

Tory Shook came over to lend a hand and see how the bed was built. 
It was fun to have you here, Tory! As my Opa would say whenever we left, "Come again."

More soil and some hay on top of the alder...

...along with a thick layer of manure with wood chips mixed in, and some sand for surface drainage.

Now the trick with hugelkultur is how to dig a hole for potted plants... 
Let me tell you, it is better planned for in advance! 
Here you see a placeholder for a future berry bush.

Each of the logs sticking out of a hole in the bed represents a placeholder for a future raspberry plant (logs sitting in empty 3 gallon pots). Without these placeholders, it would be next to impossible to dig a hole in the wood for the plants.

Buckwheat cover crop, toward the end of summer 2013

Early spring 2014 -- 
The raspberry plants are all in the ground; up next: good eats!