I spent almost all of yesterday digging a long trench through the middle of my garden, filling it with rotten wood, and then covering it up. I am hoping that this will help with reducing the amount of water required to irrigate the garden this and coming years.
I heard about this idea from Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast under the name Hugelculture or Woody Bed. It is a class of land improvements that buries wood under soil to promote the growth of fungus and bacteria that holds water and moves nutrients around. I’ve heard these woody beds several times on the show, and since I had a bunch of rotting wood on the edge of my property, I decided to give it a try. The only real trouble I had was that after about four inches down, I hit Oklahoma Red Clay Soil, which is very difficult to dig through. I basically had to scrap layers of the clay off and use the shovel handle as a lever. I ended up breaking off the handle of my garden hoe trying to loosen it up so I could remove the clay from the trench.
The other thing burying this wood allowed me to do is to build a swale-like structure over the bed. A swale is a mound next to a trench along the land’s contour. The idea here is to slow water flowing across the land and give it more time to absorb into the soil. I didn’t survey out the contour of the land, instead just guessing roughly where level would be and slightly curving the ends uphill. I intend to adjust the structure in the future as I find where water is flowing too quickly and pulling soil away. About the only remaining garden bed preparation I am planning on doing before spring planting is spreading a layer of compost out and working it into the top inch or so of soil. Before I do that though, I need to fix the garden hoe.