Burying a Bunch of Rotten Wood

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A trench filled with partially rotten wood.

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.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Burying a Bunch of Rotten Wood

  1. Reblogged this on infreegarden and commented:
    It is definitely a great way to contain the humidity and ask the fungus to visit.
    From what i see in the photo, another good solution is to form rectangular (90-1.20 cm wide) elevated plots. They cannot be too wide as you need to get to your plants without stepping on the elevated plot. Then it is good to plant everything and cover the surface with mulch so the humidity and temperature are monitured naturaly. The soil arround the plants cannot be moved because when you move it – you not only make it easier for water to evaporate but also break the possible mycellium red that is created.

    • I definitely want to put down mulch over everything to control weeds and to hold in the moisture. I just need to find or make some mulch first. I don’t intend to have raised beds because I have plenty of space to spread things out and because I don’t want to spend the little discretionary money I have of boards, stones, bricks, or blocks to form the beds.

      • Mix old leafs with chopped cardboard and lawn cuts if you want to save on mulch expenses. These are organic materials and are good for your soil as they decompose in time and aport nutritiens.

  2. The way to dig oklahoma red dirt when it is in the stage where it is like hardened cement, is to get it wet. Water will soften it up.

    • And the soil was decently moist when I dug this trench. Otherwise, I would not have even attempted it. I’ve tried digging in this garden when the soil is dry, and I can’t get more than an inch or two at most. Much easier to we the soil down or wait for rain before digging.

  3. I’m in western OK. I heard about hugelkulture last May, I built a few round mounds about 4ft deep by 3ft high with logs and branches covered in manure then red dirt and mulched with pine needles at first they did way better than the rest of the garden but the triple digit temperatures killed everything. Then in July the electric company cut down my two fifty year old trees, after they moved the wires closer. so I buried the stumps with a layer of manure and wood shavings. in the fall I planted four fruit trees around each stump ( high density planting heard of on “Oklahoma Gardening”) I watered the trees periodically on warm days this winter and so far they are doing well. I have lots of hay this year for mulch. I have searched for info on hugelkulture and most of what I have found is from people who are excited to try it. I have found very little from people who have had long term success with it.

    • Part of why I am trying this is to try and gain long term experience. I just need a few years before I find out how well it works. Also, I would suspect that this type of improvement will only last as long as the fungal colony can feed on the wood. Once the wood is gone, the fungus colony will decline, so I fully expect that it needs to be renewed every few years.

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