Belle of Dirt

Missouri Ozarks mom, mover of earth, photographer, maker and plant enthusiast


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Layered Acidic Garden

I’m going to keep this short and sweet with lots of pictures for those of you that just want a quick reference and then are off with your shovel and to shop for plants. If you’d like a more detailed explanation of layered gardening, see my post on hugelkultur mounds.

Whatever name you give it, ‘compost gardening,’ ‘layered gardening’, ‘hugelkultur’, ‘lasagna gardening’, ‘no till gardening’ they all employ basically the same methods and mean the same thing. You’re building a raised bed garden out of several layers of material that compost in place over time. The idea has gained a lot of popularity in recent years because of how incredibly low maintenance these gardens can be. A properly built hugelkultur mound is said to even be able to sustain a garden in the middle of the desert! If you’ve had a traditional garden in the past, you know that the digging, planting, hoeing and watering can become an exhausting chore and eat half of your summer. Lasagna gardening gets it’s clever name from the multiple layers of material you build into your raised bed. You can build a lasagna garden in just about anything. A raised bed of wood framed walls, a plastic tub, on the ground surrounded by bricks, cement blocks or just rocks you’ve picked up in the woods. The container really just depends on how formal, or informal you want it to look and how high you want it off the ground… or of course if you live in an apartment or a neighborhood where you can only garden in a container.
In hugelkultur, you dig below the ground itself and your layers begin there. The base is a bit different, the results pretty close to the same. I believe if you CAN dig into the ground at all, hugelkultur is the better method, since it requires less watering and improves itself over time with little or no interference from you after the initial build.Ā lasagna gardening
I got this picture from the City of Cuyahoga Falls website.

So here we go, layered garden in a tractor tire. T’s grandpa had most of his garden in tires, using them simply as mini-raised beds. I’m just going to improve on what he’s done, not re-invent the entire garden.

HG00

First I dug all the dirt out of the center of a tire, just scooping it right next to it, because I’ll be putting it back at the end. I dug down almost 3 feet, until I hit the clay layer. I couldn’t do this in our previous yard, because the soil WAS clay and rock. Lots and lots of rock. I just dug it down as far as was possible to hold the logs in place. Deeper is better if you can manage it.

HG01

Next, I raided a wood pile that had been sitting for at least 2 years. There were good sized logs, already half rotten. Perfect! Don’t use logs that don’t rot or that give off chemicals to slow rot- avoid woods like locust, cedar and cherry. These logs were birch and oak and already breaking down, so they are fine.

HG03

Hugelkultur mounds are usually just free-form on the ground. I’m building this one inside the tire, kind of like combining hugelkultur and lasagna gardening. Add your logs to the hole, to the level of the soil (or in this case, almost the top of the tire). I threw in the bark that fell off and all the chips and pieces as well.

HG04

An old bale of straw or hay works for the next layer. You can also use chopped up leaves or grass clippings, shredded cardboard, newspaper, etc. I have a barn full of old rotting hay that I need to get rid of, so I used that.

HG05

Dump the leaves, hay, grass clippings on top of your log layer.

HG06

This is the layer you’ll vary according to what you’re planting. In this case, I’m planting strawberries, which are acid-loving plants, so I want the bed to stay fairly acidic. My neighbor was kind enough to send me home a load of aged cow manure; if you don’t have access to a friendly farmer, you can buy manure at most garden centers by the bag. Mushroom compost will also work well, you just want something that’s high in nitrogen so that as the logs break down, they don’t leach all the nitrogen from your soil.

HG07

For a little extra heat, I added some blood meal to this layer. It’s a big nitrogen boost too. Blood meal AND manure is really going to lower the PH of your soil and make it highly acidic, so if you’re planting things that need a bit higher PH- such as watermelon, cantaloupe, peas or lettuce you might add lime or wood ashes here instead of blood meal if you’ve already used manure. If you don’t want to guess, get a soil tester and test.

HG08

On top of the manure, I’m putting back all that dirt I first dug out of the hole, mounding it up in the center and packing the sides down a bit so it will stay in place until the plant roots can take hold and keep it there.

HG09

Add your plants… and a pinwheel if you are so inclined. šŸ™‚

HG10

I just used more straw to mulch in the plants and then watered everything really well.
First mound finished! The best part is, there will be minimal weeds, once the logs underneath are saturated, I will seldom have to water because they will maintain the soil moisture beautifully. There’s no tilling, even in the next season, you just dig and plant again. If your plants are perennials, like strawberries, you just add more mulch on top. No fertilizer is needed, the logs underneath break down and provide nutrients.

HG11

For a cleaner, or more formal look, you could edge the planting bed with blocks, bricks or stone and use a commercial mulch from the nursery.
My cost on this mound was about $3.00 for blood meal and another $4 or so for plants. Everything else was sourced from our property or our neighbor.

Now I only have a 1/4 acre of garden left to do something with…

-B

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3 Comments

Quick raised bed

004My daughter threw a few zinnia seeds at the end of our driveway this spring, which resulted in a slightly haphazard patch of gorgeousness by midsummer. I mulched her spontaneous flower garden in August to help protect them from drying out too quickly in the horrible dirt they’d been planted in. When we cut away the last remaining stragglers last week, (zinnias bloom forever!) I promised her a much nicer medium for next year’s seeds.
This is my basic recipe for any raised bed I do in our yard now. It’s part hugelkulture mound, part lasagna gardening. Both are just fancy terms meaning I layer a bunch of organic material and then plop some plants in at some point and watch them grow.
I was breaking down a previous very large bed I built nearly 12 years ago, so I pulled rock and small boulders from that to use as a border. Some of my beds are made with scrap lumber, some with purchased landscape blocks. Most of them are rocks from various places on our property- because they are a) free and b) look organic instead of overly formal and contrived.
Build your border out of whatever you like. Just remember you’ll want it high enough to accommodate several layers of material, unless you mound the bed (tall center, near ground-level edges.)
First layer, if you are concerned with underground lovelies, such as moles, should be hardware cloth. Our “soil” here is clay and rock, rock and more rock. I seldom bother with hardware cloth. If you are lucky enough to have wonderful, silty soil, you probably have critters to go with it. Put down hardware cloth, save yourself grief later. (Hardware cloth is not actually cloth. It is a metal grid with holes small enough to put your finger through, but not small enough for rodents to climb through. I’m not sure why they call it “cloth” at all.)
FernWalk 006
MY firstĀ layer is cardboard and/or newspaper. I receive a ridiculous number of catalogs and papers stuffed with ads from every grocery and hardware store within a 30 mile radius… And the occasional phone book. I use them for weed barrier. Worms like this stuff, MUCH better than they like that black weed barrier on a roll crap you get at the garden center. Put a nice thick layer on the bottom of your new beds in the fall, water well, you’ll have 99% fewer weeds to deal with later. I’ve also used cardboard boxes ripped up like in the photo with the ferns at right. Cardboard lasts longer, but it’s harder to placeĀ around delicate plants.
107To the newspaper, I add a course layer of twigs, leftover mulch, chopped leaves yard clippings, whatever I have around for drainage. I avoid grass cuttings though, because we have a lot of crabgrass that sprouts everywhere and that stuff is vicious if it gets a foothold.
Over the roughage, I’ll add the actual soil or planting medium. How amended this is depends a lot on what I’m planting. For annual flowers like zinnias or marigolds, native clay with a bit of last year’s compost is usually fine. If I’m planting veggies, I use a lot more nutrient dense mix. I may add blood meal, peat moss, mushroom compost.

By now you’ve probably built things up enough it’s time for the second course of border (if you used rocks). Some people mortar these together or use landscape adhesive. I used it when building the pond and can vouch that it holds pretty well. I just use clay to hold together most of my rock borders. Since our native soil is 70% clay and 30% rock or clay that has turned to rock, it makes great glue when it’s wet. Start the base of your border with newspaper or cardboard to keep weeds from growing up between. Add the first course of rock. Fill your raised bed to the tops of the first level of rock, covering the tops with a bit of earth. The lay the top course over the bottom. If you’re doing this with landscaping blocks, bricks or concrete that you purchased, you’ll need to level each course and use sand/mortar to secure them in place. Rocks are a bit more forgiving. Kids can even sit/climb on the big boulders without damaging the bed.

On top of leftover straw, I added a couple wheelbarrows of burned Ā up trash from our burn pile. Over this I added 3 wheelbarrows full of native soil. This spring, I’ll add the plants, maybe a little blood meal to give it a nitrogen boost and mulch on top of that. Water each layer well to settle the bed and prevent air pockets.

In seriously weed prone areas, I sometimes newspaper between the plants again, on top of the soil, to keep weeds from taking over between my plants.


The mulch I start as a light layer, thenĀ build to about 3-4 inches deep as my plants mature. The idea is to retain moisture and soil nutrient content without smothering your plants. If your mulching material is fine (like shredded leaves) you may need to add to it a couple times a season as it breaks down.
117That’s it. Follow that recipe for your raised planting beds and they will be low maintenance and grow very healthy plants for several seasons. As the organic materials break down, you may need to re-layer every 4-5 years or so. On this bed, I’ll eventually have to replace that big stump with rock as it rots… but it looks kind of cool for now. šŸ™‚
Raised garden beds areĀ MUCH easier than raking, tilling and hoeing all season. Healthier for the micro-organisms in your soil and for your plants too!
B