Monday, October 22, 2012

Garden bed construction

This last summer I experimented a lot with different growing methods in my garden and in containers.
Based on the results, this fall I redid my garden beds using:

1.  Vertical hugelkultur
2.  Large quantities of wood chips dug in the soil.
In small test beds this year these 2 techniques did the best.

Just completed 4 beds, here are pictures of building one.

Dug down average of 2.5 feet. At that depth I hit a layer of pottery-like clay that would be unusable for garden soil.
This bed is 3.5 feet wide and 12' long.

Added wood scraps, from splitting wood, at the bottom.

First layer of vertical stumps, packed closely together.

Added dirt mixed in with wood chips and then put a 2nd layer of vertical stumps.

More dirt and lots of wood chips.

Added a 3rd layer of branches, partially rotted and began building retaining walls from logs and 1/2" rebar.

No pictures, but did add a 4th layer of larger branches placed horizontally on top of here.

Here are 2 completed beds, built with retaining walls.

Also made 2 other beds without retaining walls. Those ones only had 2 layers of logs, one vertical, one horizontal. So they did not raise the soil level as much.

The only cost for these beds was the rebar (~$30).  All the logs, stumps, and chips were free. Lot of digging though.  Didn't get a chance to go to the gym for the last 6 weeks :)

Roughly the top 6" or more of soil in each bed does not contain logs or branches, just dirt and wood chips.  This is to make it easy in future years to dig in more wood chips with a normal shovel if this will be needed.  The soil is very thick clay and I believe I'll need to dig in more chips in a couple years.


  1. This is excellent - your photos are very helpful. I think you're onto something with the vertical trunk placement.

  2. Found your blog from permies. Fascinating idea! If only I could dig as deep as you.
    Earlier this year, I dug about 16 inches and buried rotting wood, wood chips and leaves into 3 raised garden bed. Those 3 beds were amazing producers and have amazing soil, now!
    If I had the stength and ability to dig 3 feet into my rock hard clay, filled with rocks, I would go foryour method!
    Looks great.

    Elena in Northern CA

  3. The wood chip bed I did was dug about 16" also. It did great with just wood chips dug in.

    Pretty sure digging 2.5' is overkill, but I became digging obsessed this fall. No rocks in my soil. And I've gotten pretty good at watering it just right so it is soft, but not mucky, before digging.

    Next spring I plan on trying a wood chip bed by only digging down 8", one shovelful deep and compare that to the 2.5' dug beds.

  4. Thank you for posting this, we're looking forward to trying it! I'm amazed that wood chips don't eat up all of the nitrogen in the soil. I have a couple of questions for you:
    1. Did you use ramial chips (chipped branches and leaves), or were they chips from larger diameter trees (less cambrium, more lignin?)
    2. Did you add nitrogen fertilizer? What did you use for fertilizer if you did add some? How much?
    Thanks again!
    Linc in Colorado

  5. Most of the chips dug in where not ramial. They were larger chunks.

    Definitely added nitrogen fertilizer when growing in wood chips.
    Only used human liquid fertilizer (i.e. urine). Didn't use anything else.

    My wood chip bed from last summer was about 25 sq ft. I added 10 cups of urine twice about 6 weeks apart and that was basically it. The plants all stayed green after that. Before fertilizing the second time the leaves where getting yellowish.

    HLF does act fast if it is warm outside.

  6. Hello, many thanks for showing us. What is the function / reason for the vertical logs?

    Many thanks,

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  9. Im wondering how these pits dug into clay soil go in terms of drainage?

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