Archived Story

Ultimate raised bed also a good compost pile [UPDATED]

Published 7:36am Monday, April 15, 2013 Updated 9:38am Monday, April 15, 2013

If you have wanted a raised bed but didn’t want to buy the cement blocks, or treated lumber or railroad ties, (both of the latter two need liners) or just don’t have the energy to build one, this may be a solution for you.

An Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzer made a name for himself by taking very poor land, in an area called the “Siberia” of Europe and turning it into one of the most productive farms in his country, and he did it the easy way.

It’s called Hugelkultur.

Simply take a pile of logs, stumps and brush and cover it with good soil.

You now have a raised bed loaded with organic material, nutrients, and air pockets.

As the years pass, the soil becomes extremely rich.

The wood shrinks as it ages making smaller air pockets and becomes almost self-tilling.

The first few years, the pile will heat as it composts.

Use this to your advantage by planting a bit earlier than you normally would.

What a neat way to get rid of unwanted, dead trees. If you put live branches in the pile, it should heat more quickly.

Add some grass clippings or green weeds, almost instant hot compost. The pile has natural air pockets encouraging composting and you have no after care.

If you don’t have trees and branches to start this type of plantable compost pile, or don’t have room for a pile like this, start small.

A whisky barrel is an excellent planter. Because it is quite deep, most people fill it at least half full with empty pop cans, Styrofoam or even old planting containers.

Start by filling your container about half full with cardboard, newspaper, grass clippings, old blue jeans and manure keeping in mind that you want three parts brown to one part green.

Now fill the top half with potting soil. You should get the same effect as the woodpile, that is, the compost will heat and decompose.

You will need to have a way for the bottom half to get aerated. A perforated pipe stuck in the middle of your barrel should do the trick.

You can add water to the planter through the pipe, ensuring it gets all the way to the bottom of the planter.

Do have good drainage in you barrel or your plants will need rubber boots in rainy weather.

It’s worth a try. Even if it takes several years to compost, you have gotten rid of a lot of paper and had fun experimenting.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener for Otter Tail County.

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