Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hugelkultur bananas

Our journey into Hugelkultur bananas, started back in late 2015, when we built our last retaining wall. It was to aid our veggie beds, but we also had casualties as a result. Bananas down. Many, bananas.

December 2015

We managed to save seven suckers from the fallout. They went on to live in various containers, and develop large root systems, until it became apparent, if they weren't relocated soon, we would probably start losing them.

Enter the quest for where to plant them? And more importantly, how? Because while we knew our bananas could give a crop with very little attention, it was always an impoverished one. They needed something more, than just soil and sporadic rain. It was then I stumbled across Hugelkultur beds.

I don't know why I didn't cotton onto this idea, like a religious zealot, beforehand. Because we have no end of wood supply in the bush. We don't want it to become a fire hazard, but neither do we want to burn it off either. So our problem, became our solution. This readily available/free resource, is PERFECT for Hugelkultur. It puts carbon back into the soil, so it can grow carbon again - in this case, bananas!

With the how answered, the next question became where would we build one?

Overgrown, narrow strip

We originally considered a place, lower down in the gully, but somewhere else caught our attention first. The area behind our only garden shed, was poorly neglected. It grew tall grass and probably sheltered many a snake. But when David dumped the banana tree trunks behind it, from our retaining wall project, we discovered something amazing, several months later...

 What do we have here?

The banana trunks, which were in contact with the soil, started to throw more suckers up. Nature was telling us, this was the place we were looking for. It also meant the possibility of shading the back of our shed too, from the western afternoon sun. We really didn't need further convincing. It was just a matter of rounding up the materials, of which we had plenty.

Seen better days

Aged wooden pallets from (ironically) the blocks our retaining walls were built with, years ago. They were relatively easy to pull apart - David did it by hand. There was also another opportunity to scrounge resources, just a few meters over from our shed, in the neighbour's yard.

A true windfall - as in, the wind blew it down

This was an acacia tree, which fell over from age. Our neighbours house, is right up the back of their property, so they don't come to the front much - other than to mow occasionally. You can see our yard, is on the left (mowed) and we also help maintain the neighbours side (a little) so we can manage our shrubs on the fence line. We decided to take some of this tree, to put into our hugelkultur bed, but it would also make it easier for our neighbours to mow.

Not that mowing is everything, mind you. Like our neighbour, we only tend to mow, where we walk the most, and directly around the house. But with less of the tree to deal with, it will just make mowing easier for everyone.

Handy location

To start at the base of our hugelkultur bed however, David grabbed one of our felled tree trunks, that was nearby, first. We dug it into the ground a little,with the intention of building layers on top. We're on a slope here, so the bedding was going to have different thickness of fill, to level it up.

A drainage hose, from behind one of our retaining walls, also posed an opportunity to hydrate the bed, with any excess water.

Digging in

Where David and Peter are in the above picture, is the lowest point of our slope, and a good place to start building up the layers. Once the logs were down, we basically spent the day, grabbing what we had laying around. Peter helped cart twigs over from the neighbours fallen tree too.

End of day one

After all our hard work, it didn't look like much to begin with. We managed to kick off the process though, which meant over the weeks ahead, we could just add whatever we could get our hands on.

Organic stuff

Which meant more twigs, endless tubs of coffee grounds from David's workplace, and even an old flower bouquet. With all this additional material however, another one of the old banana trunks, threw an additional surprise.

Baby banana

Bananas are true survivalists! But we had more material to place on our hugelkultur bed, when David cleared out the chicken coop recently. He got at least four or more barrows worth. It was soil, manure and old bedding straw. It made a lovely, fluffy bed. Then David watered it all down, to help it settle. We left it a few weeks.

Ready to get mobile

Do you know, for all the crazy/busy, we've had in our lives lately, I completely forgot to take pictures of what it looked like after David added the chicken coop material. It was impressive. But, no matter. It was moving day for the bananas today, regardless, and I was eager to give them a new place to live.

They really didn't want to come out of their containers though. Banana roots are tough things!

Banana tree roots

This was the last banana tree to go in, and luckily, this one was in a pot. Because it made it easier to see what fibrous monsters, I was dealing with. I actually had to pull apart the styrene box, the other three trees were in, because the roots had poked through the base in their search for more room.

At one point, I had Peter up on the mound, holding the trees for me (no pictures, unfortunately) while I added soil to keep them in place.

Can you spot the six bananas?

Finally, the job is done! We added four trees today, but two spontaneously popped-up from the old banana trunks. Thank-you nature, for lending the cues to work upon. This was quite a mammoth effort overall. David did most of the hard yakka, while Peter and I added the bits and pieces as we came across them. Lots of trips with barrows and watering cans. But its all set up now, and shouldn't require much (if any) maintenance.

I suspect I'm going to have to get some tree branches onto this mound soon though, if the brush turkey's and chickens get up to their old tricks. By the way, we recently discovered there are TWO baby brush turkeys visiting our yard. Which makes us very happy (probably siblings from the same nest) but also a little worried for new plantings.

It will be interesting to see how this hugelkultur bed develops.


  1. That's looking really good! I wish I could grow bananas here. One of the benefits of a bush block is having so much debris and litter for hugelkulture beds and still having a good supply of kindling for the fire.

  2. It looks so much better than overgrown grass, lol. Maybe you could try tamarillos or something else, you've grown from seed.

    I'm not as strong as Dave, but if he wasn't here to help, I reckon this can still be done with lots of smaller branches. I wonder if it could also incorporate humanure from your compost toilet? The fact they're trees means the fruit you eat, won't come in contact with the ground.

    I agree that living in bush means no end to wood supply. We would love a fireplace too, but we had to buy a second car this year (the old one died) and it cleared out our savings. There's always next winter, I hope. ;)


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