Sunday, August 14, 2016

Soil filler

I had a dilemma recently, which I almost solved by throwing money at it. I thought I needed a trailer of compost. Maybe I still do, but at least I can delay it a while longer, now I discovered a new way to fill a raised bed. In this case, the one around Hilltop chicken coop.

Hilltop chicken coop, raised bed

It was built in September 2015. Has it almost been a year already? Of course it has, since I've already experienced a growing season with it. I grew a little kale and tomatoes, although they were plagued by wilt. The choko I planted died, so I planted some squash seeds, later on. They grew over the wire mesh and the sunflowers. Which were also supporting some beans! The sunflowers were the most productive crop I got, from this bed.

 December 2015

But after the growing season ended, I pulled everything out. The newly released, free range chicken, started to walk upon it and compact it down. She had some help too, with the growing number of brush turkeys, quail and even one of the neighbours' chickens, which flew their coop. What I was left with, was not conducive to growing anything.

Inside the bed

So it needed a revamp, and I needed some soil filler, to compensate for the drop. Thanks to a few other projects we had going, I figured I had everything I needed, without having to go out and buy a ready made product, from the nursery. I just had to get creative.

The idea dawned, after demolishing the old passionfruit vine, trellis, recently. Those old saplings, I used as braces, seven years ago, were perfect hugelkultur material now.

Soil filler

By collecting them up, I also cleared our work site a little more. They were light, spongy and excellent filler for the bed. I needed more though, so went searching around the yard. There was plenty of aged, woody material to scrounge. Like some old tree stumps, I kicked to get out of the ground. They were well rotted.

Coloured wood

Then there was the strange, purple coloured wood I found. Weird? It was under a tree, but in a slightly elevated position. Which is why it had kept it's form and weight, much better than the rest - because it wasn't in direct contact with the soil. Some kind of fungi grew on the wood, hence, the purple colouration. It wasn't what I was expecting, but would still do the job I intended.

Ready to go to work

After my little expedition (it took about half an hour) I had all the material needed. It was actually quite fun, pouring through the pieces of forgotten yard. As I turned things over, critters dashed for cover, and I carefully hauled my collection of forgotten things, up the hill.

A much nicer activity to achieve with a wheelbarrow, than having to attach the trailer and drive into town for compost. I'm coming to appreciate, how many assets our land generates naturally.

Removing soil

The next job was to dig out the soil. It still smelled like the coffee grounds, I added nearly a year ago, which was very pleasant. But the condition of the soil, was very poor too. I could now understand, why some of my plants struggled. I was amazed anything grew at all!

Soil profile

As I was digging it out, and placing it into my wheelbarrow, it came out in large, dry chunks. I found a few caverns in the soil, where some Slaters dashed out, but otherwise, there was no visible life in the soil. I suspect it became oxidised, with the long growing season, which saw very little rain, last year. The tin ensured, it was well and truly baked too!

But hopefully my new hugelkultur modification, will help to retain moisture for longer, in the soil this year.

Filled with carbon

After placing my collection of wood in, I made sure to water it well. Then I added some straw, dust and manure from the chicken coop, to help start the decomposition process. Then, I added more water again.

Straw on top

I did pay for the straw a while ago, so it's not exactly a closed loop. But by using it in the coop to help capture manure, it was literally just a few steps away now. Then it was just a simple matter of dumping the old soil, back on top again.

Half done, half to go

Working around the mesh, made it challenging. It's quite a narrow spot, so I had to work from both ends and meet in the middle. Which made sense really, when my barrow could only hold so much soil, at a time. This half was given the same treatment as the former...

Fill with carbon again

It looks like a simple job, but it was working around the mesh, that made me exhausted. But the mesh serves an important part in my coops design. It aids plants to to grow up the side of the coop. Which happens to be the side, facing west, and receives the hottest sun, during summer, in the afternoons.

Doing the longest stretch of bed, last, without the mesh to squeeze between, made it so much easier!


I still had some celeriac which survived, in that last section, I had yet to dig up. The chickens got one plant, and I relocated this one to another garden bed. The aim is to let it set seed. It hasn't died since the transplant, so here's hoping.

I dug the old soil out again, and relocated it to my wheelbarrow. It's actually quite hard ground underneath, with a high percentage of clay at the base. So hugelkultur should really help grow things better, in this location.

One side, left to clear

I had some lovely, long pieces of wood to fit in this section. What didn't easily fit, was broken into pieces, like stale sponge cake. I filled in the gaps with the woody crumbs.

My chicken supervisors were most curious, with my scratching around and what not! I'm sure they were waiting for a treat. Sorry guys. Not this time. Maybe next year this bed will have more soil critters, for me to throw to you?

More wood

It was just the right amount of old wood, to bring the soil level up to where it was formerly. I'm hoping it will perform a little better for me, this growing season. Though I'm going to have to select a range of tough plants. The ones that need a lot of attention, just won't cut-it, in this location.


There was still the mandatory mulch to apply, in order to reduce evaporation. In this case, I chose sugar cane mulch. It's another purchased input, which was acquired a few months earlier.


And because this is chicken territory (one, free range chicken, that doesn't live in the coop) and unfortunately, brush turkey domain too, I had to rig up something extra, for added protection...


I used the old chicken wire, from the trellis we took down recently. Plus some plastic netting I had laying around. The brush turkey's have been actively discouraged from this part of the yard now. They are welcome on the majority of our land, but not where we cultivate food growing areas.

They have a natural food supply, but seek our home grown compost instead. Which happens to be spread around a lot of things. They have already killed a bunch of plants meant for food production. Time will tell if my extra measures work, as they've thwarted me before. Don't get me wrong, we still appreciate their presence in our yard, but we have to roll up the welcome mat, in our sensitive areas.

We will plant this bed out, closer to September, and keep our fingers crossed. For a tiny area, it does grow quite a lot.


  1. That is a good way of using what you already have on hand Chris. I hope your garden flourishes.

    1. It would be great if it did well Sherri. Fingers crossed. :)

  2. Looks good! The chicken manure will help enormously. I have lots of logs from fallen trees lying in the bush, but I like to leave those there for habitat and food for the little bugs. I have a huge pile of branches a couple of centimetres in diameter which I cut for kindling and usually use those for the base of garden beds and swale mounds. They're also good for the base of wicking boxes.

    1. It's great to find a resource in the yard, and use it to extend our soil requirements. It certainly helps the hip pocket somewhat. Great to see you providing habit for soil critters too. We're actually on a mission this year, to take out a lot of sapling trees near the house. So there will be stacks of food around.

  3. Chris, looks fantastic! Brilliant idea, and I need a few brilliant ideas for dealing with our own resources. We have some revamping to do, and autumn (if it ever gets here) will be a good time to do it.

    1. Summer always feels like the make or break time, doesn't it? I find spring and autumn to be slower months, with mostly more agreeable weather to work outside. So I can understand why autumn will be a time to move your resources around.

      I was surprised how much I had, which I wasn't thinking through properly. Once you start looking for those opportunities, you'll be surprised how many times you don't actually have to go out and spend money.

      Kind of like your portable milling machine. You can relax knowing, the shops don't have to solve your problems with sourcing building material. It's right on your property. You're growing it and now you're putting it to good use.

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