Hugekulture is a very interesting form of soil management and improvement. Basically, it involves burying a dead or felled tree, stumps, branches, and other debris under a layer of soil, then creating a terraced garden above it.
Over time, the debris you buried will break down and decompose. As it does, it feeds a continuous stream of nutrients to the soil above, and whatever you’ve planted in that soil reaps the benefits. It’s the very best of natural fertilizer, and it’s kind of like gardening and composting all in one step. Good stuff.
In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to do that in miniature. Same basic concept, but in a five gallon bucket.
I don’t actually have a five gallon bucket though. What I do have, because I have three cats, is an empty plastic tub that once contained cat litter. I saved it just for this tutorial, and because I’m planning to expand next year’s planter garden. To that end, I’ll prep the planter today, let it lie fallow through the winter, and plant some cucumbers in the planter in the spring.
The first step is to create some drain holes in the bottom of the bin. I’m using a DeWalt corded drill. You can use whatever you’ve got handy, but the drill bit will make short work of the bottom of the container. Each hole takes about a second to create.
You don’t have to be pretty or precise here. In fact, as you can see, I didn’t even attempt to be. Wherever the drill bit landed, that’s where the next hole went.
There’s no precise science here. You don’t want to drill so many holes that the bottom falls out, but you want enough, spread out over the base of the planter to allow good drainage. Use your best judgement and start making some holes!
Next up, you need wood and twigs. Obviously you’re not going to be able to fit a whole tree or a stump in the bottom of this container, so find some sticks of various sizes and place them in the bucket. The largest pieces go in first, working your way to the top of the bucket, filling it with progressively smaller bits as you get toward the top.
Keep going until the bucket is full. Two reasons for this. First, as you place your materials in the bucket, there’s actually a tremendous amount of space between the various sticks and twigs, and when you add soil atop it, it has plenty of room to compress. Second, you don’t need a lot of soil to plant in. Three to five inches is perfectly fine for most vegetables, so there’s no point in dumping a foot and a half of soil into the bucket.
Once you’ve got a bucket full of sticks, twigs, vines, and other woody material, grab your soil and add it on top, pressing down with moderate firmness to keep it from spilling over the side.
In my case, I had two planter boxes that contained basil. Once I’d harvested the last of the basil, I reused the soil, adding it to the bucket first, and then put a fresh layer of potting soil atop it. The roots and stems from the now dead basil will also decay, which will feed into the soil on the top layer.
Finally, even though I’m not planning to start planting until spring, I had breakfast this morning, consisting of coffee, and an omelet. Not wanting to throw the coffee grounds, eggshells, and part of a bell pepper in the garbage, I used it to create some instant compost (full tutorial for Instant compost can be found here).
Basically, I tossed all of those ingredients into an old, used blender I picked up at a thrift store just for that purpose, added water, and liquefied it. The exact amount of time it takes to create a “dirt smoothie” in this manner varies, depending on what ingredients you toss into the blender, but in this case, after about 45 seconds, my dirt smoothie was ready to go.
I poured the contents of the blender straight onto the soil, and then gently worked it into the soil with a gardening tool, as you can see here.
At this point, if it was earlier in the planting season, I could drop seeds in the soil right now, but as I write these words, it is mid-October, so I’m going to let it sit for the winter. Come the spring, I’ll have a fantastic new planter to put into service, with nutrient rich soil.