We are at the end of the first season using my modified Hugelkultur composting method. This composting method could be also called the incredible easy composting method!! You can check out my post about how wonderful the squash was and how well it grew! I started cleaning up the old squash plants and putting away the trellises. I noticed a lot of debris on the ground. There were pieces of old branches and flower stems.
Modified Hugelkultur Composting Method Needed Some Work
I realized that the compost, leaves, organic matter and dirt that I had put on the hugelkultur had composted some more and settled. This only makes sense to me as I think about my experience with composting. The compost piles in my wire bins are always shrinking. The more they compost the smaller they get. I had a full trash can of compost from my compost tumbler at the beginning of the summer. Red wiggler composting worms were working at it the whole summer. Now less than half the trash can is full of compost. Everything settled and composted in my hugelkultur row exposing some of the sticks and branches that were buried in it.
It was a simple fix. I added more dirt, leaves and compost to cover the exposed garden debris. No sticks or branches this time because I want it all to compost and settle. I am hoping by next spring, this row will be more composted so that I can plant other things beside squash in it. It was disturbing to see the scattered plant stems and branches that had previously been covered up. As you can see from this picture that it was easy to fix the problem. These composting rows will probably need more compost and soil periodically. And that is easy to do!
Some Exceptions on What to Grow
The first year you grow plants with this composting method you should limit what you plant. You can experiment but don’t be surprised if some plants don’t do so well. The reason is that there is not so much soil in the row. There are a lot of stalks, leaves, some branches and garden debris that needs to break down into compost.
I find that squash will grow anywhere. And by this, I mean the squash that grows into a vine; not necessarily the bush squashes. When you put squash seeds in your regular kitchen compost they sprout anywhere. I would only plant vining squash in a row like this. I use Tahitian Melon Squash. The thing to remember is to keep it watered very well until it gets established. My theory is that the roots make their way down to the soil that is underneath the row. I think they get sustenance along the way from the soil and compost that had been layered into the composting row. By the second year the composting row should work fine for most plants.
Here is a discussion on Tahitian Melon Squash and more info on the Hugelkultur composting method.
I have discovered a new way for composting branches and flower stalks. You know those thick, rigid flower stalks that you have at the end of the summer. And all the branches that fall out of the trees in wind storms! I used to cut them up and put them in my wire bin compost piles. Then when my compost was finished I would have to pick them out, one by one, when I wanted to use my compost. The branches and flower stalks needed more time to break down so they became a pain in the neck when separating compost.
The plus side to them being in the compost was that the stalks created oxygen spaces for the bacteria and other creatures in the compost pile. What I came to learn through experience was that the compost breaks down fine without branches and flower stalks.
Method for Composting Branches and Flower Stalks
Last winter I started piling branches and flower stalks and leaves in a pile, spread out in a long row. I’m talking about sunflower, zinnia, rudbeckia triloba and milkweed stalks. Also I put in the pepper, tomato and squash stalks and all the branches that had fallen out of the trees in storms. When I trimmed the raspberry canes I added them too. I am basing this loosely on the hugelkultur theory which I write about at this link the Hugelkultur Composting Method. Of course I layered leaves, soil and compost to cover all this garden debris.
The Results of Composting Branches and Flower Stalks
I wanted to keep you posted on how this composting method worked. I have some pictures of the Tahitian Melon Squash that I planted in this hugelkultur space. At the left you can see how lush this squash grew. It is beautiful and still growing great! The main thing that I learned from this experiment is that in the beginning the plants need a lot of water! Plants in a hugelkultur mound need a lot of water in the beginning before they get established. It only makes sense. Their roots are growing down into a mixture of branches, stalks, leaves, soil and compost. Whenever they are watered or it rains the water goes through this mixture very quickly. Once the plants were established they didn’t need to be watered as much.
A Great Way to Get Rid of Branches and Old Flower Stalks
Here is another picture of the squash growing. You can see how prolific it is. It grew up trellises that were 6 feet high! The great thing about this method is that you don’t have to deal with all the branches and dead flower stalks again. You don’t have to sort them out of your regular compost pile because they take longer to break down. You don’t have to bag them up and send them to the landfill because you don’t know what else to do with them! They will stay in the hugelkultur row, under the ground and eventually decompose into compost.
As you can see from the pictures, the squash had no problem growing in a row where there where branches and flower stalks buried. I am very excited about this discovery and am planning my next hugelkultur row for next year! If some of the branches and stalks become exposed you might have to put more soil or compost on top of them.
My experiment is a modified version of hugelkultur. To learn more click on The Many Benefits of Hugelkultur. I have written a lot about growing these type squash–Tahitian Melon Squash.