I am putting in a hugelkultur bed at our local library (southern midcoast Maine). I have not done this before, but I am currently taking a permaculture design course, and I have a business doing more ordinary landscaping the rest of the time. At the library site we have lots of very thin brush, some composted weeds and stuff like that, and we will have a little bit of sod (the amount that was under where the mound will go). My questions are 1) once the bed is assembled, how soon can we plant? 2) what are good things to plant the first year (I've heard potatoes?) 3) what are good things to plant with kids? To get this project to 'fly' we need to plant it this season… but I'm worried there won't be enough soil-type material to plant in until things have rotted down a bit. Thanks so much for any thoughts!!
1) Plant immediately. I like to put a layer of cardboard(grocery store, hardware store, liquor store for free cardboard) 2-12" thick down on top of the wood. Add copious amounts of water at this stage if in any way possible to speed up cardboard decomp. Then you have some choices. The cardboard gives you a stable base to get a root network going.
Little mounds of soil to plant in(stab a knife, or stake down to open up some cardboard for tap root or tuber crop), then mulch the mounds and exposed cardboard with a clean pesticide herbacide free mulch. Or cover the whole thing with soil then mulch, or layer mulch manure soil, etc.
2) For the sake of the hugel bed and plants growing from it, you are going to want to add plants that
-Are annuals whose deep root structure and green organic matter decompose into the wood pile each year. Carrots, beets, raddish (daikon specifically), leafy greens, bush beans, peas, squash and melon, to name just a few.
-Are perennials whose root structure will help hold the pile together.
-Drop nutrient rich mulch to protect from evap and to help over winter seed crop. Comfrey is ideal for this.
3) Plant what the kids like to eat! Ask them what they want to grow. Cant go wrong with berries and they play the perennial role well.
I would also plant flowers and herbs for the bugs. Great time to properly influence a childs value for insects, opposed to them thinking bees are scary.(read allergy lawsuit... lol)
Couple things to note. Where are you located? Both region and usda zone plus rainfall total, as well as the specifics of the mound location. Is it in the shade, under a pine tree, how much slope is there, is the bed running N-S or E-W?
95" of rainfall here and my hugel beds do better a couple degrees off contour to allow slow runoff or they get swampy.
Post pics! Ill post some of the hugel beds and the kids from last summer at my moms preschool.
He who sweats most in times of peace,
bleeds least in times of war.