When we moved into our new home the meadow was a mess. There were piles of new and rotting branches everywhere, even old Christmas trees chopped up and laying around. In a “lemons to lemonade” burst of inspiration I decided to turn these branches into hugel beds.
I bundled some up, dragged them to the garden and piled them into my raised beds.
I covered the branches with several inches of leaves, soil and mulch.This was my first experiment with hugel beds and I was really looking forward to the amazing results I’d read about. My hope was that over the next few months this would magically become a bed full of gorgeous soil for planting. Instead, in typical Unfettered Fox fashion, I’ve had a more humorous outcome.
Turns out some of those branches were from the Salix family of trees – better known as pussy willow. And do you know what pussy willow branches do when covered in 6″ inches of moist soil and mulch?
They root. And sprout. So there are basically trees growing in my raised beds. This is not a good thing. Hugel beds are not supposed to sprout, they are supposed to opposite-of-sprout. The wood that makes up the bottom levels of a hugelkultur bed are supposed to break down, attracting worms, adding beneficial microbes to the soil, holding moisture and “feeding” the bed as they decompose. A living tree is less than ideal.
One branch was so happy and healthy it bloomed underground! (As a side note, did you know pussy willow buds are called catkins? How adorable is that?) Some online reading informed me that pussy willow cuttings re-root easily and thrive in moist conditions. So that explains why this tree, despite having split in half and fallen down years ago, is now gigantic shrub with dozens of 15′ tall “trunks.”
I still wanted to plant veggies in this bed so we pulled the willows out and planted them along the fence where, luckily enough, we’ve been wanting something fast-growing to provide privacy. They’re actually a very pretty tree. The leaves change colors in the fall, the branches turn red in winter, and then fuzzy little catkins pop out everywhere as cute as can be.
Just before blooming the branches were beautiful. I even sold some to Chica Bloom Farm & Floral for their wild and unconventional Valentine’s Day bouquets!
So while my hugel experiment was a failure, the happy little trees will be perfect along the fence, and you can’t really beat free trees! We are also getting pretty damn good at making lemonade.
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