By Anne Rivas
When we moved here four years ago, I was excited about Omaha sending yard waste to a composting facility. I put my sticks out for pickup with a clear conscience, and composted almost everything else at home. Now the city is considering an amended contract with the waste hauling that will permanently send yard waste to the landfill. The methane generated by the landfill is used to create power, but I’d rather not create that power with something that can nourish life. Watching organic waste become rich soil deepens my faith in the transformative power of rot, and being part of a city that values the production of fertile soil is important to me. I am deeply disappointed by this suggested change in direction.
So what do we do now with our sticks, branches, and woody prunings? We can run them through chippers to create our own mulch. Or, as self-appointed Compost Queen, I suggest we use them in hugelkultur garden beds.
Hugelkultur means “hill mound,” or “hill culture.” It’s a form of composting that allows us to use leftover firewood, the branches and sticks that fall from our trees every time the wind blows (and when isn’t the wind blowing?), kitchen scraps, yard waste, and garden waste. Start with a layer of logs on the bottom, and then build a lasagna pile of sticks, leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, paper, and compost, ending with a layer of dirt covered by a layer of mulch. You can plant in it immediately.
Piling the materials into a mound gives you a larger gardening surface without taking more horizontal space. The branches aerate the soil as they decompose, and the wood holds moisture that is released as the bed dries out, reducing the need for irrigation. The mound will diminish as it decomposes. A well-built hugelkultur bed can last 20 years or so without irrigation or fertilizer. Some intensive work at the beginning will pay dividends for years to come.
I love reading well-written homesteading blogs and have watched this movement grow over the years, but there are limits to what we can each accomplish alone. By working together on the municipal level through city composting, community gardens, seed libraries, and other common efforts, we will accomplish more than any of us can do by ourselves.