Brushing Up on Soil Improvement

May 26, 2022

By Jack Kertesz

Brush fencing on MOFGA’s campus.

There is an area of MOFGA’s fairgrounds where we have placed various types of fences to restrict human entrance to where livestock activity happens during the Common Ground Country Fair. Among some traditional and sometimes crude wooden rail fence designs are examples of even cruder types of make-do arrangements. There is a section lined with stumps and another with just brush, occasionally supplemented with orchard prunings. We recently removed a section of the latter to develop another bed for planting. This area had been in a light sod and the brush was quickly aligned in a row. It received little attention over the years, except for periodic contributions of more small-diameter wood. Upon removal, it was encouraging to see the area completely free of vegetation, and discover a friable, somewhat darker soil underneath. This is not the first time that I have witnessed such a sod-smothering, soil-building effect. In a nearby area, I had placed small-diameter wood, clipping off some side branches to allow for layering it more carefully. This was prompted by a friend, Jim Kovaleski, who is a big promoter of continuous mulching with grass, and who introduced me to a style of HugelKultur using young woody plant material, which I now like to refer to as “HugleLite” or “Hugeleski.”

Friable, dark soil free of vegetation that was exposed when the brush was pulled aside.

The harvest of light, woody material can be accomplished using hand tools. It is not difficult to drag bundles of this material around and maneuver into place. This system can use fast-growing and sometimes less desirable species (box elder, sumac, poplar, black locust) or willow, harvested sustainably using coppicing or pollarding tactics. (Most of these would require a drying period to avoid having them sprout and take route.) This type of woody biomass decomposition, resulting in slow release fertilization, sod removal, and soil improvement, could add up to a technique that you may want to brush up on.

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