When I decided to sell my one-of-a-kind church/concert hall in 2018 and move up north to the last log house that my father built, many of my friends and colleagues said it was a mistake since I would be far away from the hustle and musical bustle of the Canadian metropolis of Toronto. They were sure it would lead to fewer concerts and opportunities for me. Now that Covid19 has taken charge, that equation has changed.
I’m still practicing, still getting ready to publish my new bassoon tech book, still working on the rest of the renovations and helping relaunch the Council of Canadian Bassoonists, but because I am no longer driving 4000 per month, I am using that time in new ways. And going outside and working on digging and moving logs through pivoting, prying and different types of leverage seemed like just another great idea.
There was a pile of logs in the field behind our house, good timbers that had been left over from the building of the house. They had rotted from being exposed to the elements, and I didn’t know what to do with them. It made me sad to see them so neglected and awry.
Then my accountant suggested I create a Hugelkultur garden.
The principle is to make a tall layer cake of rotting wood, branches and other organic material, cover it all with dirt and build a garden, preferably by digging into the ground and then stacking up to six feet. Anything that is non-toxic (so no cedar, walnut, or painted woods and no seed-bearing silage). Over time, it becomes a nitrogen-rich biomass that doesn’t require much watering because the rotting wood acts as a sponge. I jumped at the idea because it would allow me to process the orphaned logs in a positive way. I started at the beginning of April, and was delayed by snow and by awaiting delivery of my peavey and pry bar, but I should be able to plant my seedlings by May 24 at the latest. Here is a picture journal of some of the many steps that it took to get to the point where I think I will be able to plant the seedlings this week.
The logs were piled in a jumble along with boards and firewood behind the house, the remains of parts of the house that were re-designed along with the construction stairs and other artifacts,
including rotted planks
and stair stringers.
Kinda makes my heart clutch to see the fine work of my
old Dad before gently laying these into the trenches alongside the sections of logs.
Even though it was still a bit cold at the beginning of April, I started the first trenches.
I hit hard clay at about 14 inches…. after hammering at it for a while, decided that 14-18″ was deep enough.
Though the running shoes are more comfortable, I had to switch to
rubber bogs so that I could actually walk!
Three logs were buried by April 12, then I had to figure out how
to cut the 18′ log into three… I still didn’t have my peavey (log rolling tool)
So I began chopping with my fine throwing axe, but needed to turn the log…
So I tried hammering in a wedge and using a piece of angle iron to roll it, and it worked a little, but also felt unsafe with the angle iron bowing a lot, so I stopped.
You can see two thirds of the long log on the far right…
Went into the crown land forest and gathered a couple of bags of dried maple and oak leaves.
I kept chopping…
And finally my peavey arrived! it had been held up by the slower mail during Cootie 19.
I had to assemble the hook and happened to have a 5/8ths wrench handy.
And I was able to roll the log and easily finish chopping on the other side.
Here is the long log in 2 pieces, and now that I had the peavey, I chopped it into three pieces
and rolled all three into the Hugel bed on top of the 4 buried logs
Then I had to get the log that was around the back and roll it to the side
and make a ramp with two old planks on top of the pile of dirt that I had dug out from the trenches
I rolled with one hand, then jammed the pry bar in the dirt to hold the log and put old pieces of firewood under the log at each turn to hold it in position so that I could remove the peavey and take another grip.
Rolled it over the top and into the last trench
Now back to the south side and figuring out how to move this log straight ahead from its position.
My brand new, 18 pound “Cougar” (hahahaha) pry bar is a thing of total joy.
Moving towards the dirt pile, realizing that I will get jammed unless I put a piece of old plywood under it as a skid
Close up of my Dad’s numbering system for identifying all the logs when dissassembling log hoses for a move… these are the lids for canning preserves, held on with a galvanized nail
Using the pry bar to straighten out the log (pivot points are an amazing thing)
Setting the log on the plywood skid, then I just pried and pushed it until it was in position
Had to add planks to get it across the grass
and kept using pieces of old firewood to keep the log in position and headed straight
made it! now to roll into position
Just before rolling into the Hugel bed
And in position, with my beautiful cadmium red pry bar contrasting beautifully with the rotten wood.
Even though the wood is rotten, the heart of these white pine logs is sound and they are heavy!
Now to pry the last log into it’s new spot… flattened on both sides, this will be a useful low table for the garden
The last of the 13 log sections is half buried in the soil of the field, but the red pry bar and a couple of strategically placed planks make movement simple.
Walked it over, wriggling each end with pry bar
Making a skid surface with plywood and plank
and in position
Here are all the tools that really helped me so much… the small shovel with the really long handle, the 4′ antique pry bar that Peter McEwen loaned to me, my brand new 4′ Keystone peavey sent to me by Maurice Gardy and the 5′, 18 lb Cougar pry bar that can move and lever and lift stones, logs and more
Time to clean up the long-standing fire pile… there had been a complete fire ban in the township so I moved all the branches over to the garden
stacked the branches
then went through them all and broke them into straight pieces so the pile will stay stable and not bounce when I add more logs to top
sawed up a piece of deadfall beside the road and loaded into truck
added to pile
went down the forest section of the road and filled truck with rotted deadfall… when I perceive the value of the rotted wood, then it feel like I am finding treasure! the rotted wood is quite light.
My dear neighbour Doug arriving with a bucket load of nicely rotted alpaca manure
The fields have dried up beautifully with the winds so the heavy tractor can safely cross
terrified salamander had ridden over in the tractor bucket … he quickly found a safe hiding spot in the garden pile
little garter snake inspects the garden pile, asks what I’m doing there since he decided it was a good snake castle
told the snake I’m here to stay
dug four fence post holes, trying to plan what kind of summer fence I will install.
The black flies are out now that the snow is finally gone (swat, sweat, spray bug dope)
From the base of the buried logs to the crown of the topsoil will be at least 5′, which is very respectable. It will sink into the ground in the coming months and can support a garden for years to come.
I added another layer of field dirt and some terracing, awaiting the next load of alpaca poop that is coming tomorrow.
To be continued!
And once the bugs are gone in August, I just might play a concert by the garden.