Jan 27

Waste like the new gold: how to recycle nutrients with permaculture techniques?

One of the problems that we generate in houses, cities and fields is contamination by organic waste and soil erosion. These are closely related since soil fertility depends on the incorporation of organic matter by decomposers.

It is not difficult to see that one of the reasons why our soils suffer is the alteration of natural cycles such as the cycle of matter, if we do not return to the soil what it has given us in many ways, by closing ecological cycles basic, it will have a deficit and therefore will lose fertility, if to this we add a host of other problems that it faces such as soil management, use of pesticides, overgrazing, monoculture, etc. we can understand how we got to the current situation.

In Permaculture there are a multitude of strategies to create fertile beds using organic resources of all kinds, many of them can be considered by many people as waste, but if we can use them wisely and recycle them in a natural way obtaining a benefit, For both the environment and people, they become a very valuable resource.

Taking into account the great problem we have worldwide with soil erosion that we cause with agriculture and livestock, there is an urgent need to develop new systems of all kinds that help to stop and reverse this catastrophe.

On a small scale we can contribute to the improvement of the soil in many ways, when permaculture and other related disciplines are studied, we learn to design strategies and techniques of all kinds whose main or secondary objective is to regenerate the soil.

An example of these strategies is the multitude of types of terraces that can be created in a small-scale orchard or garden, in this article I want to show you one of my favorite types, the semi-lasagna terrace, for the good results always obtained, too Because by its nature it allows us to have very fertile and efficient raised terraces in terms of moisture conservation.

This bed is really a mix between the Hugelkultur Bed and the typical Lasagna, using the materials used in both and adding more soil in the upper layer, to shorten the waiting time in the initial planting. In this case the containment system of the raised bed is straw bales.



These terraces allow us to create a large amount of fertile soil in a short time, in addition to containing trunks and branches, they take a long time to decompose, so they behave like a long-lasting compost. On the other hand, straw alpacas behave as insulators that solve the problem of water loss due to evaporation from very high terraces in arid climates; they are also a very good way to cycle waste from pruning, grass, etc. closing cycles of matter and energy in a favorable way.

Basically, it consists of placing different layers of organic matter inside the gap that delimits the straw alpacas, which when decomposed at different rates enrich the soil and create a very rich substrate on top of the existing soil. The layers can be made up of a multitude of types of organic matter, they will be explained by types and specific examples will be given, but depending on the resources available to us, the recipe can vary, the important thing is to be clear about the types of resources we need and the order at the time of placing them.

Straw alpacas fulfill several functions in addition to containing, these become usable compost when they are replaced but also enrich the soil inside the terrace while they contain it. When they are put in winter, when the water falls the first times, they are activated and increase their interior temperature creating a favorable microclimate (heating) both on the terrace and around it. They also act as a weed barrier and offer some protection against animals such as dogs, rabbits, geese …

In an aesthetic way, they create a very special atmosphere and serve as seats, so they make the terrace have its own bench to work on and enjoy.




  • Very productive without the need for continuous supply of fertilizers
  • They allow to raise beds using organic waste
  • They keep humidity well
  • Deep fertile soil is created
  • It favors life on the ground
  • Passive composter in situ
  • It allows pruning remains to be returned to the ground without the need to shred, and in a way that it cannot generate pests



  • They require a large amount of organic matter of different types for their start-up
  •  They require a lot of energy to start up
  • Timeouts
  • Thoughtful planting


Element analysis

  • Needs: organic matter, plants, seeds, sufficiently sunny location, shelter from winds, protection from domestic and wild animals, straw alpacas, tools, knowledge.
  • Products: fertile soil, comfortable-to-use bed, water saving, favorable habitat, horticultural production, compost, educational tool, mushroom production, improve infiltration,
  • Behavior: self-fertile, low consumption once established, resistant to frost and high temperatures, requires replacement of alpacas, water sponges,
  • Intrinsic characteristics: high, multifunctional (Produces compost and food, contributes especially to the biodiversity of the soil, etc.), they require straw alpacas from time to time.



Organic material:

  • Dry
  • Green
  • Logs different diameters
  • Branches different diameters
  • Compost
  • Gallinacea
  • Soil
  • Straw alpacas
  • Water
  • Irrigation system
  • Plants and seeds


Earthworm humus

Efficient microorganisms

Mushroom spores (Inoculated stems)



How to do it step by step

1- Delimit and clean the location

Once we decide its location and the exact measurements, we clean the area of adventitious herbs and these we keep them, once cleared we delimit the excavation area and the alpacas. We can use rope and stakes, or just the stakes especially if their shape is not very complicated.


2- Dig and set aside the soil for later use

Once delimited we will proceed to remove about 30 cm of the soil that we will reserve to put it in the penultimate layer, the plants will begin to grow in this and underneath they will have all the addition.


3- Place the baless as a containment

These are arranged around the perimeter of the hole but outside of it (this way we increase the total depth of the bed and also we favor that the lower part maintains the humidity very well, in this part will be the logs that we want to keep always humid to favor the appearance of fungi), if necessary we level them so that they are as stable and well placed as possible, tightening them together as much as possible. The alpacas are placed horizontally with their longitudinal axis parallel to the ground, and placing them on the narrowest face leaving the deepest one perpendicular to the ground, thus we will have more height on the bed and take up less space


4- Place the layer of logs

We begin to fill in the first layer of trunks, these must be from trees that do not release allelopathic substances or greatly alter the pH of the soil such as pines, eucalyptus, etc. Ideally, they should be logs that still have a good water content inside, if they are freshly cut better (always being aware of their origin, we do not want to cut only to make this bed but to use the pruning residue), thus its decomposition will be easier.

We will try to place the logs so that the thickest are at the bottom and the diameter is gradually reduced upwards, leaving as few large holes as possible, since we do not want air pockets to form or an ideal space for rodents.

This layer may measure more or less depending on the availability of materials, but ideally there should be at least 15-20 cm.

Once the logs are in place, we water the whole set.



5- Place the layer of branches

We continue to fill in the branches, following the same method as with the thicker trunks and thoroughly filling any gaps that may have been left between the trunks.

This layer should be at least 10 cm




6- Place chicken manure layer

We put a layer of chicken manure (mixture of straw and chicken manure) that is not very fresh on the branches of about 5 cm and we water again, this will wash part of the chicken manure down, mixed with the branches and trunks and adding nitrogen to the lower layers. And causing its initial thickness to be reduced somewhat.


7- Place green layer

On top of the chicken manure we put a layer of green or fresh materials of 10 cm, they can be vegetable remains from the kitchen, the same as for the compost, we can also use remains of fresh herbs, grass, etc.



8- Place dry layer

We can use any fibrous material similar to straw, forming a layer of about 10 cm, the ideal is that it does not contain many seeds, especially if what we use is remains of adventitious plants, but well except for some species, at this depth the seeds will suffer and they will be too deep to germinate.



9- Place layer of mature compost

Now we put a layer of mature compost, about 5 cm long and we water the whole again to moisten everything and make the compost partially penetrate the lower layers, bringing microorganisms to them and activating their decomposition.

10- Repeat layers

We can repeat layers 7, 8 and 9 to get more depth of the bed, following the same methodology. Usually what you do is dig more in step two to have more space available.


11- Place a layer of removed soil at the beginning

Now we put a layer of about 25 cm of the soil that we removed at the beginning, the ideal is that we mix it with compost or humus to improve its nutrient content and its structure. We can also add ME (efficient microorganisms)

This layer will be the one in which we will plant and it has to have a good depth to prevent the plants from reaching the lower layers with their roots very quickly where the decomposing organic matter could damage them at first.


12- Place padding.

We put a layer of straw padding of about 15 cm and we water again



13- Thermal Rest phase

As in a compost bin, at the beginning, the part below the two upper layers will increase in temperature due to the decomposition process, this depends on the weather and can last several days, as here we are not going to stir once the temperature drops and it does not return to climb a lot, so leaving a period of time of a couple of weeks we will not have problems, in summer this time can be shortened since the plants want more temperature in the soil and more nutrients.

We can check by hand that the temperature is not high.


14- Planting

Once the temperature is stabilized, we will plant as in any other terrace, providing good biodiversity and caring for it in the same way as the rest of the terraces. Returning to the bed all the remains of the same that we do not use to keep the padding layer always between 10 and 15 cm.


15- Replace bales 

With the passage of time, the alpacas are slowly transforming into compost that is not very rich but that serves us for many uses, including adding part to the same bed. Once their consistency is not adequate, 1 or 2 years depending on the climate, they are replaced with care so that the edges of the bed do not collapse in the process.



It must be taken into account that the volume of the bed will be reduced by compacting a little with the irrigation of the assembly, by the loss of volume of organic matter when decomposing, etc. So it does not matter that at first it seems that it does not fit in the alpacas, then something always goes down.


These terraces have always given us very good results, and they have been very useful in establishing school gardens where the land is usually filled with soil for the remains of the work.


In addition to being striking for the straw alpacas, they are very suitable for working with children, and we can observe the profile of the terrace and what is happening on the ground by carefully removing an alpaca, which is very pedagogical to explain life on the ground to people of all ages


Written by Miguel Ruiz Villalobos

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