My New Garden Strategy: Hugelkulture

Gardening in a climate where you run the furnace 6.5 months out of the year can be challenging. Not only are we fairly far north – the 44th parallel – we’re near the coast. That means practically no spring and short, cool summers. Add to that the fact that I’m still figuring out this garden thing, I have more failures than successes when it comes to growing vegetables.

We’ve had to carve our space out of a patch of woods. Beneath that top layer of wood and leaf mulch is solid clay. I’ve resorted to Earth Boxes and raised beds for my veggies. I like my raised beds, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the wood wicks water away from my plants. Last year I experimented and lined a couple of the raised beds with moss to retain moisture.

This year, I’m banking my garden season on hugelkultures. Essentially it’s a raised bed or mound of organic material on the bottom that slowly decomposes providing heat to the plants. From the research I did on these, it’s recommended that you start them in the fall so by spring they’ve had time to settle and “cook.” We started ours in early May, so what will be, will be!

Digging a hole 3' x 6'

I had Paul dig a trench 3′ x 6′ x 1.5′ deep.

We lined the hole with cardboard

We lined the bottom of the hole with cardboard.

We gathered rotted logs from the woods

We gathered two bucket loads of rotted logs from the woods to lay in the bottom of the hole.

We added duck and chicken compost to top of the pile

We tucked twigs in the gaps of the larger logs. On top of the pile we added duck and chicken compost. The hotter, more recent on the bottom, with the older, cured compost on top.

What you don't see is me d

What you don’t see is me dancing in my Muck Boots to work the poo into the twigs. There’s something to be said for being the photographer in the family.

hummers-033

Paul raided one of my raised beds, for the soil to top the hugelkulture – dismantled it all together.

We continued to add three more beds. I found that I had to fence them off immediately. The chickens had a field day knocking down that first bed when I wasn’t looking.

huguls

In an attempt to keep the weeds down, I lined the paths with layers of newspaper and topped it with straw. Here we’re working on a temporary fence. If this hugelkulture works for me, we’ll fence the garden area in with a more permanent fence.

garden-001

This weekend, a full week after Memorial Day, I deemed it warm enough to finally plant.

hugulkulture garden

A friend who is a professional gardener recommended IRT mulch. She said this will extend my growing season and yield for heat loving plants.

I got this all put together and then wondered, how am I going to water? A soaker hose irrigation system is on its way. The only challenge is that I’ve got to lift the plastic to lay the hose beneath it. Ugh. Can you say flying by the seat of your pants?

garden-010

I have high hopes for these hugelkultures. Still, I’m not putting all my veggies in one bed. While I have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, zucchini and summer squash in the hugelkultures, I’ve got the same things growing in my earth boxes – just in case! The hugelkultures also have pumpkin, acorn squash and a few more things I haven’t entirely settled on yet. My raised beds have yet more tomatoes, peas, scallions, radish, carrots, lettuce and spinach.

In place of my raised beds, behind the hugelcultures, we’re planning a small green house. I know I’ve talked and dreamed about this before, but this just might be the year! We’re on a roll.

It’s only a matter of money and time. And frankly, the time is as hard tk come by as the money. Keep your fingers crossed!

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7 Responses to My New Garden Strategy: Hugelkulture

  1. George Castonguay says:

    I have friends that are commercial farmers and they use raised beds with plastic mulch laid down with the tractor. They never water anything for it seems that the water that falls in between the covered rows wicks over to the plants. Seems to work for them anywho.

  2. Lisa Taylor says:

    We also have transitioned to raised beds. But we haven’t put down an “underlayment” like you have. Hope it works as well as it seems like it should! Happy gardening.

  3. Deena says:

    I’ve wanted to try Hugelkulture since reading about it a few years ago. Looking forward to seeing yours.

    Thank you for sharing this & thank you so much for the bird patterns. My daughter and I have enjoyed them so much.

  4. Anita Smith says:

    Very nice! I grew veggies on my deck in hollowed out hay bales with compost inside one summer. Kept the deer off them!

  5. annie says:

    Sounds very interesting. I just found your blog and am loving it especially when I saw the ducks ( I have 9-Pekins, Rouens and a runner) who are basically pets. Got a good laugh when I read about yours in winter! It is the same way here in Mass-messy messy but we love them. Thank you for all the felt bird patterns I can’t wait to get started. Annie

  6. Lori says:

    We’re trying Hugelkultur this year as well—so far it is working out very well. We’ve even planted some perennials amongst the annual veggies. Time will tell 🙂

    • sjbennett says:

      So far so good on this front. The warm weather has only just arrived, so my garden still has a lot of growing to do. If this is successful, I’m pondering building a greenhouse with hugelkulturs inside. As you said, time will tell!

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