Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hugelkultur Update

If you have read of our adventures for any amount of time, you know that gardening has been the bane of our existence!  For fifteen (yes, fifteen) years, we have attempted to grow a garden in our red clay soil with (very) limited success.  We amended our soil with organic material, brought in load after load of manure to enrich the poor clay soil.  We tried raised beds, drip irrigation and potato towers.  We planted fruit trees, berry bushes and cold crop vegetables.  Some years I gave my gardening attempts everything I had, other years I merely threw a few seeds in the ground.  To say that I was discouraged is more than an understatement.

Although I had little to no success with gardening, I kept reading, hoping to find some nugget of gardening wisdom that I could apply to my little piece of ground that would coax bounty from the soil.

During one trip to our local library, I stumbled up a permaculture book by Sepp Holzer and was immediately intrigued.  He spoke of gardening and farming methods that were completely foreign to me but appeared to produce tremendous yields.  After studying Mr. Holzer's books for a couple of years and adding other permaculture books, like Gaia's Garden, to my personal library, I slowly devised a gardening plan.

This spring, Sir Knight and I embarked on a new gardening adventure - Hugelkultur.  Basically, we built raised garden beds using bulky organic material (trees, brush, bushes) as the base and coving it in our clay soil, with sod attached, and finished the beds off with good, rich soil.  We began small, with one bed about 40 feet long and 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall.  After we built the bed, we sowed white clover to act as a cover crop and to keep the soil in place until we could plant vegetables and berries. 

Tiny apples on an apple tree


Beginning to turn blue

Mounds of potatoes!

Potatoes looking healthy and happy

Lettuce, poking up amongst the clover

Our thick clover cover
Although the entire garden hasn't been planted (I was ill prepared for a full fledged garden bed), what has been planted seems to be flourishing.  Our potatoes are thick, tall and healthy.  The green beans are coming in nicely and the lettuce is sprouting.  Our blueberries (planted on the top of the raised bed) are bearing already and beginning to turn blue.  Even the trees that we planted in the Hugelkultur method seem to be doing well! 

In addition to the raised bed, we put in a suntrap using culvert pieces.  We used the same organic material, sod, soil method in the containers and planted tomatoes and peppers.  The containers also seem to be thriving with fruit coming on the bushes and blossoms covering the tomato plants.

Tomatoes making their start

Raspberry Brambles

We've been picking berries every morning!

One of the herb beds

Comfrey growing like crazy in front of "Little Shouse"

Although we haven't made it through a full growing season, we are tentatively excited about our new gardens.  In fact, we are planning another, larger Hugelkultur bed to be built this fall so that it will be ready to plant in the spring.

And so, our adventures in gardening continue - with the first measure of success in fifteen years.  And they say gardening is easy..... 


  1. Very exciting! Beautiful garden. I am delighted for you!!

  2. That's wonderfull news , I have had the privilege to listen to Bill Mollison Himself talk about permaculture design . I would describe him as your favourite eccentric uncle . He gave an informative talk on ways to humanely euthanise poultry. On our little part of the world , our passion fruit and pumpkin grow like they are wild . The reserve next door is a dry vine forest , shows what is possible observing creation

  3. I've been wondering how your garden has been faring... it's good news. All the best with the produce this season. Jenny

  4. Beautiful! I looks like this type of gardening is best for your area. I hope it continues to be successful for you! donna

  5. The final element needed to fix up your clay soil for growing is gypsum, a more calcium type of lime (not the standard agricultural lime). I get the pelletized version from our feed co-op, its called 'NutraSoft'. It comes in 40 lb. bags for around $6.00. The rate of application is 10-20 lbs per 100 sq. ft. I use the 20 lb rate, as the clay in the back northwest quadrant of the big garden wouldn't even grow good weeds (hehe). I hadn't used it before, so I put 10 lbs per 100 sq ft last fall then another 10 lbs per 100 sq ft this spring. Just amazed, the clay no longer crusts and clumps and things are growing very well. My brother and a neighbor followed my lead and they are just amazed - can't stop talking about it. Our neighbor with a 750 acre certified organic farm clued me in on this wonderful stuff!
    I am all for permaculture, but why waste otherwise good growing ground that a little gypsum can fix right up for you pretty much instantly, at such a reasonable cost and with such little effort?

  6. Glad to see your hard work and trust in the process deliver excellent results. Not that there was any doubt here!