I struggled with how to create a permaculture landscape, so I started with my fundamental problem – the slope of my back yard! I researched gardening on slopes, which led me to swales, water collection and pretty quickly to Hugelkulture!
Hugelkulture is a great way to build soil that improves with age. So that became my project…
The photo from February shows the contour swale, which stops the flow of water, allowing it to be absorbed in to the landscape below:
- I covered the ground with cardboard to suppress weed growth.
- I thoroughly wetted this layer, and every layer following.
- I collected fallen, larger tree limbs, keeping an eye out for any covered in fungus (and using these – fungi are the teeth of the forest and will speed up your decomposition.).
- I used the larger tree limbs to shape the raised beds, adding smaller branches and leaves as I went.
- After wetting my leaf and branch layer, I covered it with straw from the chicken coop (we are fortunate enough to have some city chickens, so lots of nitrogen rich straw is available to us. Without chickens, you can use household compost, food scraps or grass clippings.
- I added the top soil we had removed when digging the swales and compost.
- I seeded it heavy with Sow True Seed nitrogen fixing peas, beans, clover, vetch and winter rye.
- I planted early season crops of beets, carrots and chards.
- As these plants came in over the next month, I continued planting, adding potatoes and light feeding greens.
- I mulched the swales to build soil and mulched the beds to retain moisture (my mulch was free from a local arborist, who was cleaning up my neighbours yard and dumped all the shredded wood chips in my driveway! Most arborists are very willing to dump mulch in a neighborhood drive vs. hauling it.
- At this point we were eating daily from the beds and as some greens began to bolt and flower, and peas and beans matured, I collected more seeds for later plantings.
- Moving into summer, I over seeded with a variety of fruiting, flowering and root vegetables like winter and summer squashes, tomatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and a variety of peppers.
- I harvested the early season crops.
- Since this was my first experience with Hugelkultur, I doubted that the first year’s yield would provide much, as I had read that in the first year, the decomposition of the wood steals much of the nitrogen from the soil. As you can probably tell from the pictures, we were pleasantly surprised!
The last pictures show this year’s modifications to the original raised beds and the garden expansion. On the suggestion of Patricia, who is one of the teachers of the permaculture certification course at Earthaven Ecovillage, I have levelled the original beds to stop erosion, adding more organic matter and covering with compost.
I’m very pleased with the first years results and I look forward to another year of observing and interacting, while reaping the fresh, organic benefits from my new found Hugelkulture passion!
I hope to share more permaculture in action with you soon!