Permaculture and Hugelkultur – Adventures in Gardening

Permaculture, what? Hugelkultur, who?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our journey in the wonderful world of sustainable gardening here at Canadian Acres. And it all begins with some funny sounding words with very big ideas.

Over the last few years I had the privilege of taking some beginner courses on permaculture in Anchorage. A beautiful couple named Saskia and Matt have made an amazing permaculture site in the urban setting of Anchorage, Alaska and have inspired many to make the switch from conventional gardening and overall living to permaculture and it’s practices. Once you take a class from Saskia, it all just feels right. Check them out at the Williams Street Farmhouse.

After getting my feet wet with a few courses I made the big move to our 160 acres in British Columbia. Quite a change from a townhouse with aΒ few raised bedsΒ to this. Oh, but I’m so ready for the challenge. I spent winter dreaming and scheming of the perfect garden, and devoured material on permaculture. I fell in love with the idea of a food forest and making gardening work for me instead of against me. Sounds grand, sign me up!

Permaculture is defined asΒ the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Since we are surrounded by so many diverse and wonderful ecosystems here in the valley, I want to add to that with my garden.

My wonderful husband thought about me and my love of gardening when he fenced our quarter section of land and made sure to leave about an acre section off of the main farmland for my site. It’s beautiful. Right next to a dugout it has rich soil and south facing views. Conveniently he’s also a environmental scientist, so soil is his specialty. And our lab reports are good. Full of nutrients and pesticide free! Now, I just have to wrap my head around an entire acre to garden in… an acre… that’s huge.

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The future garden site from our yard this spring. We fenced off the u-shaped area in between two dugouts from the farmed land

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Timber tilling the soil this spring. Loving my garden view!

Like really big.

But, the nice thing about permaculture is the practice of using food forests and other types of design principles to make my job as a the gardener easier over the years. Less weeding, watering and maintenance as time goes on… yep, definitely sign me up.

The two books I really enjoyed on the subject were The Vegetable Gardner’s Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein and Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway.

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This year we are focusing on design. I want to get some fruit trees and perennials planted and incorporate different design principles that will set us up for success over the years to come. One of these principles is called Hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is an old German word meaning “hill-culture”. The basic concept includes building garden beds upon rotting logs and wood, adding some nitrogen filled material to help balance the carbon overload and covering it all with dirt and compost. Over time, the wood will decompose, acting like a sponge to store and provide water and nutrients. Many of these beds are built into large “hill” like beds.

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Depiction of a hugelkultur bed after one month. Images from http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

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Hugelkultur bed after one year

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Hugelkultur bed after 20 years

The concept seems pretty genius to me. We decided to experiment with the first beds to be built at Canadian Acres, our house flower beds.

Clay built me a u-shaped flower bed around the west side of the house. This gives me southern, southwest, west, northwest and northern exposure. Plenty of room to experiment with my ever growing knowledge of perennials. Since we started from scratch I thought what the heck, let’s make this interesting.

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West facing bed

I spent an entire day with my close friend the wheelbarrow and two supervisors Maynard and Wyatt and went on a rotten-log-collecting-adventure. Sounds fun, right? Well, it was good exercise anyway. I filled up the bottom of my beds with lots and lots of wood. After the large pieces went in, I used all of the willow/stick/root piles we had just finished raking off of our lawn site. It was a nice way to get rid of an ugly mess.

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My two supervisors hard at work

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Bed filled with rotting logs and wood

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Our miscellaneous stick and wood pile. The woody matter on the right went on the beds

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Logs covered in woody matter and lawn rakings

I made sure to wet the ground before piling on the wood, and then gave it a good spray down after that layer was finished. Water helps the decomposition process and makes it nice and comfortable down there. Water from the hose also gives Maynard the crazy eyes as he.loves.that.hose.water.

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Suddenly a supervisor seems very interested in what is happening on site

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Maynard being helpful

On top of that I had some help to throw on our nitrogen filled goodies. Fresh grass clippings and chicken manure made a fine covering. Then we sprayed that down with the hose as well. Then we sprayed down Maynard with the hose again.

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My wonderful helper M

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Mmmmmm…. hugelkultur madness. Wood topped with grass clippings and pine shavings with chicken manure

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Loves it

Next, with the help from my husband and our awesome neighbor’s bobcat we borrowed we filled the beds with topsoil. Not fancy screened top soil because that would be expensive, but the topsoil we stripped from our building site last summer. We’re all about cheap around here.

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Filling beds with topsoil

Finally, time to get some plants in there. I’m new to flower gardening and know that I want to eventually have these beds overflowing with wonderful and easy to maintain perennials, so we’ll be working on adding to it through out the summer. I snuck a few dahlia bulbs in for good luck. Most hugelkultur beds do better in the 2nd and 3rd years, but so far, so good!

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Peonies and veggies for our first year south facing bed

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My small start to the west facing bed

Now to figure out how to do some larger scaled “hills” for the actual garden site. Our work is never done.

What do you think, will it work or does it all sound like mumbo jumbo? Only time will tell πŸ™‚

Cheers to at least finishing one more project~

~Katy

 

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6 thoughts on “Permaculture and Hugelkultur – Adventures in Gardening

  1. Pingback: PLANNING AN EDIBLE FOOD FOREST IN ZONE 2B-3 | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  2. That original pile looks like a good hugelkultur bed to me. Dump more nitrogen on top add soil and it is great. Blueberries love those beds. Your property is glorious and you will have a grand adventure on it.

      • In the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, blueberries grow on deadwood in the damp forest. Raspberries love Hugelkultur too, salal berries, elderberries. Yum! I am finally building my closer raised beds and they all have deadwood in the bottom. One I did last year has wonderfully rotting deadwood in it.
        Your property is awesome.

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