Episode-224- Build A New Garden In Less Than 5 Minutes

Tony Teolis/ November 18, 2013/ Gardens/ 2 comments

Actually it’s not possible to build a hugel bed in such a short time especially the way I do it. However, putting this video together was fun and you can see in a brief span of time the effort and resources required to get started on a fine garden bed that will last for years and years. Now that October has come to an end it is time to build another hugelbed. Setting it up now is wise because the bed will have at least six months to mature and begin building an ecosystem ready host an array of crops in April. I have been building hugely beds for two years now and the backyard has become transformed into an array of big raised beds most of which are without borders. They just grow wild and as a result there are edges everywhere.

Life is best experienced at the edges of stress and pressure and the same goes for gardening. Since I began learning and practicing permaculture and hugelkultur I have redesigned everything to be mostly hugelkultur. Fifteen of the nineteen garden beds on my small property are now hugelized. That basically means they consist of big wood cores created with tree logs, branches, twigs, compost, leaves, soil and more to rise up out of the ground and grow more food and flowers than can be traditionally realized.

There are a lot of permaculture and hugelkultur resources on the web and in books but I first learned from Jack Spirko about Sepp Holzer and Paul Wheaton and I tend to stick with those three for the fundamentals. Sepp Holzer is the Austrian farmer I mentioned earlier when transformed a barren and then inhospitable mountain landscape into an Eden. Actually it is known as the Krameterhof farm which consists of over 45 hectares of forest gardens, including 70 ponds. According to his books and seminars hugelkultur is farming on top of ecosystems that get their water and nutrients from huge wood cores. He recommends and uses backhoes and other large equipment to build hugel beds. I presently don’t have the space or resousreces necessary to build like Sepp but I do have visions inspired from him that I am able to scale to size for my yard with just a shovel and rake. Jack Spiro and Paul Wheaton have provided me with lots of ideas for hugel beds that can be constructed according to my resources. To gain the benefits of hugelkultur it is not necessary to to build beds exactly like Sepp but it is important to keep the fundamentals as part of my plans.

I have some hugel beds that I built from scratch by digging out big swlaes on contour to capture water and filled them with logs and lots of materials. The biggest bed I built consists of a core of eleven logs each two feet in diameter or more and weighing over a hundred pounds. The bed rises three and half feet above ground and is eleven feet long. It’s big and productive. In former square foot gardens I have removed soil to make room for a log or two and then covered them up. In others I have dug down enough to get the logs even with the ground and then filled the area with soil to produce normal looking raised beds. I had a couple two foot deep by two feet square boxes that I used to grow potatoes that I temporarily removed the soil and tossed a log and replaced the soil. The blueberry and elderry bushes and the peach tree and kiwi are all grown on mounds that rise out the ground because there is a log under each one. Most of the hugel beds rise up out the ground anywhere from six inches for the fruit bushes to the three and a half feet of the big bed. This method is in contrast to Sepp’s standard six foot high beds that slope at seventy degree angles but it works and that’s all I need. Plus they look great and don’t suffer from too little or too much rain because they drain and hold water excellently.

The new keyhole hugel bed I am building is another big bed that will rise at least three feet out of the ground. I have incorporated the compost bin that is typically a part of Kenyan style keyhole gardens. This big bed hosts three big logs and lots organic material. I resolved to this design as a result of reviewing key hole garden design videos and pictures in found on the web and trying to determine how to incorproate hugelkulture into the design. It is sort of heart shaped and slopes three feet high from the compost bin in the middle to six inches at the edges almost six feet from then center. Developing this desing and there exact location in which it was placed is I think a stroke of genious on my part. You can follow along with the video and the description of the build that follows will aid with interpreting the the heck you are watching.

The first step is to lay out a swale on contour in the space available taking into careful consideration sunshine and overhead obstruction of nearby trees. I had a nice spot located between some raspberry bushes and another hugel bed hosting a grape vine among other plants. The next step is to remove the sod and set it aside. The bare ground is outlined with some spare dividers and then the compost bin is centered for easy access and supply of nutrients to the entire bed. The base area is then covered with cardboard boxes, the logs are rolled in and covered up with fresh cuttings from the gardens, branches, twigs, leaves, peat moss, straw, top soil and compost. The sod is the tossed on and watered with the  colorite soaker hose.

I could have put the sod on top of the logs but by the time I realized that it was too late. That just goes to show mistakes can be made when dealing with hugelkultur. I approach hugel bed building as I do when making a good meal. Get great food and put it one plate and it all ends up in my belly as a big mess but I feel great and have lots of energy. That is what I want this bed to have, lots of energy.

I went to get a more peat moss, topsoil, and other amendments to finish up the soil build of this bed. Just as I was finishing this build we were experiencing a nice warm spell in northern Virginia. This was perfect weather to get down and dirty with nature and build something that lots of living things will enjoy. Hugel bed building is hard but it is a one time effort resulting in many years of rewards. To top it off I layered on the hairy vetch and winter rye to get some life started in the bed and covered it all up with straw.

I keep building and improving on the design of beds like these so I certainly recommend it as a way to garden. Here’s what you need to get started on something like what is in the video. But of course you can and should scale things to your available space and resoruces. Let me know what questions you have as you get going on your next garden project. tonyteolis at todolisthome dot com. That’s it for today now go and do something useful.

Tools needed

  • A-frame
  • Shovel
  • Hammer
  • Landscape borders
  • Stones
  • Rake
  • Fence
  • Fence posts or two foot rebar rods
  • Wire

Organic materials

  • Leaves
  • Compost
  • Freshly cut greens
  • milky spore
  • lime
  • Straw
  • Cardboard
  • Top soil
  • Hummus manure mix
  • Peat moss

Total Cost was about 10 hours of labor and $80 for the soil components. Not bad for a lifetime producing garden and immense potential.

Resources

2 Comments

  1. I am assuming since this method was developed in Austria that it will work in central Minnesota, but I need to know if extra time will be needed for things to get going since it freezes so hard and for so long in the wintertime. Thanks for a very interesting idea – this is much better than the standard raised bed if it will work in my climate. We have lots of birch available for the taking.

    1. First I refer you to

      Yes, it sure will work but you need some time to build life in the soil and it begins at the tiny level. If you are planting something long term like a fruit tree build the bed in your area’s fall. That can occur for the second season though. If you build the bed in spring plant some fast growing cover crop like rye, vetch and then cut them down when start getting to a foot or two. Then transplant tomatoes, squash, herbs, potatoes and cucumbers. They all do well in a first year bed. I also encourage you to check out these episodes. Swales could be important and build your hugel beds right behind them.

      Keep the questions comings and thanks. Tony

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