Analysis – Trial 1 results
|Flat Bed||Hugel Bed|
Today’s episode focuses on a long time desire to compare hugelkultur garden against more traditional flat bed gardening. I know that my hugel beds produce more food and I have thought it to be a result of a great amount of organic material and water in the beds compared with minimal amounts in more traditional gardens. Even square foot gardens do not compete with hugel beds for productivity or size of plants.
Episode-218- This Is What Hugelkultur Looks Like was the first of several parts of a book I am composing that documents my experience with hugelkultur gardening. Yes I love it so much that I want to write a book about it. However, rather than just present methods and results I am most interested in looking deeper into the reason hugelkultur beds do so well.
I could report on just my observations and trials and errors and I will over time. However, to present an unbiased view I must conduct scientific experiments in order to understand my questions and hypothesis better. It will prove if my own answers are correct or if there are other reasons to consider why hugelkultur beds are the main gardening method I wish to recommend to others. If my hypothesis are wrong then I will be forced to seek out answers through a variety of experiments to support my recommendations for growing hugel style. So let’s begin with the first of probably several experiments that will aid my understanding of hugelkultur and allow me share it with you.
It has been my observation that Hugel beds produce larger and more productive plants than regular flat garden beds. This is evident with the abundant tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans and many other crops that I have harvested for my hugel beds. When compared to the crops that are harvested in flat regular gardens or gardens smaller than the big hugel beds the hugel beds yield more food. This is true even when that flat beds are located in areas with more sunshine.
The question I have been presenting to myself often but have not yet truly investigated is “Why does a hugel bed produce larger and greater quantities of produce than regular flat beds?”
My scientific hypothesis is that a properly built and aligned hugel bed provides larger and more productive plants because it has more organic matter in terms of soil, root structure, animal life, water and nutrients that enhance the total growing potential of the bed. This can be determined by testing my oldest hugel bed and my oldest flat garden for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, color, smell and texture and analyzing the results.
For this test I will make a prediction that a comparison of core samples from my largest hugel bed built in November 2011 and a flat garden bed built in spring 2009, will result with the hugel bed having better and optimal levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium and neutral pH versus the flat bed.
In order to test the hypothesis the Hugel bed and flat bed are the independent variable and the tests for pH, N, P, K, color, smell and texture are the dependent variables. The videos presented in today’s episode show how the samples were taken and the results of the various tests. The first test was for pH and then I conducted the tests for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium by using the appropriate RapiTest soil test kits I got from Amazon.com. These were fairly simple to administer and the results were not quite what I expected. I then moved on to differentiate the samples by color, smell and texture. These tests were rather simple and presented in the last video.
Since I lacked the store bought pH test kits I made my own set of two tests for pH levels. I simply mixed a small sample from each bed with a water and baking soda solution to test for a reaction. Then I tested separate samples by mixing them with a small amount of vinegar. In all four pH tests there were no noted reaction to either the vinegar or baking soda mix thus indicating that the pH levels were neutral. The tests for color was straight forward as the flat bed appeared brown to dark in color indicating a strong presence of clay in the soil. The color of the hugel bed sample was dark black throughout. The smell test for the beds was conducted by my son and I and it may not have been very scientific and possibly subjective it is noteworthy. The flat bed had a strong pungent clay smell while the hugel bed sample had a light pleasant earthy smell. Later I should investigate at the microscopic level to determine if the color and smell differences are a result of microorganisms. The texture of the flat bed was rough small clumps while the hugel bed texture was finely ground rich black soil. I also did a careful examination with a magnifying glass but could not find useful to note other than some white carcasses of a grub like animal in just the hugel bed sample.
The recorded results and analysis of the tests does not support my prediction which indicates that my prediction is wrong, I did not conduct the sampling correctly or that there must be other reasons that support my hypothesis but not the specific prediction I have identified.
Now I need to either change my hypothesis or conduct more tests for further evidence of the original analysis or my prediction. I could also revise my hypothesis to identify other reasons than pH and N, P, K levels that would account for the bigger and better produce provided by the hugel beds. This could be accomplished with a compound binocular microscope. That would be cool to have for the bees too. Another method I might try is to test samples of all the garden areas using the hugel method and those left that are not. This would provide a larger and more comprehensive study and it would make for good reading.
If I get that far then I would present my information to others who I know are practicing the same gardening methods and ask for their participation in a larger test. That could go a long way towards propelling gardening in general and hugel gardening in particular. Especially so if the results indicate the big gardens do yield big results because of what is in the big gardens. There is more than enough in film and blogs about hugelkultur espousing its benefits but not to the level that looks inside the beds and presents evidence explaining the reasons for the better results. This is very important if hugel bed growing is to be taken seriously as a global effort for providing more food in less space.
Please let me know what you think of this activity and if you have ever taken on similar tests yourself.