Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hugelkultur coming around

I first got interested in hugelkultur in January of 2013 and immediately set about installing them in my garden.  You can do that in Georgia, the soil temperature in January dips briefly into the 40s, and there are all sorts of winter vegetables that can be planted while winter rages further north. I dug down to the bed of kaolin underlying my garden, about 8 inches or so, and piled up lots of oak, pine, and wood chips as the organic matter to build up the hugel (German for 'mound'), and then replaced the topsoil. 

I decided this would be a mirepoix hugel, taking the German gardening technique to raise the vegetables I would need for that French base of cooking, mirepoix, which is onions, carrots, and celery.  If a recipe calls for a mirepoix, all I need to is take the garden scissors to the hugel and collect what I need to get cooking. 

The first year was a bit hit-or-miss as the organic matter began to rot and turn into soil.  The Egyptian walking onions did great; they were on the sunny south slope of the hugel, close to grade, so they were able to take off right away.  The celeriac and carrots planted on top were a different story.  Not knowing what to expect, I did not water the hugel much (what I had read said that it shouldn't be necessary, that the rotting vegetation should hold adequate moisture) and I got less than spectacular results with the seeds planted on top.

In the fall of 2013, I planted some salsify on top as well, and these did quite well, better than any of the carrots or celeriac.  I harvested many salsify buds this April, about the same time as I harvested asparagus, and I was able to cook them in the same way as asparagus.  In early summer, the salsify put out a prodigious amount of seed, so much so that I knew I would have many volunteers this fall and I would not have to seed it.  So how does it look now, 22 months into this on-going experiment? Take a look:

This is taken from the north side of the hugel looking to the south.  The Egyptian walking onions are at top center, at the left is a clump of lemon balm, the spoons to the right are bok choi, the tall spiky plants on the right are leeks, and the low rosettes in front are creasy greens.  There are two celeriac in this hugel, and they were volunteers from last year's crop that went to seed.  Apparently the celeriac likes the cool north side of the hugel, because none volunteered on the south slope.  The carrots and cilantro are a little hard to pick out as they are hiding amongst all the other greenery.  Finally out of view on the opposite slope of the right hand side are kale and cabbage seedlings that I transplanted. 

The trench for this hugel was 30" by 8', and the top of the hugel is about 15" above the grade of the lawn.  Before this hugel went in, this was just lawn on my southwest property line, quite compacted and not really hospitable to the centipede grass that was trying to colonize it. Having the hugel has certainly increased the food security outside my back door. 

Egyptian walking onions provide scallion type onions for about 10 months of the year, the other two months they put their effort into making topsets.  The creasy greens, salsify, and carrots have all sprouted from the seed set last spring, and look like they are going to be prodigious producers through the coming winter.  I may have to adjust my mirepoix recipe to use less carrot and more salsify as the salsify volunteers are outnumbering the carrot volunteers by a good margin.

I think this hugel has matured to the point that I want it, and now the challenge will be to keep it mulched so that it continues to be as productive as it is now.  I am using a mix of one part biochar to three parts wood chips for my mulching mixture, and any time that I do any harvesting or weeding, I toss down handfuls of mulch mixture.  Yes, there are weeds, there is a good bit of oxalis scattered in there, but since it is also an edible it is welcome.  If I get any dandelions, prickly lettuce or other interlopers, when I notice them, I can pull them and toss them in for chicken salad. Er, let me say that another way: I can toss them in the chicken coop so the girls can have some salad. 

Oh, and one last thing.  This hugelkultur is home to a toad that lives in a hollow of one of the logs that comes up to the surface. Can you see him peeking out?

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