Converting the Outdoor Garden to Hugelkultur Mounds in 2023
First, some background that led to this decision.
Eden Gardens' 120 acres was purchased in August 2016. We spent the first two years clearing over 40 acres of land to build our sustainable farm Vision with the goal of bringing food security to 1000 people a day.
The outdoor crop garden was dug and prepared in 2017 with the grow spaces running east to west at 100 feet long. We planted our first seedlings and everything seemed to struggle. We encountered so much SAND and what seemed to be barren soil. We sprayed "DIY" compost teas trying to add microbial life back into the soil.
Then, we planted the banana circle in a low area to help catch water run off from the land at the end of the crop garden. Our next step was wood chips. It was after the bananas and the wood chips that we began to see worms and soil fertility. However, it was only near the bananas.
In 2021, we divided the garden into three sections with the grow spaces at 20' in length to make them more manageable. We planted our first cover crop as an experiment and as a way to give back to the soil. It was a mix of daikon radish, winter rye, and crimson clover. The cover crop made a difference giving us rich black soil to plant in the next planting season. We also experimented with letting the chickens have access to a section of the garden. This seemed to help too, but required more management with fencing.
In 2022, we planted carrots in the winter season and the majority of them had root rot at the ends. Then, we planted non-gmo grain corn as chicken feed and nearly all of it failed too due to poor drainage.
Ultimately, this led to the decision to convert the outdoor garden to Hugel Beds this year.
So, what is Hugelkultur and why would we use it at Eden Gardens?
Hugelkultur is literally a mound bed or mound culture is a horticultural technique where a mound is constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass.
Hugelkultur aligns with our goals to stay chemical free.
In January, we were able to dig 6 trenches, 4' deep, 4' wide, 20' long, with 3' paths in between running north to south. Positioning the grow spaces to run north and south will allow the trenches to become their own rain catchment system catching all the water run off from the land. We've been gathering hard dead woods, leaves, banana leaves, vetiver grass, and any biomass we're able to get our hands on to build these trenches into Hugel mounds.
Fortunately, we're digging a 12 acre lake in the back of the property giving us access to dirt, dirt, and more dirt! We used the tractor to bring in load after load of dirt to build up our level of soil 2' above the ground. Thanks to students who came last Thursday to volunteer, our first three hugels are nearly completed!
We will be adding top soil back on the mounds and seeding a crimson clover cover crop this month. Our plan is to allow the cover crop seed to nitrify the soil and wait till the Fall growing season to begin planting annuals. Stay tuned!