ARTICLE AND PICS: Erin Blegen of Yellow Birch Hobby Farm


ny good gardener knows that the work doesn't end with the summer's heat or the conclusion of the harvest. Nor must spring's arrival be waited on for those planning next year's garden. Fall is the absolute perfect time to prepare for the season to come, and to consider a sustainable method of gardening tailor-made for the cooler climate in which we live.

I'm talking hugelkultur. And for those of you saying "hoogle-huh?", it rhymes with "google culture"...which is rather appropriate for our day and age.

Now that we've got that covered, let's talk a little bit about what hugelkultur is. Essentially, it is nothing more than creating raised beds by piling up rotted logs, brush, branches, leaves, and other woody debris. On top of that you add a layer of manure, followed by some soil and a nice thick blanket of mulch. What this gives you is a garden bed loaded with organic material that does the following:

•retains water like a sponge in its woody foundation, meaning less watering

•soil temperature heats up more quickly than a traditional garden due to the constant composting that occurs inside, giving you a longer growing season

•as the wood breaks down overtime, it is self-tilling as air pockets are opened up

•the wood will store valuable nutrients which it then feeds to the roots of your plants

•allows you to utilize downed trees, excess brush, leaves, etc. that are typically found in abundance- and often considered a nuisance

•provides habitat for garden friends like snakes and toads

•gives hope to the gardener currently fighting their rocky, sandy, or clay soil situation

It also allows you a method of gardening
that eliminates the following:

•the need to roto-till your garden
every spring, which destroys the
soil structure and beneficial
microorganisms along with it

•the need for walkways between rows- build your hugel bed so that you can
reach across to all areas for harvesting

•since there are no walk paths, there will
be no soil compaction between your
plants in the bed, which can inhibit
root growth and functionability

• weeding, when properly mulched

Has your interest been piqued? Good. Then let's continue. As mentioned, Fall- right now- is the best time to prepare for the spring planting season by building yourself some new hugel beds.

So let's get started:

•Choose an open, sunny location where your beds can run north to south.

•Decide on the type of woody debris you would like to use: logs? branches? wood chips? Keep in mind that the largest stuff should go on the bottom.

•Size: your typical hugelkultur raised bed is 3 feet wide x 6 feet long and up to 6 feet tall.
I prefer my beds 7 feet wide and 14 feet long, but you can choose what works best for you. The taller you stack those beds, the more water retention you will have throughout the growing season and the longer life of your bed. If 6 feet tall sounds intimidating to you, be assured that within a month of building, it will shrink at least a foot or so as it settles.

•As you are preparing the base of your bed,
try to fill up any holes with smaller wood pieces, leaves, etc.

•Next comes a 4-6" layer of manure. Don't be afraid to really pile it on if you have an excess available to you.

•Follow up the manure layer with a healthy 3-5" layer of good garden soil.

•Finally, some mulch. I like to use straw mulch during the growing season, but since we're constructing some Fall beds, use leaves. Chop them up beforehand if possible. Leaves break down quickly and efficiently, adding organic matter to your soil layer and giving your spring garden an extra boost.

That is it. And by it, I mean some good old fashioned work put in now for a garden from which you will reap the benefits of bounty for many years to come.

Spaghetti Sauce

-12 lbs (24-30) tomatoes, peeled & chopped
(don't squeeze out the juice!)

-(4) 12 oz. cans tomato paste

-3 cups chopped onions

-5 cloves chopped garlic

-1 green pepper

-3 Tbs. canning salt

-1/4 cup brown sugar

-2 tsp. black pepper

-1 1/2 ts. paprika

-2 tsp. oregano

Mix together in a heavy stock pot. Stew for 1 1/2- 2 hours on low heat, stirring occasionally. Put in jars and pressure can for 15 minutes @ 10 lbs. pressure or freeze. Makes approx. 6-7 quarts.