Friday, May 10, 2013

Expanding Zone 1 - New Hugelkultur Bed

     One of the big things I am changing since finding out about permaculture, is to move our vegetable gardens closer to the kitchen.  It just makes sense, and I have already experienced the difference in how much more likely we are to use the garden in our cooking when it is close at hand.  In permaculture design, a property is divided up into zones based on how often an area needs to be accessed.  The living area is zone 0, and the gardens and other features that need to be accessed daily are nearby in zone 1.  There is an excellent explanation of zones on TC Permaculture, check it out if you want to understand the concept better.  Normally chickens are kept in zone 1, but since we are on just 1 acre, I am considering the food forest / chicken paddock area to be our zone 2.

     Last fall, we did our hugelkultur in a swale project just off of the porch (above).  This created a large bed that will be planted with a poly-culture of vegetables, herbs, and flowers along with some support species.  This Spring we were able to expand that to the other side of the sidewalk by creating a long hugelkultur all along the large rocks that separate the yard from the driveway (below).  If you are not familiar with hugelkultur, check out Paul Wheaton's awesome article on

     In the pic above you can see that I started out with 3 square foot gardens up close to the house.  Although they worked out ok, we will eventually transition that area into keyhole beds for their more interesting shape and increased edge space.  We are getting the layout started by creating a bed all along the rocks, where we can take advantage of the thermal mass of the rocks regulating the temeratures and the increased solar gain reflecting off the light colored gravel driveway to the South.

We started by cutting a line about 2' off the rocks and removing the sod along the one side.

     This was one of those rare days when we are both home and the weather is not too bad and we are able to work on the yard together.  Happy stuff!

This super high tech and complicated piece of equipment is called an A Frame Level.  Very effective for leveling a trench and it only took me about 10 minutes to build it.

The indicator is a snow stake duct taped to a washer and hanging on a screw.  Works pretty well, though it is tough to read if the wind is bad.


We left an island of undisturbed soil at the corner and trenched around the inside of it, then continued on toward the garage.

There was a height difference of almost 3' from one end of our trench to the other.  Once we got the garage side (above) down to where it would catch water instead of spilling onto the driveway, we started leveling our way back uphill.


Rather than dig out the entire side, we cut a narrower trench level with the other side so that water captured off the slope will hydrate the uphill side of the bed before overflowing onto the driveway.

The idea is that water flowing across the yard will get caught and fill the trench, getting a second chance to hydrate the higher side by the sidewalk and allowing the hugel bed to store as much as possible. 

With heavy rains the next day, we got to see it in action.  The overflow gently seeped onto the driveway through the rocks at several locations. 


We filled the trench completely, as tight as we could pack it, with all different types of wood.  All different varieties in different stages of rot.  Every size, from big logs to tiny twigs, where ever we could jam them in.



When we couldn't fit any more wood in, we covered it all with a couple layers of well rotted wood chips, then put the sod back on upside down.

And here it is finished and ready for planting.  We topped it off with some mushroom compost from River Valley Ranch.  This year it will be alternating tomatoes and peppers every few feet with carrots, lettuce, flowers, and herbs scattered throughout.  Eventually the young Chicago hardy fig I picked up last year will go on the corner, but it is producing so nicely in it's pot on the porch I think I am going to leave it be for now.

So far we only have a few sacrificial plants put in, but with no frost on the forecast it is starting to look more and more like planting time.

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