Permaculture Success….and Failure
Three years ago, I and five other permaculturists (including GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland co-editor Ann McCulloh) built a Hugelkultur in my back yard. The name comes from the German “Hügelkultur” or “hill culture” and consists of a 5-foot+ pile of logs and branches covered with soil. Ideally, over time, a Hugelkultur evolves like this:
In theory, Hugelkulturs offer gardeners multiple benefits. One can simultaneously (1) recycle logs from downed trees; (2) increase gardening surface area; (3) create a sun trap to extend the growing season; and (4) extract water and nutrients from the decaying trees and, thus, eliminate the need for watering.
I’ve had to make adjustments to my Hugelkultur. My first installation of (conventional) top soil contained too much sand. Rain and snow melt quickly eroded much of it away. I then replaced the soil with a sturdier mixture of clay fill and compost, which has stayed in place.
And some plants seem to love their whole Hugelkultur experience! Here’s an exuberant horse radish that seems to be burrowing deep into the decaying wood’s nutrients and water.
But I’ve had failures, too. Here’s a dried out (and barely recognizable) kale plant that couldn’t survive the drought and my three week absence from Cleveland.
Maybe its root didn’t go deep enough to tap the underlying moisture or maybe, as Ann suggests, it, like all brassicas, just didn’t relate to the heavily fungal soil created by decaying wood. Since my basil (of course, a non-brassica) did well —-just a few feet away, not especially deep-rooted–I’m inclined to accept the latter explanation.