Hugel-what?! Let’s find out in this gardening post by our office admin, Tracey! She is our resident green-thumb. When she’s not busy being the friendly voice you are all familiar with on the phone, she’s up to her elbows in garden projects around her house. This week, she shares some pointers with us on how to keep our gardens healthy. Gardening is one of those hobbies NH Homeowners love to do and we’re happy to be the top-rated NH Home Inspector that can bring you all sorts of year-round tips & tricks to keep homeownership as enjoyable and exciting!
I have been an avid gardener for as long as I can remember. Like many gardeners, over the years I have tried many methods to try to improve the soil, increase my yields, start the growing season earlier, keep the growing season going longer… I’ve hand dug new beds (double digging), built hoop houses, used black plastic, red plastic, salt marsh hay, floating row covers, soaker hoses, drip irrigation, hand tilling, rototilling… You name it, I’ve tried it! – Or at least I thought I had!
The past several years I have had a lot of difficulty gardening at ground level. My beds were raised in the sense that each garden row was about 6” taller than the paths, but they still required me to be on the ground for really tending to them – which I couldn’t do, so I planted less and had TONS of weeds. Any true gardener knows how heartbreaking this is!
This year of Covid-19, with more time home and less food on the shelves at the grocery store, I knew that if I wanted to be able to plant a decent garden, I would need to build actual raised beds. I did some research on different methods of building and maintaining raised beds and in the process came across Hügelkultur (pronounced hoogel culture). This method of wood buried in soil gardening has been around in Germany for hundreds of years. Many people who utilize this form of gardening don’t bother with enclosing their beds at all, they just form large mounds on the ground or in trenches. I wanted to have my gardens look tidy, so I built wooden raised beds to enclose them while still utilizing this method.
I have my husband to thank for the majority of the back-breaking work that went into this project, but the hope is that this will provide years of very low maintenance gardening. Bed by bed he started by removing the first 6-10” of soil. We then placed the raised beds in position. (Making sure that the wheel barrow can fit between the beds and that the lawn tractor can easily pass through the garden.) This was followed by filling the bottom of the bed with rotting logs that we were fortunate enough to have stacked around the property. When we ran short for the last few beds, we didn’t have to look too hard to find fallen trees in our woods that worked perfectly. We then grabbed branches from the burn pile, broke them up and coved the logs with a thick layer. Thankfully I had blown all of the leaves into a massive pile for the past few years because wet, rotting leaves became a layer, as did composted cow manure, old grass clippings, new grass clippings and the soil that my husband starter out by removing, topped it all off.
After all the reading that I had done on Hügelkultur, I was nervously optimistic as I planted all the babies that I had started under lights in my basement. It seems so long ago in some ways! – This past week I was talking to Jen about our gardens and it was her suggestion that led to this blog. You see, it’s October 28th as I write this and I still have super sweet cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine, peppers turning crimson on the plants and flowers waiting to be picked. Part of that is thanks to the Agribon fabric but I think the real credit comes from the warmth of the super healthy beds that we created. I believe I watered a total of 4 times the entire drought ridden summer and that was just to cool the heat wilted cucumber and squash plants that were planted in the row next to the hoophouse!
My Hügelkultur raised bed gardens were a huge success! My tomato plants grew 8-10’ tall and were completely loaded down with tomatoes. (We had to extend and reinforce the supports for the branches twice!) I couldn’t keep up with the cucumbers. I had a bumper crop of peppers. I have never had so many squash from one plant in my life (And the leaves were the size of manhole covers!)! We had strawberries, lettuce, spinach, green beans, peas, radishes, TONS of flowers… The only real fails were beets and cauliflower. I’m not sure what the reason was for the limited success with the beets but despite daily worm picking, the cauliflower was just decimated. I have never had a more prolific garden – and have never done such little work once it was planted.
I would strongly recommend this method for gardening. I will have healthy, fertile soil for years to come as the beds continue to decompose. This will also allow the beds to be warmer sooner and stay warmer later in the season. The gardens require very little in the way of water… There are so many scientific reasons for why this works and how beneficial it is. I encourage you to google Hügelkultur to learn more. I don’t have a single negative comment based on my results! Additionally (and on a separate note), for anyone looking for a simple way to easily harvest consistently straight cucumbers, place a cattle panel arched across two raised beds. Gone are the days of having to move every leaf in search of cukes! They trail down nicely from above, in clear view. – Also, salt marsh hay has been a favorite of mine for years. It is a perfect mulch to keep weeds down without adding new weed seeds to the bed. (Well worth the drive to the coast if you can’t find it locally!) Don’t feel as though you have to wait until spring to start this process if it is something that you want to try. Now is the perfect time to lay it out to have it ready for you to top dress in the spring.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. We now have plowable snow in the forecast this week, so it’s about time to pick the last bouquet, harvest the last of the tomatoes (even most of the green ones will still ripen to a beautiful red) and kiss the garden goodbye for the year. However, it’s been a great garden year! The hard work is done and now I get to sit back and look forward to a future of much easier gardening. Think spring!
So if you’re in search of the most reliable and knowledgeable NH Home Inspector or a few gardening tips, feel free to reach out and say hi to Tracey!