You Say Raised Bed and I say Hugelkultur

You say tomato and I say tomater. Sing along with me now…

Since building the hugelkultur beds was somewhat of an unplanned event (we were trying to take advantage of having use of the trackhoe and skid steer), I didn’t have a planting plan for them. With it being the middle of winter they couldn’t be planted out anyway. And then before you know it early spring arrived and I still didn’t have long term planting plan worked out.

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Not wanting the pasture grasses and weeds to take over, I needed to get something growing on them asap.  I had cover crop seeds I purchased last fall but was unable to get them sown when the barn construction was delayed, so in early March I sowed them in the zone 1 area along with Alsike and Ladino clovers, a mix of mustards, buckwheat and daikon radish. I sowed clovers, mustards and daikon on top of the hugels along with some fava beans.

Clovers coming in and a "creative event" (bird poop = phosphorous)

Clovers and daikon coming in plus a “creative event” (bird poop = nitrogen and phosphorous)

Since I had a lot of potatoes left over from the harvest last fall, I also planted them in the hugels in late March.

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What a mucky, messy job to do in the rain.

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I was surprised at how many potatoes I still had on hand as I originally only planted 40 pounds of seed potato last year. These are the varieties and yields from the harvest last fall:

German Butterballs – planted 10 lbs/yielded 65 lbs
French Fingerlings – planted 5 lbs/yielded 27.5 lbs
La Ratte Fingerlings – planted 5 lbs/yielded 57.5 lbs
Yellow Finn – planted 5 lbs/yielded 18.5 lbs
Yukon Gold – planted 5 lbs/yielded 22 lbs
Rio Grande Russets – planted 10 lbs/yielded 46 lbs

I started out with 40 lbs and ended up with 236.5 lbs. While not HUGE yields, keep in mind I used the dry gardening method (from Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades) which yields smaller numbers of tubers but a much more nutrient dense potato than those grown commercially with lots and lots of water. You space farther apart between potatoes as well as rows. Since they are planted in spring when we get lots of rain, they get off to a good start, then they are on their own after that. Mulching after you are done hilling up really helps. If you think about where potatoes originated – in the Andes where it is a very dry, cool mountain climate –  they are able to forage for water quite well. Steve Solomon founded the Territorial Seed Company, sold it in 1985 and now lives in Tasmania where he continues to write gardening books.

I planted more seed potato in the hugels this year than I started out with last year AND I still have a lot of potatoes leftover, despite the fact we have eaten more potatoes this past year than ever before. Most of what was left at the time of planting the hugels were pretty shriveled and soft with lots of sprouts, but I have at least 15 pounds in pretty good shape that we are currently eating. They are quite surprisingly very flavorful even if they aren’t the most attractive potatoes in the bin. They beat a store bought spud hands down. Although I won’t be hilling the potatoes on the hugels or watering them, I expect to get enough potatoes to keep us in spuds until next spring.

To fill in the rest of the hugels, last week I sowed small sugar pumpkin, pink banana, sugar hubbard, crookneck and zucchini squash seed. With the two hugels being about 220 feet long combined and sowing the seeds at different levels on the slope, that works out to be 220 row feet of potatoes and 440 row feet of squash! Too bad I’m the only squash fan in the house.  I really just wanted to get as much coverage on the hugels as possible and since I had a lot of squash seed from previous years leftover plus saved seeds from the four gigantic pink banana squash our good friends S & J gave us last fall – I thought that should do the trick. If we have an over-abundance of  squash that actually ripen, we will donate them to local charities/organizations that could use them, give them to friends, share some with the chickens and I’m sure the wonderful lady we get our Tamworth pork from would be happy to feed some to her hogs.

The idea behind burying the wood in hugelkultur beds is that the wood will soak up moisture holding it in the soil and slowly releasing it as the woody material breaks down, providing the plants with long term access to nutrients and adding amazing amounts of organic matter to the soil.  This works well for us given we are only able to get to the farm on weekends and especially because the possums ripped out and chewed up our drip irrigation lines last fall. Those little rascals…

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About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
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5 Responses to You Say Raised Bed and I say Hugelkultur

  1. DM says:

    I did not know that about potatoes (where they originated from, nor the nutritional density) I do know first hand the drip watering system getting gnawed on by varmints, in our case, it was moles…moles and more moles…I buried the lines for the apple orchard..worked slick as long as I kept the lines spliced. turn the water on for 5 hours, walk away and 100 trees watered to perfection. thanks for the detailed post! DM

  2. Hey DM – thanks for stopping by. That is funny – you’d think moles would chew the lines underground and not on top!
    and yep – watering potatoes a lot does make them grow more profusely and will give you better yields, but the flavor and the nutritional value of a dry gardened potato cannot be beat IMHO.

  3. I have the same gardening book, it has some great advice. Down in NZ, where possums were introduced from Australia, they say that the only good possum is a dead possum. In Australia they think possums are pretty benign. Tomato, tomater…Thankfully, I think we don’t have them here on the Island.

  4. Bill says:

    It’s interesting to me that your La Rattes were so much more productive than your French. I didn’t keep that kind of detail (but you’ve inspired me to try this year) but I doubt that was true with us. We also planted Banana and Red Thumb fingerlings and it seemed to me the yields among all 4 were about the same.
    I never irrigated our potatoes so I reckon we dry-gardened them too. It seems to me that they do fine without irrigation so when I have to irrigate (as we did today) the potatoes don’t take a high priority.
    I’m still very envious of your hugels.

  5. Although we liked the La Rattes, I wish it had been the other way around. The French Fingerlings were hands down our favorites. I think people that are used to store bought potatoes (those that are commercially raised with lots of water to make them grow bigger and faster) who taste one of these “dry-gardened” potatoes would be really surprised at the difference in flavor. If I happen to eat potatoes out, I notice the difference – they are watery and the lack flavor.
    I’m hoping the hugels will someday [soon] look like something worthy of your envy! The potatoes, mustards and clover are doing well, but the hugels still look a little homely. Hopefully the squash and beans will sprout soon and start shading out the pasture grasses and native blackberry that are trying to take over.

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