Hugel Wha?

Image Credit goes to

Image Credit goes to

Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth.

We’ve been wanting to try some Hugelkultur mounds at some point but I have had a bit of an eyesore that has needed dealt with for a while see in May of 2011 we decided that we wanted to get a few paw paw trees.  I love paw paws and what a better thing than to have fruit that you love growing in your own front yard?  Now, in 2011 I had never heard of Permaculture or Hugelkultur but I had heard of google and so I went to work researching, deciding where I was going to get some paw paw trees.  One of the things I read about the largest native american fruit was that it was an under story tree so it would need some protection from the beating summer sun for the first couple years.  I also read that they would spend those first few formative years sending a tap root really deep, so much so that they would hardly seem to grow.  I quickly found Raintree Nursery was a supplier that had quite a few different varieties.  I ordered 5, 2 seedlings and 3 named varieties.  I soon decided that these little trees were going to have a hard time getting that root development to any kind of depth so I hatched a plan to give them sort of a head start.  I decided to plant them into bottomless half barrels, I would fill those barrels with compost heavy soil and that would give them the head start that they needed to grow big and strong one day.

A shot of the bottomless barrels filled with soil waiting for the trees.

A shot of the bottomless barrels filled with soil waiting for the trees.

The babies all potted up with their shades installed.

The babies all potted up with their shades installed.

Ok great, so we got them all potted up and they have survived past the point of needing the shades, this May will be 3 years in and they are growing albeit slowly all and but one has survived.  We are happy with those odds but the problem is since I planted those trees we’ve learned a lot. But the bottom line is, those barrels are the ugliest thing in the garden/orchard, we want them gone.  What in the world are we going to do about it?  Hugelkultur, that’s what.  See, if we were to pull the barrels off the soil would mostly likely crumble and that would mean a certain death for our paw paw trees.  So we need a way to support the root ball  and then slide the barrel away leaving that huge mass of roots and soil in tact.

A current shot of our paw paws in ugly open-ended blue barrels.

A current shot of our paw paws in ugly open-ended blue barrels.

So the plan I hatched is to dig a trench between the two barrels about a foot or so deep, fill it with old firewood and wood chip mulch up to the point where we will have at least 12 inches of soil over the top if it all in which to plant other things.

Then also we’ll need to surround the barrels with enough soil to support the root ball of our paw paws and keep them in tact.  Luckily for use we have lots of dirt and composted goat manure to do the job.  One thing that we aren’t short of is shit, it appears a lot of the creatures here on Off Kilter Acres are full of it.

The first Hugel bed after some sandy loam has been applied.

The first Hugelkultur bed after some sandy loam has been applied.

Ma put on the final load of well composted goat poop.

Ma put on the final load of well composted goat poop.

They may end up looking like a dog bone sort of thing but I think they will be fully functional smallish Hugelkultur mounds.  We plan to leave them to settle for a while but they already look so much better.  Now, we still have to mulch them and plant some green manure to solidify everything with a good root mass but like I said before they already look better so we are well on our way.

We’ve got a lot of other things going here on at OKA namely trees, bushes and support species that need to be planted.  We’ve got a lot of it potted up just to ensure they make it until we can get them to their permanent homes in the next couple weeks.  What do you all do with you plants that come a bit early and need to wait before going to their forever homes?

This week our we received our 4 y/o blueberries from Raintree Nursery and I was able to get them potted up in their whiskey barrels.  I think they will be our main producers for blueberries this year, the canes are massive and covered with buds.  We also got a few others from Ison’s Nursery that are already potted up and in their permanent homes.  All of those along with the three that I have had for two years will bring us up to a grand total of 12 blueberry bushes and should mean there are plenty for us to take to market this year.  I think they will sell really well around here.

Well, that’s about all I got, take it easy.



9 thoughts on “Hugel Wha?

  1. Good thinking! Once you get some supporting plants in there and pull the barrels – the hugels will look great. As to plants coming early – are you talking about bare root? You don’t want to let them sit around more than a couple of days – you have to keep them moist and in the shade. Or you can “lay them in” – dig a shallow trench and lay them on their side and cover the roots with soil until you can dig proper planting holes. Or just pot them up if its going to be awhile.
    My farm is about an hour from Raintree Nursery. They are really nice people and are incorporating a lot of permaculture concepts into their nursery. Another really great nursery not too far from them is Burnt Ridge Nursery. I have lots of fruit and nut trees from both.

    • I was in fact talking about bare root and I must be honest you scared to stuff outta me. So, I went home and potted up a bunch of what we had in waiting. With that said the vast majority of it came from a place called Ison’s Nursery and the roots are packed in this gel stuff like what is in a disposable diaper. They were leafing out and seemed quite happy so I hope they will be ok in the end. See, the fact of the matter is we kinda of got behind thanks to one of the weirdest winters we have had in a while and I was just plain afraid to plant most of these for fear of them getting severely frozen.
      Anyhow, thank you for lighting a fire under me, I feel better about them and hope to get most all of them in their forever homes this weekend.

      Thanks again,


      • Sorry Pa! Didn’t mean to scare you – it’s just important the roots don’t dry out. Although it is better for the plants to be planted during their dormant season, you want to wait until temps aren’t dropping below 31 degrees, so I think you are fine. That gel stuff gives them more protection against drying out for sure. The NRCS guy I talked to last year said a week with the gel dipped plants. But hey – we can only do so much when the weather and every other curve ball life throws us doesn’t give us a heads up!!
        Take care and happy planting!

      • LOL No sweat. I was just perusing some of your older posts and I noticed you had taken Geoff’s oPDC in 2013. Any advice for a 2014 student that may not come off as completely obvious? Also, are you taking part as a veteran?

      • That is soooo COOL! I’m so glad you are taking it – I cannot say enough about what a phenomenal experience it was and yes – I will definitely be participating as a “veteran”!
        As to advice – although I loved the flexibility of being able to watch the sessions at my leisure – don’t get too far behind if you can help it. Geoff answers everyone’s questions in a weekly video – which is awesome – and I found I learned A LOT from the Q&A videos. It is a lot of information to digest, so keeping up will help you retain it. I also just saw Geoff at the Permaculture Voices conference in California a couple of weeks ago (I won the ticket!!) – he is as amazing as ever. Good Luck with the course! It will be some of the best money you’ve ever spent!

      • We are really and truly excited about learning all of this directly from Geoff. I hope to meet him one day. I will keep an eye out for you on the site. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Hi, I really enjoy your blog and have nominated you for the Liebster Award which is a is a great way to find new blogs and learn a little more about some of your favorites. This is a lot of fun. To see all the information see my blog this week! You are not obligated to participate

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