Hugelkultur Update, Early Summer, 2016

I am writing this on June 27, 2016. As a point of reference, here is a photo of our first hugelkultur mound at about this time last year (actually about the first week of July). (Sorry if it is disorienting for anybody that I put the captions up above the photos, instead of the usual below. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I wonder.)

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After harvest and removal of the stalks and plant remainders, the terraced shelves kinda broke up and some of the soil slid down the sides. Our next task, then, was to rebuild and improve the mound.
 Instead of the improvised, multi-level terraced arrangement we had before, I decided to go with a more structurally stable,simple, two-tiered system–just one upper level or shelf at the top and one lower shelf all the way around it. We also had previously decided last Summer to build the whole thing a little taller, to further reduce the need to bend over while working.
So, we began with the lower shelf first, shaping and building throughout the winter, whenever the ground was thawed out enough to work with it. We had a climate change-enabled mild Winter.
Lower shelf shaped and ready to be built up higher.
Once the lower tier had acquired the desired height, I began raising the upper, center level. For both of these shelves, I built them up using only a combination of compost, fill dirt and bison manure. I also scraped down the sides of the mound with a shovel and moved some of that soil to build up the top and make the whole mound narrower.
A narrower mound makes it possible to step closer to the growing crops, again reducing the need to bend and reach as much.
Remodeling of mound #1 complete.
Once we had hugelkultur mound #1 in shape, we were ready to go back to building mound #2 (on the left).
A nice assortment of cottonwood and birch logs, plus plant scraps, moss and field dirt to build up the height of the mound and fill it with sponge-like absorbent material. More nutrient soil will be added when it gets to be about a foot and a half from the desired maximum height.
We are shaping mound #2 to become taller and narrower than mound #1.
Mounds 2 and 1 at present.
Close up of part of the growing plants on mound # 1, so far this year: kale and radishes. Comfrey, catnip and other wild plants fill the sides of the mound and prevent erosion. When I trim those plants on the sides, I just toss the scraps on to mound 2, or drop them on the ground around mound 1 as a mulch. What a beautiful, easy, multi-nurturing system!
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Wetland Hugelkultur Mounds: a new experiment

Another thing that we began last Winter was building two new hugelkultur mounds in a shallow ditch-fed wetland area in the field to the east of our main crop growing area. I have not seen or heard of anyone doing hugelkultur in wetlands before, but I think it should work great. We’ll see. We have a connected network of ditches and little trenches and small ponds connected to our irrigation water source, the J Canal (administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs). These photos were taken back in December, 2015 and February 2016. (Sticking with the captions above the photos format, for now.)


Here are a couple of photos of the birch and cottonwood that we used, which we found by a river. We did not cut down any trees, just selectively gathered some of the old, fallen wood from the ground, here and there, leaving some for the other species and for the land itself. As you can see, older wood that is already starting to decompose works best. As I mentioned last year, trees that grow by waterways which have soft wood that decomposes quickly after it is cut make the best wood for hugelkultur beds. Such trees include the cottonwoods, poplars, willows, quaking aspen and birches.


Here is a video that I made on the day that I took these photos in December, 2015, which I had forgotten about until a couple of days ago (August of 2017). It will add some additional information that is not in these photo captions, plus a rare moment of me in front of the camera, with Barb’s help.



The next three photos show one of the sources of dirt for the hugelkultur mounds, which is an overflow ditch from the spot where our irrigation pump picks up water from the canal. Besides the dirt, I also gather a spongy type of moss that looks like tangled tree roots. Not knowing its proper name, I call it “root moss.” I have to chop and dig through the root moss to get to the dirt, so it occurred to me very naturally to use the moss in the mounds as an additional means of holding moisture.




Another angle…




Due to the re-freezing of the ground and then having an extremely busy Spring semester, I was not able to work again on the wetland mounds until early June. It was at that time that I was able to dig some shallow little trenches to pull water from the wetland area over to and around the mounds. The mountains in the background hold the water supply for the whole Summer and early Fall.

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The water trenches, right after completion.


From the other direction, facing west.


Close up, showing the spongy “root moss.”


One more angle, from the north.


These two hugelkultur beds will be built up much higher throughout the Summer, in the two-tier style of the two beds shown earlier. I will update this again at the end of the Summer. I welcome any questions or discussion.

Here is a video that I made on the same day that I took the photos above, in June, 2016. Sometimes it gets very windy in western Montana. If the sound of strong wind on microphones outdoors is painful or very disturbing to you, please do not watch this video. I do not want to cause anybody any pain or make anybody more disturbed than they already are. But, if you are interested enough in hugelkultur that you think that you might be able to move past the wind noise and find something useful here, then go ahead and give it a try.

2 thoughts on “Hugelkultur Update, Early Summer, 2016

  1. George, Way off subject (that looks like a marvelous planting system) but would you be interested in helping organize more actions in solidarity with No Dakota Access Pipeline? NRRT is considering something local, maybe
    Enjoyed your talk the other evening and would love to explore/collaborate on more visioning such as you propose.

    Dave Jones

  2. Hi, Dave. Yes, sure, even though with the new semester under way my time is somewhat limited. I just posted a great collection of links that a couple of local women activists put together on how people can help that resistance on my Facebook page, if you would like to check that out. Please keep me posted on this and I will do likewise.

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