Sometimes, I can’t believe this is only my second summer on the Mountain Farmstead. Turning this wild, rocky piece of land into a small hobby farm has been no joke! And creating gardens? It’s been loads of work! But I’m not here to share about the struggles; I’m here to give you an update on my hugelkultar kitchen garden beds!
An Update: Year 2 In the Hugelkutlurs
Yes, I heard you asking. It seems my hugelkulturs have caught the interest of more than a few readers! And I’m finally ready to share all about year 2 in the hugelkutlurs (you can catch year 1 here). This is what I’ve learned, this spring and summer.
The Need for More Soil
When the snow finally melted early in the spring of (what would be) my second planting year, I noticed that the soil on my hugelkulturs had settled quite a bit. That’s to be expected when you have logs, branches, crack and crevices underneath all that dirt. It was a good thing, and I was happy to see it.
Settled dirt just meant my hugelkulturs were ripening and growing better, like an aging farm cheese!
But I did need to replenish the supply. So after pulling back the old, mostly decomposed straw mulch, my man and I added another 4-6 inches of good soil to every garden bed. And I painstakingly used a rake to spread it out.
A New Layer of Straw Mulch
Because I’m a big fan of avoiding work, I put down a hearty layer of partially composted straw to help suppress the weeds and hold in moisture. When the time came to plant seeds or seedlings, I just parted the mulch and did my thing.
And just like that, I was ready for a second, wonderful year in the hugelkultur kitchen gardens!
Rain and Slugs in the Hugelkulturs
We had an incredibly wet start to gardening season. Thundershower after thundershower descended on our little valley and there was one point when I didn’t know if my hugelkultur plants were going to make it.
Not only was it wet, cold and dreary, but the slugs were out in full force.
I had to replant cucumbers not once, but three times. Even most of my starts were struggling. My hollyhocks didn’t have leaves; just a webbed outlines revealing where the greenery used to be. My echinacea was decimated. It seemed anything I directly sowed in the soil was eaten away as soon as it sprouted.
So I stopped watering seedlings with a sprinkler and started using a watering can in attempt to limit the moisture in my beds.
Battle the slugs, I did! And often, I found myself wishing my order of ducklings had come through. There’s nothing ducks like better than a meal of slugs!
But I didn’t have ducks. Instead, I learned the hard way that my straw mulch made an excellent breeding ground for slugs. I learned that next time I have a rainy, spring season, I need to get rid of my mulch until things are well established.
Growing a Variety of Vegetables
With two years of hugelkultur gardening under my belt, I’ve discovered that most herbs and vegetables grow well in these beds. Most of your success (or failure) will be dependent on the depth and the quality of your soil!
I’ve grown parsley, dill, oregano, basil, chamomile, thyme, sage, multiplier onions and more in my kitchen gardens.
Spinach, mountain spinach, chard and lettuce have taken to it.
Cucumbers and squash love the warm soil, as do tomatoes. Peppers, you ask? I have yet to try them!
Peas. Beans. I have yet to try sweet corn, potatoes and of course most root vegetables (with the exception of turnips-they did well).
The only thing that didn’t take to these beds were some of the brassicas: cabbage, kale, broccoli and also, cauliflower. Either my soil wasn’t right for them or they disliked having warm roots.
One Thing I Would Do Differently
If there’s one critique I would give my hugelkultur kitchen garden, it’s that my design was faulty. I thought using logs to outline the beds would be a way to keep things neat and orderly.
Problem is, the outlining logs weren’t much bigger than the ones I used to form the bottom of the hugelkulturs!
Had I used larger logs or even stacked several smaller ones, I’d be able to pile the soil on deeper. As it is, I can’t keep enough on them, particularly as I near the edges of the hugelkulturs.
There’s nothing to hold it in! As a result, plants grown by the edges of the bed have shallow roots and tend to dry out quickly.
The result is wasted space.
This fall, I’m going to attempt to fix the problem, either by stacking on a second layer of logs or by removing them altogether, creating tapering edges to the ground (like I was supposed to).
Establishing Perennial Herbs & Flowers
I’ve done my fair share of experimenting with herbs and vegetables in the hugelkulturs. But what I really want is a kitchen garden filled with greens, herbs, tea flowers and perennials that will establish themselves and spread on their own accord.
Last summer, I successfully established chamomile, catnip, sage and Egyptian walking onion. Technically, sage isn’t supposed to overwinter in our cold climate. But somehow, it survived in the hugelkultur beds!
This summer, I put in oregano, more sage, multiplier onion and purple mountain spinach. This fall, I hope to put in chives. And I want to make another attempt at echinacea, come spring (slimy slugs!).
It’s All Coming Together
Piece by piece, it’s coming together. And as we slowly expand and build out our other garden spaces, I’ll have more room to put in plants I want, long term.
And that? That will be a sight to behold!