May 5 2014


A look downhill at 5 contour-hugelkultur beds greening in mid-april.

Spring is always a busy time on the farm. This year, we have made huge steps forward all around our property, and particularly in the development of perennial garden spaces right outside the communities dining hall.

In permaculture fashion, we're calling this area our "zone-1". Here's a walkthrough of how these systems are coming along.

The two newest Hugelkultur beds

Looking east , the two new hugel beds with a terrace between them .

Our goal for much of our agroforestry is to create native ecosystem analogs wherein we mimic natural structures and functions of forest/woodlands, and replace the native elements (which may or may not be useful as food plants) with useful and productive elements.

Fortunately the pacific northwest has many delicious and productive native plants for use in our food-forests!

Currants (left)and strawberries (right) - native's planted on the upper of the two new beds.

As Lindsay wrote before, we planted some native bare-root currants and transplanted some stawberries on these beds in April. We're glad they are leafed out and seem to be adjusting well!

We also direct seeded a cover crop of parsnips, alfalfa, white-clover, and assorted annual bee forages like sunflowers and calendula.

Parsnips, alfalfa, white-clover off to a good start.

I can't stress enough, the importance of filling the available "niches" in disturbed soils right away with cover crops or whatever species you want. It saves both labor and time by begin the process of regeneration immediately, and reduces the likelyhood of loosing soil ato wind and water erosion or soil nutrients to oxidation and photodegredation.

Immediate seeding allows seeds to make use of residual soil moisture to germinate and to quickly begin holding down soil and building dynamic fertility in bed.

I often refer to this principle as "a niche in time save nine." Bring seed to the site immediately, and the land will repay you extra.

Rose, Allium, Grape Guild Beds

Running east-west along the northern boundary of the contour hugelkultur garden are two large hugelkulturs created primarily for a rose-hedge. Roses yield edible/medicinal "hips" as well as providing a windbreak for the rest of the system downhill. Not to mention the beautiful display which can be seem from the kitchen window and the aroma of roses as we walk by!

There is an old agricultural traditional from the mediteranean region sometimes refered to as "Coltura Promiscua" Which incorporated roses into an intricate poly-culture/intercropping of mutually supporting plant crops.

Coltura Promiscua was different in different localities, but it was commonly system of growing grapes on a living trellis of large fire-resistant trees (such as elm and maple) in an open canopy savanah type alleycropping food-ecosystem where grains (such as wheat and barley), legumes (such as medicago and edible field pea), and alliums (onions and garlic) were grown underneath and between the trees and shrubs.

Other berry producing shrubs such as arbutus and roses, medicinal herbs, and perennial vegetables such as asparagus and lovage were also commonly incorporated.

Coltura Promiscua is an example of a more general principle that is commonly refered to as plant "guilds", "polyculture", or "companion planting" - groups of species which work synergistcally to support the needs of one another and/or do not compete directly thus supporting greater yields than a monoculture.

Perennial walking onions, shasta daisies, alfalfa, mint, and roses.

We worked from the mediteranean tradition to construct a guild of
-Concord Grapes
-Garry Oak (for the grapes to climb)
-Alliums (walking onions, chives, shallots and garlic)
-Roses (I believe Nootka Rose)

We also incorporated mint and miscellaneous annual bee forage flowers into the bed.

Other Guilds in the Zone-1 Garden

Rhubarb and clover guild.

Horseraddish, mint and irises (left) and apple, comfrey and clover (right) guilds.

Planting in the Edges

One of many comfrey's planted into retaining walls of the beds.

Often times the edges of systems are the most neglected. For instance, most people think that the the interior of a garden bed is where all the productivity happens, and all the pesky weeds that grow up along the edges of the bed and path are "problems" which need to be "managed".

clover seedlings in the level path between beds.

We tend to think of, and plan for, everything single part of a system as contributing to it's total resiliency and productivity. When we make a growing bed we also recognize that we are also creating a path to get to the bed, and also the "edge" where the bed and path meet, and design all those elements to do work for us as passively as possible.

Mint and clover on the edge of the rose-guild beds.

In many ways, it is our design perogative to think about, create and productively utilize the edges upon edges of edges within the system. Because it is in the margins that fertility accummulates, and the most productivity is nutrient capture is possible.

Similarly to the "niche in time..." comment above, when we made and seeded the beds, we also established a living edge of useful plants by incorporating supporting species into them. As the pictures show above, that primarily consists of clover and mint as a living edge groundcover, and comfrey as a mulch producing, mineral accumulating support species.

Edging the Grey Water Vault

a view of the vault, edging/retaining wall, and tnew plantings.

Last fall we encountered some issues with the grey water system of our main dining hall. After an unsuccessful attempt with a roto-rooter at the kitchen end of the system, I did some exploratory digging to uncover the entrance of the tank and determine if the issue was on that end.

Turns out about 10-years of fat had created a plug in the pipe where it took a 90 degree turn into the tank! While it wasn't pleasant smelling work, it was certainly interesting to get to see where things end up when they go down the kitchen sink. :)

Since we are trying to develop a holistic and easy to work with zone-1 system for the community, and we can anticipate needing to fiddle with the grey water system at least every decade, we decided to not simply bury the the grey water again and instead integrate easy access into the design.

Alfalfa and comfrey making use of the "edge" of the wood.

So a rail-road tie vault was built around the entrance and access port, and we re-worked our design goals for this particular space to include a path over the vault.

This will enable us to continue our perennial planting, hugelkultur, path building pursuits with minimal risk of having to uproot them if we ever need to get access to the grey water again.

I also planted alfalfa, comfrey and perennial bunch grasses to hold and shade the bank and create another living edge.

In the future we may also include deeprooted medditeranean herbs such as lavender, sage and winter savory to round out the aesthetics and functionality of this space.