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Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Kind of Snow Fort!

~ with Mini Hugelkultur Inside ~

Here's how it started: I couldn't wait for spring to come... 

This photo was taken in January, but this has been a very strange winter, and it felt like spring at the time. There is a south facing hill on our property where the snow always melts first, and where the first buttercups of the spring appear each year. It is the "first hope of spring" hill, and one sunny day in January, it struck me as a "first hope of kale" location. (Note the granite outcrop at the right, which functions like a huge heat battery.)

First I found a few pieces of very rotten wood and piled them together at the base of the granite outcrop.

A little more wood, smaller pieces on top... with some ice, so that it would slowly add moisture as it melted. 

Next a layer of leaves and then compost, and the mini hugelkultur bed was complete. 

Snow on top to add moisture... After this, an old clear plastic office mat happened to be handy, so I curved it over the bed and closed the ends with fabric. A couple of weeks later, I tucked some kale and lettuce seeds into the compost, and hauled some water to moisten the whole thing.

When we finally got a decent snowfall at the end of January, I added snow around all of the edges to seal off the plastic. It was steamy inside when last I checked… the seeds will germinate when the conditions feel right to them. This first week of February it was -25C (-13 F) so I'm sure it's a little early yet… 

...But I'm hoping that the dramatic southwest exposure and the granite thermal battery will bring us greens earlier than usual. Time will tell!

(Our daughter's dog, Kwilly, looks out over the Okanogan valley)

Feb 12 Update:

This is how it looks inside the enclosure today... leaves and compost were looking a little dry, so I added a jug of *warm* water, and it got very steamy in there right away!

We had a crazy change in the weather today, with sudden warmth that evaporated most of the snow! What a lovely shock after last week's cold snap. I'm curious to see what will happen inside this enclosure in the next few weeks.

Feb 16 Update:

Inside the enclosure: a very exciting day -- I see green!!!

I planted kale and lettuces in here... any guesses on which this first sprout will be? I'm guessing kale, for its cold-hardiness, but only time will tell. I have been watering the mini-bed with a jug of warm water every few days, but it is so saturated now that I am going to wait longer before watering it again.

For context: This is the south facing hill where the enclosed mini-hugelkultur bed is located. On our north facing slopes, you still need snowshoes to go for a hike. But here, the hillside is mostly bunchgrass!

Feb 25 Update:

It was -14 Celsius or 6 F this morning, and look who sprouted this week in the snow fort!

And yes, it is a snow fort again, thanks to the latest dump of snow that arrived this week. We got 6-8 inches, but it is already melting on this magical warm south-exposed hill... 

Where does the snow melt first where you live? 


  1. Julie - I loved this lesson on hugelkultur; it certainly is my new word for the day. I have some old rotting wood, probably fir and pine, but very old, at the bottom of my property. Maybe I'll haul it up.Have you seen No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout? She uses much mulch, mostly from rotten straw. I'll read your blog again to get the find details. Thanks. Yvonne, fellow gardener

  2. Joyce (daughter) and I looked at the whole system again and are thinking: "Just how can we adapt this?" One of the problems is that most of our old non-firewood is pine, less than desirable. Do you deal with deer? We loved the sheets!

    1. Yvonne and Joyce, thanks so much for your comment. I'm excited that you want to give this a whirl! An important principle is to use what you have available. If pine is what's available, then just look for pieces that are partially decomposed, the more rotten the better. I have found that rotting pine works just fine! As long as it's at least starting to get punky and you keep it plenty moist, it will break down and grow food for you. :-) Look for "greens" to layer in with it -- food scraps, manure, etc., -- and rotting leaves are great too. Make sure you water it generously with every layer you add, and the bed will give back all the energy you put into it, plus lots more! Yes, we have deer -- the wall of thrift store sheets kept them out quite well. Please keep me posted!

  3. Definitely on the south-facing slope north of the pond. Luckily that's also where the in-laws had a "spare" fenced-in garden plot, so that's where I'm playing with my own hugel experiments.
    As for pine: I used a lot of punky old pine poles and horse manure, then dirt and mulch on top. Some on grade and some buried. The potatoes loved them. A lot of other things did fine too: rhubarb, tomatoes, herbs, onions. Beans did better in the ground, but that might have been to do with the tunneling voles who loved those log runways. I think you can do it with any kind of wood, especially if you have other stuff to add so the moisture is filtered through soil (the plants don't have to dip their roots straight into intact wood).
    We'll see if any of the perrenials survived this intense cold; but I expect the general growing conditions will be even better this year just because it will catch the meltwater this time.

    1. Erica, thanks so much for your thoughts on punky pine for hugel work! It's great to hear that pine worked well for you too. Seems like the most important thing is to use what we have available, with maybe just a few exceptions like cedar, walnut and black locust. How wonderful that you have a fenced area where your snow melts first -- wow! That sounds great!

      I too am concerned about the perennials, especially with that first super cold snap coming when there was no snow on the ground to insulate... time will tell. Great work getting your beds established so they can catch the meltwater this spring. Please keep us posted on how it goes.

  4. wow!
    I love gardening!
    Flowers,spices and anything like that!
    you're "my kind of snow fort " looks like you are having a sprout party in you snow fort ; ) .

    Fawn A.

  5. I am so intrigued by this method; I'll be using it instead of building raised beds for my new garden, because it seems that it's less work, and more friendly to the earth. Can't wait for spring!

    1. Hello Jacki,
      It's great to hear that you'll be building hugelkultur beds in your new garden... you will be glad you did! In our climate, using less water for irrigation is a major advantage. Please keep me posted on how things go. Happy first day of spring!


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