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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Un-irrigating

You sometimes hear about hugel beds that have gone without irrigation, even in dry climates. I have not had to water as much since developing my wood for food garden beds, but up until this summer I had never cut irrigation off completely. 

This year I decided to try stopping irrigation in a few places to see how the plants would fare with only the moisture from the rotting wood. Once in a great while I sprinkled a little water from a jug (a few times over the whole season), but these plants were not really watered. And -- we went for about 80 days with no rain this summer!

This zucchini plant is in the center of the non-irrigated bed, with aspen logs and manure underground. It has beautiful zucchinis on it now and looks more robust than some of the other zucchini plants I have growing in an irrigated, non-hugel bed. 

The potato plant next to the zucchini is doing just fine too. On the other side of the zucchini, I dug a hole yesterday and found the dry soil to be full of potatoes, with no plant in sight. It appears that the plant formed its potatoes and then died, perhaps due to lack of moisture. However, I harvested the most beautiful red potatoes I've ever grown -- beautiful skins, no blemishes, perfect flesh. Works for me!


This zinnia may have picked up some moisture from a neighboring micro-sprinkler, but the Swiss chard and celeriac in the background were not irrigated at all. (The zinnia is coming into the picture from an acute angle -- its base is a few feet away.) Both the chard and the celeriac volunteered in the straw-mulched path, and I just let them go. The path receives no irrigation, but they didn't seem to mind at all. They are growing in a mixed-species hugel bed. 

Based on these experiments, it seems that you really can grow food without irrigating, once you have a moist sponge of wood available to your vegetables.


Happy fall gardening!

2 comments:

  1. Julie, have you experimented with Ponderosa wood, yet? We have an abundance of old pine slash at our place, so a couple of years ago we constructed a few raised Ponderosa beds, just to try it out. At the time, all of the discussions we could find about using pine in hugel beds were just theoretical ("It probably won't work..."), so we decided to just give it a go to get a more definitive answer. Unfortunately, we still don't have running water here, so we've never tended or irrigated the beds at all. Consequently-- in our dry environment-- the mounds aren't sustaining much life. (But the ground squirrels flipped them into condos this year, which may be beneficial in the long run. :) ) So our experiment is still on the table, due to lack of proper inputs and effort; and we're still left wondering if aged pine slash is a viable option. At any rate, the mounds look bone dry most of the year, which makes sense since they are shaped to shed water, not catch and sink it. I wouldn't bother making mounded beds again. You've definitely got the right idea for our dry part of the world: invert hugel beds to be subterranean sponge basins. :) Thanks for the update on your experiments!

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    1. Great to hear from you, Kristin! Yes, my first above-ground beds had a lot of pine in them (http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/02/first-hugelkultur-bed-2012.html) and the vertical bed started with a layer of pine (http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/06/going-vertical.html). Both did fine; I see no problem with using pine, especially if the wood has already started to decompose. I think the real issue is the moisture factor in this climate, as you have identified. My above-ground bed had a dripline installed over it, which made a big difference. The other factor is how moist the wood is when you cover the pile with soil; locking in moisture from the beginning is crucial in this dry climate. I agree that even better is to invert the hugel beds and go for the subterranean sponge. It seems to work really well and like you said, collects water instead of shedding it! I think even a shallow pit would help. Don't give up! You can always dig a pit next to your mounds and shove them in: http://woodforfood.blogspot.com/2014/02/hugelkultur-goes-underground.html. :-)

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