Hugel Berm Completion! – What’s Next?

With Summer Solstice, progress has shifted into high gear here as help and support materialized from several directions. First – with local organic-gardening student Michael Van Wie’s help, and a walloping load of composted horse manure from a Westminster, MD, farm, the hugel berm is complete – c’est fini! YES!

Layers: fresh compost, composted manure mixed with ripe compost, straw, forest compost of leaves/twigs (and mycelium!) and dried grasses, and topsoil from the trench.

It was quite a project, even with the two of us, as we were essentially sheet-mulching the mound: we combined the manure with mature compost (pulling out the potato plants first!) and layered this mix with plenty of fresh green compost to offset the nitrogen demands of the fresh wood chips they covered, then covered that with composted reeds and leaves, then started all over again, and finally covered up the finished product with the remains of the soil from the trench (gently nudging several momma wolf spiders into the grass, their egg cases and clinging babies on their backs).

Thanks be for Michael’s strong arms and organic farming experience! By the time we ran out of manure and reached the bottom of the fresh compost pile, we’d added a good 8-10 inches to the berm, while sharing perspectives on compost, mushroom-cultivation, local permaculture programs, and much more (looking forward to experimenting with growing oyster mushrooms on my Silver Maple logs!).

Silver Maple logs hold down the tarp – later, they may be inoculated with oyster mushrooms!

So right now the berm is sleeping under a tarp….I’ve wanted to transplant my blueberry bushes there, but that will require a soil-pH test, and possibly some amendments to ensure sufficient acidity. Then add strawberries with borage as insectary and lupins for nitrogen-fixing on the sunny eastern slope, and plenty of clover on the north/west for nitrogen-fixing and pollinator attracting, and possibly, between the two blueberries, the hazelnut bush I just purchased at Herring Run Nursery’s native plant sale…need to do some measuring here!

The cedar bushes of the meditation/dreaming garden are on the shady upstream side of the berm; they’re fine there. And then there is the question of what to do with the bare space on the sunny, wet side next to the berm, where the soil from the trench was piled…..Sheet mulch it for sure, and then (Chase Ridgely’s suggestion) put in lots of Daikon radishes and other deep-rooted plants to break up the clay soil and leave organic matter there to rot in place through the season. After that – and once I see how well the berm holds back water from flooding the veggie garden in the fall and spring rains – we can look to sheet-mulch and plant the space as a new garden. Less lawn to mow, more productive land to harvest!

The one “oops” that will need to be corrected is the small volunteer pear tree next to the berm…as it grows, it will shade the plants. I’m thinking of adopting it out to another permie gardener…it’s young enough still to be moved without too much trauma (I hope).

And after that – assessing how much water we will still need to capture. This fall’s rainy season (I hope) will give us a good sense of where we stand.

And next week I will be meeting with Jamison Douglas of Parks & People to see whether this long-range project might qualify for grant monies from the State….the vision is starting to take shape!

YouTube inspiration: tips on planning a polyculture in a hugelkultur berm…



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