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Hugelkultur 1st Year Plants Good/Bad

 
Patrick Winters
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I've read a great many warnings about what to plant and not to plant when it comes to the first year using a hugel bed, as it seems to start out sucking out all the nitrogen, making a brand new hugelkultur bed a bad place to grow nitrogen hogs. I figured for efficiency's sake there should be a thread much like the good wood/bad wood list to very simply break down what are the safest bets for first year planting. I'll start off with a list based on known nitrogen loving plants, and plants that either fix nitrogen or prefer not to grow in nitrogen-loaded soils, and the list can be updated as you hugelkultur veterans chime in.

Don't Grow:
Asparagus
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Corn
Cucumbers
Currants
Mustards
Oats
Rapeseed
Rye
Sage
Sorghum
Spinach
Strawberries
Tobacco
Woad
Wormwood

Grow:
Alfalfa
American Liquorice
Autumn Olive
Beans
Bog Myrtle/Sweet Gale
Borage
Buffaloberry
Clover
Coriander/Cilantro
Dandelions
Dyer's Greenweed
Goat's Rue
Ground Nut/Apios
Hog Peanut
Lentils
Milk Thistles
Northern Bayberry
Peas
Peppers
Russian Silverberry/Oleaster
Salsify
Sea Buckthorn
Soybeans
Sweetfern
Velvet Bean
Vetches
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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many say all kinds of potatoes are really a good start for a fresh hugel bed
 
Chris Vaden
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This list is very helpful, but are there any other suggestions? Especially for northern Michigan and also for late season. I am also trying to figure out where to purchase seed.
 
Brandis Roush
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Location: Central Minnesota
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I grew potatoes in my first year hugel bed and they weren't great, but in all fairness I had NO IDEA what I was doing, did the whole thing by myself (I'm a moderately strong young woman, but still...) and by hand in an area with overgrown wild grape vines (I broke a shovel and a garden fork during the process). I don't think, in retrospect, that I got the soil layer on top of the wood deep enough. And I kind of neglected the bed because of it's placement in they yard, so it got a we bit weedy as well. It was on the far side of my fenced annual garden from both my house and from the garden gate, so I had to go out the fence and around to tend to it. This year I'm going to put a gate in on that side because I plan to put MORE plantings over there.

I'm also thinking about borrowing a tractor this time, but we'll see

What kind of seed are you looking for? I just ordered most of mine- I ordered this year because I'm trying to avoid all Monsanto related sources, and pretty much all local seed is Burpee, although the hardware store sells Renee's Garden seed, which is a good source. I order my annual seeds from Johnny's Select seeds (and before someone feels the need to inform me of this, I am aware they buy some of their seed from Semenis, who is owned by Monsanto, but it's a tiny number of varieties, and I just avoid those)- they have a decent selection of farm seed if you're looking to order cover crops or the like, I ordered a bunch of perennial vegetable seeds from Restoration Seeds, french sorrel plants from The Tasteful Garden, Comfrey root cuttings from Coe's comfrey (best price I've found so far), and several perennial plants (pea shrub, hog peanut, ground nut, good king henry, and wild leek) from Food Forrest Farm.
 
Eric Markov
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I had a excellent cucumber harvest from one of my first year hugel beds last year.

You just need to add extra nitrogen fertilizer at the beginning to offset the nitrogen-robbing effect of the wood breaking down.

 
eric firpo
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we grew strawberries on a first-year hugelbed last year and they loved it. i'd put them on the grow list.
 
Chris Kott
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I did tomatoes, which actually seeded themselves (I dug a pit in the previous years' tomato bed, and used the soil to top the hugelbed) along with my typical tomato guild of basil and oregano. To get around the nitrogen problem, I just intercropped with beans that I harvested regularly from June or earlier on. Tomatoes normally won't take that kind of nitrogen, but they had no troubles in this case. I also found that the carrots planted with the tomato guild and beans weren't stunted, which their proximity to tomatoes should have caused. And I had to move tomatoes because potatoes came up by themselves.

I don't think that hard and fast rules work very well for this type of thing.

As to general direction, I would look to food plants that are quickly labelled invasive outside of their normal ranges, blackberries come to mind. Anything that pops up in disturbed, and preferably poor, soil in the area is fair game.

-CK
 
Nechda Chekanov
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Location: Zone 7a
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With potatoes, how do you dig them out when there is wood etc??
What I put in all all half rotted, but I don't think they'll be done by harvest.

I was planning to do a potato,,spinach, cilantro bed, I know it says dont do spinach, but um, I already planted it before I saw that! And I do have some manure on the top layer there to feed it.

So, potatoes, how does that work in hugelkulture.?

I am transforming all of my raised beds... Completed two yesterday. I m so excited about this method for all of the benefits... I look forward to the beds getting better each year.
 
Chris Kott
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Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK
 
Pierre de Lacolline
Posts: 37
Location: New Hampshire; USDA Z5
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Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes [...] a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.


Chris, thanks for that. I've been skeptical about potatoes in hugels but what you said makes sense.
 
Michael Newby
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I had real good success in my 1st year hugel with yellow and green zucchini squash.
 
Chris Kott
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I suppose, though, that as long as you had a supportive guild to replace what the potatoes take out every year, and as long as you're okay with only harvesting what's on top, some of the hardier varieties would function essentially as a perennial. It would be just like sunchokes, where you're constantly leaving bits of the tubers, or in this case perhaps whole potatoes, to regrow next season.

-CK
 
Nechda Chekanov
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Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK

Ah ha!!! Got it now...
 
Chris Kott
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One thing I overlooked in this conversation is the approach. I believe it to be faulty. We are discussing, for the most part, plants in isolation. With hugelkultur, I believe it to be crucial to think of the bed and planting in terms of guilds.
If we fail to consider the effects of one plant on another, it will be impossible to engineer the system to best benefit, or at very least, the approach will be scattered and success will be, at best, serendipitous.

Think guilds!

-CK
 
Victor Johanson
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Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK


I got the most awesome potatoes I've ever grown by far from a first-year hugelbeet last season. Some of the Yukon Golds weight 2.5# each, and Swedish Peanuts, usually about 3" long, were 6-8"! So my opinion differs; I think hugelkultured potatoes can do phenomenally well.
 
Chris Kott
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Don't get me wrong, Victor; I'm with you. But I think that hugelbeets are great for root vegetables for the reason that they provide lots of room and uncompacted, nutrient-rich soil, when built properly. I maintain that getting all the potatoes out will be difficult in a new bed, and that it would result in the careful undoing of all that soil and carbon stratification.

I was thinking, though, that you could use the concept fairly well in a more intensively-managed situation, where perhaps vermiculture and layer-composting are used on top of the new hugelbeet to continually bury the growing potato plants, not completely, but so that only the leaves and top part of the plant are exposed to sunlight. This idea works well in potato planters, where the soil level is constantly increased, keeping the plant supported, sheltered, and nourished, all the while encouraging the subsoil portion of the plant to its maximum possible size. More root nodes mean more potatoes, and as with a straight hugelbeet, deeper, richer soil means larger potatoes.

In this way, smaller logs and branches may be added around the perimeter of the root vegetable growing area without burying potatoes under wood and making them impossible to get to without dissassembling the bed. The most of the hugelbeet remains undisturbed, the soil strata intact, and as an added bonus, the bed would grow each year with the constant addition of organic matter, countering the loss of volume and structure caused by the breakdown of woody matter over time.

I love getting feedback for reasons such as this. I had never really thought of a hugelbeet truck garden outside the kitchen window that would also add the functionality of a vermicomposter, and giant root veggies to boot. I've gotta try those Swedish Peanuts! They fix nitrogen, right?

-CK
 
Nechda Chekanov
Posts: 65
Location: Zone 7a
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Victor Johanson wrote:
Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK


I got the most awesome potatoes I've ever grown by far from a first-year hugelbeet last season. Some of the Yukon Golds weight 2.5# each, and Swedish Peanuts, usually about 3" long, were 6-8"! So my opinion differs; I think hugelkultured potatoes can do phenomenally well.
great news! Tell me how!! And tell me how you dug them....
 
Victor Johanson
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Nechda Chekanov wrote:
Victor Johanson wrote:
Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK


I got the most awesome potatoes I've ever grown by far from a first-year hugelbeet last season. Some of the Yukon Golds weight 2.5# each, and Swedish Peanuts, usually about 3" long, were 6-8"! So my opinion differs; I think hugelkultured potatoes can do phenomenally well.
great news! Tell me how!! And tell me how you dug them....

There are some photos posted here:

http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#147666
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#150662
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#150712

The spuds were grown near the top. I just stuck a couple each of nine cultivars there and let them rip. The vines grew about 8' long, and the tubers were all near the surface, so it didn't entail any significant destruction of the hugelbeet.
 
Victor Johanson
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Chris Kott wrote:Don't get me wrong, Victor; I'm with you. But I think that hugelbeets are great for root vegetables for the reason that they provide lots of room and uncompacted, nutrient-rich soil, when built properly. I maintain that getting all the potatoes out will be difficult in a new bed, and that it would result in the careful undoing of all that soil and carbon stratification.

I was thinking, though, that you could use the concept fairly well in a more intensively-managed situation, where perhaps vermiculture and layer-composting are used on top of the new hugelbeet to continually bury the growing potato plants, not completely, but so that only the leaves and top part of the plant are exposed to sunlight. This idea works well in potato planters, where the soil level is constantly increased, keeping the plant supported, sheltered, and nourished, all the while encouraging the subsoil portion of the plant to its maximum possible size. More root nodes mean more potatoes, and as with a straight hugelbeet, deeper, richer soil means larger potatoes.

In this way, smaller logs and branches may be added around the perimeter of the root vegetable growing area without burying potatoes under wood and making them impossible to get to without dissassembling the bed. The most of the hugelbeet remains undisturbed, the soil strata intact, and as an added bonus, the bed would grow each year with the constant addition of organic matter, countering the loss of volume and structure caused by the breakdown of woody matter over time.

I love getting feedback for reasons such as this. I had never really thought of a hugelbeet truck garden outside the kitchen window that would also add the functionality of a vermicomposter, and giant root veggies to boot. I've gotta try those Swedish Peanuts! They fix nitrogen, right?

-CK


I didn't hill them up, so they were close to the surface and quite easy to harvest without disrupting the bed. No nitrogen from the Swedish goobers, but then it doesn't look like any was needed, either!
 
Nechda Chekanov
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Victor Johanson wrote:
Nechda Chekanov wrote:
Victor Johanson wrote:
Chris Kott wrote:Potatoes, in my opinion, only work well if you leave most of them unharvested, and only get the ones near the surface. It's a great way of increasing soil structure and organic matter within a hugel bed. It's not actually so good for harvesting potatoes.

-CK


I got the most awesome potatoes I've ever grown by far from a first-year hugelbeet last season. Some of the Yukon Golds weight 2.5# each, and Swedish Peanuts, usually about 3" long, were 6-8"! So my opinion differs; I think hugelkultured potatoes can do phenomenally well.
great news! Tell me how!! And tell me how you dug them....

There are some photos posted here:

http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#147666
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#150662
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/800/17#150712

The spuds were grown near the top. I just stuck a couple each of nine cultivars there and let them rip. The vines grew about 8' long, and the tubers were all near the surface, so it didn't entail any significant destruction of the hugelbeet.

Holy hugelkulture batman! That's what I'm doing!!! I hope to post some photos as awesome as yours!
 
Victor Johanson
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Hope it works for you too; I'm putting a bunch more in this year, and I want to build some giant ones out on some acreage we're clearing. Hugel Power!
 
Fiona Martin
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Excuse my ignorance, but what is a hugelbeet?
 
Chris Kott
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Unless I've been misled or have misunderstood, it is what individual raised beds are called in hugelkultur.

-CK
 
Fiona Martin
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Ok, cheers! Still so much to learn!
 
Victor Johanson
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Fiona Martin wrote:Excuse my ignorance, but what is a hugelbeet?


I've been told that hugel means hill, so hugelkulture is literally hill culture. Beet is bed, so hill-bed for hugelbeet.
 
Chris Kott
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@Fiona, we're all ignorant, there is no excuse

It's actually why we're here.

-CK
 
Fiona Martin
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Victor Johanson wrote:
Fiona Martin wrote:Excuse my ignorance, but what is a hugelbeet?


I've been told that hugel means hill, so hugelkulture is literally hill culture. Beet is bed, so hill-bed for hugelbeet.


Ahh, that makes sense, I did have in my head that a hugelbeet was a smaller bed and hugelkulture was a big one.
 
Chris Kott
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So if a hugelbeet is a raised bed with a lot of big wood chunks in it, then hugelkultur is the practice of using hugelbeets to grow food? Or flat is to agriculture what hills are to hugelkultur?

-CK
 
Marianne Cicala
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Thanks for the potato pics - I plan to put potatoes & lady peas in a new hugel on the 27th (i'm now cutting down the number of potatotes after seeing the wonderful pics). I've grown plenty of potatoes before and someone mentioned a lot of rotted. Once you cut up the seed potato, you need to let them air dry for 3-5 days before planting. This will give them a "skin" all around to protect from rot. I have always "hilled up" my potatoes with straw or hay, not dirt, so harvest is a breeze. I plan on doing the same on the hugel.....fingers crossed.
 
Myrna Brown
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I just put in a huglekulture bed and went heavy on fairly fresh straw and manure from the lambing barn over the wood and under the soil. Probably should have used more rotted manure, but it was buried under the fresh stuff. I plan to plant berries next year. What can I plant this year? I am thinking peas followed by squash. I have three blueberries that I need to get into the ground now. Will all that fresh manure kill them? Anyhow. I need to plant something soon to keep out the weeds.
 
Chris Kott
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Potatoes are by far one of the best 1st year plants, in my experience. I had tomatoes come up themselves ( I was using topsoil where tomatoes had been planted the year previous, and I'd obviously missed some), as well as the potatoes. I think that I heard that cabbage does well in clumpy soil conditions. Could you post some pics, give some descriptions of the soil on top that you're planting in to?

As to the blueberries, I'd check your soil pH. Blueberries and potatoes have similar pH requirements (around 4-6.5, I believe, but look it up, don't quote me), and there are berries that do well with acid too, but apart from raspberries, of which I am not positive, I can't recall any specific examples. In my blueberry potato hugelbed, I'm trying a few hardier pea varieties now, and some bean species later for the hotter weather. On the north side of the bed, I'm putting something of a local windbreak in, using a seed mix called "Feed the Birds" that includes buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, and red clover. To that I'm adding Russian Mammoth Sunflowers, and I'm putting in some raspberry rootstock. The peas will be climbing an open lattice structure I've placed on the north side. It will support the sunflowers later, and the beans will climb both. I haven't filled in my groundcovers yet, but if I don't do something like oreganos or another aromatic groundcover, I'll mulch with ramial woodchips (as long as I ask for enough, there's at least one tree service here in Toronto that will deliver them free).

I like the polyculture approach with first year hugelbeets because as long as you stratify so there's no competition for resources, you stand a much better chance of harvesting something, should some crops fail entirely, and if you use the aromatics well, you tend to distract insect pests from your food crops, and anything birds eat is exchanged for the fertilizer they deposit as they perch, feed, and poop, so plants that shelter small birds are useful, as long as they don't decimate your food.

Hope some of this helps.

-CK
 
R Laurance
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Victor Johanson wrote:
Fiona Martin wrote:Excuse my ignorance, but what is a hugelbeet?


I've been told that hugel means hill, so hugelkulture is literally hill culture. Beet is bed, so hill-bed for hugelbeet.


Beet is the German for a bed in the sense of a garden bed or flower bed.... but a bed to sleep in is bett.

That word is a new one on me as well.... So I guess I've actually built several hugelbeet or whatever the plural conjugation would be in German.

Live and learn.... :D
 
Kevin Lane
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[size=18]Myrna, I have the same question. I have been piling partially decomposed - partly composted horse manure and bedding material over the wood. I am trying to figure out what I can grow in there as well. This is such a strange situation, I have more manure and compost than I need, I feel like a glutto with it

Anyone have some help out there?
 
Pierre de Lacolline
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I can't imagine what it would be like to have more manure and compost than I needed...

Pumpkins and squash LOVE growing in manure. I have never had such beautiful plants and fruit as the volunteers that grow out of the manure/compost pile.
 
janet jacobsen
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I made my first hugel 3 years ago, I put in a mixture of fresh and rotting wood so perhaps that helped with the nitrogen. I used a lot of compost from my compost piles which may have helped too. I grew strawberries, spinach,lettuce, onions and borage and everything did well. The hugel is not very tall now but the strawberries are still producing well and the borage plants are huge, the New Zealand spinach is happy and I keep planting new onions as we use the mature ones. In the fall and spring I add new lettuce seeds and then lightly cover with more black gold (soil from compost). I used mostly pine because that's what grows around here and the wood breaks down quickly which results in loosing height but the plants are happy with the result. I have several hugels now; some are 2 years old, some 1 and one new one. I'm trying different produce so...we'll see. Strangely I've never tried potatoes but I will now. What about sweet potatoes? Do they do as well?
 
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