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Hugelkultur slash piles for growing berries and other vining crops.

Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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This is Forest Gardening and it is hugelkultur. All of my hugelkulturs are glorified slash piles that have been improved with soil and organic amendments.

My property naturally contains several types of wild berry that are quite tasty. The best ones are a blackberry that grows on a vine that crawls along the ground. Huckleberries,  gooseberries, thimbleberries and salal berries are also abundant. There are also salmon berries, but they tend to be either tasteless or somewhat bitter. I never bother with them.

Of these, only salal berries can be gathered quickly from unimproved wild environments. The blackberries and huckleberries grow quite small. The blackberries grow fairly tight to the ground. It would be necessary to kneel constantly in search of a rather small payoff when picking these. Huckleberries tend to be spread out on relatively small bushes that have very small fruits. Lots of walking involved. It might be possible to gather 2 cups per hour. Nothing to write home about.
Two  years ago, I gathered several piles of wood for use in hugelkultur. These piles cover the soil and make it impossible for thistles , fireweed and other early succession plans to take over the pile immediately. The vining blackberries thus have a perfect trellis , without competition. They grow in full sun, with the pile of wood keeping the soil damp. These berries grow about four times larger than those that grow along the ground in the dry shade. They are also much more numerous and they are raised off the ground, making it unnecessary to kneel or search for them amongst taller weeds. This improves picking efficiency by at least 10 times. Bigger fruit, more fruit , off the ground and immediately visible.

Every pile has resident snakes that make use of the hot surface for basking. They often lie under the vines where they are safe from predators. There are no slugs on these piles.

My largest mound has developed some huckleberries. The bushes are many times larger than those found on unimproved ground and each berry is much larger.
Maintenance... wood piles can be kept at this stage of succession for a few years, simply by cutting away any tall plant that tries to take over. Thistles and fireweed seem to be the only immediate competition. I've found that I can deal with them using my cordless electric hedge cutter at about 40 square feet per minute. The machine is run along the pile at about 4 inches above the wood. This tops the competing plans without doing any harm to the berry vines. Huckleberries grow tall , so it's easy to weed them in the same manner. Less than 1 minute for a big bush. Luckily, there are no vining weeds at my place. If you had kudzu or morning glory, they would probably compete heavily with vining berries.

After a few years , salal usually takes over wood piles at my place. Salal growing in these locations produces more berries on taller plants, that are easier to harvest.
Once an older pile gets inundated with something undesirable, it can be covered with soil and turned into a hugelkultur mound. By this time, the wood has already broken down quite a bit, so the mound will be productive much sooner than a new one built from green wood. I expect to eventually gather many of my slash piles with the excavator and incorporate them into new hugelkulturs.
Since this method is a very effective way to grow vines, I'm now thinking of other crops that could benefit from the lack of competition and moist soil. Squash, beans, grapes and other edibles that grow on vines could be grown around slash piles. When I have built mounds in the past, it was difficult to keep the top of the mounds moist. Slash piles don't need to remain moist, but they do shade the ground quite well. Whenever there is a heavy rain, most of it will drip through to the ground below.

The rotting tree bark and stable moisture are already a huge improvement over the natural environment. Pockets of good quality soil will help things to get established.
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Cottonwood logs.
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A slash pile is buried beneath the vines.
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Large huckleberries on large plants.
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Next week's project.
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I see about one snake every 2 minutes when working around the piles. I usually see only a few snacks per day when working on unimproved ground.
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