Hugh Kay

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since Apr 08, 2015
A high school teacher doing a gardening program at my school in Switzerland
altitude: 1350 meters / 4400 feet
frost free days: ~160
avg. precipitation:  1350 mm / 53 inches

My family also has a parcel of land not too far from Prince George BC that we try to visit in the summers.  We're always looking for others in Western Canada interested in permaculture and sustainable landscaping & building.
Northern British Columbia & Western Switzerland
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Recent posts by Hugh Kay

Hi all,
Here is an 8 minute video of our school garden in Leysin, Switzerland.  It focuses on the terracing and other landscaping that we have done so far.

We try to take a permaculture approach and this video shows the first two years of our attempts at the following:

-terracing to capture soil and water
-companion planting
-seed saving

Long-term, we would like to put in some large terraces along the upper parts of the garden, which are currently sunny but unused due to the steepness, and plant more perennials.  

Woody perennials that we have planted so far include:  elderberry, alder, raspberry, black currant, sea buckthorn, blueberry, & comfrey (Bocking 14). We would like to do apples, hearty kiwi and more, but we need better terraces and more fruit-tree knowledge first.

Almost all of the raised beds are hugel beds, and contain a fair amount of wood material down below the soil.  We dug most of our beds deeper than we needed to - often 2 feet or more below the eventual soil surface - with the hope of capturing more water and deepening the active soil horizons.

I have more questions than I can count, but for starters, I think we were a little too aggressive in terms of companion planting in many cases, especially in the lower beds, where the six square raised beds are.  It might be that next year we move a little bit away from this, but we will continue to companion plant and engage in crop rotation.  We have mono-cropped garlic in certain beds, but we definitely rotate if we do this to discourage white rot and other garlic ailments.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

2 years ago
The slugs love the three small goji berry starts that I bought and planted in our school garden last year.  Small slugs, between 5 mm and 20 mm long, like to nestle down into the base of the goji berry, where the branches meet the soil and I think they must climb up at night and eat any green growth on the little branches down to nubs.  Last year, the little starts were barely able to produce any leaves at all.

This year I do have one of the three starts with new leaf growth and I'm using a combination of eggshells, wood ash, and coffee grounds around the base of all three plants, in hope one or two of the others will also come back.  We'll see.

But, slugs ate a lot of my immature annual vegetables soon after we put them out last year too.  In the longer term we'd love to get ducks, but for now we're trying eggshells, coffee grounds (which have been effective in another bed so far this spring), wood ash, and probably some garlic oil spray.  We are also using apple slices under cardboard as a diversion, but I haven't had any luck with that so far.  Last year, I did some beer traps and they only trapped a few slugs.  Later this spring, I think we will be getting chickens, but I don't know if we can get them to hunt slugs in the garden as is more possible with ducks.

In any case, in my experience, slugs LOVE goji leaves!
3 years ago
Thanks, Cassie and Joseph.  This is super helpful!

I am working in a 1200 sq. meter (0.3 acre) space that we are converting to a school garden  on a SE-facing hillside in Switzerland that so far has little in the way of hedges or other vertical separation, so it sounds like the best route is to not worry about cross-pollination in most cases, and save seeds from fruits & veggies that develop well here, but only after tasting them.  

I hadn't thought of actually tasting things before saving their seeds even though this is pretty obvious in hindsight.
3 years ago
This is a very interesting thread. Thanks!

If I understand correctly, it seems that maintaining heirloom strains is a pretty specialized endeavor that might entail sacrifices in terms of amount of food produced.  Is that fair?

If so, this seems to have implications for the range of vegetable choice that would be available if food, transportation and shipping became much more expensive.  

Does the difficulty of maintaining several varieties of the same species, esp. in the case of Cucurbita pepo (squash etc.) and Brassica oleracea (cabbages etc.), mean that if the future becomes so local that buying true seeds every year became prohibitively expensive for most, that we probably wouldn't be able to grow as many varieties as now?

3 years ago
Anybody have any suggestions regarding voles and blueberry bushes?  I have some new blueberry bushes in our school garden - now in about 30 cm (or a foot) of snow.  Do I have to worry about voles or do anything else to protect these dormant bushes during the winter?  I'm in western Switzerland at about 1300 meters/4200 feet.

Currently I'm just observing, but I'd hate to lose these babies so soon after planting.

I'd be obliged for any suggestions regarding wintering blueberries, esp. regarding protection from voles or other rodents.

3 years ago
Thanks, Billy!
Yes, we put in a vertical log, hollow in the middle, which creates the highest part of the hugel.  My hope was top plant some type of nitrogen-fixing shrub/plant in the hole.  Maybe we will try covering this up completely, especially if the huge seems dry this year.  
3 years ago
Happy New Year, Permies!

Here’s a two-minute video slideshow of construction and the first season of a hugel and a hugel-terrace that students and I made as one of the first projects in our school’s new garden.

I would be grateful for any suggestions regarding what to plant in year 2 or about anything else.  Below the video there’s a little more on that.

So, as you can see from the photos, the project was a combination of terracing and hugel-building, with high priority given to long-term stability as well as water and soil capture on this fairly steep hillside.  We had a lot of help from different students and other community members, so this labor-intensive approach worked for us, but it might not be right for a single gardener or a farmer with a lot of land to work.  I’d love to hear your ideas for which parts of the work do not need to be repeated next time around as well as what we could improve.

While I’d welcome any feedback or questions, I am especially interested in knowing what people recommend planting on these in year 2.

We are thinking of the following combo, but I’d be grateful for other suggestions.

On the hugel:
Raspberries (3 canes already planted this fall)
Strawberries (2-3 plants planted this fall)
Swiss Chard
Some type of a nitrogen fixing shrub (maybe shrubby bushclover or northern bayberry)
Nasturtiums, marigolds, and a lupin or two

On the hugel terrace in the back/North:
Maybe some beneficial flowers

Our growing zone is probably best described as 6a or 6b.  The altitude is about 1300 meters, on a south-facing slope in Western Switzerland, with winter lows that rarely go below -10 celsius, and we get around 120 cm/~48 inches of precipitation in an average year.  One of our big wild cards is lots of cool spring weather with pretty good chances of frosts and snows all the way into late May.  I think our climate is pretty similar to Sepp Holzer’s Krameterhof, but he may get colder winters because he’s a little more continental than we are.  The hugel & hugel terrace behind it are probably in the sun 2/3 to 3/4 of the day and in the shade the rest of the time.

In this first year, we had a pretty successful pea explosion and three weeks of good harvest until powdery mildew started to spread and we pulled the pea plants. The mildew may have been my fault because I watered from above with a watering can during some hot weeks in July/August.  As we improve the reach of our hoses, maybe a drip line is in order, although maybe I should just try no watering for a year to see how things do.

I pushed the vertical sticks in to help prop up the heavy pea vines, since these did not really climb the hugel on their own as I hoped they would. The nasturtiums we planted went wild.

Slugs ate all of the squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and lupin starts we planted here, and everywhere else in this new garden within a month or less of those being transplanted.  We also had a few unidentified volunteers on the hugel, and I pulled most of these, especially anything resembling grass.  We ended up pulling up the nasturtium plants with students in order to harvest the seeds, but next year I might be inclined to cut them off and leave the nasturtium roots in the soil.

I’d love to hear any and all questions, suggestions, as well as both constructive and destructive criticism.  
Thanks and happy 2017!
3 years ago
It's been tough for me to figure out of the Japanese Pagoda Tree is really a nitrogen fixer. The Wikipedia article on this species says that it used to be considered to be part of the Sophora genus, but, as mentioned above, it's listed as part of the Styphnolobium genus by Wikipedia ( ) which apparently doesn't fix N.

Does anyone with experience with the Japanese Pagoda tree know if this is a good candidate as a N fixer for a plant guild in an 8b (moving towards 9a...) plant guild in the Southwest (Dordogne) area of France?

4 years ago
Hi Randi,
I was wondering if you have any updates on your farm in Cebu. I have relatives in Biliran.
Happy planting!
4 years ago
I'm not sure if this has already been posted, but Clear Skies Meditation Center, near Cranbrook BC, is hosting a food forest workshop with Richard Walker in June. Walker has several decades of food forest and permaculture experience. I'm signed up.
4 years ago