This thread is so salient to me right now. I'm redesigning my three garden plots using low hugel mounds. I'm somewhere between a zone 4b and 3b, depending on how you look at the map and think about elevation and North facing slopes. Last summer we experienced a drought and I had my household hauling water, taking bucket baths, and only doing laundry in town. This summer it's July 23 and our spring is still running over! I'm only sitting here writing now because of the beautiful rain that's falling on my new hugel beds.
I found the same trouble that A Flan mentions about trying to germinate seeds on my new hugel beds. The beds dried out much faster than I am used to on the un-mounded ground. Three solutions I found so far are:
1. planting a nurse crop. I used Buckwheat to nurse along some Laurentian Rutabaga seeds. We ate the Buckwheat sprouts as the Rutabagas came up and now we're eating the last thinnings of the Rutabagas. That might turn out to be successful. The Rutabaga crop looks healthy, anyway. I have been adding "transplant mix:" a mix of leaf mold, horse manure, garden soil, sand and ash around the base of the most promising plants.
2. mulch--both cut grass/hay and chop and drop mulching. Gradually, I'm seeing some improvement.
3. I also used something like what somebody mentioned Goeff Lawton does--little wells of compost into which I transplanted starts and seeds.
Of course, I don't really know yet how any of this will turn out, but it's a great deal of fun.
My plan is to build the soil in this manner this season and gradually build it up over the rotting wood/brush/leaves that makes up the mounds. At any rate, it's clear that I'm capturing the darn lot of water that's falling out of the sky and I don't need any sort of hauling to happen this season.
I just ran across a seedball comment on another forum. I wonder if anybody has comments about using seedballs in hugels that are already planted with some kind of cover crop. For instance, I want to grow a lot of beets as a fall crop, but I'm not quite sure how to get them germinated in place without the hugel ground drying out...
thanks for the great conversation!