The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Very tall raised beds

Mulching tall raised beds
Hugelkultur"What have you thought of tall hugelculture mounds?" --- Terry

I've been making lots of raised beds that are a bit like Sepp Holzer's tall hugelkultur mounds lately, although only some have had wood inside. These mounds are my current method of raising the root zone out of the very high groundwater in two sectors of our garden. Despite what some gardeners have tried to tell me, even water-loving vegetables like tomatoes and watermelons have shriveled and died when there's only an inch or two of drained soil to spread their roots through. So I dig out the aisles and build the beds up.

My tall mounds definitely solve the waterlogging problem, but they do present challenges of their own. In the photo at the top of this post, I'm actually taking apart a kill mulch rather than putting one together. Try as we might, Kayla and I couldn't get the cardboard and feed bags to stay put atop this tall bed, so I'll just mulch without the kill layer and weed out any grasses that try to pop up through. The smart solution would have been to kill mulch this area to remove lawn grasses before I dug the area into raised beds, but...twenty-twenty hindsight, right?

Sepp Holzer's hugelkulturThe other problem with my tall raised beds is that I'm often gardening in knee boots, and it's impossible to run a lawnmower through the waterlogged aisles. On the plus side, the local frog population adores the wetlands I created, and after Lucy transfered duckweed from our sky pond, the aisles actually started turning into rather biologically diverse pondlets.

So, in the long run, tall mounds have become my favorite solution for dealing with very high groundwater, although I might tweak the technique a bit by adding drainage into more sky ponds in the future. However, I'm not sure I'd recommend tall hugelkultur mounds if you're not trying to raise your root zone up out of the wet. In a less rainy climate than ours, the tall mounds would dry out on top pretty quickly (although the rotting lumber would mitigate that in a few years once the wood broke down), and the mulching problem would only be exacerbated if we ever saw wind. Plus, it's hard to get your precious compost to stay put on a bed that's mounded up to the soil's angle of repose, so you definitely see more erosion with this technique than with the shallower, flat-topped beds I use in other parts of the garden. But if you farm in a swamp like we do, by all means, mound that ground up!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I wonder if the problem with your tomatoes dying has more to do with compacted subsoil and clay than with waterlogged soil. When I first started gardening in this area in 1999 I asked an extension service person whether it would be good for me to till into the red clay sand and compost. He said, don't do it! Instead he suggested I simply put the compost on top of the clay. Instead I built raised beds from 4" x 6" x 8" concrete blocks and topped them off with 2" x 6" x 8" blocks and filled up the area with composted horse manure I get from a local farm for free. My tomatoes went nuts whenever I plant them. Now my problem is getting enough water to them, so I built an irrigation system using a bilge pump and solar panel and stuck the bilge pump in stream next to the beds.
Comment by Nayan Sun Jan 18 09:21:15 2015

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