Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hugelkultur raspberries

I'm so excited about this project!

Dad extracting a shoot from a hunk of sod.

I mentioned this hugelkultur (or is it hugelculture?) project as part of my backyard makeover.  It was a lot of work, but not really.  All the elements of this project were parts of other projects that had to be done anyways:  Cleaning up fallen trees from last October's freakish snow storm, finding a place to put the sandy soil taken out of the planting holes for the gooseberries and currants, moving the compost pile a wheelbarrow at a time...really, a shovel-full at a time....and digging and planting the raspberry shoots I was given by a friend.  It was done in stages over the course of a few weeks.  

First layer of logs.

For example, I brought a log up to the yard every time I came up from the pasture empty-handed.  Why waste the trip?  And the hubster dumped the soil on the second layer of logs as he dug the berry bush holes a few at a time over the course of a couple of weeks.  Neither of us do such heavy work on days that we have clients scheduled.  We need our energy for them.  This stuff...moving logs and hauling dirt....we do on our days off.  We go back to work to rest up.

 Added the soiled bedding from the chick brooder in the cellar. 

After the first layer of dirt was placed on the logs, I piled the remaining smaller pieces on top, cutting anything that was too curved to remain in place.  I filled in big spaces with debris from around our fire wood stacks, now also needing spring clean-up to get rid of slabs of bark and punky logs.

 I was going to burn this fallen wood...

Then came the compost....load after load of rich brown gold.  This was all leaves and hay, straw and shavings, and a bit of goat poop and garden weeds thrown in, only last fall.  The hens worked hard, scratching it to bits and speeding up the composting process.

Chicken wire keeps the hens from scratching the bed into oblivion.

Biscuit thinks a tennis ball is far more interesting than a pile of sticks.

Once the entire pile of logs was covered in compost, it was time to watch for raspberry shoots.  Our neighbor, a farmer, has a row of raspberries that puts out shoots every spring.  Most of these shoots get mowed down since they come up in the grassy area.  I asked if I could take some.  This generous couple, despising waste like I do, said sure, and offered another variety from their own backyard as well.  I checked for shoots every time I walked the dogs.  Finally, they appeared, and just in time.  Several days of rain in the forecast meant ideal transplanting conditions.

Dad and I grabbed our buckets and spading fork and headed over on the afternoon just hours before the big rain was to start.  We dug methodically from one end of the long row to the other and back again.  

See the raspberry shoot in the middle of this ball of dirt and grass?

We dug and talked, speculated on the future harvests and were thankful for the generosity of neighbors.  We came home with a few teensy plants in a couple of buckets.

Not too impressive for all the back-breaking work it took.  Or was it?

Dad took some home in one pail, and I took the rest.  He quickly planted 15 plants outside his apartment in the small garden plot he tends, and brought the remaining plants back to me.  I went out to plant two rows, about a foot apart, on my raised bed.  I figured I would plant until I ran out of plants, and then hope the coming rains stimulated more shoots to come up so I could fill out the row.

It was getting dark as I planted.  I worked my way across the 24' row and covered the entire length with plants.  Still there were more in the pail.  I planted a third row.  Still there were more in the pail.  I started planting further down the edges of the mound, squeezing in plants here and there.  It began to seem like they were multiplying in the bucket faster than I could get them re-planted!  A count the next day, in daylight, revealed about 80 plants.  We'd dug almost 100 plants!  These sell in catalogs for $5-8 each, plus shipping.  We really scored.

I feel wealthy!
Here is our miniature orchard, with plenty of room left for lawn games when we have a cook out.
 Two apple trees and a pear tree beyond the berries.

I know this is a bigger project than most people would tackle.  You can get a LOT of raspberries from one smallish clump of raspberry canes, grown like a bush in the corner of a small yard.  A few pieces of firewood or even a stump would turn it into a mini-hugelkulture bed, and would mean less stooping and bending to pick the berries.

Look around...you may have space for some luscious berries right in your backyard!


  1. You are right, that is a HUGE undertaking, but I bet the payoff will be even bigger. What will you do with the produce from 80 bushes?

  2. I have no idea how many raspberries that will be...but we can certainly eat a lot of frozen raspberries over the year, especially with our chevre. I love raspberry wine, too. I made a batch once with three gallons of raspberries once, and would like to make the same amount (5 gallons of wine) with 4-5 gallons of berries for more flavor.

    If there are still leftover berries after that (I doubt it!) I can gift some and sell some through my nutritional therapy practice, I'm sure.

    Yay, raspberries!

  3. what a great project!!!! and all those raspberry shoot! terrific!

  4. Wow, what a neat way to plant! And, not having to stoop to pick? NICE!

  5. How fun! That is so cool your neighbor gave you the shoots, I'm a little jealous :)