Category Archives: Waffle Beds

Hugels and Waffles, drought-proofing the garden

In the photo below you’ll notice a heap of garden refuse (the hugel) in back of a trench dug below grade planted with kale and bok choi varieties (the waffle).


waffle garden

Hugel plantings: daylilies, ornamental allium, elecampne, lupine (volunteers), valarian. Waffle planting: kale varieties, bok choi, arugula

Hügelkultur is a composting process using raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, and improves the insect and bacterial life of the beds around the hugel. Building several hugels around the garden makes a handy depository for the constant outflow of pruning and weeding debris, making it much easier to “compost in place”. I use the top and sides of the pile to stash plants that need a temporary home; clumps of daylilies that needed separating, unexpected plum seedlings, and the like. The top of the pile dries out in my very arid Downeast summer weather so I don’t plant vine crops or flowers there, although many people recommend the practice. Someday, when I have more water available perhaps that will be an option!

The hugel is paired with a waffle bed. Waffles are the opposite of raised beds and are built by removing soil in a small area, replacing and augmenting the best soil available, and then planting below grade. This practice has been used since ancient times in arid climates to preserve water and soil, and to shade roots and seedlings as they develop. The combination of the hugel acting as a windbreak, moisture reservoir, and beneficial critter refuge with the waffle offering fertile soil, bottom shade, and slower evaporation, is hard to beat.

The hugel/waffle combination can be quite small and still provide a significant benefit. Here a small hugel on a slope is planted with Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens). Note that this plant is generally considered a weed for it’s prolific seed production but is also a good drought proof pollination plant. The trenched waffle bed upslope is planted with onion sets, and the small, deep waffles below are planted with tomatoes. Both sides benefit from the hugel providing water diversion and storage and wind protection.

hugel waffle

Here a small hugel planted with chives borders a waffle planted with greens: kale, Australian yellow lettuce, spinach, and lettuce var. Pablo.

small hugel waffle chives kaleFor those of us with poor soil in an arid climate, just a little digging can make a big difference.

Garden 2018 – The Seed Order

It’s minus four degrees F in the garden today, the high temperature at noon was five above. I worry about the bees in their wooden boxes, the shallow roots of the strawberries under their blanket of snow, and the kinglets huddled together at the very top of the spruce tree singing like tiny tea kettles in the still air. Meanwhile, the gardener sits all snug in the Morris chair by the wood stove and plots next summer’s garden, row by row.

This is our seed order from Fedco, Maine’s premiere garden co-op, for summer 2018:

204A – Provider Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
230A – Jade Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70

We ordered more green beans this year and are committed to irrigating them for a better crop through the drought months of July and August. My general rule is to build in drought proofing, rather than add water, but we’re going to make an exception for this crop in 2018 and see what happens. Enough surplus to freeze, dry, and pickle green beans over what we eat for meals will be proof to go forward.

658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
1382A – Super Zagross Beit Alpha Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
1606A – Sweet REBA OG Acorn Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
1633A – Eastern Rise Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
2058A – Red Cored Chantenay Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2063A – Yellowstone Carrots ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

More carrot varieties, and more root crops overall, reflect 2017’s success with building waffle beds – beds that are recessed below the general garden soil level. We added more compost and soil amendments into these very discreet areas and they were sustainable with very little rainfall, resulting in much better crops.

2121A – Red Ace OG Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2485A – Rossa Lunga di Tropea Red Onions ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2510A – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2539B – Oceanside Spinach ( B=1/2oz ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
2766A – Australian Yellow OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2905A – Cardinale OG Batavian Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.10 = $2.10
2984A – Freedom Lettuce Gene-Pool OG Lettuce Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
3020A – Astro OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3063A – Très Fine Maraîchère Olesh OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3075A – Speckled Friz Chickendiva OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3216A – Lady Murasaki Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3217A – Garnet Giant Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3309A – Green Super Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3322A – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3327A – Piracicaba Non-Heading Broccoli ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3334A – Hestia Brussels Sprouts ( A=0.25g ) 1 x $3.00 = $3.00
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3459A – Darkibor Kale ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3834A – Early Jalapeño Hot Peppers ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4031A – Aosta Valley OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
4225A – Mountain Magic Tomatoes ( A=10 seeds ) 1 x $3.90 = $3.90

2017 was the year of fifty-five tomato plants. I hadn’t really planned to do that but it was a glorious harvest of sauce, paste, chutney, jam, and fragrant piles of fruit dried in the wood fired oven. I imagine I will have enough tomato “product” to last well into 2018 so I’m not looking for that result again right away. One package each of two varieties, Aosta and Mountain Magic, should provide a dependable, tasty, and not overwhelming crop in 2018.

4418A – Genovese Basil Basil ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4518A – Santo OG Cilantro ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4899A – Blazing Stars Blazing Stars ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5035A – Sensation Mix Cosmos Cosmos ( A=1.4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411A – Gentian Sage Salvias ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
5423A – Northern Sea Oats OG Northern Sea Oats ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5620A – Black Knight Sweet Peas ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5731A – State Fair Mix Zinnias ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

Subtotal: = $85.40

This is my inspiration for still life painting from the garden next year – look at the Sea Oats!

Jan Davidsz de Heem

Waffle Beds, Part IV, August

Every summer I look out the front door in amazement at the sheer amount of green in the yard. It happens fast, growing from tiny sprouts in the cold, hard ground of March into mountains of thick stems and new fruit in  July, fast forward through August’s drought into September’s harvest and back to ground level in November, under a blanket of snow. This year I have a new element in “waffle beds”; depressions dug below ground level to increase drought tolerance. I began making raised beds into recessed “waffles” back in April but the technique has really proven itself during the last three weeks of searing heat and zero rainfall. Here is the waffle structure near the front of the house, photos taken once a month from May through mid-August:

Waffle bed tomatoes 1 Tomato seedlings waffle

Tomatoes July Maine

August tomatoes

We’ve had some precipitation this month but it has come as sudden downpours of heavy rain over a short period. My raised beds never absorbed much water because the deluge simply rolled off the dry, caked soil on top – although the recessed paths on the sides (where all the moisture ended up) generally looked great after a storm. This year, no matter how hard and suddenly it came down, rain pooled at the bottom of the depression where it would do the most good. After a week of sun and August heat the bottom of each waffle, shaded by plant foliage or mulch,  is still moist and friable.

Waffle cabbage bed

Pepper waffle

I have begun transitioning the entire garden over to recessed beds, mostly waffles but with an experiment in “swale” gardening on a south-facing slope (to be explored in a different post!). There are a few places where I’ve dug to a depth of 18″ and found ledge – very common in Downeast Maine. I’m using the same process of adding good soil to the bottom of the waffle, but will track these particular beds and see if drainage becomes an issue. I’ve also made a note not to plant root vegetables in these locations just yet! It may be that I eventually build higher walls around the ledge-prone areas to provide extra depth without digging, but soil is at a premium in this garden and the experiment will have to wait for now.

New waffle