Late in 2009 we cut down a dozen spruce trees and a lot of scrub in the front yard. Over the course of just a few days we went from a dark, 40′ tall forest screen to a flat front yard in full sun, dotted with huge stumps and torn wild raspberry bushes. There isn’t much soil here and dirt is expensive to truck in, so we made set out new garden beds with seaweed gathered from a local beach, 3 yards of biocompost, and a lot of cardboard and small deadwood in our first attempts at hugel-kultur. This photo was taken in early June 2010. The spruce tree stumps are clearly visible, as are all the rocks that were too big for me to collect in a wheelbarrow. The boulder at top left looked even bigger after we took down all those trees.
That year I started to read about “macro-culture”, sheet mulching and the practice of planting the entire garden to a purpose – including the paths and surrounding areas, not simply the beds. Over time the sheer plant density builds soil, holds moisture and insect life, and provides shelter for root systems. It is a popular system for marginal soils in desert areas and eroded hillsides, and I thought it might be helpful on our mix of never-cultivated rocks and clay. I stood in the same spot to take this photo yesterday and I think the idea might be working. . .