Tag Archives: landscape

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.

New work

I had to do errands Downeast this fall and made time to stake out a painting spot on the wharf in Corea. The tide here runs 10′ or more, so timing my visits for the same time of day (for the light) and tide was complicated but worth every minute staring at the fine print in the almanac. I hope to get here when there’s snow on the ground some day.

Maine wharf Corea

Corea Wharf, Low Tide, 24 x 36, oil on panel

New work – Low Tide, Seawall

I need to do a follow up post on waffle beds in the garden, possibly another on the new hive of bees, and I still haven’t planted out the spinach. On the other hand, my studio time has been very productive (and the spinach seeds can wait another few days).

Seawall Acadia National Park

Seawall, Low Tide Afternoon, 24 x 36 oil on panel

Garden Waffles, part one

The title of this post drew you right in, didn’t it? My apologies. This isn’t a post about delicious breakfast treats served with maple syrup, it’s even better than that. This is a revolution in gardening technique and it begins with a rebellion against the most popular home gardening trope of the century – raised beds.

There are various theories on the origin of the raised bed in the American landscape, but most point to a series of very popular television shows that promoted them for their orderly appearance and ease of management. Digging over rectangular coffin-sized sections of the garden and segregating them into different plant varieties has advantages, but most of these examples were produced under ideal conditions with superior soil and abundant irrigation. Those of us with very little or very poor soil and irregular rainfall had less favorable results. In the long haul, root action forces salts to the elevated surface and the resulting crust sheds water down the sides of the bed. I don’t water or irrigate and rainfall is rarely gentle or consistent enough to work through the top layers – especially when it breaks a drought and the soil is very dry.

In this sense, it’s very much like I’m gardening in a desert – a desert of my own making! Waffle beds have been used for centuries in gardens all over the world to address just this problem. Instead of building up, and exposing more soil to air and sun (good for plants and bad for dirt) the waffle bed sinks the level of productive soil below a surrounding dike of poor soil, conserving water and nutrients as well as providing a wind break.

I’m planning on spending the day building my first waffles (well, after the dump run, visiting with my mother, getting the groceries in. . .) and will post Part Two of this saga shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a drawing from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, courtesy of Amarillo Tableland, who posted this in 2011 and has an excellent series on seasonal results.

Waffle bed

From Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands

 

New work: Little White Town

On day last October I meandered down the coast and finally settled on a view across the harbor to the Town of Stonington in the late day sun. It was cool and clear and I managed to dodge the group of photographers with HUGE lenses who were also hunting for the perfect light; that trophy view of little white structures gamely climbing the hill above the ocean.

Many thanks to the Stonington Free Library for providing shelter and a place to check my email. The librarian was endlessly patient with folks who couldn’t remember the last name of the author (Wilder) or the title of that series about Merlin (which turned out to be the Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart). It was a wonderful day.

Stonington Maine

Little White Town I, Stonington, 18″ x 36″, oil on panel

New work

I spent a lovely week on Great Spruce Head Island a few years back and have sketchbooks, drawings, and photos that I’ve been working on ever since. The color swatches alone are enough to bring up detailed memories of the morning light on Penobscot Bay and thunderstorms on hot afternoons under the spruce trees. This is a study of the rock that ends Double Beaches like a punctuation mark, 12 x 16, oil on panel:

Double Beaches, GSHI

New work from the Blagden Preserve

This site has been very, very good to me. . .something about the stacked layers of rocks and water going straight out to the horizon that is visually compelling. Right now in late June and just past the longest day it’s like a desert down there on the rocks, but I took a long hike along the shore on Mother’s Day when the snow still extended down to the water’s edge and made the start to this painting.

Blagden Preserve, Snow 1

By popular request, here are some details. . . the far reaches are under water at high tide and are covered in rockweed and barnacles, turning them a lovely warm sepia color even in the dead of winter.

Blagden Preserve, Snow detail 1

Detail of the rotten snow along the tide line:

Blagden Preserve, Snow detail 3

 

And finally, the drawing stage from the site. This is Ivory Black oil on a tinted board.

Blagden Preserve, Drawing detail

On (and off) the easel

Two weeks ago I posted a  new work-in-progress and then the site went down for a few days and I never posted the finished piece. Here it is with additional detail and the final glaze in Ivory Black.

Acadia Snow finalIf I’d given more thought to the process of changing from pastels to oils after all this time I would have started with studies – small pieces with discrete subject matter as exercises – rather than full on painting subjects. This is the first drawing, in brush and ivory black, for a series of still life studies featuring grapes and the occasional red plum. I think they will be very educational.

grape study drawing

 

 

Work in progress

I had a week off in June and decided to make the switch from pastels to oil paints. It has been a steep learning curve, no matter that I painted for a decade before we had a baby and I decided to use a less toxic medium.

Snow CliffI’m working from sketches and photos from last winter of this site in Acadia National Park, 18″ x 24″, oil on board.