Hugelkultur: How to Build Rich Soil Using ALL Your Yard Waste

September 2nd, 2014

raised garden bed hugelkultur after one month, a realistic rendering


I garden and farm (really market garden) in 3 locations.  My yard is about 1 acre of gardens and several acres of woods that I manage for cord wood and to support wildlife.  Problem: I have too many limbs and softwood thinnings and I need a good way to recycle this organic material. 

Six years ago I started Farm at South Village, a small CSA on 4 acres of heavy clay soil with 70 members.  Problem: we need to expand the farmable area for pick-your-own berries and fruits but the available land is poorly drained clay. 

Eight years ago I started Tierra Pacific Organic Farm in Costa Rica.  Problem: The soil is very depleted due to years of chemical use and compaction from cattle and it’s tough to add and retain sufficient organic matter in the intense tropical climate (heat, wind, wet/dry weather).

My solution: hugelkultur; pronounced hoo-gul-culture, means hill culture or mound culture.  It’s a way to make very productive raised growing beds by recycling organic waste.  Hugelkultur accelerates the process forests use to break down organic matter and build topsoil using large raised beds with pieces of waste wood forming the base. Then layered on top is composting materials rich in nitrogen (manure, green matter, food waste) and carbon (leaves, dry cuttings).  The beds are topped with cardboard, topsoil, mulch, etc.

The benefits of hugelkultur beds are many:

·         Maximizes water retention and keeps moisture on site. The logs and branches act like a sponge. Rainwater is absorbed and then released during drier times.  Often, you never need to water your new raised bed after the first year.

·         Builds long-term soil fertility as the gradual decay of the wood can supply nutrients for decades. Decomposing wood attracts beneficial fungi and soil life increasing plant resistance to pests and disease.

·         Improves drainage for problem soils by shedding water off the growing beds and improving soil tilth. 

·         Aerates naturally (no tilling needed) because air pockets are formed as wood rots and shrinks creating space for the roots and habitat for soil life.

·         Restores poor soil and problem areas (depleted soil, compacted soil, poorly drained soil).

·         Produces heat with the gradual wood decomposition thus extending the growing season (good in VT).

·         Maintains cool, moist soil in hot areas to extend growing season (good in Costa Rica).

·         Recycles rotting wood, twigs, branches, and logs that are unsuitable for other uses rather than burning or landfilling them.

·         And perhaps most important of all for our future, sequesters carbon in the soil rather than releasing more into the atmosphere. 

I have tested hugelkultur beds at home and in Costa Rica with good results.  This Dec-March we will install a new 1 acre fruit and perennial plant educational garden behind our commercial center.  And we are planning the same thing next spring to expand the Farm at South Village pick-your-own garden.

Why not begin testing how a hugelkultur raised bed can solve gardening and waste recycling problems for you?  Here are some additional resources to guide you:


Help Your Garden Help Others: Donate Excess Produce Locally, with

July 29th, 2014

Backyard gardeners can help change this shocking number – click image for a running tab of the pounds of food wasted in the U.S. since the beginning of 2014.

How is it that one of out of every six Americans experience food insecurity when there is more than an adequate supply of food potentially available? A broken food system is big part of this issue and one of the many reasons I started the Intervale Center 30 years ago (more on that below.) 

According to both the National Resource Defense Council and the US Department of Agriculture, we throw away a pound of food per person per day in this country, or well over 100 billion pounds of food per year. Some estimate this to be more than enough to totally eliminate hunger in America. You can view a thought provoking image that gives a running tab on the 40% of food wasted since the beginning of 2014.  

Not included in these statistics is the volume of home-grown produce discarded by us, the more than 40 million gardeners across the U.S. Why do we it? Sometimes our plants produce far more fruits and vegetables than we could possibly use, preserve or give away. It is not uncommon for tomato plants to bear 20 to 40 or more fruit each, more than we can use. Many other crops, such as peppers, cucumbers, squash, citrus, apples and peaches, also produce abundant harvest.

And our neighbors and friends can only use so much. Until recently, it's been difficult to find food shelves that would accept fresh harvests due to space and refrigeration issues. But now, thanks to Gary Oppenheimer of, you can harvest your excess and get it into the hands of hungry children and adults who need it. 

The web site is free and easy to use. Enter your address or zip code, and generates a list of registered food pantries in your community. You’ll get an address and phone number, and often directions and additional information about what produce is most beneficial or when it can be accepted.

In just five years, has connected more than 40,000 backyard gardeners to their local food pantries. As a result, more than 21 million pounds of excess produce have been diverted from the compost pile—an amount of food that would fill 76 Olympic-size swimming pools!

I hope you’ll take a moment to visit and learn instantly how you can donate your excess garden produce to the nearest food pantry. And please share this link on your social media and gardening friends.

As mentioned above, the Intervale Center, is now a national model for creating local food systems and also has a gleaning program that provides 5,000 pounds of food to our local Vermont area.

So gather up your produce, visit and put that delicious, fresh food to work eliminating hunger and improving health in your community.





Gary Oppenheimer, founder of, has helped more than 40 million gardeners connect with their local food pantries to donate extra produce.  Currently, 6,930 food pantries across all 50 states are registered to receive a sustainable and recurring supply of freshly harvested,locally grown food (many for the first time) from area growers and gardeners – for free.

Legalized home marijuana gardening: What’s your opinion?

June 30th, 2014

What is by many accounts the hottest crop in home gardening today?

Hint #1:               It is not tomatoes.

Hint #2:               It is neither flower nor vegetable.  It is an herb.

Hint #3:               It is not a weed, but is often referred to as “weed.”

OK all you baby boomers, if you haven’t gotten it by now, you lose your AARP-BSC card (AARP But Still Cool).  If the marijuana legalization trend continues the hottest home gardening crop in the U.S. (both for indoor cultivation and outdoor growing) may quickly become marijuana.

At last count 22 States and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, with most of those allowing homegrown plants with proper legal approval. Home gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes has been approved in two states – Colorado and Washington, and more are likely.

While there have always been companies selling lots of equipment to help gardeners grow crops “indoors,” not surprisingly this recent legalization has led to an explosion of interest in serving this “growing” market.  But individual views on the medical and recreational legalization of marijuana are still highly divided.  Among the many arguments for and against marijuana legalization, some believe legalized marijuana will provide needed medicine to many and boost tax coffers and the economy overall (as Colorado seems to be proving), while unburdening law enforcement, our court systems and our prisons. Others believe that marijuana is immoral, a danger to users, children and others, and a “gateway” to harder drug use.

But what do home gardeners think about this issue as we are interested in your perspective?  As a company, Gardener’s Supply takes pride in helping our customers become better gardeners and grow their best gardens ever. We help gardeners grow everything from astibles to zinnias, from Roma tomatoes to Jerusalem artichokes.  So, should we help our customers be successful at growing marijuana as we are getting more interest in our Vermont garden centers and from catalog and web customers across the US?  We’d like your opinion.  Would you please take this quick and anonymous survey?

Thank you!

Please also feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.