Garden Building Begins: Hugelkultur new for site

It has been almost a month since I arrived in Harrisonburg to work with New Community Project and happily no day has felt like it has blended into the next. NCP’s Sustainable Living site is a place that always seems to be changing and growing, with people walking through to stop and say hey, to see what’s going on, or to volunteer. My role here for the year is to help coordinate the Muddy Bike Garden Project, but it is also so much more. While the site is serving as an example of how to live with less of an impact on the earth and learning to mimic natural ecosystems in the creation of living spaces, it is also about creating a resilient, healthy, and supportive culture where conditions are created that encourage the expansion of people’s abilities to love, give, and care for one another. The market garden helps to employ several people in the area, who otherwise can not find work. For example, Melissa and Hilda who work in the garden, have struggled with homelessness and now have become strong advocates for each other.  The garden tries to create a situation in which those who we are helping feel empowered to help others. To me, I see this site as really trying to show individuals that another more fulfilling way of life is available. However, it takes surrendering to the unknown and trusting one another. Changing one’s perspective of scarcity to one of abundance.

In the beginning of January we experienced several nice clear sunny days in the 40’s as well as a beyond balmy weekend in the 70’s. Taking this weather to our advantage, Chelsea, Tom, Sophie and I got started in marking out the placement of the new garden beds. Learning to make an A frame on my first day and putting it to use in measuring the contour of the land on day two, it was easy to feel the excitement in the coming transformation of the land. With the amazing help from a Bridgewater fraternity, two Bridgewater classes, and the Shenandoah Valley Crop Mob, we now have two 45 foot long hugelkultur beds. Hugel…. what? you may be asking.

Hugelkultur is an Austrian term that refers to raised beds layered with lots of organic matter, particularly tree stumps and branches. The Valley Crop Mob was there to break the ground in digging one foot deep trenches, in which our big brush pile was conveniently thrown in and spread out. Next, leaves were piled upon and in between the brush, then a generous layer of on- site compost, followed by topsoil, cardboard, and straw. While manually intensive to create, we are expecting these beds to provide many benefits for at least the next ten years.These living compost piles should retain moisture much more than a conventional tilled row. The conditions should favor for more soil aeration as well pockets for water to penetrate. The organic matter will slowly break down over the years, releasing nutrients in the soil.

   The end of the month brought windy, cloudy, bitter cold days in the 20’s! While hugelkultur building has been put to a hold, there is still plenty to do with garden planning. Sophie, Tom and I have met with a few local restaurants and have collected what these restaurants are interested in having for the spring and summer of 2013. So far it has been surprising to see how flexible and understanding produce managers have been with us, turning the question around to, “Well, what would you like to provide?”

Melissa, Hilda and I spent a day going through 4 big containers of donated and saved seed, recording what we have, giving us more of an idea of what seeds we will order in February. In February we plan to build our hoophouse as well as begin to create our garden map and planting schedule.  Stay posted for the new encounters I may have and the growth of our site.

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