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An old gardening practice acquires new life

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017


by Elizabeth Trail


Dense forests of bright green parsley. Waist-high kale, green-black and curly. Vegetables growing in profusion in soil so rich and light that a hand thrust among their roots travels downward a foot or more before reaching any impediment.

It’s the impediment, the thing that finally stops the hand, that’s the surprise — logs and branches, layered one on top of the other in a loose mass. Topped with organic waste and then soil, it’s all decomposing slowly under the surface, providing an almost endless source of nutrients for the roots above.

The practice is called hügelkultur, an old German invention that’s seeing a resurgence in popularity in this country. “Hügel” is the German word for “hill,” since the logs and brush and dirt are usually piled up to form a mound.

On Saturday afternoon, two of the area’s garden experts, Rebecca Beidler and Jeff Ellis of Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, held a workshop to teach one variation on the hügelkultur idea — hügel terracing.

The couple farms a steep hillside, so terraces are a logical adaptation.

Their soil is sand with some gravel mixed in, left by a major road washout 50-some-odd years ago.

“On its own, it barely grows grass,” Mr. Ellis said.

But thanks to hügelkultur and other practices collectively known as permaculture, the couple has turned wasteland into a thriving small farm.

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