by Learning Leads – Caden Hebb & Lily Barraclough

When we last touched base, we had a raised bed layered inside with newspaper, grass clippings, manure, soil and sticks. This constitutes a “hügelkultur”; a self-fertilizing mound of organic matter on which plants grow. Organic matter can include grass, sticks, manure, soil, coffee grounds, spent tea leaves and compost. As vegetarians and lovers of local produce, we had a hard time narrowing down which vegetables we wanted to try growing in our hügelkultur. There are many considerations to make including ensuring the chosen species are compatible with the soil’s pH and texture, the amount of sun/shade your bed will receive, water requirements, temperature range, root depth, compatibility with adjacent species, need for physical stem supports and seasonal planting schedule. As we were planting later than most of our neighbours we decided to utilize a combination of spring seedlings and late spring/summer crops.

Newly-planted bush beans emerging from the soil. Photo taken by Caden Hebb.

In our first blog, we mentioned picking up soil from the long-standing local business Halifax Seed. We returned there for the majority of our seeds, with the remaining ones being seeds we already had at home from previous years or from kitchen scraps. We also purchased a heirloom tomato plant there for our balcony. We had some second generation seeds from bush bean plants that we had grown last season in our family’s garden, and we were excited to be able to plant them successfully this year through seed saving! Seed saving is the process of harvesting and drying seeds from harvest to re-use in subsequent seasons and is often crucial in the preservation of heirloom species and plant biodiversity. We started the bush beans in the bottom half of an egg carton, as it can be planted directly into the garden and the carton will decompose.

We had previously started bush beans, as well as bell pepper seedlings from kitchen scraps indoors and thought that we could just put them outside and they’d keep on living. Although some survived, a few died and they all looked worse for wear. This is how we discovered the concept of “hardening off”, or getting indoor plants acclimated to the outdoors over time. If you expose them to different light and temperature conditions suddenly, they will likely suffer. There are many sources available online that will walk new gardeners step-by-step through the process of hardening off your seedlings. This is a very important step, especially since you are putting your time and energy into your crops.

A local non-profit organization, Veith House, was having a fundraiser by selling seedlings and so for some vegetables we chose that route as it was too late in the season to start them from seed and we wanted to support a fundraiser for a vibrant and vital community organization. Veith House is located in the North End of Halifax and provides services to the surrounding community like youth programs, a green house and urban farm, fitness and wellness programming, leadership training, and legal services free of charge! We purchased joi choi, sweet peppers, green zucchini, yellow zucchini, Asian eggplant, Italian eggplant, cucumbers, and two kinds of cauliflower as seedlings from this fundraiser. From our own seeds we grew bush beans, green onion, spinach, kale, and bell peppers. The seeds we purchased for this occasion included nappa and purple cabbage, purple and green Pok Choy, snow peas and Wok Broc.

Our dog Anna with our seedlings and tomato plant. Photo taken by Caden Hebb.

We checked online and on the seed packaging for each species to make sure they would survive in our climate and would be compatible to grow alongside each other. Luckily, many of the seeds available to purchase locally were late spring and summer crops, and several of them could be sowed over and over again throughout the summer for a continuous supply of veggies. It didn’t prove to be an issue for us this year, but when growing root vegetables on a hügelkultur, it’s best to plant those along the edges and not on the mound. If they’re planted on top of the mound, the roots will become entangled with the sticks making them difficult to harvest. 

We decided to plant our snow peas in a row along one of the 4’ edges of the bed. Snow peas need some sort of structure to climb, and they aren’t too picky. In our own neighbourhood we have seen fences, sign posts, old rakes and even an accordion-style clothes rack being used! We opted for a $4 willow wood lattice from Dollarama, but almost anything will do. Caden used repurposed twist ties from produce to affix the climbing vines to the lattice. The peas also climbed our zucchini plants in places, and in turn our zucchini plants (and cucumber plants) climbed nearly everything in sight.  We found cucumbers hanging off of our nearby fence, from vines crawling through our yard and lying under our cauliflower plants several feet away from the parent plant. We weren’t prepared for how large our zucchini and cucumber plants would get. Given the shape and size of our hügelkultur it was a bit of a guessing game in terms of where would be best to plant everything since most garden suggestions refer to a typical flat garden bed. Hence, it was a bit like spinning the wheel of fortune because we didn’t quite know what would happen in the places we planted seedlings or seeds!

Tune in to our next blog to follow along with our biggest gardening challenge yet – earwigs!

Lily planting our seedlings purchased through the Veith House fundraiser. Photo taken by Caden Hebb.
Photo of Caden and Lily from Powershift, photo taken by Louis Sobol

Thanks for reading our journey. Our names are Caden and Lily. We live in Kjipuktuk/Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq with our dog Anna and horse Alamar. We are both graduates of environmental programs from universities here in Halifax, and Lily is a Master’s student studying how politically-active youth experience climate grief. We are dedicated to acting upon and pushing for transformative change towards a more equitable, just, and sustainable society, and we try to do that out in the world as activists, and in our own lives through things like gardening, zero waste living, being vegetarian, and using more environmental forms of transportation.

We are lucky to be able to tackle all problems as a team, and we can’t wait to find innovative and creative ways to deal with our hügelkultur problems!