With warm temperatures returning and spring well on its way, the Master Gardener writers are coming out of their caves to embrace the changes. They write to educate the public about horticulture in a number of ways:

  1. To encourage people to garden.
  2. To build awareness of emerging insects and diseases.
  3. To teach about how plants grow, of their needs and what happens when those needs are not met.
  4. To build community awareness of plants suitable to our growing area.
  5. To help us all understand the value of plants, insects and birds to health and well-being.
  6. To build awareness of how other regions and countries approach horticulture and the environment.

We write from the perspective of our training from University of Minnesota Extension, from our experience from growing plants in this area, from reading, observing and experimenting with plants and trees, from learning about how other countries, regions, and experts approach challenges, and from listening to you in the community.

Our Cenex delivery man was one of those community members who has been trying a centuries-old Eastern European and German gardening technique called “hugelkultur.” The term is German, meaning “hill culture,” another type of raised bed gardening that is part of the permaculture (permanent agriculture) philosophy of gardening. Hugelkultur features techniques that are long term and work with Mother Nature to retain moisture, to reduce fertilizer use, and to build nutrient-rich soil. It is not a quick process and really one of slow composting (10 -20 years!)

Though labor intensive initially, it is quite inexpensive. A mound is built of various natural materials that is three-feet high, four-feet wide, and of any length. A depression or trench can reduce this height and will collect water to speed decomposition. Sod is removed first, and a layer of cardboard follows to reduce weeds and encourage worms. Timbers of fast-decomposing wood are laid next, topped by layers of green and brown materials (e.g., grass clippings and dry leaves). The sod you removed is placed soil-side up before frosting the cake with six inches of weed-free compost or top soil. Form the construction into an inverted V. Covering it with a weed-free barrier and cutting holes for transplants will reduce weeding time and reduce erosion until the roots bind the soil.

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This is not from a university source, so I cannot offer this as a researched and tested process, a but it is interesting to learn what others in our community are experimenting with. A book by James Paris called “Hugelkultur” is available online and an article on Wikipedia also describes the process. We have also featured square-foot, raised bed, and lasagna gardening articles that may have worked for you or may have been busts!

Part of the fun of gardening is trying new plants, landscaping techniques, trees, shrubs, fruits, different mulches, sculptural elements unique to your personality and house style. Growing vegetables has been paramount in many people’s minds during this pandemic year, but many have discovered that a peace of mind can be found as one divorces oneself from computers, noise and mechanization. It allows nature to slow the pace and heal the spirit. And then it fills the belly and that isn’t bad either!

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail beginning April 1. Call (218) 444-7916, and leave your name, number and question.