Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vertical Hugelkultur eliminates wilt

Vertical hugelkultur helps or eliminates wilting!

This has been a very exciting observation for me.

Here's the background:

I plant about 6 container tubs every year with eggplants and peppers.  Every year I try some different potting mix or technique to see what will work best.  This year after preparing the garden beds in the ground with hugelkultur, I thought why not, lets try it in the containers too.

In 2 containers, I layered up branches horizontally. But in 1 container, on a total lark, I just put in a big stump.  The potting soil used as just last year's mix, basically compost.

Eggplants were planted in the vertical "stumppot" and in one of the horizontal "branchpots".
(Peppers went into the other "branchpot").

These were planted with store bought seedlings in mid-April when the weather was still mild.
The stump was so high I had to place the eggplant seedlings directly on the stump and then put soil around it.

 The eggplant stumppot is front center.  The eggplant branchpot is front right.

Notice on this hot day, mid-May the stumppot eggplants are quite perky. They've never wilted, not ever.

Notice the branchpot eggplants, same day, same time. They drooped and wilted in the sun and heat.

Fast forward to July 10, 2012. Both eggplant pots are doing well and neither now wilts on hot days (95 degrees on this deck). I had to shade the entire settup for about a month after planting on hot days to prevent the wilting plants from being burned. This unnecessarily held back the stumppot eggplant, so I would expect it to be bigger if it hadn't been shaded.  It took about 2+ months before the branchpot eggplant stopped wilting on hot days.  (All the peppers still wilt on hot days, but that's another post and quite interesting.)

The natural conclusion from this is that the roots spread out along the stump and are able to suck up a lot of water when they need it. AND the stump wicks away excess water so there is enough aeration.

Wood only wicks with the grain.  You can test this yourself by putting a branch or 2x4 in a tub with 1" of water.  It won't wick up at all if layed horizontally.  But vertically with the grain it will wick up about 2" high.

Unexpectedly, I observed this in my ground garden also.  In addition to the 3 hugelkultur beds, I made three small 1.5' diameter planting holes that I put logs in.  For 2 of the "hugelholes" I layered horizontal branches again.  In the last hole, I was very tired and just threw a stump into it vertically and covered it up.  The hole was about 1 to 1.5' deep. The stump was about 6-8" high and had about 6" of dirt on top of it. The hole was level to the ground after finishing.  I planted cucumber seeds there.
And these cucumbers never wilted!  (As long as it was kept watered). Yet the other cukes and squash in hugelbeds/holes or in just regular ground do wilt.  

Here's the cukes in the "stumphole" on hot June 20th.  Seeds planted around mid to late April.
These cukes don't wilt.  Notice also the yellow-tinted leaves, indicating nitrogen lack.

Here are some wilting cukes on June 20th, planted at the same time.  Notice how they are much smaller also, since they don't photosynthesize when wilting.

Here's the non-wilting, stumphole cukes today, doing nicely. A fair amount of liquid organic fertilizer had been added to green-up the leaves.

Please post some comments here if you've tried or seen something similar. Seeing this result is my reason for starting this blog and I'd like to learn as much about it to help out my own "low-cost garden".

Happy gardening!


  1. Hi GS;

    I have few questions if you don't mind...

    1.What zone are you in?

    2.Looking at your tubs, I see one inside another. Is that to create a water reservoir? And how large are they? (excuse my ignorance, I have no experience in growing this way)

    3.How often do you water your in-ground plants (just referring to your statement above:"And these cucumbers never wilted! (As long as it was kept watered). Yet the other cukes and squash in hugelbeds/holes or in just regular ground do wilt." - were they watered at the same time, same amount?

    4.Since you find out that vertical stumps wick better, would you think that hugelcultur beds would be even better with logs put in vertically -when possible- rather than horizontally? If so, would the lenght of the stumps matter?

    Your garden looks very good to me, and I like idea of low maintenance...Thank you for taking time to answer. RA

  2. Hi RA,

    No problem answering questions, I learned a lot from boards & other sites, willing to return the favor.

    1. Zone 9

    2. No water reservoir, it is simply to drain away excess water off the deck. I have a wooden deck and don't want it to rot. The tubs are 18 gallons purchased from Home Depot.

    3. Water in-ground about 3 times a week with a drip system and then about once a week I go around and water with a hose on the shower setting. Each dripper only wets the soil about 4" away from the dripper. Which isn't enough. The plants really want to extend their roots more than 4" in radius and get stressed if they can't because of poor water coverage. So I need to hose water where the drip system doesn't reach.

    All the cukes were watered the same. The cukes/squash in horizontal hugelbeds would wilt on hot days even if the soil is wet. The vertical hugelbed plants don't wilt.

    4. Absolutely. This fall I plant to dig up the rest of my garden and make it into vertical hugelkultur beds (and maybe add woodchips also).
    About the length of a stump, well wood stumps wick UP about 2" reliably. So at a minimum I'd say at least 2"! But I'm sure stumps wick down a lot more. Also the more roots can to into a stump's cracks and rotten parts the better.
    No real answer, but I'm planning on at least 6" stumps and practically speaking no more than 18".


    1. Thank you, GS.

      I asked about the lenght of the stumps because I read your other post about watering the soil blocks. I think in the ground may not matter that much only because there would be some much more of stumps & other "filler"/ingredients - I mean soil, wood chips etc. Am I on the right track?

  3. Should be the right track, just lots of wood in the hole. I'm just going to make sure under each plant some of the wood is a vertical stump, so their roots can form a mass over the top of it.

  4. Looks great, thanks for sharing! I did the same with my raised beds. I am planning some additional hugelkulture beds (albeit horizontal) where a few long ditches lay open in my yard where the shed once stood.

    Just a note for others: be careful with the wood you place in the hole! If it is not old enough or if it is the wrong type of tree, it might start to grow!

  5. Great !
    Question: Will it help some if the Vertical Stumps were soaked in your Liquid Organic Fertilizer
    or some of it put below the stump, to help prvent yellowing.

  6. Well the stumps are buried completely in the ground. Adding any fertilizer before burying would help, although I did not do that. Any liquid fertilizer under the stump, might just get washed away before a plant's roots would get to it.

  7. Just came across your blog. Fascinating subject. How deep do you normally put the stump in the ground and how many inches between it and the transplant? I need to go find me some stumps..

  8. Yes they do seem to help. Just found out though that there is more going on. See a new post, Squash Dig, where I dug up a squash plant that was doing well to see why, saw some fascinating root growth.

  9. Will pin you right away. I'm experimenting with hugeling combined with cold compost additional to the regular compost myself. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  10. I'm curious if you have any updates or pearls of wisdom now that you've been doing this for a while?

    Thank You

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