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video of Vegetable Roots grown in Hugelkultur

Eric Markov

Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9

In my hugelbeds this year I noticed one squash plant was doing much better than all the rest.
So I dug it up to find out why.
Saw some interesting and unexpected results about how roots grow in a hugelbed.
It is going to effect how I design future beds.

Here's a short youtube video about it:

Jeanine Gurley

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1393
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
Eric – thank you so much for taking the time to excavate and film this.

It certainly does look as if the key here is the root’s ease of access down into the soil.

This confirms two things for me.

1. A friend who teaches organic dry farming here preaches that one of the two keys to success is having loose soil so that the roots can reach deep into the soil.
2. Burying wood, for me, is the only way to ensure that my soil stays loose without any tilling.

This year I dug down over a foot in one of my gardens that now has good soil. Even with watering the soil was bone dry.

The garden that had wood buried in it – and had NOT been watered was moist starting at about 4 inches beneath the surface. Even in over 100 degree sunny weather.

Lesson learned for me---bury wood.

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paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17405
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
How long had that wood been buried?

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Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
I caught that last part in your video. I farm with gophers also and use them as a benefit rather then a problem. Interested to hear your view on it.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Diego Footer

Joined: Nov 29, 2011
Posts: 180
Location: San Diego, CA
Jordan Lowery wrote:I caught that last part in your video. I farm with gophers also and use them as a benefit rather then a problem. Interested to hear your view on it.

Care to elaborate

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Eric Markov

Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9

Thanks for mentioning about your soil being wet 4" down with wood. I was disappointed the stump didn't have the effect I had thought, but maybe being a big water reservoir was providing a big benefit.
It smooths out the water content of the soil. Taking away excess when just watered and giving it back when drier.

The wood was buried in March, so not that long. It was all dry, mostly pine. Only a few small branches were rotten.
The bark really made a difference. I didn't bury large pieces of bark that fell off logs before, because it takes forever for bark to decompose.
Now though, I'll make sure I bury all the bark in future hugel beds.


Please tell my your experience with gopher farming!

My mind has been racing just thinking about gophers since this "dig" and how to work with them instead of trying to exterminate them as I have done every year.
Gophers would explain a lot of "anomalies" observed -- why some plant do well, others poorly, even when treated the same.

Here are some random thoughts:
* I have 2 pole bean beds, one does well every year, the other is hit and miss. The one that does well is straight and has a drip line down it. Every year I find gopher tunnels that follow the drip line.
Infuriates me every year, but now maybe it is the reason the beans have done well. In the other circular bed, it did great one year, the year a big gopher hole appear in the middle of it.
Mostly though it has done poorly. I'm planning a bean bed "dig" today to find out.
* gophers in the dry soil, like to dig under drip lines where the soil is wet and soft, maybe I should put the drip lines a little to the side of the vegetable plants, instead of right at their bases.
* vertically bury three or four 1-1.5' branches (with bark on them). Plant a squash, tomato, or cucumber, or other high value vegetable in the middle. The branches will protect the tap root from the gophers and the roots will find the bark and happily grow down the branches. Let the branches stay above the ground a couple inches, to discourage the gopher from coming out of a hole and attacking the plants base.
* Use metal "stakes" made from coathangers. Insert several of them around existing high value plants to discourage gophers from getting to the tap root or base, but allowing them to tunnel next to the plant.
* Gophers "multiply" in early spring. I see many small gopher holes & gopher then. Usually I'd dig beds after this and a lot of the gopher tunnels would then collapse. Maybe I should do any digging before the spring gopher explosion, so I don't disturb the gopher "aeration tunnels".
* I was going to leave a thick wood chip mulch on the ground over winter that would prevent weeds & discourage gophers. Maybe now I'll plant fava beans to give the gophers a winter treat!

My gardening perspective certainly has shifted.

Planning on doing a lot more "root digs" now to investigate more.


Wi Tim

Joined: Aug 13, 2012
Posts: 52
Location: North Idaho, zone 5a
Regarding the gophers - could they get into the hugelkultur bed? If I were to make a regular raised bed, I would definitely put the chicken wire at the bottom. Is it necessary to do that with hugelkultur in the area where there is a lot of gophers? The hugelkultur will be built using mostly branches, not large logs. Thanks!
Devon Olsen

Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 1044
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
VERY interesting dig and video, thank you very much for sacrificing your time and your squash plant to share this knowledge
unfortunately almost all of my logs are horizontal cottonwood logs with bark still on them, vary sizes but mostly large stuff near the bottom, getting progressively smaller towards the top, but now i may have to dig a few spots and put some vertical branches into the bed late this year or something, because that was a very interesting thing to learn
however i have to say that my plants are still doing quite well on my hugelkultur bed

and interesting thing on the gopher holes, i had already accepted them as helpful workers as well as anything else but its definately interesting to htink about the aeroponic environment that must be created in a deep gopher tunnel, i know a lot of technical, machine friendly, hydro and aeroponic growers and i'd be willing to bet that a well developed hugelkultur bed will beat the hell out of an aeroponics system any day of the week

very awesome thread though, thank you

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paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17405
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
I think hugelkutur sings in the third year. Until then, there is gonna be some trouble with nitrogen immobilization and the wood pulling moisture out of the soil. So it makes sense to me that the roots were not keen on the wood just yet.
Max Kennedy

Joined: Feb 16, 2010
Posts: 465
Location: Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada
Always interesting when observations don't match with your hypothesis. In this case would seem that aeration was more important than water wicking in the heavy clay soil. Hard to sacrifice your best but looks like the knowledge gained will stand you in good stead.

It can be done!
David Miller

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 268
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
just my two cents. I have a new hugel bed that I built this spring and planted squash and sweet potatoes in. I have heavy clay with 7.2 ph, and the plants are in hog heaven. I placed the bed to catch all runoff from the garden and this is the best squash I've ever had (growth wise, always bland in my book).
Mark Lipscomb

Joined: Aug 08, 2012
Posts: 51
Location: North Plains, OR

I have a first year Huglekulture bed and I always wondered what it looked like underneath... Very nice video.

And before I discovered permaculture I have been trapping and killing the gophers. Clearly I was doing t wrong!

Thanks for sharing.

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Matthew Fallon

Joined: Jan 07, 2010
Posts: 307
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
David Miller wrote:just my two cents. I have a new hugel bed that I built this spring and planted squash and sweet potatoes in. I have heavy clay with 7.2 ph, and the plants are in hog heaven. I placed the bed to catch all runoff from the garden and this is the best squash I've ever had (growth wise, always bland in my book).

i think it's safe to say that squash seriously love hugel beds. some of mine are also new this year, filled with fresh and old/dried log stumps (firewood length sections,not actual stump).
mine went Crazy too. butternut,crook necks and acorn, oh and a hakaido i think. actually everything i put in them did very well (all but the lemon cukes, not sure whats up with them,maybe the powdery mildew from the squash) best carrots I've ever grown too, the lettuce was also fantastic.

i show the beds i made last year and this spring in this vid. not nearly as polished as Eric's or Pauls.
you can see the way i built them in this album. check others for results.

i just spread 7 yards of chips round all my beds, i am filling in the paths of the hugel beds with it as i obtain loads from my new best friends ,a local father/son tree service that drops off trees for me to slab,and nice clean loads of chips. ,guess they'll be "raised-ground level" beds? i'd framed them with old cedar fencing,some was kinda soft and punky so wasnt expecting it to last much past a season anyway, soon the paths between will be 10"deep woodchips for more water retention.

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David Miller

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 268
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
Mark, cool stuff. Hate to see your grapes suffering, mine have been so hassle free that I've gotten spoiled but they're some seriously old heirloom seeded variety that are pretty immune to everything but birds. Thanks for sharing.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
thank you for your sacrifice, that was very interesting..I especially enjoyed seeing the way you had put the wood inside your beds, as I have done a similar thing here..although most of my logs have gone in sideways..

I also had super large squash where I had only put wood in in June this year...but I didn't dig mine up..they are producing food I need at the moment, tasty squash too


Bloom where you are planted.
Eric Markov

Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9


Enjoyed your video, very nice garden. Best wishes for your garden cooperative, the world needs more of these.

One thought about your grape and kiwi fruit "rot". Don't know if this is true, but read somewhere that if you water your plant leaves in the middle of a hot sunny day, the water will cause mold, fungus,... to start to grow. And then after it dries out, half hour later, the mold,... dies. This helps keep the plants healthy. I do this with my garden plants, mostly to help alleviate wilting on hot days. My plants don't have any mold, fungus,.. but I live in a dry climate.

Todd Parr

Joined: Oct 27, 2011
Posts: 78
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
I really enjoyed this thread.

I wonder what would happen if you drilled a lot of holes down into the top of the log? Possibly they would act as conduits for the roots the way the space between the bark and the wood did.

"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
William Roan

Joined: May 24, 2011
Posts: 40
Hi All
I’ve got my canvas all gessoed up and ready to paint some of my own ideas.
While looking for Eric’s posting of “Root Excavation”, I came across a few postings that I think are related to Eric’s research.
Improving soil
In the past it was suggested to open up clay soil, you could plant root crops like carrots, potatoes, turnips and Daikon. The idea being the plant root would grow down into the soil, the plant would die off and the root allowed to rot. This in turn would open up the soil, with plugs of organic mulch. I tried this system and the results started out promising, but the summer heat came and dried out the clay soil. The clay- cement soil forced the plants to bolt and go to seed and then die off without penetrating the soil to any degree.
So after the rains returned and the soil softened, I made wooden stakes and drove them into the soil to make these vertical plugs. This is a lot of work and would only be practical in well established beds, where you don’t want to do a lot of digging around tree, shrub or flower roots.
Critter control
In Eric’s video, it looks like Hugelkulture might have the benefit of driving gophers away. But Eric tells us it’s more likely the cats, poison and traps that did the trick. Also there is some question as to whether the plant’s roots actively seek out that sweet spot between the inner bark and the wood. Or if by a million to one chance that he planted over the cut branch end and the root made contact only when the root met the wood.
So my thought was, what if you took a post hole digger and dug an 18 inch deep hole, stuffed it with 1-2 inch diameter by 18 inch long branches, back filled with mulch and then planted on top. The smaller branches have more bark surface area then one large stump, filling the same space. If roots are in fact actively searching that sweet spot it would have more choices as to where it grows. But if roots are inactive then the gardener is increasing the likely hood of finding that same sweet spot with the inclusion of many smaller branches.
If the root missed the branch edge, it would still have the benefit of growing in mulch and the protection of the stick bundle.
By having a large bundle of wood surrounding the inner root growth, it would be harder for the gopher to reach the roots. Sort of like a stockade or a vertical timber fortification, surrounding a village.

So with that idea stewing away in my mind, I though why not make the whole garden using this vertical Hugelkulture technology. Using a band saw I cut 8inch long, 1-2 inch diameter branches and stacked them vertically in open topped cardboard boxes. The boxes were located in rolls around my established plantings and then green and brown mulch piled on.
The first benefit I realized was a decrease in vegetable night raids by the local Deer population. I imagine when they stepped on the vertical mulch covered sticks, that their foot slid through and it freaked them out. They still raid the unprotected areas and love my tomatoes plants.
I plan to make more of these boxes to stack around my newly planted fruit trees, but the boxed area will have to be larger then what a deer can lean out and nibble.
I don’t think a gopher is going to be able to dig through that much wood to get to my plant roots.

Todd Parr, I like the idea of opening up the bark on freshly cut green timber that is laid horizontally. I was thinking, take an adz and chop the bark off the top plan of the tree trunk. Thus giving your plant roots a long runway to hit and two directions to follow.
Eric Markov

Joined: Jul 12, 2012
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9

Like your 18" hole idea and am curious about your boxes?

Can you post pictures, they're worth a thousand words and much easier to picture (understand).
Chris Watson

Joined: Sep 08, 2012
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
Judging by the original video, it would seem that the optimal method of hugelkultur would be to bury logs vertically, and use wood with easily-loosened bark (pin oak, hickory, and Norway maple come to mind in my area.) that would seem to give the tap roots the quickest and easiest path.

“Life is entrusted to man as a treasure which must not be squandered, as a talent which must be used well.” ~ St. John Paul II
subject: video of Vegetable Roots grown in Hugelkultur