Large vegetable garden with raised mounds 2014 (1st year, planning)

This year a friend found another friend who had a large field (I’m not allowed to say where…) of more than 5 acres. And since the owner already wants himself to transform one part of the field in a orchard, the idea of adding a vegetable garden pleased him. He wanted to do it sooner or later anyway.
Hence we had free reign to do whatever we wanted, he accepted the idea to make raised mounds wit ha lot of wood underneath which is described in many permaculture guides to improve the soil over many years, since the wood will rot while remaining permanently humid and attracting a lot of insects.
It’s a field in moselle, thus if we want to have a loose soil we are forced to do things like that, else we will always have very hard clay! Or else bring 50 tons of loam, which is not something we want to do…
The field was abandoned for more than 20 years, hence the soil/clay is still very good, but we still have to add a lot of mulch and a lot of organic matter in general (of which a lot of wood) to darken the soil and make it much looser. This year it’s mostly the wood under the mounds and slowly and surely over the following years we’ll use grass cuttings from the rest of the field to add on top of the mounds. Surely also planting other plants, like comfrey to have a lot of leaves rich in minerals to add on the mounds as well.

We discovered the field in november of 2013.
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Between the end of december 2013 and beginning of january 2014 cleared the grass on the area to be terraformed and also trimmed areas of young trees around the field to start collecting some wood. The area, which will be more properly delimited as soon as we have the time, is about 45m long and 35m wide (around 0.4 acres). The mounds are around 35m long and a bit more than 1m wide.
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The trenches of the mounds were dug with a machine, it would have taken way too much time to do all that by hand and we both work fulltime…
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The same day we had already collected enough wood to fill up one trench and cover it again.
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But we thought we had more wood than that, we underestimated the amount of wood that would be necessary for one trench!

During the whole month of January we collected dead wood in the forest around the field to have enough to fill up all the trenches. Thankfully we had a very favorable location with everything needed just next to the field, hauling more than a thousand of dead tree trunks just over a couple hundreds of meters by hand is already very exhausting!
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2014.01.31: The trenches were filled and the tree trunks cut to better fill/fit in the trenches.
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Again thanks to my friend we got a lot of wild growing Mirabelle plum and plum for free, so we also planted those around the field.
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2014.03.18: The mounds were covered once again with the machine around mid-march.
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2014.04.16: we planted around 800 seed potatoes in one mound.
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2014.05.06: little by little we plow/harrow/bine the mounds by hand to give them a more practical shape. The potatoes are starting to come out, but it will be much more visible in 2-3 weeks. We planted very deep (15-20cm) to not have to mound the potatoes, but they also take more time to come out. Also, since we didn’t yet have the time to cover the mounds with straw/grass etc. it’s best like that, because with the weather we had (dry and hot since the beginning of march), it is best for the potatoes to be very deep where it is always moist (thanks to the soaked wood underneath as well), the naked soil dries very quickly… And here as well, we don’t want to use our time to go there and watch the garden everyday, water etc. It has to grow well without our intervention! We want a big and lazy vegetable garden!
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2014.05.07: To this day, we planted the mound with potatoes, also some peas (on 3-4m of another mounds) and a couple onions on the border of the mound with potatoes.
We have to cover the mounds with straw/grass to be able to sow plants and vegetable that are a bit more fragile..

2014.05.17: The potatoes are starting to show quite nicely (red) and the small part of peas as well (yellow). We’ve just mulched with straw a good chunk of the mounds, but once again, we underestimated the amount of straw that would be necessary!
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General view, the fence has been set up.
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The first mound of potatoes is growing well.
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A second mound of potatoes has been planted.
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We planted around 25 tomato plants in this mound, we’ll let them creep and grow as they wish without support. There are two varieties (out of 6 I think) that should be well adapted and robust in our climate.
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Some of the peas are not growing well, because they are a climbing variety and they have no support to climb onto.
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2 plants of pickles and two squash if I’m right.
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A general view, we sowed bush beans and bush peas in the first two mounds on the left and between the potatoes of the first mound on the far right.
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It has been more than a month that it has almost nor rained, a couple of millimeters for 1-2 days, the rest of the time was quite sunny at 15-25°C. It’s the first year, the mounds are not ready yet to bear such a lack of water, they remain humid, but not enough yet, there isn’t enough mulch on them yet.
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2 squash plants simply killed their own fruits to take back the water it seems… Now we’re just waiting for the peas and beans sowed last week to sprout, being quite robust plants, no matter the climate they should be able to produce something and in all cases they’ll aid in fixing nitrogen in the soil and will simply provide us with more mulch.
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The peas are ripe.. They didn’t grow much, also because it’s a climbign variety and without support it just vegetates (we had nothing else to sow). Now they are at least slightly mulched with grass cuttings from around the enclosure.
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Tomatoes seem to not been doing too bad, but they are still showing signs of lack of water.
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This potatoes mound is now more or less mulched with grass cuttings from around the enclosure as well, but it’s not enough.. We don’t have the time to cut more grass for the moment. We hope it will rain a bit, the potato plants really suffered from the too sunny weather. But they are holding on, so if it rains soon it should be ok.
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This mound, that was mulched with the grass we cut when preparing the space in winter is the one that is holding on best, rightly so, it’s the one that has the most mulch on it! The potatoes and beans growing in that one seem to be doing quite well with the weather we’ve had these last two months compared to the other mounds.
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A small tour of the tomatoes that are growing very well, the soil is well balanced, compared to the tomatoes I grew at home which became ill, here there are no visible problems. It was a bit cold and rained during 1-2 weeks.. The observable lack of water in the first weeks is not a problem anymore.

The beans (non-climbing) are growing well.

Same for the peas.

The squashes and zucchinis are well set again, after the hard beginning! Mound 1.

We removed the peas that were dying/vegetating to try beans, but it’s still too dry.. Not enough mulch or surface cover for the moment. Mound 2.

Mound 3, tomatoes

Mound 4, the potatoes really suffered, as expected; there wasn’t enough surface cover and the bottom of the mound is not packed enough yet, thus too much dry weather, the potatoes suffered even though they held hold.

Mound 5, beans, potatoes, peas, it’s a bit of a random melting pot.

Mound 4, the back-side, the potatoes were planted here later than the ones at the frotn of the mound, these ones didn’t have to endure the excessive dryness, it shows! We can clearly see the difference between the ones planted after and before, many of the ones that had to endure the dry period are quite dead!

Back of mound 5.

Yellow pear tomatoes, that grow very well, it’s good to note, like in my garden, this variety as an impressive growth rate!

Small harvest.

General view.

Mound 1

Mound 2

Mound 3

Mound 4

Mound 5

We haven’t got much to do apart from waiting to harvest. We planted strawberries around the fence perimeter, we’ll continue that slowly but surely to have a hedgerow all around the garden.

I went on holiday for a month, I didn’t follow anything that was happening here. My friend told me he had fun with the harvests, he came 3-4 times while I wasn’t there to harves, tomatoes, pickles, beans, peas, potatoes. There were plenty of harvests, just no photos..

I sowed squashes before leaving, but as for my vegetable garden, I sowed about a month too late, you can see the flowers now (almost at the end of September), it’s too late for the squashes to grow enough and ripen. In the foreground of the photo are cabbages, they were decimated by slugs!

The tomatoes are starting to have a bit of mildew. They held well I think, taking into account that no one overlooked them! I ate a lot on the spot, such a delight. I also left some, the most healthy looking ones, to collect them later to keep the seeds for next year. It’s to slowly select the ones that are the most adapted to the local climate. What a pity, no one here has any old variety anymore, the selction process has to be restarted from scratch with non-local varieties..

As in my own vegetable garden, some ill plants keep on vegetating new healthy parts!

The cherry tomatoes are very adapted to the climate here I think! We can harvest quite a lot since the ripen quickly!

For the bigger ones, they have to be adapted, even if that means they’ll have to become smaller to ripen quicker. If it allows us in the north (and outside) to have more tomatoes, it’s a good thing!

Small harvest

If you followed my vegetable garden, you know I had a lot of wild walnut trees growing, we replanted two clusters (6-7 per cluster) here around the garden, hoping at least one in each cluster will hold on to start growing next year.

A friend joined the adventure, hence the addition of the tunnel greenhouse to sow in winter.. Personally I think it’s not a great idea, it requires maintenance, we’re not often there, the purpose of the garden is to grow on its own without much supervision. But there’s space for tryouts, that’s also one of the purposes of this place!

You can see in the foreground, strawberries ready to be planted.

The wood under the mounds did indeed promote the growth of mushrooms, that’s a great sign!
However there are so many holes in between the wood trunks etc. under the mound. Which means rodents set up their home in there, a lot of rodents! Let’s hope they are mouses (carnivorous), because if it’s fieldmouses (vegetarian) that will be complicated next year (they eat the plant roots..). We hope nature will help us to set an equilibrium in all of that. We hope to set poles for raptors, there are quite a lot of buzzard in the region, so if they could hunt the rodents that’d be fantastic! We want also to make shelters for hedgehogs, a small pond for frogs (both to manage slugs). We’ll see how it goes, these are plans for the near future!

General view.

We sowed wheat that seems to be growing well.

The strawberries are installed on the back of mound 1.

Wheat again.


A rapid try at making a copper wire pyramid… Not great, I didn’t do it, but I still approve of the idea :)

Mustard sown very late, I have no idea if it will do something.

For 2014 it’s the end, see you next year, the planning will continue and the plantations should get better as the years go by!