Roots as of now

I am putting things to bed in the food forest, planting seeds that need stratification, cutting more grass, strategically mounding the grass where I want to plant things, and harvesting roots, an especially exciting job.

Besides a single earth pea (Lathyrus tuberosus), and Parsnips, which I have strewn around everywhere in the food forest, all my root crops are concentrated in one place down hill away from all the activity of the intensive gardens on their own little Hugelculture island.


A Hugelculture, by the way, is simple a pile of logs and sticks covered with dirt. Nothing too fancy. I made it earlier this spring out of some dead trees in the food forest, and now it is full of root crops.


Yes, it may seem like a serious flaw in design that I place crops I am going to dig for on a hill, hence eroding, and ultimately flattening it every time I harvest. I thought of that after the fact, and figure it will just happen. I will end up with a flat, very rich patch of root crops when the design has run its course. I don’t think it will pose a problem. What I was really after was a rich, fertile spot, anyway, and that’s just what I’ll get. So while the hill still stands, it’s just that much easier to dig sideways into the hill rather than downwards to get to those roots.


A much better version of this design is to set the Hugelculture on a hill, cultivate something you don’t dig on the side facing out from the hill (maybe strawberries?), and cultivate your roots in the little valley you’ve made between the hill and the Hugelculture. In this situation, when you dig, you will move the dirt upward rather than downward, so gravity brings the dirt back down to bury the roots you leave to grow for next season. You dig once a year, and the rest of the year nature puts the dirt right where you need it, on the plants. This system would be excellent for potatoes, which are usually hilled with dirt as the season progresses. I have a place where I am going to try this — the wood is in place, I just have to cover it with dirt. I will let you know how it works.

A happy Comfrey. I just started it from seed this spring!

There are several species I grow on the hugelculture: Chinese Artichoke (Stachys affinis), Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosum), and Hopnis/Groundnut (Apios Americana), and Chinese Yam (Dioscorea batatas) with a few parsnips in there, and one Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), which seems to like Hugelculture conditions quite a lot.

The first three species make up what fellow blogger and root enthusiast Radix calls the Three Brothers guild –the Chinese artichoke, growing short, and taking shade, acting as a ground cover; the Jerusalem Artichoke, growing tall, acting as a trellis for the vining Hopnis; the Hopnis making nitrogen for the ‘chokes; all of them making tasty tubers.

I like the name. It is a spoof of the Three Sisters guild grown by Native Americans     with Corn (Zea Mays), Beans (Phaseolus spp.), and Squash (Cucurbita spp.). As you can tell, that guild is all fruit crops, the Three Brother is all root crops.


I will wait until next year to dig the Hopnis because I would like to let them multiply a little. I will wait until late winter for the Jerusalem Arthichokes, since they are much sweeter by then. But I harvested the Chinese Artichokes since I want to propagate them to make another three brothers guild in another place. I think they could have stood another year before I harvested them though. They were smaller — at least, smaller than the tubers that came with the plants I originally bought. So I know they could have been bigger if I had given them another year to get established and size up.

Despite their small size, their flavor is excellent –sweet, with a hint of mushroom, and explosive crunch. I can’t wait until I have enough that I can have more than one or two for eating.

Chinese Artichokes and “Nutty” Groundnuts in pots, ready to be covered with compost.

As I mentioned, I plan to start a new patch of Three Brothers, and since I am just starting to kill the grass (via Group and Conquer!) where I am going to put it, I am planting the Chinese Artichokes and the new groundnuts I have in pots, and will plant them in the spring — or whenever the grass is dead. The Jerusalem Artichoke is already there, which is stronger than grass anyway, so I’m not worrying about it.

Here is the new patch with mulch. Think it’s thick enough?



  1. When you say hugelculture island, do you mean a circular mound vs a longer bed? What are the dimensions more or less? The 3 bros guild sounds great I’d like to try that one. Great post thanks!


    1. That is Island in a sea of grass, and it is about 10ft. long by 4ft. wide so I do mean a longer bed. It’s just under 4ft tall. The logs I cut at about 6ft long, threw them into a shallow trench I dug, then covered them back up with the dirt I had dug out for the trench and some extra from uphill since this is on a gentle slope. So it catches water from uphill, making a wet place for me to plant skirret, and water celery. Below, it is south facing, warming up early in spring and protecting from north winds. Both of these functions are helpful to the young chestnut I have right against that side of the Hugelculture. I had a bulldozer for this work. So the whole thing took about a half hour, and I had it planted it in two hours after that.

      Yes, I was quite excited about the guild myself when I first read about it. What is really nice is a number of root crops can take on a climbing, nitro-fixer, or trellis functions, so there is no need to restrict yourself to just the species I mentioned. I look forward to hearing how it goes for you.


  2. Not heard of Chinese artichokes before so will look into them. Root crops don’t do too well in my heavy soil but I hope once the wood in the hugelbeds starts to decompose the soil in these areas will be more suitable.


    1. They are quite nice. I’m trying to establish another patch of them elsewhere in the food forest. The Three Brothers guild failed for me because the sunchoke I used (clearwater) is very aggressive and shaded the poor things out. I may try i again with the “supercluster” variety, but for now am using the Chinese artichoke as a ground cover on its own.


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