Are You Playing a Long or a Short Game?


“Houston, we have sunshine.”

After a March punctuated by heavy snows and frigid temps, I finally got a chance to start work on my home’s farmscape (again).

So far, it’s been a very productive week. I’ve started to spread the composted horse manure I get free from the state police riding academy on my hugelkultur terraces.

I’ve even started to build a stone wall by hand, New England style, and getting a workout in the process. The wall runs along the downslope edge of the terrace in order to keep it in place, improve its looks and steady the soil’s temperature — the stone acts as a heat sink to smooth out soil temps by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.


For those of you who haven’t been with me long, hugelkultur is simply a german word for “hill culture”. In practice, it’s simply a way to use rotten wood (logs, branches, etc.) as the foundation for a garden.

Here’s my earlier discussion of it, and here’s a picture to remind you of the mechanics:

As you can imagine, building a hugelkultur garden takes a bit more work to build than a standard garden.

Digging a trench. Hauling and stacking rotten wood. Covering it all with soil and compost. All of this before you even get to plant something!

The reason I built this type of garden is that I’m not playing to win in the short term. No, that’s for suckers.

I’m playing to win the long game.

This requires making investments in systems that pay out over decades instead a couple of years.

A hugelkultur garden provides an opportunity to build a garden that works as a life support system. One that actually helps me keep the soil fertile and vibrant.

So, to me, the investment of time and muscle required to build it is well worth the effort long term.

Are you playing the long game too?

Resiliently Yours,


JR Small

PS: The work that goes into playing the long game is one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Building something of value that lasts is a deeply meaningful experience. That experience is a great counter-weight to a world that often doesn’t make sense.


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  • Soylent Red


    This looks very similar to the stacked earth grape fields in southern Afghanistan. The two great things about that system (and it appears yours as well) is that if done correctly fields retain irrigation a lot better and a lot longer, and it effectively doubles your plant-able surface area in the same square footage plot of land. Afghans actually plant high moisture plants in the valleys between the rows, and lower moisture crops like grapes up both sides of the mound rows. At the end of the harvest, the plants are left in place and dirt from the trenches is piled up on top of the existing mounds. Over time they gain height, and thereby provide even more plant-able surface.

    Long game strategy? Yeah. Some Afghan grape fields are HUNDREDS of years old, taller than a grown man, and still going strong.

    • John Robb

      Excellent, thanks. Any pics? JR

      • Soylent Red

        Here’s a good set of pics from Zhari District, Kandahar Province showing the relative scale of some of these rows:

        I was south of the river in Panjwai District and it looks about the same there (unfortunately I lost a lot of my pix to a hard drive crash). I’m told this is a pretty common way to set up fields in Central Asia because of the lack of water. I can tell you that the furrows between the mounds will hold A LOT of water without much rainfall.

        I am reminded of a line from that Steve Earle song, “Copperhead Road”:

        “I learned a thing or two from ol’ Charlie don’t you know.”

        Lots of these ancient farming techniques, like you see in the Third World could absolutely be put to use in this country. They’ve been doing things the same old way for a thousand years in places that are very arid, and they work. So hugelkultur, gravity irrigation, controlled burns, etc. are definitely ideas whose time has come, gone, and come back again as we move toward DIY agrarianism.

  • Toni

    Hugelcultur is something we are very interested in. We have a huge problem in starting anything new, however. Bermuda grass covers so much of the open 10 acres of our 35 acre farm that any kind of digging becomes a nightmare. The bermuda grass immediately moves to the bug spot and spreads out from there. It seems to be a grass that supercedes all other grass or weeds or garden vegetable. We’ve heard a lot of solutions that are poisonous and some more that don’t work. Do you have any advice to give on this problem?

  • Maureen

    Hi John: I live in a large city, with a fairly large back yard. I built a couple of these in my raised beds and they became mouse condos. Did I leave too much open space in the pile, or should it have been wetter when I put it together. Do you think there’s something I could do to discourage rodents?


  • Eric Novales

    Thanks for sharing. I’m just wondering if there are modules or people doing this in the San Francisco Bay Area and are willing to have people visit and learn from them.


    Eric. New in the Bau Are