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Hugelkultur Bed Garden

Updated on November 27, 2019
Doneta Wrate profile image

My husband has been an organic gardener for 60 years, raised many large gardens & read organic garden mag. I have helped him for 30 years

Contents: Hugelkultur Gardening

1. Introduction: Hugelkultur for Low Care Gardening

2. Benefits of Hugelkultur Gardens

3. How to Build a Hugelkultur Bed

4. How to Plant the Bed

5. History of Hugelkultur Gardening

6. Conclusion: Hugelkultur for a Great Garden Experience

7. Video on Basic Hugelkultur

8. Links and Resources

1. Hugulkultur for Low Care Gardening

Here will be covered the benefits, methods, techniques and history of hugulkultur. Hugulkulture is an ancient form of gardening that has been used in many countries. Once built, the bed can be replanted every year for a long as twenty years. The bed will maintain its fertility with little additional effort for that long. Now lets get into the benefits and methods of this great form of gardening.

This is a hugelkultur bed being planted.  Notice how the bed is tall and steep.  It does not require as much stooping or kneeling for gardening.
This is a hugelkultur bed being planted. Notice how the bed is tall and steep. It does not require as much stooping or kneeling for gardening. | Source

2. Benefits of Hugelkultur Gardens

Hugelkultur has many benefits for gardening and making more fertile soil.

  1. The gradual decay of wood is a constant source of long term nutrients for the plants. A bed with large wood might give out a constant supply of nutrients for twenty years.
  2. The composting wood generates heat which should extend the growing season further into the cold weather.
  3. Soil aeration increases as wood breaks down, meaning the bed will be no-till for long term.
  4. The logs and branches act like a sponge. Rainwater is stored and released during drier times. Depending on how much rain the garden gets, you may never need to water your hugel bed again after the first year. In drier areas, the hugel bed will need watering much less.
  5. When woody material breaks down in the soil, it creates a very stable humus. Carbon compounds called lignans are in the wood which become part of the humus, resist breakdown, and provide benefits to the soil for a very long time.
  6. Hugelkultur is a good method for building a garden in urban lots with compacted soils, areas with poor drainage, or limited moisture. In areas with poor drainage, the mound lifts the plants up above the ground by three to seven feet. The height of the mound depends on how tall the organic matter is piled up. In areas with limited moisture, the mound will not need to be watered as much. The buried wood holds onto the water and releases it as needed.

a hugelkultur bed can be made in any shape.
a hugelkultur bed can be made in any shape. | Source

3. How to Build a Hugelkultur Bed

Here are five steps to building a hugelkultur bed.

  1. Mow down any grass close to the ground. Tear up any sod, but keep it.
  2. Some gardeners build a trench one foot deep to build the mound in. Others just build the mound on top of the ground.
  3. Build your Mound. Some use tree logs on the bottom. Others use tree branches, twigs, brush or untreated scrap wood. The tree logs will take longer to decompose and make your mound last longer. If you use tree logs, pile branches and other smaller wood on top. Water well. The wood will absorb the water and release it later when needed. Next, after piling the wood in, fill between the spaces of the wood with various organic matter: grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum free newspaper, manure, seaweed, compost, vegetable or fruit kitchen scraps.
  4. After filling in the spaces between the wood, pile the organic material on top of the wood to a depth of twelve inches.
  5. Top off the mound with 2-4 inches of top soil and a layer of mulch.

Here are some pointers to building a better bed.

  • If using sod, lay the grassy side down with the roots at the top so the grass will not grow.
  • The mound can be made in any shape you wish. Some gardeners have a few tree stumps in the ground but close together. The mound can be made to connect the stumps together and use as part of the wood.
  • Make the sides of the bed steep. This gives you more room to grow your vegetables, makes for easier harvesting, and keeps the dirt from becoming compacted as the garden composts down over the years.
  • Use dead wood. If you use green wood, the logs might sprout and grow trees.
  • Do not use black walnut, cedar, black cherry or black locust. Black walnut contains chemicals that prevents plant growth. Cedar, black cherry and black locust are naturally resistant to rotting.
  • The hugelkultur bed will be low in nitrogen the first year as the wood starts to break down. But the bed will give it back in time. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen. Do not plant nitrogen craving plants, like corn, the first year. Plant low nitrogen using plants, like potatoes, the first year.
  • A hugelkultur mound can be planted right away. But some advise building the mound in the fall and let it cure for the winter, get colonized by microbes, and so on.
  • Hardwoods break down more slowly and last longer than soft woods. The hard woods hold water and add nutrients for more years. Soft woods are acceptable, but will disintegrate more quickly.
  • As the wood breaks down, it will start to collapse somewhat. Add compost to the bed whenever planting, filling in the pockets as needed.
  • A smaller hugelkultur can be made. Make a pile of wood on the ground. Surround the wood with straw bales with no seeds in the bales. Fill in the spaces in the wood as before. Then top with lasagna layering on top of the wood and surrounding straw bales. Then plant.

a diagram of inside a hugelkultur mound showing the different layers
a diagram of inside a hugelkultur mound showing the different layers | Source

4. How to Plant the Hugelkultur Bed

A hugel bed can be planted right away. But some prefer to make the mound in the fall and let it prep until spring. The mound can then spend the whole winter curing, getting colonized by microbes, and so on.

Here are four steps on how to plant the bed.

  1. Make shallow holes in the mound four to six inches wide and equally deep.
  2. fill the holes with compost
  3. plant seeds, seedlings or plants in the holes.
  4. water in well

some nicely growing red swiss chard
some nicely growing red swiss chard | Source

5. A History of Hugelkulture Gardening

Most claim that hugelkultur is an ancient gardening method dating back a few thousand years. But written information can be found on it dating back to only 1962. This is a puzzle to many people. Bryant Red Hawk, a staff member of permies.com, has an explanation for this.

Red Hawk is a well educated man of Native American heritage who loves to browse antique book stores. He says that there are some tidbits alluding to hugelkultur in some old gardening books of the 1800s. But these are in Danish, German, and maybe some other languages.

Not much is written on the subject because hugelkultur was passed on from father to son by word of mouth. Until the last two centuries, the common man was illiterate. In France in the 1700s only one in three could read. And that was 300 years after the invention of the Gutenberg Press in the mid 1400s. The only books to be printed at first were considered important ones. The first was the Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s. Before the invention of the press books were rare and hard to produce. Texts and illustrations were done by hand. Also the binding. Only the wealthy and educated could afford a book. Until the 1800s gardening books were not considered important enough to print.

Growing mounds have been used in many parts of the world for thousands of years. The Native Americans made mounds thousands of years ago. The growing mounds in Europe probably started the same way as here in the New World.

Thousands of years ago Native Americans made mounds out of trash heaps and food scraps, then covered the mound with soil for odor control. The natives noticed that seeds tossed out with the trash grew quite well and required little in the way of care or water. Bryant Red Hawk learned this history from his Native American heritage.

The original mounds in Europe were probably started the same as here in the New World, as a by product of waste disposal. A second similar possibility could have developed from a wood cutter selling wood. A pile of limbs that would not sell would have accumulated. So to hide where the wood was cut the pile would be covered with dirt and make a mound.

An interesting side note is that the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims a form of hugelkultur. They were taught to use the old tree stumps left from logs cut for their homes. Dirt was piled over the tree stump and a fish put in the top of it when planted. These mounds would be fertile for over ten years as the tree stump decomposed slowly. Corn and the three sisters (beans and squash) were planted on and around these mounds.

This gardener dug down a couple feet and lay his base layer of wood at the bottom.
This gardener dug down a couple feet and lay his base layer of wood at the bottom. | Source

6. Hugelkultur for a Great Garden Experience

Hugelkultur has many benefits. The bed can be made from unwanted wood and waste from around your home property. Once the bed is built, a hugelkultur garden requires little care. The steep bed sides make for easier planting and harvesting. The hugel bed lasts for years. It is worth the effort to make and creates a great gardening experience.

Hugel mounds with full growth.
Hugel mounds with full growth. | Source

7. Basic Principles of Building Hugelkultur Bed

© 2019 Doneta Wrate

Comments

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    • Doneta Wrate profile imageAUTHOR

      Doneta Wrate 

      7 months ago from Michigan

      I am glad you enjoyed my hub so much

    • Ladymermaid profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 months ago from Canada

      Wow, I have never seen this method of gardening before but am very impressed. I've been hounding my husband for years to build me raised garden beds without much success. I don't think he would go for this concept but it certainly peaks my interest.

    • Doneta Wrate profile imageAUTHOR

      Doneta Wrate 

      8 months ago from Michigan

      Linda, thank you for your comments

    • Doneta Wrate profile imageAUTHOR

      Doneta Wrate 

      8 months ago from Michigan

      I am glad you enjoyed the article.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      8 months ago from USA

      Fascinating! I have never heard of this type of gardening, but I like the simplicity of it. Plus I'm getting older and like the fact that I don't have to bend over as much to tend to the garden.

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