Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hügelkultur – Who knew? Composting Process Using Raised Beds! By Audrey Stokes

Raised bed gardening using hugelkultur photo Open Hand Foundation
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, (in German it translates roughly as “mound or hill culture”) hügelkultur (pronounced ‘hoo-gul-culture’) is a gardening and farming technique where woody debris (branches and/or logs) are used as a resource (
Often employed in permaculture systems, hügelkultur allows gardeners and farmers to mimic the nutrient cycling found in natural woodlands to realize several benefits. Woody debris (and other matter) that falls to the forest floor can readily become sponge like, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil, thus making this moisture available to nearby plants.
Hügelkultur is a composting process that uses no-dig raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials.  Hügelkultur farmers believe this process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention and soil warming, benefiting plants grown on or near the mounds. providing great spaces for growing fruit, vegetables and herbs.
The hügelkultur process is bleived to work well anywhere.  On a sod lawn Sepp Holzer, ( hugelkultur expert, recommends cutting out the sod, digging a one foot deep trench and filling the trench with logs and branches. Then cover the logs with the upside down turf. On top of the turf add grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc... In most situations, the bed may only have to be watered the first year.

Hügelkultur enthusiasts report that hügelkultur:
  • Grows a typical garden without irrigation – it helps retain moisture on the site because the logs and branches act like a sponge, storing rainwater and releasing it during drier times.
  • Grows a typical garden without fertilization -- -- the gradual decay of wood is a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants. A large bed might give out a constant supply of nutrients for 20 years (or even longer if you use only hardwoods).
  • Increases soil aeration as the branches and logs break down... meaning the bed will be no till, long term.
  • Has been demonstrated to work in deserts as well as backyards – the mounded beds are ideal for areas where the underlying soil is of poor quality or compacted. They tend to be easier to maintain due to their relative height above the ground.
  • Uses up rotting wood, twigs, branches and even whole trees that would otherwise go to the dump or be burned.
  • The composting wood also generates heat which should extend the growing season.
  • Can start small, and be added to later.
The Internet is full of information about hügelkultur and the various sites demonstrate that there are almost as many ways of implementing it as there are farmers practicing it. Do a little research and see if what has worked for centuries in Europe will work for you!
Video on hugelkultur:

Hugelkultur on sod:
Hugelkultur success in Colorado Springs:

Great hugelkultur pictures:

Hugel beds in process -- by Caleb Larson, Montana.
The drier your area, the more wood you need to hold moisture.

Straw bale -- Straw bale gardens require less soil, less water and hold heat. As the straw breaks down nutrients feed the plants. Combining a straw surround with a hugel interior, topped by lasagna layering is an excellent idea for an area with poor quality soil.

Start small! Whenever you plant add some wood logs and compost. One could also treat an old below ground level tree stump as a hugelkultur, as the old stump will bring up water and decompose, adding nutrients to the soil.
One plant hugelkultur by Eric Markov --