Hugelkultur is a special form of raised bed with wood as a base acting as a sponge for water and nutrients.
If you are not familiar with the term 'Hugelkultur' you might think I am making up words! But I am not.
Hugelkutur is a German word and it basically means ‘hilled culture’. The term I think was coined by Sepp Holzer, a farmer with creative and unconventional methods of food production in the Austrian Alps. Look him up on youtube. You will be impressed by his methods and ideas of food production in the harsh environment of high altitudes.
What Is Hugelkultur?
Huegelkultur is a form of raised bed with timber, branches or
shrubs as the core. The Wood then is covered by grass sods and top soil.
The height and size can be varied due to ones need.
So Why Should You Consider These Types Of Raised Beds?
The beds create different microclimates and conditions suitable for the
varied needs of different plants. The side facing the sun can be used
for heat and sun loving plants for example.
The soil warms up quicker in the spring allowing for an earlier start of growth.
They retain water better reducing the need for watering. The wood acts like a sponge and balances moisture levels.
The soil is loose and well aerated. This slows freezing of the soil in cold areas.
The decomposition of the wood inside creates heat which helps the growth and germination of seeds, particularly in the spring.
nutrients locked up in the wood get released slowly over a period of
several years. Even vegetables with a high demand of nutrients can be
grown without the use of additional fertilizer.
The method of hilling
or sloping the raised bed increased the surface area allowing more area
for growing. This is particularly in small gardens with limited space.
How To Build A Hugel
First dig out the area where you will have your bed. Remove the sod and
some soil and put it aside. You will need it again later. Keep the sod
and the top soil separate.
Put in your timber, branches, old tree roots, shrubs, etc.. If you use a
lot of branches it might be a good idea to walk over them to crush and
compact them a bit.
Cover them with the grass sod face down. It is important to face the sod with the grass down or might grow through again.
The cover everything with the top soil you put aside earlier. Don’t compact it. The soil should be loose.
Ideally plant or sow your beds immediately to avoid too many
competing weeds. If you are not planning on planting right away you can
sow a green manure mixture to suppress the weeds and further improve the
soil. This will also help to avoid soil erosion by rain or wind.
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Don’t make the mistake to use any kind of tree or shrub that will regrow
easily from just the timber or a branch. A prime example for this would
be willows or alder. As long as the willow is green it will regrow and you will
end up with a willow plantation instead of bed suitable for growing
vegetables! Once the willows have dried and are truly dead they can be
used for this purpose.
Avoid any wood that is slow to break down
like for example cedar. Also, trees that are allopathic (inhibit the
growth of other plants) like walnut should probably be avoided.
Watch this short video to get a better idea about the whole process of building hugelculture beds.
What Can You Grow In These Beds?
You can grow any kind of vegetable, fruit or herb in these beds that you can grow in your area. A hugel is great for polycultures. That means you grow a variety of different vegetables or herbs side by side. This much more natural system helps to avoid pests and diseases. You can also grow perennial vegetables like asparagus, artichokes or rhubarb in these beds. Depending on the size of your bed you can also include fruit bushes like currants, raspberries or blueberries into your mix.