Hugel What?

February 13, 2012 at 6:46 am (DIY, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , )

Hugelkultur…as in raised garden beds built, mound-like, of bramble and soil.

I’m expanding the garden once again with the addition of a hugelkultur raised bed on the rear of our property.  The project was inspired by and decided upon within an hour of finishing reading Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, in which Holzer describes a method for establishing new and long-lasting garden beds by simply piling up raw materials and covering them over with soil.  Hugel is German for hill, or mound.

The inner-most ingredient in a Hugel bed is wood–branches and trimmings from the yard, old lumber if it isn’t treated or painted with lead, even entire fallen trees for a really long bed.  By design, the wood, as it decomposes in the center of the mound, should become like a sponge and hold a resevoir of water which plant roots can tap into and feed from.  The largest wood goes in the center, followed by smaller branches and brambles.  I didn’t happen to have any fallen trees at hand, just a sad Christmas tree the city kept missing on collection day and a fifty-year-old carpet that had sat outside in the rain for a year, molding and falling apart.  Into the Hugel bed they went.

Carpet and rotting wood form the foundation of the Hugelkultur garden addition.

The middle layer of the bed can be made of whatever organic materials are on hand… anything biodegradable, really.  I would put coarser materials on first, like straw and leaves; then finer, nutritive materials like manure and/or compost.  The latter will provide immediate fertility to initial plantings, while the longer break-down time of the former will ensure continued fertility and soil tilth.

Finally–and I’m not even to this step yet–the bed should be covered with topsoil and planted into immediately.  As plants get established and start growing, sending down their roots, the layers of the bed will be woven together so that the whole thing holds.  Mulching between plants will also help retain soil and water.  Alternately, you could sow the whole bed with a “green manure” cover crop like clover, vetch, or lupins which would hold the soil in place and fix nitrogen in preparation for planting a heavy-feeding crop like corn on the new hugel bed.

I think my new Holzer-inspired hugel bed will be planted with clover and lupins initially and, later, with sunflowers, peas, beans, squash, some heat-loving herbs, and the tayberry (which will be trained against the wall of the neighbor’s garage).  When completed, my hugel bed won’t be nearly as high as Holzer makes his, but with the addition of a trellis along its ridge for the vining plants to grow up, I think it will do double duty as a privacy screen blocking the view from the lane behind our property.  I’ll post more pics as it comes together over the next few weekends.

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2 Comments

  1. Creating Micro-Climates for Heat-Loving Crops « rain rain go away said,

    […] failed to mention in my last post, Hugel What?, that heat is one of the main reasons for building raised garden beds in the hugelkultur style: […]

  2. Catherine said,

    Hi, I’m down in Texas, and after last year’s horrific drought, we lost about 50 million trees, statewide, and a fair few on our place alone.. So, on our farm, I’m trying to turn a necessity into a virtue with hugelbeds. I’ve done some small hugel projects in some keyhole beds and in a grey water garden, and they’ve worked pretty well for a first attempt. Now, I’m a bit overwhelmed at the size of the log sections being dropped off by the local tree trimmers! We’re 9 truckloads in and have lots more to come, full of 100+ year old tree sections! I’m quickly getting Holzer’s idea that renting heavy machinery is in my near future! Thank goodness I’d already mentally allocated the front paddock to this project. I’m hoping that they will prove more resilient, both in drought and in rainy weather, and will last for ages!. Thanks for your post. I’ll look forward to seeing how your beds do in your wetter climate. 😉 Catherine

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