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The hugelkultur gardening method is an effective and holistic approach to gardening that is rapidly gaining in popularity.
These days, many people are on the lookout for ways in which they can become more self-sufficient.
If you are lucky enough to have a back garden, then one of the easiest ways to become more self-sufficient is by growing your produce.
You save money at the supermarket. In addition, it tastes better.
You gain a real sense of accomplishment by feeding yourself and your family.
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Also known as hugel gardening, hill mound, or hill culture, this method is a specific horticultural technique that involves creating a raised bed from decaying wood and other compostable items.
It has been practiced for many centuries in Germany, as well as some parts of Eastern Europe.
You should definitely give hill culture a try if you want to grow a garden in a particularly hot area, or if you lack space or water supply.
Hugel gardening is also a great way to make use of large fallen trees on your property.
“Is rotting wood good for soil?” we hear you ask.
Rotting wood is great for your garden.
It helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients. It will make it moist and fertile.
This is ideal for feeding your vegetable garden.
Hill mound beds make fantastic locations for growing fruits and veggies.
They help to maximize the surface volume in your garden, opening up more space for growing.
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What is a Hugel Bed?
Another term for this is hugelkultur.
A hugel bed is hill mound bed is the raised bed that you will be building, primarily from dead and fallen trees.
More massive tree trunks support the frame of the raised bed.
Then you can pack it with other pieces of rotting wood, branches, leaves, and grass cuttings.
You can also add other compostable materials before topping it off with soil.
Benefits to hugelkultur gardening
There are so many benefits to this gardening method; hence, it is as popular as it is.
Recycle Your Garden Waste
You can put any dead or fallen trees to build the bed, which saves you from getting them hauled off your property or the hassles of breaking them down and burning them.
In addition, you can throw any other scraps lying around into the bed, such as fallen branches, grass and bush clippings, and leaves.
You can also use most things you find around your garden, as long as they’ll break down in the ground eventually.
You’ll be winning all around since you’ll end up with a tidier garden, avoid hauling costs for debris removal, and end up with an excellent planting area.
Extend Your Growing Season
Do you always wish that your growing season was longer?
Well, hugel gardening has the power to make it longer by warming up the soil temperature so that you can grow for longer.
If you’ve ever had a compost pile or made a compost bin, then you already know how much things heat up when decomposing.
The same thing will happen inside your hugelkultur garden, meaning your whole garden will warm up as the material underneath starts to break down and compost.
The difference in the soil temperature will be massive and will allow you to grow vegetables later in the season than your neighbors.
Optimize Garden Surface Area
The mound shape of your hugel garden bed will also help to optimize the amount of space you have to grow in, which is great news for those of you with limited space.
By raising the ground and planting on all sides as well as the top, you achieve a larger surface area, meaning more veggies for the family to enjoy.
Increase Nutrient Supply
It will take many years for a log to break down inside your garden bed, so it will provide natural nutrients to the soil for a long time.
The nutrient supply will last as long as there’s wood composting in the hugel bed.
If you’re lucky enough to have hardwood lying around to use for the base of your bed, then your hugel garden could last for as long as 20 years.
Depending on where you live, a dependable water source and consistent supply can be a big issue.
Even if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a plentiful supply, you may still wish to implement zero-waste measures and save water where possible.
For one year after you’ve built your hugel garden bed, you’ll need to water it regularly, which allows the logs to soak up the water.
After its first year, though, your hugel garden bed will only need watering once per season, so long as you haven’t experienced a long period of drought.
Your hugel garden bed will effectively act as a huge sponge throughout the rainier seasons since wood can absorb large amounts of water.
The logs will use the water they’ve absorbed to water the plants for you over the growing season.
Aerate the Soil
Aerated soil is excellent soil for growing in a way the logs in your hugel garden bed break down, allowing the soil to stay more aerated over a long period.
When the soil is aerated, water and nutrients can move around more freely, meaning your plants have better access to water, as well as better drainage.
Aerated soil also makes it easier for your plants to grow since the roots won’t encounter as much resistance, and root vegetables are allowed to dig deep and reach their full potential.
No Digging Required
With hugel gardening, it is possible to create a bed without doing any digging at all.
You can literally build one starting at ground level. However, it may not retain water as well as a mound that is dug in by a foot or tools.
Hugelkultur is Suitable for All Gardens and Climates
One more reason we love the hugel gardening method is that you can practice it almost anywhere in the world.
If you normally struggle to grow your food because of cold temperature, then hugel gardening can heat the soil, extending your suitable growing season.
If you struggle for water, then the hugel bed will hugely benefit your garden by acting as a sponge, helping out all of your plants, trees, and grass, as well as your veggies.
They benefit every garden from small to large, warm to cold, wet, or dry, allowing you to recycle many materials that would have been otherwise discarded.
What Materials Can You Use to Make a Hugel Bed?
So, now you need a hugel bed in your garden, but how do you go about making one?
Here’s a handy checklist of materials you can use to build your hugel garden, as well as some materials you should avoid.
Hugel Bed Materials
- Logs and branches
- Leaves (fresh or decaying)
- Hay and straw (make sure it doesn’t have any grass seeds in it)
- Grass and bush clippings
- Cardboard and newspaper
- All other composting materials (vegetable peels, coffee grinds, tea bags, eggshells, stale bread, cereal, and old cotton clothing)
Materials to Avoid
- Wood and bark from black walnut trees since they produce juglone toxin
- Wood and back from black locust trees since they will not decompose
- Old redwood tree growth because it will not decompose and may prevent seed germination
- Diseased plants or plant matter, as they will spread the disease
- Human waste and cat litter; issues with diseases
- Dog poop since it should be composted in a specific manner
How Do You Make a Hugel Bed?
It’s so easy to build a hugel bed in your garden that we’re able to explain the process to you in just five simple steps.
Step #1: Clear Any Grass and Weeds
The first thing you need to do is to clear any grass or weeds that cover the area where you plan on building your hugel bed.
If the area has plenty of grass at the moment, then dig it up and set it to one side since you can add it back into one of the final mound layers, later in step four.
Step #2: Dig a Trench
Yes, we did tell you no digging, and you can absolutely skip this part if you want.
If you want your mound to retain more water, though, so that you don’t have to water it as often, then we’re sorry to say that you are best off digging at least a small trench.
The most popular way of doing it is to have a third of your hugel garden in the ground and two-thirds of it above ground.
It will require a fairly large amount of logs and wood, especially if you want to reach our recommended seven-foot height!
Step #3: Place the Logs
Place the logs into your trench or along the ground in shape you want your mound to be.
The more logs and trees you add to the hugel bed at this point, the longer it will provide a source of natural nutrients to the soil.
More logs also mean better absorption and water retaining abilities, meaning you don’t need to water your garden as often with the help of the best retractable garden hose reel.
Place the logs together like a jigsaw puzzle so that they’re as tightly packed together as possible.
Step #4: Pile It Up
After your logs are in, you can heap up all of the other materials you’ve collected for your Hugelkultur project.
Your grass cuttings, raked leaves, kitchen compost, everything you can find that will decay over time just get stacked up on top of the logs.
Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen.
When added to the carbon produced from the rotting wood, it allows for decomposition to occur.
Believe it or not, adding urine to your hugel garden will also help by adding another nitrogen source, which will help all of the small sticks and branches break down.
Make your pile as tall as possible since that will give you steeper sides, which means more space for planting, as well as easier harvesting!
Steeper mounds will also help prevent the soil from becoming more compact over the years.
However, the beds will naturally shrink in size after a couple of years.
If you had to take up grass in the first step, then you can add this to the pile last, with the soil facing up.
Step #5: Add Soil
Lastly, you just need to add soil to your mound.
Ideally, you’ll want at least six inches of soil so that your root vegetables have something to grow into.
The upper limit for soil depth is probably around 12 to 18 inches, but feel free to have some shallower and deeper parts.
Just remember where you have deeper soil for when it comes to planting all of your root veggies.
Ready to Plant!
Many people wonder whether you can plant straight into these hugel beds, and the short answer is yes!
Remember that you do have to water your hugel beds for the first year, just like any garden.
Still, you’ll see healthy growth from your beds in year one, especially if you’ve used good quality soil on the top layer.
The best planting years will be beyond the first year, though, as decomposition starts to take place, and the soil flourishes.
Two Top Tips for Successful Hugel Gardening
Want to build the best hugel bed straight off the bat?
Here are our top tips for successful hugel gardening, every time.
Use Dead Wood Only
When you’re looking for materials to build your hugel garden, only use dead wood if possible.
There is always a chance that live logs can resprout.
You don’t want trees growing in the middle of your hugel garden.
Get Some Height
Build your hugel garden to be around seven feet tall if possible.
In this way, even after the first year or two, you have some really good height to your mound.
As we mentioned, there are so many benefits to building upwards, including greater surface area and easier planting and harvesting.
A larger and taller hugelkultur will also mean greater water retention, meaning it will have plenty of water to sustain your garden for the entire year.
How Long Does Hugel Garden Last?
The number of years you get out of your hugelkultur and hugel bed will depend on the density of the wood originally used to build it.
Typically, it will last from around eight to 10 years.
However, if you are able to use hardwood trees, you may get as many as 20 years of great gardening out of it.
When you want to build new hugel beds, you can place them in the paths of your previous year’s mounds.
Use the rich soil from the old mounds to top them off. T
he spot where they used to be will become the new pathways.
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We hope you’re as excited about hugelkultur as we are!
As you can see, there are so many benefits to be enjoyed.
Less garden waste, better soil quality and water retention, and more planting space, to name just a few.
It’s also easy to build a hugel garden for yourself since you just need to work out where you will get all of your materials.
If you aren’t producing enough yourself, then ask your neighbors.
We’re sure that there will be more than a few neighbors who are happy to dispose of their natural garden waste for free, especially if it will be put to good use.
Once you build your hugelkultur bed, you can use it year after year.
The soil will keep “looking after itself and your plants.