Instead of putting those branches, leaves and grass clippings in bags by the curbside…build a hugel bed. Simply mound logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available, top with soil and plant your veggies.
What’s Hugelkultur? Why Hugelkultur?
Hugelkultur (HOO-gul-culture). It’s German for hill culture or hill mound. The advantages of a hugel bed are many:
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). The composting wood also generates heat which should extend the growing season.
Soil aeration increases as those branches and logs break down…meaning the bed will be no-till, long term.
The logs and branches act like a sponge. Rainwater is stored and then released during drier times. Actually you may never need to water your hugel bed again after the first year (except during long term droughts).
Sequester carbon into the soil.
How To Make A Hugelkultur Bed
On a sod lawn Sepp Holzer (hugelkultur expert) recommends cutting out the sod, digging a 1 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… From the Permaculture book by Sepp Holzer. Via: Permaculture Magazine: permaculturetools.wikispaces.com.pdf
Hugel and traditional bed comparison. Cantaloupe plants from same seed packet. Hugelkultur bed on right was planted two weeks after traditional bed on left. By Marcella: saponaria-wortsandall.blogspot.com
Steep hugel bed. The more wood inside your hugelkultur, the less water it will need, possibly no supplemental water after establishment. With size more heat will be generated and obviously it will last longer. www.shtfpreparedness.com
Ideas For Your Permaculture Garden Bed
- 6 Reasons Why I Chose Clover As A Living Mulch
- Worm Bin Essentials: Getting Started with Vermiculture
Sepp Holzer recommends steep hugel beds to avoid compaction from increased pressure over time. Steep beds mean more surface area in your garden for plants and the height makes easy harvesting. The greater the mass, the greater the water-retention benefits. Image from the Permaculture. Via: Permaculture Magazine: permaculturetools.wikispaces.com.pdf
Height can be decreased by partially burying the bed. Final bed size 75′ long, 4′ wide trench, finished size 6′ at the base, separated by 2′ access paths. Wood height is 8-12″ on tilled clay, finished size 30″ high from bottom of trench. Rob is making beds for potatoes and he feels they will last up to ten years. Interesting read: onestrawrob.com
One-plant hugelkultur by Eric Markov. 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 nutients to the soil. lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.com
14 Of The World’s Best Hugelkultur Beds
1) Hugelkultur In Ontario, Canada
Hugelkultur bed in Ontario, Canada. By Travis Philp. Wood branches stacked 1 foot high. You can find out more at greenshireecofarms.com.
Hugelkultur bed in Ontario, Canada. As above. Branches covered with manure mixed with hay, 4-6″. Sod was packed into random holes. If you visit greenshireecofarms.com, they also have a video tour of their forest hugelkultur garden.
2) Lettuce-Covered Hugelkultur
Hugelkultur beds covered in lettuce. More photos, and an explanation of how hugelkulturs work, can be found at www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur.
3) Pallet Hugelkultur
Hugelkultur – nice use of pallets around periphery. By Mike Sved of northern Ontario. This photo was found on www.permies.com.
4) Log Hugelkultur
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Baby Hugel getting the coop muck for a layer. Also gave it a Bale border to keep things nice and tidy. #hugelkultur #alaska #alaskahugelkultur #hugelkulturalaska #alaskagrown #alaskagarden #gardenalaska #garden #gardening #permaculture #permaculturegarden #permie #naturalsoil #livingsoil #livingsoilsymposium @livingsoilssymposium
Building a hugelkultur can be a great way to use debris from your homestead.
5) Row Of Hugelkultur Beds
A Sepp Holzer Hugelkultur garden. This photo was found at www.krameterhof.at.
6) Water Directing Hugelkultur
Sepp Holzer uses the terrain, ponds, swales and hugelkultur to direct water to where it is needed on this Montana farm. You can find more on how to work with nature at www.holzeragroecology.com.
7) Small Hugelkultur Garden
If you don’t have enough room to make a large hugelkultur, this small design is perfect.
8) Framed Hugelkultur Bed
Hugelkultur with frame. The complete garden can be seen at newwavegardeningexperiment.wordpress.com.
9) Dug-Out Hugelkultur
Hugel bed dug in clay with logs put in vertically, next branches and lots of wood chips. Top 6″ will be wood chips and dirt. This bed will store water and give nutrients for many years to come. More: lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.com
10) Branch-Lined Hugelkultur
Small scale hugelkultur bed. As raised beds tend to be a bit drier than traditional beds, a hugelkultur bed is a good solution for a raised bed in a dry climate. This photo was found in an article about evaluating your soil on homesteadingdownsized.com.
11) Building A Hugelkultur
Hugelkultur beds in process by Caleb Larson, Montana. The drier your area, the more wood you need to hold moisture.
More examples can be found at www.permies.com.
12) Circular Hugelkultur Bed
This rounded hugelkultur garden is great for being able to access the plants. This design also makes watering easier.
13) Hugelkultur Gardens From Idaho
Hugelkultur beds by Jon in Idaho. You can find out more on this hugelkultur at www.permies.com.
14) Blooming Hugelkultur Bed
Hugelkultur Bed by WSU Master Recycler Composters, Lewis County, Washington. The stones are sure to keep extra heat in the bed. Step by step Images: lewiscountyrecycles.org
Straw Bale Hugelkultur
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. These photos were found at naturespilgrim.com.
Straw bale hugel bed by Jamie in Wisconsin. An instant nutrient rich border for your hugelkultur. You can also do a hugelkultur right on top of the sod. If excess soil is not available sheet mulch or lasagna garden on top of the logs/branches. Originally found at “smalltowngardens.blogspot.com/2012/05/my-own-strawbale-hugelkultur-combo.html”.
Using hay instead of wood will give you a bed that supplies moisture and nutrients for about five years instead of the log’s ten to twenty, plus. By Gerald Benard. To see the entire discussion on hugelkulturs, go to www.permies.com.
Hugel bed in Ontario, Canada (June 28) by Tim Burrows. Tim surrounded his very tall hugelkultur bed in pallets! Read more about it here: permies.com
Sheet Mulching In Hugelkultur
Sheet mulching (lasagna gardening) is like composting in place. Above: just a suggestion as to sheet mulching layers. Nitrogen-rich material such as fresh grass clippings or green leaves put right on the hugelkultur wood would help jump start the composting process. Could also include seaweed, straw, dead leaves, leaf mold, etc…
The first year of break down means the wood (and fungi) steal a lot of the nitrogen out of the surrounding environment, so adding nitrogen during the first year or planting crops that add nitrogen to the soil (like legumes) or planting species with minimal nitrogen requirements is necessary, unless there is plenty of organic material on top of the wood. After the wood absorbs nitrogen to its fill, the wood will start to break down and start to give nitrogen back in the process. In the end you will be left with a beautiful bed of nutrient-rich soil.
Trees That Work Well In Hugelkultur
Hard woods break down slowly and therefore your hugel bed will last longer, hold water for more years and add nutrients for more years. But soft woods are acceptable as well, a softwood bed will just disintegrate quicker. Mixing woods with soft woods and branches on top, to give off nutrients first, and hardwoods on bottom, sounds like a plan if you have access to multiple types of wood. Yet the newly decomposing soft woods at top will eat up a lot of nitrogen at first, so compensate for that.
Trees That Work Best
Alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead).
Tree Types That Work Okay
Black cherry (use only rotted), camphor wood (well aged), cedar/juniper/yew (anti-microbial/anti-fungal, so use only at very bottom or unless already well aged. Cedar should be broken down before new plant roots reach it), eucaplyptus (slightly anti-microbial), osage orange (exceptionally resistant to decay), Pacific yew (exceptionally resistant to decay), pine/fir/spruce (tannins and sap), red mulberry (exceptionally resistant to decay).
Trees To Avoid
Black locust (will not decompose), black walnut (juglone toxin), old growth redwood (heartwood will not decompose and redwood compost can prevent seed germination).
The Best Hugelkultur Resources Online
Tall beds built by Sepp: ecology.md