Have you ever heard of the Hügelkultur method? This funny-sounding yet fascinating way of gardening mimics the growing environment found in nature. It makes use of fallen branches, logs, twigs, and the natural process of decay to create a productive vegetable garden.
If you’re curious about this Hügelkultur beds method of gardening, then read on to find out more!
What is Hügelkultur
Hügelkultur is a gardening and farming technique that originated in Eastern Europe and Germany that uses woody debris including fallen branches and logs as a resource. The word roughly translates to “mound culture” or “hill culture” and is called that because of the way the new garden bed is built.
This technique allows gardeners and farmers to harness the natural nutrient cycle often found in woodlands. Typically, branches, twigs, and even logs that are found on the forest floor become sponge-like as it all begins to rot.
This allows them to soak up rainfall and, when needed, slowly release moisture into the surrounding soil. Furthermore, the decaying plant debris feeds the soil with organic matter which makes it fertile and ideal for growing more greenery.
By using woody debris and other detritus found in your yard, you can harness the natural process of decay to make your garden beds richer and more productive. You’re essentially making a layered compost pile and then covering it with a growing medium on which you’ll plant your garden.
It’s an ideal gardening technique for areas that have challenging soil conditions such as urban lots with compacted soil, areas with poor drainage, or places where there’s limited moisture source.
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Best Materials for Hügelkultur Beds
Hügelkultur beds are notable for using tree logs as a long-term source of nutrients for plants that act as a sponge that helps maintain the moisture balance in the garden bed.
The most preferred material is hardwood since it takes longer to break down so your Hügelkultur bed will last longer, hold water for more years and add nutrients for more years. Softwood can also be used but it can decay much faster. You can use a combination of the two if you have access to multiple types of wood.
Dead alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, and willow are best used for Hügel beds. You can also use rotted Black cherry, well-aged camphor wood, cedar, juniper, and yew.
Avoid using wood such as black locust or heartwood because it will not decompose, or black walnut because it is prone to releasing a toxin know as juglone.
How to Build a Hügelkultur Garden Bed
Building a Hügelkultur bed is all about the layers. Here are the steps you need to create one at home:
Step 1: Build Your Base
Place rotting woody materials at the base of your Hugelkultur bed. Add a layer of wood about a foot tall as a base. Ensure that the wood is compacted but still leaves air pockets.
Step 2: Layer Organic Matter
Add mounds of nitrogen-rich material on top of the rotting wood. You can use wood chips, small branches aged manure, glass clippings, humus, dead leaves, fruit scraps, and vegetable discards. Make sure to shape the mound into a pyramid with the highest point on the center of the pile.
Step 3: Add Compost
Put on a layer of compost to help activate the soil health, promote plant immunity, ensure plant growth, and to extend the life of your crops.
The compost can include:
- Coffee grounds
- Kitchen scraps
- A layer of cardboard
- Waste wood
- Leaf litter
- Peat moss
- Food scraps
Step 4: Add a Layer of High-Quality Garden Soil
The last layer in a Hügelkultur bed is rich, loamy good soil. It should have good drainage and an average to slightly acidic pH level. You can also add a layer of mulch for added moisture and nutrient retention.
Step 5: Rest the Mound Before Planting
Allow the Hügelkultur to set for a few months before planting. This resting time allows the organic matter you’ve layered to break down into a usable material for the plants.
Benefits of Hügelkultur
Helps You Recycle Scrap Materials At Home
If you have fallen trees or branches lying around in your yard, even smaller branches, then you can use them to create your Hügelkultur garden bed. You can also use other materials like grass clippings, leaves, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, and other biomass to add organic matter and nutrients to your garden bed.
I had a tree die in my yard and we cut it down and used it as a base for our Hügelkultur bed a couple of years ago. This bed is extremely fertile now and anything I put in there grows like wildfire. It was super easy to set up as I basically used “scraps” from around the yard to get it going.
I also notice that the bed needs to watered less than the others I have and it doesn’t require as much fertilizer as the others.
Supplies Nutrients to Plants for a Long Time
Unlike woodchips that break down after one growing season, the large wood logs used in Hügelkultur take longer to break down and decompose. This slow process helps supply nutrients to your garden for years on end.
Extends Your Growing Season
If summers are short in your area, then Hügelkultur might just be what you need. The composting process that happens in your garden bed heats up the nutrient-rich soil, which can help extend your growing time. Germination will not only happen earlier but you can also keep growing and harvesting your crops for longer.
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Uses Less Water
Water is crucial for any garden. But if you live in an area where you need to be more mindful of your water usage then Hügelkultur is a great gardening option. The large logs do a great job of acting as a sponge, preserving water, and supplying plants with the moisture they need over long periods.
The most watering you’ll have to do is during the first year. When you build your Hügel garden, you’ll have to prime it with water during construction. Once you’ve planted seedlings, you’ll have to water them daily for the first four days and then every other day for a week.
After this, you can wait for a week before you water the Hügel and then proceed with watering only as needed once the plants are established.
When the roots of your plants have reached deep enough into your growing medium, they can siphon water from the soaked logs underneath.
Aerates the Soil
Aerated soil helps with soil drainage, plant roots spreading, and for more efficient nutrient distribution. As the logs in a Hügel garden break down, the soil stays aerated. This process helps produce better quality soil with excellent growing conditions over time.
Have you tried this type of gardening? What results have you had? Do you have any tips to share? Please leave them in the comments below.
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