Do you enjoy trying different gardening techniques? Does it interest you how others garden around the world? Well, if either of these scenarios is true for you, you’ll be interested in learning about hügelkultur.
Here is everything you need to know to embrace this gardening technique:
What is Hugelkultur?
If you’ve haven’t heard of this type of gardening, I’ll give you a hint: It’s pronounced hoo-gul-culture. I know, the first time I read the word, I didn’t know where to begin.
Since you now know how to pronounce it, let’s discuss what it is. Hugelkultur means hill culture or hill mound.
In short, this is a type of gardening where you create the base with large logs. You pile other compostable materials on top of the logs into a hill or mound.
From there, you cover them with soil and plant your vegetables in this type of bed. There are many benefits of gardening this way, which I’ll share a little farther down in this post.
Though this may sound odd initially, keep an open mind because this style of gardening could be the answer you’ve been waiting on if you need to grow a garden in an unusually hot location, an area lacking water supply, or if you have large fallen trees on your property.
Benefits of Hugelkultur
As I mentioned above, there are many amazing benefits to this type of gardening. Here is what they are:
1. Uses Scrap Materials Cluttering Your Property
The idea of the hugel garden is simple. You place logs on the base of the garden bed and pile a mound on top of the logs with compostable materials.
In short, if you have a tree on your property which has fallen, it could be put to use to create a garden bed instead of cluttering your property, having to be hauled off, or being burnt.
Also, you can put your grass clippings and leaves to work as well in this style of gardening. Most materials which will break down over time can be tossed into this type of garden and be put to work instead of lying around creating more work for you.
2. Continually Supplies Nutrients to Plants
Since logs take longer to break down, they’ll provide a natural supply of nutrients to your plants over the years.
If you’ve ever heard of a no-dig garden, this is the same principle. The difference is with a no-dig garden you must supply fresh woodchips each year to encourage composting to keep taking place.
With a hugel garden, the logs are breaking down year after year and putting off more nutrients for your plants as they compost.
Hardwoods are the best woods to use for this gardening process because they take longer to break down. If you use enough of them, they could supply enough nutrients for your soil to last your hugel garden for 20 years.
3. Extended Growing Season
The same process is happening inside of your hugel garden. When the garden heats up because of the composting process, it heats the soil too.
With the heating of the soil, means your garden's growing time extends, because the temperature of the earth makes a vast difference. You can start earlier this way because germination will happen if the soil is at the right temperature.
This is excellent news for gardeners who have shorter summers because of their planting zone.
4. Less Water is Necessary
Many people don’t consider how hard water can be to come by for people in some locations. When you live where you always have to watch how much water you use, you know gardening can be challenging.
Whether you live where you must reserve water, or you are someone who tries to live a green no-waste lifestyle, this style of gardening could be right up your alley because it requires almost no water after the first year.
You’ll need to water your hugel garden in year one to allow the logs to absorb the water which they’ll use to water your plants later.
However, after the first year, unless you’re in an extended drought, you shouldn’t have to water your garden more than one time a season.
5. Aerates the Soil
Having aerated soil in your garden is important. Water moves more easily through the soil, and your plants will have better drainage.
Also, it’s easier for your plants to spread their roots through the aerated soil and for root vegetables to be able to dig down and grow to their full size.
As the logs in your hugel garden break down, they help the soil to stay aerated which produces a better quality soil for years to come.
6. The Garden Has a Sponge
As I mentioned above, after the first year of gardening, you shouldn’t have to water your garden more than once a year.
The reason for this is the logs act as a giant sponge in the base of your garden. Wood can absorb vast amounts of water.
This is good for your garden. Your plant’s roots will have a constant supply of water, which will make for healthier plants.
7. Works in Practically Any Location
Finally, choosing a hugel garden is a wise idea because it works practically anywhere. If you live in a desert location where you get very little rain, this style of gardening should work for you because of the ‘sponge' in the bottom of your garden.
If you live in an area with a colder climate, this style of gardening will give you a longer growing season.
Even if you live somewhere where it’s rather easy to garden, this style of gardening is one which is self-sustainable because it allows you to garden naturally and uses materials you can collect from your own land.
Material for Creating a Hill Raised Bed
You may be thinking hügelkultur sounds great, but you aren’t sure what materials you can use to build your hugel garden. Here are materials ideas which will work well in developing your hugel garden:
- Grass clippings
- Hay (be careful because straw can contain grass seed which will cause grass to sprout in your garden.)
- Other items you’d include in your compost
Though there are many options for items you can include in your hugel garden, there are some to avoid as well. They are:
- Black walnut logs or branches
- Black locust logs or branches
- Old growth from a redwood tree
- Diseased plants
Each of these items can hinder growth in your garden, or they can spread diseases through your soil. You don’t want either of these things to happen. Which is why it’s best to avoid these items.
How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden
You now know what hügelkultur is, what the benefits of it are, and what you can include when building your hugel garden. Let’s talk about how you should construct your hugel garden. Here is what you’ll do:
1. Say Bye-Bye to the Grass
When you begin to construct your hugel garden, you’ll need to dig the grass out of the area you want to plant your garden.
However, don’t discard the soil or the sod from this location because you’re going to use it again. When you’ve finished removing all of the sod from the selected area, you can move to the next steps.
2. Dig a Trench
When your area is clear, you’ll need to dig a trench which is one foot deep. This is where you’re going to place your logs.
It’s important to make sure the trench is deep enough and wide enough to fit the number of logs you’ve prepared for this gardening project.
3. Fill it Up
Next, you’re going to fill up the trench with the logs. You can either place your logs in the trench horizontally and stacked on top of each other, or you can even stand the logs on their ends and place them in the hole vertically.
Remember, the more materials you apply to your garden the longer the nutrients will last and the better absorption you’ll have.
Whichever option allows you to place more logs in the base of your garden is what you should do.
4. Make Your Mound
You’ll need to make your mound once your logs are in place. You’ll pile all of your composting materials on top of your logs.
From there, you’ll add the soil and sod you first removed from the location of your garden. Be sure to turn the sod upside down to make it compost and keep it from rooting and growing grass in your garden. You’ll also need to add more soil for your vegetables to grow in.
It’s important to make your beds steep because this gives you more room to grow your vegetables, makes for easier harvesting, and it’ll keep your dirt from becoming compacted as your garden composts over the years.
Also, keep in mind, the more composting materials you add to your garden the higher chances you have of your garden absorbing more water. You will have a better sponge within your garden and less water you’ll have to apply.
5. A Few Tips
Finally, there are a few other tricks you should be aware of when creating a hugel garden. It’s important to use dead wood if at all possible when putting the logs in the base of your garden.
The reason is if you use live wood, there is a chance the logs will sprout again and begin to grow trees in your garden. You don’t want this to happen.
You can combine hugel gardening with straw bale gardening for a nice look and more growing space. Use the straw bales as the border of your hugel garden.
When you’ve finished with the straw bales at the end of the growing season, you can add them to your compost pile or for creating another hugel garden.
Finally, if you don’t want to water your hugel garden all summer long (after year one), you should build your hugel garden to be around seven feet tall.
Your garden will compost and decrease in size over the year. Therefore, it should be around six feet tall when you go to harvest.
When creating a hugel garden this size, you’ll have enough materials within the garden to absorb ample amount of water to sustain your hugel garden for the year.
Well, you now know the basics of hugel gardening. Hopefully, this method will help you to grow a gorgeous and fruitful garden for many years to come.
But I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever tried hugel gardening? Have you discovered anything which works well for this style of gardening? Anything beginners should know to avoid beyond what I’ve mentioned here?
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