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Hugelkultur: Something to Think About for Fall

Hugelkultur: Something to Think About for Fall

Hugelkultur: Something to Think About for Fall

Hügelkultur. If you don’t speak German, it’s pronounced ‘hoogle-culture’. What it means is “hill culture” or “mound bed”. While a normal garden bed is flat, in hügelkultur, the bed is in the shape of a small hill. The first time hügelkultur was used in horticulture circles was in the 1960s or 1970s. However, it’s also said that this style of planting has been done for hundreds of years in Germany and Eastern Europe.

But why would you want to garden on a small hill? To the uninitiated, it sounds more complicated than gardening on a simple flat raised bed.

There are some serious advantages to hügelkultur that may make you want to try it this fall.

It can be part of a permaculture garden as it’s a closed system where wastes become resources and everythingis recycled.

In hügelkultur, the mound is created by garden waste. Specifically, wood, branches and other greens and browns. Think of it as a long term compost pile. One that lasts five to seven years. That you plant on. Additionally, if successful, you won’t have to fertilize, and depending on your climate, you can reduce your watering needs.

It is pretty simple to start a hügelkultur bed. You gather some logs. There are several points of view on whether they should be freshly cut or well rotted. Freshly cut logs have a decent moisture content but take a very long time to decay. Well rotten logs decay faster, but don’t last as long. The fresher logs will hold moisture better. This helps retain water. But they take longer to decay and release nutrients. And in the release of nutrients, they may initially use up more nitrogen in the beginning before releasing it once they are well on their way to rot. Well rotted logs are already in the nutrient releasing phase. But since they are well rotted, as the mounddecays, it collapses. You will have to rebuild it sooner than if you used fresh wood. Perhaps splitting the difference is the sweet spot with older but not yet rotted logs is a good place to start.

You can cut up the logs and branches to make things fit better. These loppers will make short work of the branches. This saw can be handy for smaller logs. And if you’ve got a wildish area to clear, this set is perfect.

You place the pile of logs where you’d like the bed. On average, hügelkultur beds can be any length you can manage, and between three to seven feet high. Pile the logs in a mound to the desired height. Then cover with smaller branches and twigs. On top of that add leaves, grass clippings and other brown and green garden waste. Ideally you want a 65-75 degree slope for the sides. Traditionally, hügelkultur doesn’t contain kitchen scraps. It tries to mimic the slow decay of the forest floor rather than the one year cycle of a home compost pile.

You finish off the mound with about an inch of soil. And then you wait. The mound needs to settle. This is why fall is a great time to start a hügelkultur bed. You need to give it a few months before planting.
 
The rotting plant matter provides nutrients, a home for microorganisms, and great soil structure as it decays. Another benefit is the decay process does raise the soil temp a bit. You could have a slightly longer growing season.
 
However there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
 

Choose your plant matter carefully. Do not use wood from black walnut and cedar. Black walnut contains juglone, which some plants are sensitive to. Juglone can inhibit growth in tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants. Cedar is used in many outdoor items because it is slow to rot, has antimicrobial properties andrepels insects. Cedar makes good fence posts. It doesn’t make good hügelkultur.

If you live in a wet climate, hügelkultur will provide good drainage. If you live in a very dry climate, you may want to have a hügelkultur bed that's shorter, two to three feet tall, to retain more moisture.

If you live in an area where hügelkultur may be considered not very neat, or may be against HOA rules, start small. You can dig down a half a foot to a foot and place the logs in the trench. You will still get the benefits but on a smaller scale.

Hügelkultur is worth trying this fall. You keep garden waste in your own garden and out of the municipal waste stream. This cuts back on energy and other resources required to cart it away and dispose of it. You enrich your garden bed without inorganic fertilizers and you improve the soil structure. All for little to no cost. And you may be able to extend your garden season due to the heat generated by the decay warming up the soil. And for the last reason alone, it’s worth trying!

Hügelkultur. If you don’t speak German, it’s pronounced ‘hoogle-culture’. What it means is “hill culture” or “mound bed”. While a normal garden bed is flat, in hügelkultur, the bed is in the shape of a small hill. The first time hügelkultur was used in horticulture circles was in the 1960s or 1970s. However, it’s also said that this style of planting has been done for hundreds of years in Germany and Eastern Europe.

But why would you want to garden on a small hill? To the uninitiated, it sounds more complicated than gardening on a simple flat raised bed.

There are some serious advantages to hügelkultur that may make you want to try it this fall.

It can be part of a permaculture garden as it’s a closed system where wastes become resources and everythingis recycled.

In hügelkultur, the mound is created by garden waste. Specifically, wood, branches and other greens and browns. Think of it as a long term compost pile. One that lasts five to seven years. That you plant on. Additionally, if successful, you won’t have to fertilize, and depending on your climate, you can reduce your watering needs.

It is pretty simple to start a hügelkultur bed. You gather some logs. There are several points of view on whether they should be freshly cut or well rotted. Freshly cut logs have a decent moisture content but take a very long time to decay. Well rotten logs decay faster, but don’t last as long. The fresher logs will hold moisture better. This helps retain water. But they take longer to decay and release nutrients. And in the release of nutrients, they may initially use up more nitrogen in the beginning before releasing it once they are well on their way to rot. Well rotted logs are already in the nutrient releasing phase. But since they are well rotted, as the mounddecays, it collapses. You will have to rebuild it sooner than if you used fresh wood. Perhaps splitting the difference is the sweet spot with older but not yet rotted logs is a good place to start.

You can cut up the logs and branches to make things fit better. These loppers will make short work of the branches. This saw can be handy for smaller logs. And if you’ve got a wildish area to clear, this set is perfect.

You place the pile of logs where you’d like the bed. On average, hügelkultur beds can be any length you can manage, and between three to seven feet high. Pile the logs in a mound to the desired height. Then cover with smaller branches and twigs. On top of that add leaves, grass clippings and other brown and green garden waste. Ideally you want a 65-75 degree slope for the sides. Traditionally, hügelkultur doesn’t contain kitchen scraps. It tries to mimic the slow decay of the forest floor rather than the one year cycle of a home compost pile.

You finish off the mound with about an inch of soil. And then you wait. The mound needs to settle. This is why fall is a great time to start a hügelkultur bed. You need to give it a few months before planting.
 
The rotting plant matter provides nutrients, a home for microorganisms, and great soil structure as it decays. Another benefit is the decay process does raise the soil temp a bit. You could have a slightly longer growing season.
 
However there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
 

Choose your plant matter carefully. Do not use wood from black walnut and cedar. Black walnut contains juglone, which some plants are sensitive to. Juglone can inhibit growth in tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants. Cedar is used in many outdoor items because it is slow to rot, has antimicrobial properties andrepels insects. Cedar makes good fence posts. It doesn’t make good hügelkultur.

If you live in a wet climate, hügelkultur will provide good drainage. If you live in a very dry climate, you may want to have a hügelkultur bed that's shorter, two to three feet tall, to retain more moisture.

If you live in an area where hügelkultur may be considered not very neat, or may be against HOA rules, start small. You can dig down a half a foot to a foot and place the logs in the trench. You will still get the benefits but on a smaller scale.

Hügelkultur is worth trying this fall. You keep garden waste in your own garden and out of the municipal waste stream. This cuts back on energy and other resources required to cart it away and dispose of it. You enrich your garden bed without inorganic fertilizers and you improve the soil structure. All for little to no cost. And you may be able to extend your garden season due to the heat generated by the decay warming up the soil. And for the last reason alone, it’s worth trying!

Written by Joy Yagid

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