Describe Hügelkultur. Constructing the Ideal Raised Bed

In any case, what is hügelkultur? Upon first hearing the term, I assumed it might refer to a novel variety of yogurt; nevertheless, it turns out to be a form of raised garden bed! Hügelkultur, which grows plants or crops on raised beds with a mounded shape and structure, is loosely translated as “mound culture.” Many claim vehemently that this technique elevates raised beds to new heights. Discover the reason why.

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Hügelkultur Beds: What Are They?

Hügelkultur, which is commonly translated as “hugelkultur” in English, is a gardening technique that has been practiced for generations in Germany and Eastern Europe. It is sometimes utilized in conjunction with a larger permaculture system.

Using decaying logs and plant detritus, hügelkultur is a centuries-old, traditional method of creating a garden bed. These mound-like formations are made by laying out a raised bed area, removing the ground, and then piling up woody material—ideally already partially rotted—on top of soil and compost.

Rough timber, downed trees, and branches that were destined for the brush pile may all be used; in essence, you are taking rotting wood and letting it decompose in place to create an extremely productive, moisture-retaining vegetable bed.

Massive piles of logs, branches, leaves, straw, cardboard, grass clippings, manure, or compost that are mounded to be wider at the bottom than at the top can reach heights of five to six feet. A hügelbed sinks as the wood shrinks and decays; one that is six feet high, for instance, will eventually settle and decompose to a depth of around two feet.

Building a Bed with Hügelkultur

First, choose a about 8 by 4 foot sunny location. (Building a bed next to a slope is a smart idea since it will collect rainwater.)

You must remove any grass or weeds from the area until the ground is bare. To prevent weed growth, just mow the area and cover it with wood chips or cardboard.

Now excavate small trenches, saving the turf or dirt for your mounds’ summits. Maintain the same depth for the whole length of the bed by digging a pit or trench that is 12 to 18 inches deep. Beds should be just as thin as possible so that you can reach the middle; a maximum of 4 feet wide is recommended.

Next, start placing the woody material—large logs or felled trees—into the dug-out area. Cover with a covering of twigs and branches. Hard and softwoods should be mixed in your plantings. Steer clear of timbers that generate chemicals that hinder plant development, like black walnut, or that degrade slowly, like locust, cedar, or redwood.

Cover the wood like you would a lasagna garden; cover with grass and grass clippings, or almost any organic stuff, and compact down firmly. After the grass has been dug, lay it on the wood, root side up.

Keep the wood arranged as closely and lengthwise as you can. You may make the pile as long and tall as you like, but a 2- to 3-foot-high bed will be simpler to deal with and can withstand going two or three weeks without water. Some people build them up to five or six feet high, but I would need a lot of heavy equipment to go that high.

Next, liberally mist the layers. Gardener Tim Murphy of Kingston, New York, states that when mushrooms start to sprout, the soil is sufficiently moist. Add manure, grass, and leaf litter to any gaps or crevices. He continues, “The tighter, the better.”

Lastly, add a layer of mulch and two to three inches of dirt to finish the bed.

Keeping the Hügelbed intact

This may be built in the fall and then let to settle over the winter, ready for planting the following spring.

The pile will require watering throughout the first year as the wood decomposes. It’s advised to grow legumes the first year since they manufacture their own nitrogen, and the rotting wood would use up nitrogen that would otherwise be flowing to your plants.

Keep in mind that the water retention increases with bulk. Expert hügel gardeners have discovered that in the second year, if the beds are raised enough, they don’t need any irrigation at all. In addition to providing additional planting surface, steep beds facilitate simpler harvesting due to their height.

Eventually, the bed will be resistant to drought because the decaying wood will absorb water like a sponge. Since the top of the bed will naturally be drier than the bottom, you may put plants that prefer the dryness at the top and those that require more water toward the bottom. In a tiny garden, you may plant on the sides in addition to the top and bottom to increase harvests.

A Living Clothe

The first few years of a hügelbed’s life extend the growth season considerably because the heat-producing composting process heats the soil. In addition to providing long-term, slow-release nutrients, the decomposing woody debris also prevents excess nutrients from seeping into groundwater.

Like a sponge, the wood collects rainfall that it will later release during dry spells. Over time, hügelbed soil self-tills. Tiny air pockets in the crumbling soil open when woody debris decomposes, allowing air to get to the roots of plants. You may eventually plant into the top layer of compost or soil, which is rich in microorganisms that are good for you.

Hügelbeds in their first year can yield large yields. Murphy adds that two first-year beds produced a yield of 120 pounds of cucumbers, 42 decent-sized pumpkins, and enormous sunflowers. But Murphy sees past the initial years, saying, “These are substantial, long-term raised beds.” You are creating a breathing, living sponge.