On the surface it makes sense that hugelkulture would provide many benefits including: increased microbial activity, low maintenance, decreased water requirements, increased planting surface area, nutrient release from rotting wood, turns a waste product into an asset and increased soil temperatures from some composting action.
However, we wanted to test it and be able to see those positive results for ourselves.
What is Hugelkulture?
Essentially it is taking course woody debris and fine organic matter and covering it with soil. This creates a raised bed with a microclimate that can be used to suit different plants in close proximity. In a nutshell, that is hugelkulture (mound – culture). The bed can be relatively small and low to the ground or hugel beds can carry on for thousands of yards and be six feet tall or even higher. Sepp Holzer
is probably best known for utilizing hugelkulture and the technique is well known in the permaculture world but is not exclusive to that movement.
What Are the Benefits of Hugelkulture?
Several points were mentioned above but let me expand on a couple of points.
One of the main benefits promoted with hugel mounds is water retention in the woody material that provides moisture for plants during periods of drought. Depending on climate and the site this could result in no need for irrigation or at the very least reduced irrigation. Have you ever walked through a forest and kicked an old rotted out log? It might not have rained for weeks yet digging into that rotted material and you find moisture. Rotted wood soaks up water like a sponge. That is what will happen inside of a hugel mound.
Another important help is that over time and depending on the condition of the wood when the bed was built will begin to decompose and give off heat. This can aid in germination of seeds and potentially prevent plant loss during a late or early frost. With that decomposition comes nutrient release and a reduction or elimination of other fertilizers. The increased microbial activity hastens the whole process building soil fertility.
How do I Make a Hugelkulture Bed?
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be done below ground as in digging a trench filling it with woody debris and covering with soil or lay woody debris down on the ground and cover with soil. It depends on your climate, the site and your preferences. There is no fixed rule on how high, wide or long to build them. Let the creativity flow! Start with the largest logs and lay those down first, layer up with smaller material. If you have excess material like leaves, manure straw or any other excess organic matter you can add that as well. Fill in the gaps and crevices with soil and top the whole thing with 1-2’ of soil. Build to…