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A german word pronounced “Hoo-gul-culture”, means hill culture or hill mound. It’s something that I have learned through my permaculture studying and we’ll be applying to our gardening this year. It’s a pretty simple technique that will bring years of self-sustaining gardening.
In a nutshell, its a raised garden bed over decomposing logs. You gather sticks, logs, fallen trees etc and pile them. After you have gathered and piled what you are satisfied with, cover it with soil and compost. Now you can let it sit for awhile, or you can directly plant in it. As time goes on, the wood beneath the pile continues to decompose and releases it’s nutrients back to the plants that are living above it rather than into the water and ground. It also creates air pockets for the roots of the plants as well as retains water for longer periods of time resulting in less water costs. It is said that hugelkultur beds can be set up anywhere, even the dessert and maintain a healthy and thriving garden.
Not only does it have such good benefits for the garden with all the nutrient rich organic material, it’s great for your land. Instead of hauling logs off to a dump or having someone come chip up all your trees, you can use them and the amazing nutrient resource they are and not have any waste. People have made them right over a fallen tree or even stumps that are left in the ground! The larger your bed, the more self-sustainable your bed will be! Beds that are 6ft or higher can go almost an entire summer without watering. However even 2-3ft high beds can go about 3 weeks. Some people have even started small and added on another foot each growing season. It’s a very flexible system wth great rewards.
There are certain trees you don’t want to use such as Black Walnut (toxic to other plants), Black Locust does not rot (takes decades to decompose) and Cherry is too toxic to animals. If you have already decomposing logs, those are even better! While clearing our land we found several downed trees already in a state of decomposition. Along with that you brig all the beneficial bugs and microbes that are found in really good soil!
I’ve posted a couple pictures here of a small one we started. We have a lot of limbs and branches from our land being just cleared so we decided to start a small bed and plant a few little things until we get to spring. We’ll be added to it and making it much bigger over time. In the back you can see cardboard down, that is the start of our guilds under our two plum trees. (both are off to the left and right of the picture) We put cardboard down to kill the grass and we’ll be adding more limbs and then soil/compost on top. Since we won’t be planting in them right away, we’ll put wood chips and leaves on top as covering to protect the soil and give it nutrients in preparation for spring.
I would greatly encourage you to look up hugelkultur and permaculture as well to learn all the amazing benefits. It’s like your own little eco system in your yard. All of the plants work in harmony with each other with their own specific jobs. (Nitrogen fixer, compost/mulcher, pest deterrent, some pull up nutrients, cover crops, pollinators, etc) Much like we should be in community, all working together in harmony with our specific talents and gifts!
We are excited to gain knowledge through this journey! We’ll be sharing how our hugelkulture bed is doing in a few weeks!