How to Grow: Hugelkultur

Learn how to build mounded soil beds and grow plants with logs through Hugelkultur.

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hugelkulturPermaculture is a whole system garden design that seeks to reproduce the sustainability of a natural system. I have used some permaculture techniques over the years, such as keyhole raised beds, but not hugelkultur.

What’s hueglekultur? This German word roughly means “mound beds”. It’s a technique used in Germany and Eastern Europe for hundreds of years and has newed popularity. A simple version is to take logs, old firewood, or branch prunings that you would burn or dump, create a mound or ditch and bury them in soil. Layering in hay, straw and other organic materials works well, too. Over time as the wood decays it aerates the soil allowing water and air to move easily. It also retains more moisture reducing watering and releases nutrients to feed plants growing on the mound.

There are some considerations, though. While any wood will eventually rot, woods that rot slowly, such as cedar, or ones that exude natural growth inhibiting chemicals, such as black walnut, shouldn’t be used. Apple, oak, alder, poplar, and birch are often recommended. Cut evergreens, such as fir or spruce, are often allowed to age a few years before being used.

Build the bed in full sun for growing vegetables or fruits. It’s best to make the bed in fall so it has a chance to settle before spring. The first year grow nitrogen fixing crops, such as clover and beans, on the bed. You can also try potatoes and other veggies that don’t require lots of nitrogen. After the first year, any crop works fine. You may need to add more soil as the bed settles and water more the first year. In subsequent years, little watering or fertilizing is needed.

From the Vermont Garden Journal.

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