How To Use The Hugelkultur Method? (Quick Facts)

Hugelkultur is the process of creating raised beds from rotten wood. Germany and Eastern European countries have practiced this horticultural technique for centuries. What are the benefits of hugelkultur, and is it easy to practice?  

Hugelkultur involves layering logs and other plant debris to create a gardening area. It enhances soil fertility, increases water retention, and maximizes surface area. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs grow well in this kind of space. 

The term “Hugelkultur” derives from German. In German, the word “Hugel” means hill, while “Kultur” means culture. Hill culture or mound culture is the whole meaning. You can pronounce it hoo-gell-culture or hoo-gull-culture

In 1962, German gardener Herrman Andra used this term for the first time in a gardening booklet.    

What Is The Most Appropriate Wood To Use In Hugelkultur?

For hugelkultur, logs from hardwood trees such as oak, apple, beech, alder, and maple are ideal. Acacia, poplar, and sweetgum also belong to the same type of tree. They supply longer-term moisture to your hugel bed during the slower decomposition process. 

Consider including a few softer logs that decompose faster. As a result, you will be able to gain nutrients in the short term as well.

A combination of fresh and rotten wood can be more effective. The decaying wood inoculates the soil with beneficial microorganisms and fungi. New wood will create long-term benefits.

What Should You Not Put In Hugelkultur?

Avoid treated wood, cedar, and any species that may be allelopathic or toxic. Black Walnut trees have a toxic organic compound called juglone. 

In some plants, this compound inhibits respiratory function. Juglone can cause yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Apples, tomatoes, pines, and birch are sensitive to juglone. 

Other allelopathic trees include eucalyptus, sugar maple, sycamore, red oak, manzanita, and pines. Black cherry seeds and wilted leaves are also poisonous. Wilted leaves of black cherry are a leading cause of livestock illness. 

Cedar, pine, spruce, juniper, and yew are all high resin trees to avoid. Before you use wood that may sprout, such as willow, make sure it is dead. 

Trees like pines and firs release tannins into the soil. It can acidify the soil and leach into water supplies. It is possible to use aged fir and pine after breaking them down into smaller pieces.

How Deep Should Hugelkultur Be?

You can build hugelkultur beds on top of the ground or in trenches 12-15 inches deep. The average height for a raised bed is about 3 feet. You can build up to 6 or 7 feet if you want. The mound shrinks over time during the decomposition process.

An average hugelkultur bed is about 3 feet by 6 feet in size. But there is no limit to its length, width, or height. Check out this video to get a better understanding of hugelkultur. 

How Can I Construct Hugelkultur Beds?

Build your garden beds parallel to the contour of your land. This design prevents water from eroding down slopes and helps keep the beds level. Position them against the prevailing wind direction. Orienting the beds east to west will give you better sun exposure throughout the day. 

Dig around 30-60 cm (10-20 inches) into the ground to create a trough for your logs. For your convenience, keep the bed’s width around 2-3 feet (60-100 cm). As a general rule, the height and width should be the same. 

Place your logs into the hole while mixing up the wood types to get a more diversified soil. To help define the pyramid shape, pile the logs up a bit higher than the trough. You will get a rough idea of hugelkultur from this short animated video.

Place larger tree trunks, branches, and hardwoods at the bottom of the pile. Smaller boughs, softwood, or twigs should be at the top. 

Cover this layer with mulch. You can place turf upside down here if you are removing an old lawn or have some lying around. The material supports the structure and promotes decomposition. 

The mulch layer should be about 60-80 cm from the ground. Over the mulch, add a 10-20 cm layer of compost. Instead of compost, you can use manure or other nitrogen-rich materials. If there is not enough compost available, mix it with other materials. 

You can now cover the entire structure in the soil you removed from the trough. This soil layer will act as a clay oven creating insulation. As the soil layer absorbs thermal mass, it promotes decomposition.

If you want your hugel bed to remain functional and fertile over time, you can keep adding layers. Here is a video that shows you how to build a hugelkultur-raised bed.

You can apply hugelkultur in a few different ways. You can build a hugelkultur bed out of slash piles. The process requires little labor and allows you to dispose of the slash without burning it. 

Like traditional garden beds, buried hugelkultur is another type. You need to dig a large hole, which involves a lot of labor. 

How Long Does Hugelkultur Last?

The original German publications estimate that the mounds will last 5 to 6 years. Lifespan depends on the type and density of wood you used to build it. In practice, Hugel will last for around 8 to 10 years.

 A hugelkultur can last up to 20 years with hardwood trees due to their low decomposition rate. This video explains the basics of hugelkultur.

What Are The Benefits Of Hugelkultur?

In hugelkultur, you can recycle resources on your site to nourish the soil. Logs buried at the bottom of these beds act as long-term sources of nutrients for the plants.

The decaying wood debris and biomass at the bottom contribute to soil fertility. It also improves water retention and soil warmth. The wood absorbs water and holds it for a long time. Plants need less irrigation due to the slow release of water. 

Pruning your fruit trees often leaves you with enough logs and branches. You can get nutrients from these carbon-rich sources with hugelkultur.

A Hugelkultur system reduces the need for labor and materials every year. This method is effective at recycling nutrients into the soil. 

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