The Hügelkultur method
Have you ever heard of a Hügelkultur? The name means hill culture (pronounced hoo-gul-culture) and it is no ordinary raised bed. It is a no till method that has been used for centuries but it is not very well known in the gardening community. It is a raised mound or hill that has remarkable properties that increase in effect year on year. It is highly fertile, extremely good at holding water, has more surface area and is shockingly productive when it comes to growing many different fruits, flowers and vegetables.
How do you make a Hügelkultur? A hügelkultur has a simple design and is a lasagne like layering of materials that is built up to form a hill. So, if you have a lot of garden waste such as leaves wood and lawn clippings cluttering up the landscape don’t throw it out! Use it to create a fun and rewarding Horticultural experiment. First you start with digging a shallow trench (although this is not needed) and placing large logs of wood in the allocated space. As these break down, they will act as a giant sponge and will supply your plants with water and needed carbon for years or decades to come.
The best woods to use are apple, cherry, maple, oak, poplar, aspen and birch. The harder the wood the more longevity the hügelkultur will have as they will break down slower. There are some woods you will want to avoid which have toxins such as black walnut or struggle to decompose such as redwoods and black locust.
Once the large logs are placed you will then add progressively smaller logs, branches and sticks on top. These will break down quicker than the large logs and will serve the same purpose. These layers are also a fantastic place for beneficial funguses and critters to inhabit the soil and will a provide moist breathable substrate for your plants to reach down to and thrive in. you will want to infill after this with some soil to help break down the wood and fill in any large voids of space below.
Next, we will lasagne layer on top different organic materials. Things like straw, grass clippings, cardboard, leaves mulches and manure. Make sure that in between every couple of layers you put thin layer of topsoil. You will want to make these layers no more than an inch or two thick. Create as many layers as you wish and more can always be added in the next season. Some old and established hügelkulturs can be as tall as 5-6 ft.
Lastly you will want to cap off the hügelkultur with a good layer of topsoil that’s deep enough to plant your crops in. this would be around 2.5-3 inches. Give it plenty of water to give it a strong start and you now have a highly productive raised bed that will require very little maintenance and watering.
Why not try something new this year and impress your friends with this interesting and impressive horticultural technique and the fruits that it yields.
Jeese Morris – Graduate Landscapes