Hügelkultur Garden Beds

Say what? Hügelkultur (HOO-gul-kul-tur or hoogle-culture) put simply, is a permaculture method of filling or making garden beds by layering logs, branches, leaves, and other organic plant debris with compost and soil. In German, hügelkultur literally means “hill culture,” and traditionally, gardens we’re created in mounds. It is a centuries-old, traditional way of building a garden bed. These mound shapes are created by marking out an area for a garden bed, clearing the land, and then heaping up woody material (that’s ideally already partially rotted), then topping with compost and soil. Well, hügelkultur can also be used inside raised beds to achieve the same benefits as a mound. So that’s what we’ve opted for in our garden.

Other than having poor soil, why else would anyone use this method? Well, while the natural material decomposes, it creates incredible biodiversity in the soil. The wood, while rotting acts much like a sponge, absorbing, and retaining water in the garden bed and releasing it to the roots when needed. As the wood and other natural materials break down and decay over time, worms, beneficial bacteria, nematodes, fungi, microbes and other aspects of soil permaculture work to create and release nutrients that feed the plants put in these beds. Decomposing plant materials in the hügelkultur garden also can generate some heat, which allows for earlier Spring planting.

With a recent ice storm in our area, many many tree branches had fallen. A few friends of ours had some mounds of debris and we were more than happy to collect them for our newly built garden beds. We’ve set them aside in our yard to decompose a bit while we prepared our garden area, leveling the land and building new raised beds.

We opted to build much taller raised beds this go-around vs. our previous layout with very low raised beds. We chose this route due to my back issues and to make it a little less strenuous while gardening.

Yes, it was lovely, but just no longer practical for my chronic back, hip and joint pain. So it was time to build up!

After putting a beeswax seal on the raised bed, we lined it with weed barrier and stapled it in.

This is the beeswax we used. It’s non-toxic, so even the kids can help! As you can see, the wood on the left has been sealed in comparison to the unsealed wood on the right. Find it here.

Then go in the layers of a hügelkultur bed. Starting with cardboard and other paper materials like toilet paper and paper towel rolls. Next goes in the logs and branches.

We filled it much more than this, just wanted to get a quick picture with my tan potato sleeping in the background.

After the wood material goes in the dried grasses and leaves. Here I have the lemongrass that has dried out over the winter in my yard and underneath is a hearty layer of dried leaves. And yes, my little potato dog has actually moved in closer.

Next goes in the layers of compost and healthy, organic topsoil.

Now comes the pretty part of filling the raised beds with all the wonderful things to grow. As the organic matter under the soil breaks down, nutrients are fed to the roots and everything is as they are in beautiful garden harmony.

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