What is Hugelkultur?

Hazel Marie    Permaculture

Hugelkultur means hill culture or hill mound. You’ve probably seen them at least once in your lifetime, whether it be passing by a garden or on the internet. They’re those raised compost garden beds. Okay, it may not be as simple as that, but hugelkultur beds are commonly filled with decomposing wood. They are also filled with traditional, nutritional compost that carry other organic material.

Aspects Specific to Hugelkultur

Unlike other forms of compost, hugelkultur raised compost beds have air pockets special for the roots of plants. They’re manmade of completely biodegradable material. This material is meant to increase the quality of the soil in which plants grow on.

Hugelkultur beds typically have a perimeter of around 3 x 6 feet with a height of 3 feet. This is ideal for maintenance and preservation and are usually found in areas in which underlying soil has poor quality. While you could make your hugelkultur a larger size, the overall quality of the compost soil won’t increase or decrease if the process is done correctly.

The main ingredient in this compost pile is wood and wood shavings. Hugelkultur is an ideal way to use up fallen branches and leftover wood. The word Hugelkultur translates to “mound culture” in German, and has been around for centuries across Europe. This ancient form of composting is one that lasts for years to come if done properly.

The Perks of Hugelkultur

The process of making a hugelkultur compost mound is a lengthy one. Trenches are to be dug, materials are to be gathered, and compost is to be made. With the main ingredient being wood and wood chipping, there is a constant flow of nutrients.

Self-Maintenance

Any wood material, such as logs and branches, are able to store water retrieved from previous rainfalls. This water, then, gets released when the weather gets dry. Hugelkultur mounds, therefore, water themselves and require less attention than traditional soil does. One can expect to avoid watering their hugelkultur for at least a year unless there are long periods of drought.

Fertilization

With the non-stop supply of wood within a hugelkultur mound, these compost piles are constantly being fertilized. Wood is a natural material that is self-decaying. When wood decays, it releases nutrients that aid in the growth of most plants and crops. Depending on the type of wood you use, your hugelkultur mound could be fertilized for years to come.

Plant Life

Hugelkultur is ideal for any form of plants. You could use your compost pile as a vegetable garden or a flower bed if you desired. The wood supply generates heat that prolongs the growing season, making your gardening efforts last longer. The steeper you make your mound, the more plant life it can carry.

Environment

Hugelkultur naturally promotes eco-friendly environments. With it having been around for centuries, its tradition still remain the same. The use of fallen branches and wood scraps make it a positive force amongst those who promote the use of organic and decomposable material.

Building Your Hugelkultur

The process of building a hugelkultur mound takes more time than a traditional compost pile. Depending on your desired compost size, you’ll want a suitable area to fit your compost mound into. Without being too detailed, here is how the overall process goes:

  1. Determine where you want your hugelkultur mound to be built. You’ll typically need a space with a perimeter of 6 feet by 3 feet.
  2. Gather your materials. Be sure to include any and all materials needed for building a compost pile. Along with those materials, include many pieces of fallen branches or wood and wood scrapings to include in your pile. You may want to substitute material for your specific compost needs. Additionally, include top soil to be spread throughout the mound.
  3. Layer your hugelkultur beds by first laying down your largest logs. This will be your support, and you can then build on your pile going back and forth from compost material to wooden branches. Remember, you’ll want to bring your pile to a triangular shape as you layer your mound.
  4. Additionally, you will want to water your hugelkultur mound well in between each layer.
  5. Any leftover spaces in your mound can be filled with kitchen scraps, twigs or other handy compostable supplies.
  6. Finally, douse your mound in top soil and mulch to seal everything in and hold its form. You will want to make this layer about 1 to 2 inches thick.

One response to “What is Hugelkultur?”

  1. The Benefits of Growing Elderberries | Growing Organic says:

    […] decide how to use the fallen mulch. Add it to your compost pile or use it to contour your pile or¬†hugelkultur […]

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