Hugelkultur – Is It Right for You! (What you didn’t know)


hugelkultur - dead wood logs

If you are not familiar with the concept of hugelkultur, I would suggest you go through the blog where I have mentioned the basics of this gardening technique. You can read it here. Once you know the fundamental of this technique, you might be curious to try it on your own. But is it right for you and your crops?

Hugelkultur is right for people looking for a sustainable gardening technique that can keep plants well hydrated, soil healthy, offer more growing area, and put the dead tree trunks, logs, and branches to good use.

While many gardeners are accustomed to only a couple of gardening practices, it is important to experiment now and then with different gardening techniques that can offer different benefits to you and your crops. Hugelkultur, although it is a time-honored gardening practice, people have limited knowledge about it.

So, if you wish to try hugelkultur, here are a few things that you should consider first and then decide whether it is right for you.  

Prerequisites for Building Hugel Beds

hugelkultur - organic matter

There are several things and certain conditions that you need before you start building hugel beds in your garden. Here is a list of all the prerequisites that will help you build hugel beds that work:

A Sunny Spot

Although hugel beds can work well even in partially shaded spots, they usually prefer sitting in a sunny spot. So, if you cannot find a sunny spot, you should consider filling it with crops that can thrive even in dappled or partial shade. Some nice options include arugula, bok choi, lettuce, spinach, and scallions.

And while you are picking the perfect spot for your hugel beds, be sure that the typical size for hugels is around 8×4 feet. Also, you need to clear the site if it is weedy or if there is grass. You can mow and cover up the site with wood chips that will help in suppressing growth.

Digging Tools

While there are also no-dig hugel beds, you would have to dig up shallow pits if you plan to build those typical hugel beds. For this, you would need tools like shovels, spades, garden forks, and trowels. You can make the trench around 12 to 18 inches deep. Also, be sure that the beds are narrow enough, around 4 feet across. This will ensure that you can easily reach the center.

Woody Material

To fill up the dug-out area, you would need a sufficient amount of woody material like logs, downed trees, branches, and twigs. It is recommended that you put a mix of both hard and softwoods. So, you must have access to both in sufficient quantities.

Organic Material and Mulch

After filling the trench with wood, you would have to top it up with grass, grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw, manure, and compost. As a gardener, these can be easily accessible to you. When you are done with the organic material, you can top off the bed with a layer of mulch and around 3 inches of topsoil.

Suppose you don’t have an idea about mulch. I have a video about proven garden mulch ideas. You can watch it below.

Things to Consider While Building Hugel Beds

Now that you know what element you would need to build hugel beds, consider some other things. The following list will help you get a better idea if hugelkultur is the right option for you:

Hugel Beds Should Be Prepared in Advance

For the best results, it is recommended that you should prepare your hugel beds well in advance and let them rest for a few months, preferably during the winters. This way, your hugel beds will be ready for planting during the springtime.

So, it is better if you have some time to spare before you begin planting. However, this does not mean that you sit idle during this time. Well, a gardener can never really take a day off. You can use this time for some other productive tasks like creating a border for these beds.

They Require a lot of Effort and Determination (Initially)

Hugelkultur does require a lot of time, effort, and determination, especially while building. Right from digging up the pit to hauling wood logs, building hugels can seem to be an exhausting task. But once you have your beds successfully, you get to enjoy all the benefits that may last for decades.

So, for a gardener, they can be considered as a long-term investment.

The Mound Will Settle

As the wood logs underneath will break down, air pockets will form, and thus, the mound will start to settle. So, do not be alarmed if the hugel beds seem to sink. However, if you want them to maintain a certain height, you can consider initially building them a little taller.

Hugel Beds Are Inviting to Wildlife

Owing to their height and structure, hugels seem to be quite attractive to deer, groundhogs, and foxes (maybe a little more than you would prefer). So, it is better to be prepared to lose some of your products to them as well. A better way to deal with this is by considering it a contribution to nature.

Types of Hugelkultur

hugelkultur - raised beds

There are several different approaches for hugelkultur. Each of them is unique in its own way and can offer different benefits as well. Here is detailed information about all the possible variations to help you pick the right one for you:

Small/Medium Beds Above Ground

This is essentially a no-dig hugelkultur technique. So, instead of digging a pit, you can put the woody material on the ground before adding organic matter and soil on the top. These beds are quite small in comparison to the ones that require digging. Thus, they would not require a lot of wood and soil as well.

So, if you have limited access to wood logs, this can be a great option for you. However, keep in mind that these hugel beds also store lesser water.

Raised Garden Beds

We are all aware of the trendy raised beds. But these can also be combined with hugelkultur. All you need to do is to build a regular raised bed with wooden sides, but you can add wood logs and debris to it before you fill it up with compost and soil. These can be a great option if you are looking for hugel beds that look ‘normal.’

However, you will be unable to avail all the benefits of hugel beds, such as more growing areas or the ability to create different microclimates.  

Partially Buried Beds

Hugelkultur allows choosing between buried beds or no-dig beds. But if you are still unable to make a decision, you can even partially buried beds. For this, you would not need any additional soil. The soil that you just dug out can be used to cover up the woody material.

This technique also offers hugel beds that are somewhat at the same level as the existing ground level. And since almost all the wood logs are buried, these hugel beds would remain well hydrated and require less frequent irrigation.

Large Beds Above Ground

If you plan to grow two different crops simultaneously, you should consider building these types of beds. As the name suggests, these are quite large, both in terms of width and height. But this is one of the reasons why they can create more extreme micro-climates and help you grow crops that demand different growing conditions.

However, it should be noted that the tops of these beds will remain dry compared to the bottom. So, you can grow crops that require more moisture at the lower part of the beds.

Slash Pile

hugelkultur - raised beds

If you are someone who has a lot of woody debris lying around and are looking for a way to put it into good use, this can be a good hugelkultur technique for you. These beds are typically just a pile of wood that is probably derived from fallen trees. You can pile them up, add soil, compost, and green leaves to build a hugel bed.

However, these may take up to a couple of years before they are productive and ready for planting.

Conclusion on hugelkultur – is it right for you

No matter which hugel bed variation you go with (except slash pile), be sure that you fill in all the cracks and gaps between the logs with the help of soil. This will reduce rodent issues and may even help prevent the bed from settling in the future.

I hope that this information will help you know a little more about hugelkultur and whether it is right for you or not. And with so many approaches, there would be at least one that ticks all the right boxes for you. So, are you ready to begin your huge journey?

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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