Hugel what? Ok, what is that weird word in the title? It looks funny. Is that a German word? Why yes it is! It basically means building a raised garden on top of a bunch of old wood. The literal translation is "mound culture" and it fits the description to a tee. Apparently it has been all the rage and looks decidedly different than just a simple raised garden bed. The practice was developed by an Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzer, and gained a huge internet following thanks to permaculture icon Paul Wheaton. Below are a few of the features and benefits of this raised garden bed style.
Getting right down to it, a hugelkultur is nothing more than a raised garden bed with rotten wood at the base. It is sometimes knows as wood composting. Unlike a traditional raised garden bed, it can take the form of just about any shape. It can also be built flush to the ground, but is more commonly seen as a raised variety, but without the external wooden structure. A mix of various organic matter (including nitrogen-rich compost or mulch, straw, sod that was dug up, etc.) is then layered on top over the wood until a mound is formed. At this point it probably doesn’t look very pretty so a layer of dress mulch can be placed over the top.
The benefits of a hugelkultur are simple. The wood absorbs water like a sponge, then slowly releases it back into the grown along with nutrients from the organic matter so it becomes self-irrigating and fertilizing. During the decomposing process, the soil heats up, attracting earthworms and other creatures to the party that root around and create channels or air pockets for plant roots to enter. And best of all, the warmer soil of the hugelkultur provides a longer growing season for vegetables, herbs and other plants.
The one thing to watch out for is the location of the hugelkultur. Traditionally they are built several feet tall; sometimes as high as six or seven feet. This is probably not something that one would want in a front yard garden, so placement of this particular style of plant bed should be taken into consideration. Areas of the country that tend to experience a hotter summer with drought conditions are considered ideal for a hugelkultur. Try a small area to start and then add additional square footage as necessary.
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