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Practicing hugelcultur

Like other kinds of gardening, hügelcultur enables gardeners to solve a specific gardening challenge. Some of these challenges are reclaiming storm-damaged land; earmarking rotting trees, branches and twigs for a beneficial use; building soil; preventing flooding; and constructing landscapes. These challenges are faced by home gardeners, farmers, municipalities, states and nations but on a different scale. Regardless, the basic procedures of hügelcultur are the same.

Navigating the ice on Lake Michigan
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The beginning step for a home gardener is to identify the challenge and choose the site for their mound. Is pruning debris or storm damage piling up? Is a nearby stream flooding their property? Would a raised planting bed improve their property?

The next step is to identify the wood to be used in the hügelcultur mound. Certain wood isn’t recommended for the mound because it either takes too long to decompose or because it’s toxic to plants and animals. Avoid wood from cedar, black locust, black walnut, cherry trees and allelopathic trees, trees inhibiting the germination or growth of plants. Recommended wood comes from alders, apple, cottonwood, poplar, willow, birch and maple trees.

It’s now time to build the mound at the designated site. Mounds can be 2.5 to 7 feet tall, and 4 to 5 feet wide. If there is sod at the site, dig it up and save it. Dig a shallow base and reserve the soil. Add the largest, heaviest wood at the base, add branches, twigs and leaf debris to fill in the empty spaces. Put on a layer of reserved sod, but place it upside down. Then cover the pile with a layer of topsoil. Apply another layer of sod upside down. Then apply a final layer of topsoil about two inches thick.

To be continued…

Live long and well—garden.

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