Hugelkultur garden beds

A Hügelkultur is a mound constructed from decaying wood debris and similar compostable woody plant materials that is later planted as a raised bed. It is a gardening technique that has been practiced for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany. A Hugelkultur is a low-maintenance garden that will eventually not require irrigation or fertilization. Hugelkultur beds have naturally good drainage and create incredibly rich, fertile soil that retains moisture.

I once constructed a Hugelkultur bed to increase the growing capacity of a garden space in a rental that only allowed me use of narrow beds surrounding a concrete patio. I extended the planting space by building a Hugelkultur on top of the patio. I was able to grow a Three Sisters garden and other delicious vegetables using this technique.

Hugelkultur is a technique that requires little water to produce a good harvest, and we are entering what has typically been our long dry season. Many people are still mostly sheltering-in-place and can take advantage of time at home to work more on their gardens. This is also a fun project to do with kids.

A hugelkultur bed is a little more work to set up than a standard garden bed but takes less work over time to maintain. It can actually be less work than building a raised bed. The wood rotting under the Hugelkultur bed will act like compost, creating extremely rich soil. For the first few years, the composting process will warm the soil a bit, so you will have a slightly longer growing season.

The rotting wood also acts as a sponge, retaining water and eventually eliminating the need for irrigation. This ability to absorb and retain water means it can be a good strategy even in desert environments. It has been said that Hugelkultur beds improve the flavor of the fruits and vegetables grown on them.

The Permaculture Institute website has detailed instructions about how to make a Hugelkultur bed.

Enjoy experimenting with this unique gardening technique- and enjoy the fruits of your labor!