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Country Gardens: What is hugelkultur?

You may have heard the word hugelkultur quite a lot lately. It has been around for centuries and is now all the rage.

Hugelkultur means hill culture or hill mound, roughly translated from German horticulturists Hans Beba and Herman Andra in the late 1970s. The method consists of creating raised garden beds by covering rotting wood with compost and soil, then planting into them.

Upon doing a search on the web you will find numerous ideas on how to get started on making a hugelkultur bed.  Basically the methods are the same. Here is one link to get you started,

The decomposing organic matter in hugelkultur beds raises the temperature just enough to boost plant growth. As the woody brush rots, it releases nutrients slowly, and holds a lot of water.

Here is basic way to make the layers: Start with a pile of dead logs and thick twigs.  You can make them as low or high as you want.  Another way is to dig a trench, and then place the logs into it so that the compost and soil spread over the top will create an almost flat surface. A sunny spot works well, but it has been show that partially shaded areas can produce just as well. Some sites say to not use cedar wood, black walnut and black cherry, which is probably something to note when making your bed.

Next add a thick pile of dead leaves or dry straw so that all of the wood is covered.

Next is a layer of lawn clippings and green leaves, covering all of the leaf or straw material. Followed by a layer of mature compost. You may have to purchase bags of this unless you have a compost pile.

And finally a layer with a few inches of topsoil. That is it!

Water the layers well. It is best to prepare the beds several months before planting time. But you can begin planting as soon as you have the bed assembled. You should not have to till the bed. Do an occasionally soil test so you know exactly what your beds conditions are.

When properly constructed, hugel beds act like a sponge which holds onto moisture for prolonged periods of time, turning ordinary clay soil into black gold over time by producing a matrix for earthworms and other soil dwellers to thrive.

The best part is because the center of each mound releases nutrients, they do not need fertilizer or irrigation very often. In the first year they do absorb a lot of nitrogen. It is recommended to wait until the third or fourth year to plant vegetables in these beds. Try potatoes, tomatoes, lettuces and other edible greens until the beds are established. You will have to add compost over time as the mound collapses, which in turn will add more nutrients to the soil.

The main thing is experimentation and reading up about the subject. Gather all you can and see how others do this type of gardening, then have at it and give it a try.

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