Episode-17- Make Hugel Bed For Sustainable Gardening

Hugelkultur bed
hugelkultur wood bed growing Teolis

As I begin this story first let me say I am in such pain and probably more so tomorrow. But I have such a good impression of what I did today to begin some hugelkultur in my backyard that I don’t care about the pain.

The reason this is on my to do list is because this is a more than a one day job. This is hugelkultur and it’s no joke. Hugelkultur is hard labor and not for the unimaginative. Anybody with friends can do hugelkultur and the more the merrier.  I first heard about hugelkultur back at the beginning of 2011 when Paul Wheaton of Permies.com was interviewed a couple of times with Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast.com. I came home on Friday November 4 with a full to do list but for some reason I put off an indoor job and explored hugelkultur on the web. I had no plans whatsoever to consider changing any of my gardens and definitely not something as drastic as building a hugelkultur raised bed. But I guess I was looking for a way out of the bathroom grout job and the weather was beautiful.

Hugelkutur is building raised beds on top of a layered foundation of big old rotting logs, twigs, Branches, compost, wood chips, upside down turf, and dirt removed from the dug out area. The concept is that all of the wood builds a long term nutrient and moisture supply that could potentially keep beds maintained while staying true to Holmgren’s 12 permaculture design principles. Additionally, this follows my principle that if you want to create production sometimes you have to destroy something else. The wood that makes up the bones of this garden production system also serves to create more space and thus oxygen to help keep the bed well aerated versus the compact mass dirt in a regular four foot by four foot raised bed.

My first google of hugelkultur led me to Mr. Sep Holzer of Austria and a couple of magazine articles nicely displayed on his website. The image from the magazine article shows Sep sitting on one of these beds and it appears as a throne of flowers and greenery. Once I looked at the images of hugelkultur raised beds I immediately understood the benefits of placing them in the yard. My previous impression of digging 4 feet or deeper in my back yard kept me from ever considering hugukultur as an option. However, the images Sep Holzer had displayed were inspiring. My daughter exclaimed how it looked like a fairy tale. I soon found another site and it was even better in its explanation of how to build hugelkultur raised beds and the various options. Most of these did not require digging below the surface. So 2 beers and 45 minutes of web surfing convinced me of the hugelkultur concept and it became the main job for the weekend.

The pictures for this episode on the todolisthome.com website display the different phases of the construction process for building a hugelkulture raised bed. I first had to remove the 2 – 16 square foot gardens that have been in place since the summer of 09 and I believe were my first square foot gardens. I then dug a few inches of the humus and clay layer out to create a slightly indented area. The area to start the bed was 11 feet by 5 feet.

Next I hauled over 12 large logs that were part of a tree cut down back in 09. They have been sitting around long enough to have had enough of their nitrogen draws diminished and are somewhat decayed enough to act like sponges for a long time. The logs were lined up and then surrounded with large branches and twigs.

I then covered the wood with as much fresh cuttings from the demolished gardens and then piled on 5 wheel barrow loads of chipped wood I found in the woods behind my house. Following that I piled on another 5 loads of dirt gathered from a couple of places in the back of the yard and then the dirt from the original gardens. I then added a layer of fresh compost from the compost bin. Once this was completed I soaked the mammoth garden with water, added leaves, wet it again and covered it with straw. The last step is to sow the new hugelkultur bed with vetch and winter rye which I ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange located in Mineral, Virginia.

The finished bed is 3 1/2 feet high, 10 feet long and 4 ½ feet wide. This is shorter than what Sep and others recommend but for me the 3 ½ foot height was optimum for my purposes. It matched the resources I had available and gave me a two day workout that I will remember for a little while at least.  The most surprising benefit I received out building this hugekultur raised bed is that instead of having 2 – 16 square foot gardens this garden which resembles a rectangular prism and has a total area of 70 square feet. That’s more than 4 – 16 square foot gardens. Simply amazing. I will be putting in at least 2 more of these gardens in the back near the honey bee hive. I will temper my enthusiasm but this will be very cool if this works. It will be hard for me to go back to regular raised bed and square foot gardening. Now I understand how square foot gardening has come into some disfavor with Jack Spriko and Jason Aikers of the Self Sufficient Gardener Podcast. That’s it for today now go and do something useful. Hugelkultur! Hugelkultur! Hugelkultur!

Hugelkultur bed predecessor

Step 1 Remove old garden beds
hugelkultur logs
Step 2 Roll in 11 big old logs
hugel twigs
Step 3 Cover with branches and twigs
Soil on hugel wood bed
Step 4 Fill in with dirt from old gardens, mulch, compost, wood chips, etc…
cover bed with leaves
Step 5 Cover with leaves

Step 6 Cover crop with winter rye and hairy vetch and hay and wait 4-5 months. 

How to build a hugelkultur (“Hoogle Culture”) raised bed

Song of the day – Heartless Bastards –  Nothing Seems the Same – Live Video

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