Episode-218- This Is What Hugelkultur Looks Like

Growing hugel style
Growing hugel style

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”     Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

Hugelkultur, Wood Core gardens, woody beds, hugel beds, whatever you wish to call it this is what it looks like but don’t ask Sepp Holzer if that fits his definition. To get it to look this we start by removing the old flat square foot gardens, then we plot a line on contour and dig it out a foot deep. Next we roll in the logs, cover with branches and leave, then add compost, manure and soil, we sow wintergreen and hairy vetch and then cover with straw. When spring comes we add seeds and starter plants. Over time it grows and grows and grows big huge wonderful plants like tomato, squash, cucumber, and berries of all types.  The image that got my mind swimming in visions of a productive food forest resembled a series of huge maze of concentric circular gardens. I thought to myself how beautiful that would look in my backyard. I remember showing my daughter the image and said I was going to build the same thing in the backyard. She said that what she was looking at was something from a fairy tale book and from those words I was hooked on the idea of building the unusual and beautiful hugelkultur beds as presented by Sepp Holzer.

I have always been more than successful of turning my visions of the future into reality but not without great sacrifice. Building gardens hugelkultur style in my backyard has been no less daunting. However, I can now literally hide or get someone lost in my backyard with what I have built and I am talking of an area only one tenth of an acre! I now present you with what I have built and encourage you to expand on these ideas and build something beautiful yourself or with friends. I won’t be getting into the details of how to build these garden structures just yet because that will be presented in a following chapter. In the meantime be sure to check out the resources in order to learn more and plan properly before tearing up your backyard.

Check out this set of images to inspire you.

Hugelkulture is big huge raised beds up to 2 meters tall, and it is regular old fashioned flat gardens built on top of buried wood, hugelkultur is also swales built on contour with big wood logs used to hold them in place. Hugelkultur is also a 12 foot kiwi arbor with buried logs underneath. It’s blueberries planted on top of buried logs and raised out of the ground in wonderful mounds that absorb moisture and support mini eco-systems. How can one method of gardening have so many varieties? Well it depends on how rigid of a definition you need in order to get started with a hugel style bed. For me I like the simple definition that hugelkultur is a garden or growing space built on top of a solid wood core and then covered in layers of branches, twigs, leaves, compsot and soil in that order.  See this

My progression in garden building has gone from flat compressed beds of soil created by digging down through a foot of clay and mixing the clay with compost, hummus manure and top soil. That’s too much work!  At the time of doing this I had no idea of the life systems necessary for good root structure and drainage. Then I heard about Mel Bartholomew and square foot gardening and that seemed to make sense by incorporating good drainage and growing more food and flowers in less space. Luckily before I progressed too far with my garden building I learned about hugel culture which has the combined benefits of good drainage and eco-sytem building and so much more. Over time hugel beds will benefit from the decaying wood core which absorbs water like a sponge and releases nutrient over time supporting a a food chain and serving a larger food web. More importantly all that life around the roots of plants makes them grow bigger and stronger and develop better plant genes. One other benefit of hugel beds I wish to mention is that there is no need to bend over to harvest your rewards. Done right hugel fruit meets you at eye level. Very cool!

It is because of these many benefits that the design of a hugel bed can made to adapt to the local environment and available resources. Now anything I plant is only done so on a hugel bed. Whether its asparagus or blueberry or even my peach tree a look underneath will reveal a life system built around a log as the base. Hugelkultur is a form of raised bed gardening that can be built as high as two meters and as long as space and resources allow. The concept has been perfected over the past three decades by Sepp Holzer of Austria. He is responsible for turning a barren mountain side into it a huge multi-tiered food production center. Known as the Krameterhoff this rich productive area has been a mecca for permaculture enthusiasts for decades. At the center of his enterprise is the emplacement of huge raised bed gardens throughout the mountain side along with strategically placed ponds to help regulate temprature and moisutre. He has travelled the world spreading the art of permaculture with hugelkultur as the basis for growing food. I researched his work prior to thinking of incorporating the garden building method myself and then once the concept became clear to me I began to plan for how I would incorporate hugelkultur into my backyard.

However I began building gardens with the hugelkultur method before I even knew what hugelkultur was. This was with the three tiered strawberry planter I built in the fall/spring 2010 – 2011. Once the planter was constructed and placed outside I filled it with as much twigs, leaves and compost as I could before laying it with soil. My only regret was that I did not fill it with bigger logs first as I am sure they other material has long been decomposed. The point though is that somehow I knew instinctively to make the base of the garden a place where a proper environment for good soil can begin. I was practicing hugelkultur and I didn’t even know it.

It was another full year before my understanding of hugelkultur took off in earnest through applied learning. This was when I built the eleven log hugel bed where two flat square foot garden sat previously. The hugelkultur recipe called for logs and I had plenty of them. Big heavy logs then had to be rolled into place and then stacked like a cheerleader pyramid. It was all work as I first dug the base one foot deep and five feet wide by twelve feet long. For my small sized yard it seemed massive but it was puny compared to a Sepp Holzer hugelbed.

The coolest thing about how hugel beds look is that they rise up out of the ground. This allows for much more growing space and vitality than would normally be realized from a traditional raised garden bed. Instead of so many square feet to consider for planting the amount of space almost triples. The big hugel bed resembles a trapezoidal pyramid with a total growing space of almost 90 square feet. The two flat squad gardens it replaced provided a total of 32 square feet. Not only is the growing space more than doubled but done right a hugel bed can be something that stands out as unusual but unusually beautiful too. See more pics here to get you started on the hugel bed build method. 

Teolis' Hiding in a Hugel bed.
Teolis’ Hiding in a Hugel bed.


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