“Hügelkultur is a composting process employing raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants growing near or on such mounds”(3).
Hügelkultur is a raised garden bed design that is utilized by many permaculture gardeners. This system mimics the natural systems in the forests where fallen trees and branches become nutrients and humus to support new, emerging life. Humans learned from what nature was doing and recreated it in their own gardens and farms. To create a hügelkultur bed, you stack logs, sticks, and twigs to form a hill where you want your garden bed. You then add in sources of nitrogen rich material such as kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, and leaves and cover the mound with growing medium. This design retains moisture throughout the hot season, extends the growing season because decaying wood generates heat, and supplies nutrients to the growing plants. Anyone could benefit from using hügelkultur techniques, but growers that benefit most from this are producers that are working with compacted soils, drought situations, or in heavily developed areas where the native soils have been destroyed.
Literally translated from German, hügelkultur means ‘hill culture.’ The inspiration for this particular growing system came from Eastern Europe and Germany, and it was later developed and expounded upon by Sepp Holzer and Paul Wheaton who are both permaculture experts.
I'd like to conclude with some problems that I see with this system.
1. All the nitrogen that you apply to this system will be bound up for a very long time by the bacteria decomposing the wood because they need the carbon in the wood as well as nitrogen to survive. The nitrogen hierarchy states that bacteria get dibs on nitrogen before plants before consumers. Law of nature, sorry. All that nitrogen will eventually become available to the plants through the soil, but until then, you'll need to apply more nitrogen if you don't want sad looking plants.
2. Erosion could potentially become a problem the wood is piled up as high as recommended. If you live in a rainy climate, you might want to consider a shorter hill.
Until next time!