Sustainable for a Future

Hugelkultur Garden Beds


Missouri summers can be very hot and dry, not good news for the garden. Thankfully, Germans figured out a method way back that can deal with this no problem. It’s called hugelkultur. A fancy name for a very simple idea; planting on top of big piles of half-rotten wood. The wood acts as a sponge during the wet season and releases it during the dry times. The bigger the pile, the less irrigation is needed. With a pile that is 6-7 ft high it’s possible to not water at all during the entire growing season. Crazy eh?!

Wood is predominantly carbon so in the process of slowly decomposing it requires nitrogen, so when building the piles you mix in something rich in it, like manure, or mulch from a nitrogen-fixing plant like clover. Otherwise it will pull nitrogen from the plants growing above, and reduce your yields and the general health of the plants. In general, anything green is rich in nitrogen, and anything brown and dry is rich in carbon. If you’re familiar with the notion sheet mulching, alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen materials over the soil, this is a simple extension of that idea; just start with a layer of wood. Be careful to avoid woods that contain toxins like cedar, but otherwise it’s hard to go wrong.

To recap: make a big pile of half-rotten wood, mixing in nitrogen rich material the whole way, water thoroughly to get it started off strongly, put soil on top and plant away. If converting a lawn into a hugelkultur bed, you can pull up the sod, dig into the ground if you’d like to make the final bed shorter and thus easier to engage, then lay the sod over-top, grass-side down. This will incorporate all the nutrients contained within the grass, roots and blades, and make it that much easier to construct your bed in fewer steps. Put some compost on top and plant your garden. Google some pictures, as this makes the simplicity of the idea very apparent. Even if you don’t want a big, weird-looking mound as a garden (even though this makes it easier to weed and harvest, raised beds are the shit!) you dig below any bed your planning and put some wood below to gain some of the benefits. Hope this info helps make your garden that much easier, healthy, and enjoyable.


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