Good day mates, it’s Kevin here again, this time requesting your help with something that may help you. So “what’s this guy asking for”, you might say, “and what the heck is a Hugelkultur anyway”? Well I’ve been noticing, all over the country in every neighborhood I drive through, piles of branches and bags of leaves sitting at the curb waiting for some municipal body to come and pick it all up and take it away. After several years of being very interested in Permaculture principles, these piles caught my attention and got me thinking of how to use them in a more sustainable way.
Somewhere along the way I was introduced to the concept of Hugelkulturs (pronounced “who-gull-culture”, more or less!), also known as hugel beds. After a bit of research on the topic I’ve come to learn that Hugelkultur is a German word translating to “mound culture”. To build one, you mound branches, logs, leaves, grass clippings, pine cones, food waste, and manure (or whatever else you have in the way of biomass accumulating on your property) directly on top of the ground, or trench down into your native soil and mound it all inside of the trench. The mound is then capped off with some sort of growing medium- either the soil which came out of the trench, a premade soil mixture, and/or compost. This helps to hold down moisture around all the wood debris in the mound, which in turn speeds up the decomposition of the materials inside.
After this mounding of debris and capping off with soil has taken place, you’ll be ready to spread some cover crop seeds such as buckwheat and cowpeas for the warm season, or clover and vetch for the cool season. After a few seasons of cover cropping on the Hugelkultur, you may decide that it’s ready to plant with other crops- either for food, medicine, or forage for pollinators.
So that’s how it’s built, here’s how it works: The mound gets rained on and the cover crop seeds begin to germinate. The cover crops scavenge nutrients from the soil, or sequester carbon and nitrogen from the air, and hold it in place to further feed the mound culture. Next, rainwater works down into the mound and begins to saturate the wood debris. Once this saturation has taken place the wood will actually begin to wick moisture back out to the mound, causing sort of a self-irrigation process to take place! This allows you, the gardener, to water less or hopefully not at all. You can even improve upon this self-irrigation system by locating your mound cultures on hills and slopes. This way, rainwater will run down into the mound from the sloped surfaces, and be held in place rather than running off with topsoil and nutrients into the streams and rivers.
I made my first hugelbed the other day with help from my new friends Jim and Ellen. It was hard work but only took us about 3 hours. Fortunately, they had been accumulating a lot of compost materials over the years that they knew would be useful for something, and they were very pleased to put it all to use in a hugelbed. Check out our photos of the process below, and stay tuned in for more pictures of its progress. We are hoping to get our hands on as many medicinal plants as possible for later use on this mound culture.
So please join me in spreading the word about Hugelkulturs so that we can begin to close the loop of the “disappearing biomass”! Instead of waiting for it to disappear from your curb, make it disappear into your yard where you can use it to create deep dark humus-rich soil. Thanks for reading and really I want to know- “What’s in your Hugelkultur?” Send me your photos and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. So long for now!