“Systems in Europe have practiced tree-based agriculture in wetlands for thousands of years under the name hugelkulture, in which they utilize woody debris to help form the raised planting mounds. Gradually, the woody material breaks down into soil, feeding the plant over time while catching leaves and other nutrient-rich debris that circulate via wind currents in the area.” – Ben Falk, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, p 90-91
Hugelkultur is touted as “the ultimate raised garden beds”, popularized by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer. As permaculture teacher Paul Wheaton explains it, “Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood.”
He goes on explaining what makes hugelkultur beds great:
“This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life.”
Hugelkultur helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds.
Here are some of the best resources for learning more about hugelkultur and exactly how to do it.
- Hugelkultur – Wikipedia
- Hugelkultur – Appropredia
- Benefits of Hugelkultur – Permaculture Magazine
- Podcast: Hugelkultur. What it is. When is it appropriate. And when isn’t it. – Permaculture Voices
Podcast: Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton on hugelkultur vs swales (discussed towards the end)
“Potatoes really love hugelkultur – I can start potatoes in these mounds a month earlier than in garden beds. Squashes, melons, and other vines do well here too.
The decomposing organic matter in hugelkultur beds raises the temperature just enough to boost plant growth. Another advantage: As the woody brush rots, it releases nutrients slowly, and also holds quite a bit of water.You don’t need to fertilize or irrigate hugelkultur very often.” – Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden, p. 70
- Paul Wheaton on building hugelkultur beds
- How to Build and Plant Large Hugelkultur Berms – Peak Prosperity
- How-To: Hugelkultur Raised Garden Bed Start-to-Finish – Yellow Birch Hobby Farm
- No irrigation raised bed gardening system – Save Our Skills
- Hugelkultur brochure – Washington State University
- Don’t Try Building Hugel Swales – This is a Very and I Mean Very Bad Idea by Jack Spirko
Video of several hugelkultur raised beds, both small garden scale, and large farm scale – one has nearly a kilometer of hugelkultur!
Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast discuss traditional hugulkultur and how it has been adapted to more suburban and urban friendly applications. Here are some links with more on hugelkultur.
The making of a hugelkultur garden bed
Hugulkultur beds built by Sepp Holzer in Dayton MT.
- Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening talks about this kind of raised bed gardening.
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition briefly mentions hugelkulturs as well, as a way of building soil.
Featured image: Øyvind Holmstad, from The Scandinavian Permaculture festival of 2013.