Looking to build a large raised bed? Want to borrow an age-old German tradition focused on enriching the soil? Try a Hügelkultur.
Hügelkultur (HEW-gul-kul-TOOr) goes back centuries eastern Europe and Germany, as part of a permaculture system. In essence, you build dirt six or more feet up and over large logs and wood and plant debris which will break down and provide nutrients over the decades.
Most are build as mounds where the bottom area is larger and tapers as it grows, however the same premise can apply to a very large raised bed in a square or rectangle box.
Inexpensive and locally sourced downed trees, fallen branches and scrap, rough lumber can all be used. This wood is perfect for a fertile, moisture-retaining garden bed. Other materials to heap in there could be newspapers, straw, manure and other compost.
Of course, these mounds will shrink in size over time, and will need to be replenished with soil. Ideally, each year you’ll throw six inches of rich soil followed by a mulch. Eventually, from top to bottom will be packed with nutrition for the plants.
To layer a hugelkulter, create a shallow pit at the bottom and put in a layer of crushed rock or bedrock. Next pile in your large, downed logs and lumber, then add the other woody material, branches, and other woods. Be sure not to use wood treated with chemicals, or toxic woods like black walnut. Slow rotting wood is also not recommended such as cedar or redwood.
Next step is to layer in like a lasagna with grass clippings, leaves, newspaper and other organic materials. If you have sod, turn it root side up and pile it on. Continue to pack down the materials, filling in cracks with manure, leaf litter and grass. Then water the layers well. Finally, add three inches or so of nutritious soil and a layer of mulch.
The pile will need to be watered the first year during dry spells if rainfall is lacking. After that, irrigation won’t be required – the hügelkultur will be moist because the underlying wood will act as a sponge. It will also be incredibly fertile, rich in bacteria, fungus, worms and microbial growth so make the most of it.
Photo from Amazon.com – HUGELKULTUR by James Paris HERE