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Connecticut Garden Journal: Guide To Hugelkultur

Oct 12, 2017

I'm always looking for unusual ways to grow gardens. One technique I stumbled upon has been used in Germany and Eastern Europe for hundreds of years. It's called hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is a German word that roughly means “mound beds.”

The simplest version of hugelkultur is to take logs, old firewood, or branch prunings that you would normally burn or dump and bury them in a soil mound or a ditch.

Layering in hay, straw, and chopped leaves works well, too. You can plant trees, shrubs, and even annual vegetables on top. As the wood decays over time, it aerates the soil allowing water and air to move easily. It also retains more moisture reducing watering and releases nutrients to feed the plants.

There are certain woods that are best in your hugelkultur mound. Slowly rotting woods, such as cedar and black locust, or ones that exude natural growth-inhibiting chemicals, such as black walnut, shouldn't be used.

Apple, oak, alder, maple, poplar, and birch are often the most recommended. Evergreens, such as fir or spruce, are best if allowed to age a few years before being used.

Build the bed in full sun for growing vegetables or fruits. Make the bed now so it has a chance to settle before spring.

The first spring, grow nitrogen-fixing crops -- such as clover and beans -- on the bed and low nitrogen vegetables such as potatoes, trees, and shrubs.

After the first year, any crop works fine.

Add more soil as the bed settles and water more the first year. In subsequent years, little watering or fertilizing is needed. Hugelkultur beds can feed trees and shrubs for up to 20 years.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about Jack-O-Planterns. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.