How often do you come across something useful, even when you didn’t know you needed it! I was wowed when an article on HUGELKULTUR popped up in my news feed! It’s a German word meaning Hill or Mound Culture – a way of growing veggies or plants in a vertical fashion using logs, woody cuttings to make the mound. And this technique has been around for quite a while. I was talking about it to a colleague at work and she said “My uncle does that, it really works!” More than enough to spur me into action …
What is Hugelkultur?
HUGELKULTUR is simply an sustainable way to grow plants using wood, woody clippings, and compostable material in a raised mound. It’s a form of Permaculture that’s been used in Germany and E Europe for several centuries.
History:- the idea of Hugelkultur was 1st published in 1962 in a German Gardening Booklet by Herman Andrä who quoted a lecture by Rudolf Steiner from 1924
I found a great website at Richsoil.com with beautiful clear diagrams of how to build a Hugel Mound and it’s evolution over time as it slumps. It’s often recommended that a shallow trench is dug for the base of your Hugel Mound. I can’t do that here, but building it on the top of the ground is ok too. Will do what it takes to make it work for my yard.
Working with Nature
My Grandpa taught me to always look up words if you’re not sure of the exact meaning of that word – I still do that on a regular basis. The definition of Permaculture was one of those things I needed to look up. From then, I delved into what Permaculture is really all about! Hugelkultur is an efficient form of Permaculture – an agricultural system that is sustainable and self-sufficient.
Permaculture = PERMAnent AgriCULTURE
What Hugelkultur is NOT is a method for controlling large amounts of rainfall. Although the mounds do retains rainfall, they are not useful during heavy rainfall events. They are not SWALES or BERMS which are designed to control and gradually release large amount of water. If you build a Hugel Mound on a slope it may move if, for example, we have 6″ rain in a couple of days. Saying that, I measured 1″ rain one day last week and my unfinished mound (not on a slope) did not move at all. Made my happy.
Doing my research, I found a lot of lists defining Permaculture and the one I’ve made below contains some of the features I found in all the lists. What’s really interesting is that ALL these features apply to Hugelkultur!
- Produce no waste – Previously I’d have burnt some of the large woody waste from my garden (smaller pieces are already composted). No more – I’ll use them to make Hugel Mounds
- Work with what you have – exactly that, no purchases necessary! I’m using woody waste from the garden, straw and chicken poop from the girls & compost I’ve already made in my garden.
- Small and Slow Solutions – Hugel mounds can last 5-6 years; they will slump as the bottom layers decay.
- Water Retention – Hugel mounds are good at retaining rainwater. Efficient use of water is important in a region that has long periods with little or no rainfall
- Biodiversity – the complete opposite of modern monoculture in agriculture. A more natural ecosystem.
The benefits of Hugelkultur
My mind was blown by the simple fact that what Hugelkultur is really about is MAKING SOIL! Ask anyone around here and you’ll quickly find out that west of IH-35 you go down a few inches and hit limestone. Towards the back of my property I have quite a large area where very little grows, almost no soil and a lot of rock. Even native grasses struggle here!
I hope, eventually (in a few years) to have some lovely shrubby raised beds in an area where I have nothing now. Several of my young Osage Orange trees will go into these mounds along with herbs and other native plants. Over time as the mound slumps I hope that the shrubs and trees in my mound will have found cracks in the limestone for their roots and the whole area will be improved.
The area where I’m “planting” my Hugel mounds is not protected from deer, so growing veggies here is not an option. What I want to grow is herbs and native plants – all of which will be good food for my Honeybees. I’ve already taken some heel cuttings from my Rosemary bushes which will be planted once they’ve strongly rooted. I’ll post photos as my mounds grow through spring and summer.
Both Stuart and I are great believers in continuing education – there’s always something new you can learn. It’s also good when you find that you’re ideas are validated by others. The way I garden now has developed from decades of observation, talking to others, reading etc…
I am currently reading Permaculture by Sepp Holzer. – This gentleman was into Permaculture long before it became a trendy word, creating a farm rich in biodiversity, full of healthy growth. If you’ve been reading my blogs you’ll know that I also champion creating a healthy, biodiverse environment in the backyard. Always trying to work with nature instead of against it & using small steps to achieve great goals. Guess I was also into Permaculture before I really knew the meaning of the word!!