Hugelkulturs: The dirtiest scandal to hit your family in years

Don’t tell me this is the first time you’ve heard the word hugelkultur? Oh, but they’re all the rage in the permaculture/biodynamic gardening community these days. They’re so edgy, gritty and risqué, I’m sure you’re going to love them. And once you start using them, your family is going to be the scandal of the neighborhood with all of the food that you’re harvesting with such little investment and effort.

One of our hugelkulturs growing a bit wild last summer. This single mound (8'x15') produced approx. 30 lbs squash, 20 lbs onions, 10 lbs. peas, 15 lbs garlic, and some beautiful flowers!

One of our hugelkulturs growing a bit wild last summer. This single mound (8′x15′) produced approx. 30 lbs squash, 20 lbs onions, 10 lbs. peas, 15 lbs garlic, and some beautiful flowers!

Have some tree branches blown over by a recent storm?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Have problems with paying too much to irrigate your garden during the summer?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Want lots of delicious food this season with minimal effort compared to raised beds?

……….You want to build a hugel.

Want to lose 50 pounds in 5 days?

……….You want to….wait that’s not about hugels. Ahem, anyways…

Hugekultur is a German phrase which loosely translates to “mound culture.” The idea behind the concept is that you can utilize your own yard scraps while growing an amazing variety of edible plants in a small space by creating a mounded growing surface on top of decomposing materials. Read: A giant raised bed filled with rotten wood. You may have done this on accident at some point, if you ever had a pile of chopped wood or yard debri sitting in your yard like an eyesore, until one day you finally decided to throw some dirt on that shit and plant a marigold in it. Voila! Accidental hugelkultur! Ok, actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you were on the right track.

Hugelkulturs utilize logs, wood debris, and other items that would otherwise probably be burned or hauled to the dump, and repurposes them as they rapidly decompose under layer of soil, straw, manure, compost, etc. that you place on top before planting your food crops in it. It gives you the opportunity to do some carbon sequestration (capturing and long-term storage of atmospheric CO2) in your own backyard. They are immensely useful as a means of growing plants for consumption without irrigation. Ah-ha! Now your budget-minded ears have perked up, haven’t they? No water bill, you say? Tell me more!

The pretty mounds of flowers and veggies on the left is one of our many hugelkulturs this past summer, in front of our house. No, I'm sorry you don't get an awesome miniature log cabin just because you build a hugel....

The pretty mounds of flowers and veggies on the left is one of our many hugelkulturs this past summer, in front of our house. No, I’m sorry you don’t get an awesome miniature log cabin just because you build a hugel….

The larger (taller) the hugel, the less irrigation it will require. According to Paul Wheaton, if you build your hugelkultur tall enough, after the 2nd year growing in it you will not have to water it a single drop to get your plants to grow, because the wonderful decomposing materials inside of it with sponge up all the water from the soil underneath and provide it to the plants on the surface. So I recommend building your hugelkultur way higher than you think you will need, and remember it will sink back down a LOT as the carbon material decomposes underneath.

Erica from NW Edible gave you an example of a very basic hugel construction on her blog here. She calls it a half-ass hugelkultur, but it actually looks like it took a whole lot of sweat and effort to build.

As promised, it is gritty, edgy, and risqué, right? Way better than the latest The Bachelor episode. Now that you know all the wonderful benefits of hugels, I’m guessing that you want to build one of your own, right??? Of course you do!

Well, I’m planning to write a future post about the hugel that I’m creating in a beautiful spiral shape to plant herbs and a few veggies into here in a few weeks. I’ll provide you before, process, and after pictures so you can get an idea of the work that goes in from start to finish (hint: it mostly involves spading a bit, carrying stuff from one pile to another, covering in soil, and planting. Crazy difficult, I know.). So stay tuned for pictures of a little baby hugel growing up, so that you can imitate it in your own yard if you so desire.

-M.

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In the meantime, check out a few of these links to gorge yourself on some hugelkultur porn and get psyched up for the project all of your neighbors are going to be gossiping about:

Paul Wheaton has some beautiful info graphics that show the decomposition process here.

The Permaculture Research Insitute has a short few bullet points here to give you some more facts that will make you go gaga for hugels.

The Permaculture magazine has another nice infographic here.

One thought on “Hugelkulturs: The dirtiest scandal to hit your family in years

  1. Pingback: Values in the Garden Patch: On Being a Caretaker | Halfway to Harmony

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