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.



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.


Three herbs you can harvest right now to stock your Herbal First Aid Kit

In my corner of the country, the soggy Pacific Northwest, we’re beginning to see the green little shoots of spring growth from some very exciting plants.

Yes, you read that right, exciting plants.

These plants just might blow your mind with their medicinal power that’s been hiding right underfoot in the forest!

In fact, I am going to be guiding a small herb walk this Saturday to introduce some folks to three fabulous plants which they can use as part of an all-natural first aid kit, so I decided I’d like to write about the plants so that you can learn alongside us.

It doesn’t take much investment, aside from your time, to learn about how to treat your family’s medical needs with herbal options.



Gaultheria Shallon

This perennial bush is native to the Pacific Northwest which has waxy-shiny green leaves that remain on the plant all year long. The berries of the plant are high in antioxidants and can be used to make jellies and jams. But beware, they’re a bit tart!

Of course, February is too early for the berries to be ready for the picking, that must wait till this summer, but we can still benefit from the wonderful leaves! The leaves have historically been used by many native peoples for coughs, colds, wounds, and digestive problems.

A tea can be made with the dehydrated leaves, which have drying properties, supporting health by removing congestion and mucus from the sinuses to through the respiratory system. When you gather the leaves, go in spring and summer and seek out the most vibrant, healthy-looking leaves.


Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

This plant is not only medicinal, it is also a food source of many vitamins and is highly nutritious. It is a leafy plant growing in stands connected by an underground network of rhizomes.

I’ve always loved the word rhizome, maybe I’ll name my first son Rhizome…


The plant is famous for the tiny stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves. I for one learned very quickly as a child exactly what it looked like and not to touch it!

It has been used for generations to treat conditions including painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. I also personally know herbalist friends who use nettle as part of their regimen in treating their seasonal allergies and hay fever.

When you collect stinging nettle it is important to cover your exposed skin by wearing gloves and long sleeves. The leaves can be dried to make a tea or to use in cooking.



Usnea longissimus

Usnea is a lichen (another cool word!), which is a combination of an algae and a fungus growing together. It grows prolifically in areas which have heavy rainfall, such as the Pacific Northwest.

You can often find the lichen growing on old fallen branches or decaying trees. I’m sure you already realize from looking at the picture that it has been surrounding you on many hikes when you didn’t even know it!

It is a potent anti-microbial and anti-bacterial defender. It can be used for a great many effects on the human system, including for infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sore throat, fungal infections, vaginal infections, sinus infections, colds/flu, mastitis, and boils.

It is very important not to over-harvest usnea because it grows quite slowly, so when harvesting take only as much of it as you will need. It can be prepared as a tincture and a decoction.

I hope you enjoyed your brief education on early spring-time herbs, and that you will go out this week and look for these or other medicinal herbs in your area.

You’ll be amazed to see what you can find growing in your own backyard!



Check out these websites for more great information on these plants:

Stinging Nettle on Edible Wild Food

Usnea on Methow Valley Herbs

Usnea on Susun Weed

Salal on Wild Foods and Medicines


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