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Harnessing Hugelkultur

Oct 11, 2012 -
   
  Harnessing Hugelkultur
These Turkey Tail mushrooms growing on a log demonstrate the nutrition and moisture offered by wood.
 
   

If you’re deep into permaculture you know about hugelkultur. If hugelkultur makes you say, Who?, then say hello to an easy composting method.

Hugelkultur (HOO-gull-cull-toor) is a German word for building a new garden area with branches or even trees as the base. It’s sometimes referred to as wood composting. The area can be any shape, and it can be a low or steep mound. Organic waste is layered on top of the branches, and a cover crop or plants make the top layer.

Similar to sheet mulching or a traditional compost pile, the hugelkultur mound will heat up (but not as much as a compost pile) and for a few years this can make it a season-lengthening spot for growing tender vegetables. As the wood breaks down the temperature will drop, and air pockets will take the place of some of the lost wood. This mixture of soil organisms, oxygen, and moisture will create superb soil.

How to build a hugelkultur mound

In our new video about growing potatoes in a Geobin, Tricia follows the traditional hugelkultur method by adding layers of branches, followed by other organic materials, to make a bed for the potatoes. Here’s the diagram from the video, with potatoes, compost and then straw on top. When using hugelkultur outside of a bin, add leaves, twigs, and grass clippings along with the compost. 


A hugelkultur mound will provide excellent soil for up to 20 years.

If a tree falls ... you can practice hugelkultur

Next time a tree falls in your garden think twice before you call the tree service or get out your chainsaw. A downed tree can keep on giving to your garden’s ecosystem in a special way.

Instead of a pile of broken branches, you can use a fallen tree as the base of your mound, and heap branches at its sides, then layer on organic materials, and add plants on the top. A newly fallen tree will use up a lot of nitrogen as it decomposes, so be sure to add bone meal and blood meal amendments. A tree trunk that is already rotten will not use as much nitrogen, and those nitrogen-rich amendments would not be necessary.

The fallen tree is a reservoir of water and as it slowly decays it will release that moisture. Bushes or small trees planted on the mound will reach their roots down to drink the moisture from the rotting tree—to such an extent that they can survive in arid climates without extra water.

For more information about permaculture, look at the second edition of the classic, Gaia’s Garden, as well as The Permaculture Garden.


Instead of firing up the chipper-shredder, try hugelkultur with your extra branches this year.


Categories: Growing Medium, Organic Compost, Soil Amendments, Organic Garden Compost, Organic Gardening 101


James S Says:
Oct 13th, 2012 at 10:56 am

What does one do in years two and beyond to keep the bin going?  Can one plant potatoes again or should one start over?

Thanks.

Hendrica Regez Says:
Oct 13th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

are there alternatives to bonemeal and bloodmeal? I don’t like using them…

Keith Says:
Oct 13th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

U will want to check out permies for great info on hugels. Don’t use those products of mass death, better is various meals and rock dust. I can’t say it’s harvested sustainably but at least it not perfectly tied to suffering and death! I like kelp meal, but I wouldn’t overuse it I don’t know about the salt content. Rock dust local should be able to help u find some.

Rikardo Says:
Oct 24th, 2012 at 7:20 am

Green stuff has a higher nitrogen content.  Grass clippings are easy to come by.  Alfalfa meal, should you have available, is like 12% nitrogen.  Livestock manure is great N source.  Poultry or sheep or goat manure are much better than cow or horse.  There is a danger of weed seeds in manures.  Urine also is very high in N, but you should dilute, and don’t use on root crops, I imagine. 
  There is a great, tho somewhat complicated discussion of this at the Colorado State Extension site entitled “Organic Materials as Nitrogen Fertilizers.”
Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Jackie Earnshaw, CPDT-KA Says:
Apr 12th, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Llama poop is amazing. Better than other manures, imho.
1.7% nitrogen, 0.69 phosphorus, 0.66 potassium.
Will not burn when applied directly to plants. And no weed seeds.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 15th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

James, After the first crop of potatoes you can plant them again. If you want to add more layers that is fine too.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 15th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hendrica, Look in this sidebar under Fertilizer Solutions for things you can substitute for Blood Meal and Bone Meal. Click on N to replace Blood Meal and on P to replace Bone Meal. http://www.groworganic.com/fertilizers.html

Keith, Rikardo and Jackie—Thank you for your valuable suggestions!

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