Our Hugelkulture/Raised Bed Garden

Here is an overview of our new garden that followed the idea of a hugelkultur.

  A true hugelkulture (“hill culture” in German) is tree logs covered with a layer of dirt on which other trees and perennials are planted. The logs act like a sponge retaining moisture (like a rotted log in the woods with plants growing out of it.) So a garden needs fewer waterings and gets the benefit of the rotting logs feeding their roots. The gardens typically do better in their second year on, due to a high depletion of nitrogen when the wood first begins to rot.

We used some of these ideas but didn’t strictly follow it. First, I wanted a vegetable garden, not a perennial bed and second, I wanted it raised up for ease on my back.  So we have a raised garden, using also the idea of sheet mulching combined with the theory of hugelkulture. And here is what we ended up with.

We decided to build the raised bed three cinder blocks high. This would give lots of room for loading wood in the bottom. Here is the first layer of cinder blocks and starting to put wood in. We didn’t have much in the way of trunks, so we used branches. They should act the same though will probably decompose more quickly.

Dave tosses in more branches now that he has finished building up to the third level. We kept adding more branches, then squashed them down, over and over. A phenomenal amount of wood went in there.

After we had the branches piled to the top we added loads of manure. This crushed down the branches even more. The higher nitrogen content in the relatively fresh manure should help offset the nitrogen sucked out by the wood.

Next went on a layer of wood chips that we got free from the township. The wood continues to compact underneath.

Next came a layer of litter from our chicken coop. We use the deep-bed method in the coop so this is partially composted manure. I am trying to layer the carbon and nitrogen. This was followed by a thin layer of wood ash.

Then somehow I misplaced the pictures of the next two layers. After the chicken coop layer above, we added pure compost that was well aged. We thought that would be our final layer but it was too chunky to plant in directly. So we purchased a load of top soil. It turned out to be pretty heavy clay, but it was smooth enough to put seeds into. And that was the end.   Next came the plants:

This picture was taken 2 weeks after planting. The most visible are the ones I used starts with (tomatoes and brassicas) and the beans are up. The rest are seeds just starting to break through (and struggling with the clay which formed a crust).

Here we are at 4 weeks. This garden contains: garlic, shallots, tomatoes (3 each of 5 varieties), basil, comfrey, bush beans, cukes for eating and cukes for pickling, nasturtiums, radishes, carrots, feverfew, oregano and cilantro. Also, a few of each of the brassicas: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage.

The only issues so far was my cat (or some animal) eating about 9 tomato plants that then had to be replaced and extra fencing put around them till they got taller. Apparently he didn’t read the book that explains that tomatoes are related to Deadly Night Shade and the leaves are toxic.

We also have worms eating the cabbage as previously documented. One other thing I noticed were the cukes on the far side were showing yellow in their leaves. I think this could be a sign of low nitrogen, so I added some in the form of fish tank water and they greened back up. Otherwise it is pretty lush. Unfortunately our purchased top soil was just loaded with grass seeds so I am getting tons of grass in there. I did pretty intense planting so hadn’t planned to mulch but it may be necessary.

Update: 8weeks (July 10)

At 9 weeks:

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5 Responses to Our Hugelkulture/Raised Bed Garden

  1. Cylly says:

    Thank you for the update! I love seeing progress. It looks great … no grass from where I stand!

  2. Wow, Julie, this is impressive and looking good! With only wood branches and such, it will decay down much faster. I started ONLY with logs, but chose only logs that are already in a state of preliminary decay to avoid the nitrogen depletion as much as possible. I’ll be posting an article sooner or later on it too. Great stuff!

  3. Moss says:

    I had never heard of “hugelkulture” but what a fabulous idea! I love raised bed gardens and have a ton of rotting wood around after clearing some sections of our land. I’ll have to investigate this a bit more. Are the cinder blocks dry stacked?

    • Julie Helms says:

      Hi Moss,

      If you put ‘hugelkulture’ in the search engine on my site it will take you to an official article written by an expert on the topic. We decided to try our cinder blocks with no cement or mortar of any kind. There is rebar in the corner blocks to stabilize it. It seems to be holding just fine so far.

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