“Nature’s book always contains the truth; we must only learn to read it.”
Hugelkultur, or “mound culture” when translated from German, is a growing technique in which raised beds are built on top of mounds of organic materials. The foundation is made of logs and then branches that are not suitable for building or heating. Then leaves, grass clippings, straw, manure, and compost are layered on top. Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur is making a comeback thanks to the explosion in the use of permaculture techniques.
Hugelkultur mimics the nutrient cycling found in nature to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds. The slow decay of the wood and other materials provide a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants. This decay also generates heat that can help extend the growing season and aerates the soil. The woody material also acts as a sponge, soaking up moisture and releasing it as needed. Properly constructed hugelkultur beds require very little if any irrigation. Due to these qualities hugelkultur beds are ideal for areas where the underlying soil is of poor quality or compacted.
If you would really like to dive into hugelkultur pick up a copy of Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. Holzer, also known as the “rebel farmer”, is the modern father and master of this technique. He developed his methods on his family farm, Krameterhof, through experimentation, observation, and thoughtful design. In fact, Holzer started using hugelkultur beds many years back when a wind storm took down several spruce trees and he needed to find a use for the fallen trees.