Most homemakers like the idea of having a few raised garden beds on their property (particularly women in child-bearing years!). Raised beds are easier on the back and they tend to have fewer weeds. Not only this, but you can create charming and unique designs with raised garden beds. In this post, I’m going to show you how to build hugelkultur raised garden beds!
Build Hugelkultur Raised Garden Beds
A hugelkultur (pronounced hoogle-culture) is a permaculture garden bed that originate in Germany. Having been use for centuries by common folk, they’re wonderful for gardeners who have a limited budget to work with. No lumber, hammer or nails are involved! The hugelkultur garden bed is made entirely from natural materials you can source from your own land.
These unique garden beds are created by putting down 4 layers: wood, hot matter, growing soil and mulch. Let me walk you through the purpose behind each one!
Step 1: Understand the Purpose for Each Layer
Each layer in the hugelkultur raised garden bed serves a distinct and unique purpose. Let me give you an outline of each.
Wood Base: if you’ve ever dug a shovelful of earth from the forest floor, you’ve likely noticed a layer or two of rotting wood in the mix. Wood isn’t a bad thing to have your garden bed! And in the hugelkultur, it serves several purposes.
- Wood creates a solid base that weeds and grass roots have a difficult time penetrating through.
- It raised the growing soil to the raised bed height you wish for.
- Decaying wood will release heat into the soil above, making it an excellent choice for early spring crops and later, warm-loving summer herbs and vegetables.
Hot Matter: once the wood base or foundation has been laid, the wood should be topped with 1-2 inches of hot, not-yet-composted matter. This could be fresh lawn clippings, livestock manure or even goods from your compost bin! In the hugelkultur, hot matter serves these 2 purposes.
- It provides the nitrogen that the wood under layer needs to break down.
- Offers more plant food to your vegetables when the roots finally reach this layer.
Growing Soil: a hearty layer of good growing soil is place directly on top of the hot matter. This layer needs to be about 8 inches deep and should provide enough sustenance for your plants to grow and thrive, just like an in-the-ground vegetable garden.
Mulch: because these garden beds have a wood base, you don’t wan to till the soil. Instead, a hearty layer of mulch is applied to keep the weeds under control! Rotting hay, old straw or even dried out lawn clippings are an excellent option!
Step 2: Source Your Materials
Now that you understand the 4 layers, it’s time to collect the materials! In my e-book on creating a hugelkultur kitchen garden, I give you a list of wood types that are suitable for the hugelkultur base. Pine, cottonwood, oak are viable options.
You also need access to hot matter. If you don’t have a large lawn or keep animals, ask your local farmers if they sell fresh animal manure? You may also want to inquire about 2 year old composted animal bedding, something you can mix into your growing soil to ensure it’s particularly rich and ready to grow food for your family.
Wood, hot matter and good soil are needed. If you don’t have quality soil available, you can purchase topsoil from a local supplier and add 1 part composted animal manure to 2 parts topsoil to start building good soil in your hugelkulturs.
Last but not least, you need to source mulch. Once again your local farmers may be able to help you. If they have old, rotting hay or straw bales sitting in the field, these are perfect for mulch. Ask, and they might even give them away for free!
Step 3: Create Your Garden Outline
With the materials on hand, it’s time to create your garden outline. In my e-book on creating a hugelkultur kitchen garden, I share 7 beautiful designs for a hugelkultur garden.
Hugelkulturs are very versatile and you can create all sorts of unique shapes and designs. Start putting down logs for the garden bed outline and shift things around, until you create something you like.
And then, it’s time to fill in the centers!
Step 4: Fill in Your Hugelkultur Raised Garden Beds
The height of your hugelkultur garden beds will vary, based on how high you stack your wood. The largest logs should go down first, with smaller saplings and branches being added to the top.
As you can see in this photo, it’s ok to mix the wood types within a garden bed. Pine, cottonwood and birch were all used in the construction of these beds.
Step 5: Add the Hot Matter & Growing Soil
When you are happy with the height of each hugelkultur raised garden bed, it’s time to put down the 1-2 inches of hot matter. Spread it well and don’t be afraid to pull on a pair of boots and walk up and down on the stacked wood. This action helps force the matter into cracks and crevices!
The better you pack things in, the less your garden beds will settle in the years to come!
And then, it’s time to add about 8 inches of good growing soil to the beds! Pile it on top and spread it out as evenly as possible.
Step 6: Mulch the Soil
Last but not least, pull on a mask and start mulching the garden beds with old hay, straw or dried out lawn clippings! Each and every hugelkultur raised garden bed should received -12 inches of mulch.
Water it well to settle everything and just like that, you’ve made hugelkultur raised garden beds!
Step 7: Planting the Hugelkultur Beds
Your beds can be planted immediately. To sow seeds or put in young starts, simply part the mulch and do what you would normally do. Most vegetables do well in hugelkultur beds.
For the first several years, your garden beds will settle. And until they do, I would avoid growing vegetables with deep taproots, things like carrots, parsnips, etc.
In my detailed e-book on creating and growing food in hugelkultur garden beds, I give you a list of vegetables types that are suitable for the first few years, along with an in-depth directions for creating hugelkultur gardens.
Step 8: Caring for Raised Hugelkultur Garden Beds
Once established, hugelkulturs don’t need much in the way of maintenance. I do recommend adding 2-3 inches of soil to them every spring, until the wood underneath has fully settled.
You’ll also want to apply mulch every spring (or fall) to keep the weeds down. Other than that, you plant, water and harvest from hugelkultur raised garden beds just like you would an in-the-ground vegetable garden!
Hugelkulturs are a wonderful option if you want cheap, long lasting raised garden beds. Not only do they come with unique benefits, but you can created unique and beautiful garden designs with their versatile structure!