Hugels in the making

I’ve blogged before (herehere, here, here, here, here, and here) about our ongoing hugelkultur experiments. Hugelkultur literally means “hill culture” and they are raised garden beds built up upon a base of logs. The variations that you may find between them is using logs to line the base of a standard edged garden bed, creating the traditional hill from the logs and covering it with the various layers of nitrogen and compost, building them into dug out areas (great for extra water holding in arid areas), circles, lines, 2 foot high hugels or 6 foot high ones. Anything goes really, but the basic model is the wood in some form in the base to rot down. You can even mulch it although you do need more nitrogen to compensate for the greater surface area of the carbon layer. 🙂

Our first hugelkultur beds growing peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries, chard, a peach tree and more.

Our first hugelkultur beds growing peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries, chard, a peach tree and more.

We had changed out plans to have the entire front garden running with hugels to a garden running with straw bales but at $6 per bale (we’d need around 30 of them I think) or a 1 hour drive to get them at not all that much less, that idea had to sit on hold. With all the trees coming down though the wood is piled up there and available and after some nifty thinking on Martin’s behalf I have nearly a cubic metre of cardboard from the local supermarket. They were happy for us to take one of their cubes of boxes they flatten, squish and tie up for removal and I hope they will be happy for me to grab another one or two on the morrow. 🙂 All the necessaries for starting a hugelkultur bed (or 5). 😀

In between the rain squalls I got stuck into sheet mulching a largish area today, moving logs into place for the bottom layer for the first bed and then working on the bottom layer of the second bed too. I had to enlist the assistance of others though due to the nature of weather being fickle and the wind deciding to get up as soon as I started laying down cardboard. 😦 Typical! So, with the lawn mowed low enough to work, a layer of grass under the cardboard (it’s full of weed seeds so I want them to compost down, not sprout), the card and then the larger of the logs laid out I can see things coming together. 🙂 Eventually, hugels will grace the entire front garden with their fertile presence. 😀

First bed down, mulched poplar branches on top of the sheet mulch cardboard as well as random logs temporarily scattered around for keeping the cardboard in place until the mulch layer secures it down. Twigs and branches ready for mulching.

First bed down, mulched poplar branches on top of the sheet mulch cardboard as well as random logs temporarily scattered around for keeping the cardboard in place until the mulch layer secures it down. Twigs and branches ready for mulching. The raspberry bed is to the bottom right of the photo.

In between the rows the smaller branches will be mulched to produce a weed-free natural surface. In order to prevent the fly-away cardboard and to reduce the size of the giant potential snakes hiding hole I began mulching the smaller poplar branches, Unfortunately the top of the catcher lost its bolts (through the mulcher of course), the blades subsequently became blunt (trying to mulch metal nuts and bolts will do that :() and it all just sort of became no good so the mulching is on hold until things get fixed (*sigh* just one more thing to fix :() but the garden beds are coming together nicely in form even if they won’t be ready for planting out anytime this weekend. Hopefully tomorrow we can get 3 more beds in and that will have 2/3, if not 3/4 of the front garden planned out and covered! 😀


One of my helpers to the far left of the photo. Jasper had commandeered the tree loppers and was chopping up the branches we are planning to mulch.

Slowly slowly we are getting there. 🙂 I have a couple of dozen pumpkin seeds to plant out in and around the hugels once they are topped off. I don’t care if we get hundreds of pumpkins either. They keep beautifully and I’m sure I can swap them or sell them or give them away. They do well in hugelkultur beds and aren’t massive nitrogen feeders either so they do well in new hugels which require all the nitrogen they can get for the first year or two. Potatoes also apparently grow well in them being another crop not so hungry for nitrogen. I know from experience last year too that spuds turn not so great soil and compost into absolutely deliciously rich worm filled soil. I think I shall also be popping in some spuds. 🙂 I reckon I might get a few zucchini plants in there too. Legumes are also a good choice as they will fix nitrogen in the soil. Beans? Peas? There are lots of good planting options to choose from. 😀

Sun out and another view of the hugels. I hope to plant a dwarf fruit tree at the end of each hugel. Not only will they look beautiful but they will benefit from the extra microbial action and nutrition in the hugels too.

Sun out and another view of the hugels with a nice wide walkway between them. I hope to plant a dwarf fruit tree at the end of each hugel. Not only will they look beautiful but they will benefit from the extra microbial action and nutrition in the hugels too.

The kids joined in and helped us too. Egga was an awesome mulching assistant, handing me up each branch as I needed it. Jas helped by passing me the cardboard boxes from the pile for me to lay flat. Orik decided upon a huge afternoon nap and then was content to watch us and chatter away from the safety of his pram. He shows a little too much interest in the pond to be entirely healthy. 😦 Here’s hoping we have 3 very tired children who sleep well tonight for I know I will sleep just like one of the logs I’ve laid in the garden today. 🙂

Anyway, for more info on hugelkultur beds, check out these links here, here, here and here. Google will provide many more examples too. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Hugels in the making

  1. Lynda says:

    Be careful that some of the cardboard doesnt have a label lined with thin plastic that wont break down – look at the coloured stuff. Going great guns and so many posts.

  2. narf77 says:

    Holy CRAP you guys are busy! You make me twitch with all of that effort. If I was as busy as you this place would be completely weed free and I could have a “Garden Open” event this year…that aint gonna happen any day soon (make that any YEAR soon 😉 ). Still thinking about starting up a Permaculture Blitz group to go forth and conquer on a large scale (and perhaps benefit in the process but that’s not the initial aim). Take a large group of willing helpers and you can facilitate change in a HUGE way. We hoard our logs for Brunhilda but we have some rotting log ends around that have lain on the ground too long so I might be able to spare them for the odd Hugel bed…I would imagine they might hold water better than the steep sloped rocky inclines that we currently have.
    Gotta say I found a “man” who has a big diggy machine the other day entirely by accident. He is local and gave me his card vis-à-vis digging us a big dam at the bottom of the property. He was waiting for the council to turn up to a job just down the road when we were walking the dogs and we found out something interesting that is very hush-hush but can’t share it here needless to say it has something to do with generating power from tides and is extremely interesting! I will be watching the proceedings with binoculars (might have to borrow Frank’s, they are obviously more powerful than ours 😉 ) to see if narf7 and Serendipity Farm could benefit from said experiment… I have a squillion sticks up in the garden that need cutting. Loan me thy hoppers for a week and I shall return them changed. They will no longer complain about ANYTHING after being with aunty narf for a week ;). Oh the things they will see…the things they will do…I will be sending Earl and Bezial for a week in compensation ;). Have a great week and if you keep posting 14 posts a day and doing so much you are going to make me cry with shame! 😉

    • Poplars are softwood so not so effective in the stove as the lovely hardwoods Martin collects but there’s still 2 dozen growing on this side of the creek. Plenty to go around. 😉
      Nice find on digger man. May he come and dam Serendipity Farm soon. 😉
      Permablitzes are a great idea but I’m so desperate to get things done in my garden I’ve not made the time to spare for others gardens. In order to earn a blitz one must first participate in other blitzes and I’ve not been a good little permie doing that yet.
      You can borrow Jas for stick chopping anytime but my cats would shred everything we owned if Belial and Earl came to visit but Jas would refuse to work if they were there. Maybe just channel his energy or encourage grandkids to arrive. 😉 They’d be of use in a couple of years then:P

  3. foodnstuff says:

    It’s going great guns! I bet your neighbours are intrigued 😉
    I put a row (well, 5), of raspberries behind one of my hugels and I’m starting another row on top of another hugel. They’ll have pumpkins, etc, as a mulch.

  4. […] and that’s what Martin did. We’ve spent the weekend preparing for snake season and clearing away the wood piles and branches littering the front and back gardens. Tuesday however I had the invitation to spend some time […]

  5. Alana Reeves says:

    You probably have written it somewhere, but what are the best types of wood to use for this project? 🙂

    • No I don’t think I have actually! Oversight on my behalf. I don’t know which are great but cottonwoods are supposed to be good. I have found however that the hugels I built with silver poplar which is in the same family have all sprouted! I’d say they are fantastic but not fresh cut. Same with willow. I don’t know if willow would work or not but it MUST be totally dead before burying it or you’ll have a garden of willows instead of a hugel. 😦
      Some woods are not good. Black walnut which is no go. The tree is allelopathic and exudes something that makes it hard or impossible for many other plants to grow nearby and compete for the nutrients and water. Using an allelopathic wood in hugels will have the same effect and it will be extremely hard to grow things in your hugels.
      I’ve read some people build them using punky half rotten wood they’ve found which I guess would just be like building a hugel to be instantly a few years old. Less nutrients in the logs but better water holding capacity I would imagine.
      I’d suggest hitting up Dr Google to have a look and see what you can find from more reliable sources of info than me. 🙂

  6. crazy squirrel says:

    Odd no updates in FOUR YEARS,

    Anyone use a few logs on bottom layer then 2 feet of fresh wood chips covered in coffee grounds and goat manure before topping with soil?

    I built one but only had fresh wood chips about 3 to 4 months ago. I figured 4-55 gal barrels of used coffee grounds would speed up the rotting process of the wood chips.
    And not take nitrogen out ofthe upper layer where the plants will be.

    • Life has seen fit to throw us several curve balls that have taken MANY years to process and blogging was not a priority.

      The hugels performed miraculously through their very first summer, during a heatwave of 4-5 days consecutively over 40*C, during which time I did not water the hugels once! They survived and indeed thrived.

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