Give Your Garden the Gift of Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur, or the process of incorporating rotting wood into your garden, can be a simple and sustainable way to revitalize your green space.

| Summer 2013

They say the best things are found in nature and when it comes to forests, our gardens have much to learn. If you think about it, the former have managed just fine without us, while the latter, even with all our watering, fertilizing and manic topdressing, constantly begs for assistance year after year. The irony lies in how nutrients are recycled. Hugelkultur works by mimicking the natural nutrient cycle found in the woodlands, bringing out the bosky best in your garden.

What is Hugelkultur?

Hugelkultur (whoogle-cool-toor), is a German word meaning “hill culture” or “hill cultivation,” and quite plainly, is a raised earthen mound filled with rotting wood. But simplicity aside, it translates into an efficient and ingenious, sustainable gardening practice sure to revitalize your green space.

The benefits of a hugelkultur bed are plentiful and long-term: Rotted wood makes for an excellent soil amendment, packed with all the nutrients and organic matter that your plants need. As it decomposes, wood slowly releases nutrients into the soil, creating rich humus. At the same time, it builds air pockets that promote healthy root development of fruits and vegetables, an often overlooked key to a bountiful harvest. If that wasn’t enough, rotted wood also acts as a sponge, absorbing copious amounts of water, which it then slowly releases, like a timed irrigation system. Depending on the size of the hugelkultur, this can reduce (or even eliminate!) the need for watering and understandably helps the environment too.

Moreover, as wood composts, it warms up the surrounding earth. Together, the increase in soil temperature and locked-in moisture help create a unique microclimate that prolongs the growing season and shelters frost-sensitive plants (think okra, squash and beans). In unison, these factors enhance the overall fertility and vigor of your backyard Eden.

Besides making your carrots sweeter, your tomatoes plumper, and your melons juicier, rotting wood provides the ideal substrate for edible mushrooms. While morsels of wine cap stropharia and crimini get ready for harvest, they secretly turn the wood into mulch that can be used by plants. This activity in turn attracts beneficial bacteria and soil critters such as earthworms and pill bugs. The result: a lush, active, thriving community that inspires the envy of your neighbors. And isn’t that what a garden should truly strive to be?

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