Hugelkultur is a traditional Eastern European method of gardening and farming that mimics the nutrient cycling found in natural woodland. Wooden debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are placed below any soil or other compost ingredients in your garden bed. The wooden debris become sponge-like overtime, helping to retain rainfall and release it slowly into the surrounding soil and nearby plants. The wood also improves drainage, builds soil fertility, and recycles woody debris that are unsuitable for other uses. ***Update with soil results and harvests 8 months later***
There are many ways to build a hugelkultur garden. You can simply start layering logs on the ground to create raised-bed like garden mounds, or you can place them in swales or ditches to create more ground-level gardens — like we did here.
How to Build a Sunken Hugelkultur Garden
1) Select a sunny area of your yard for the garden. Remove any grass or weeds in the area you wish to plant. To do this, we dug out a 6 by 3 foot hole — about 2 feet deep — into what was grassy lawn. If you prefer a no-dig method, simply cover the area with cardboard for a few weeks until the grass below it dies.
2) Lay the logs (the largest of the biomass debris) down as the first layer of the hugelkultur bed. Next, add a layer of branches, then a layer of small sticks and twigs.
UPDATE: make sure to place the wood like tetris pieces, without as little gaps in between as possible. Also, breaking it up into smaller pieces will help it break down a little faster. Big gaps in between wood pieces = perfect nests for mice later.
3) Fill in spaces between the logs and branches with leaf litter, manure, kitchen scraps, and/or compost (nitrogen-rich matter). Water thoroughly.
UPDATE: Add more of this compost layer — like 6-12 inches more. I kept having to top off the mound cuz of the occassional sink holes. This issue would probably be fixed simply by breaking up and placing the wood more carefully.
4) Top off the bed with 2-3 inches of top soil and a layer of mulch (we used straw). Water.
UPDATE: the straw also helped make the perfect nest for mice LOL. Would shred it next time or use something better like pine bark mulch.
5) Plant your organic, heirloom seeds as you would any other garden bed.