Hugel (German) means “Hill” so I guess Hugelbed means “Hill Bed” or “High Bed” which makes total sense once you see a real Hugelbed. Think of walking up to your summer vegetable Hugelbed and picking your tomato or squash without bending over, sort of like a grocery store isle right in your back yard!
It’s my understanding that Sepp Holzer coined the term but I was introduced to Hugelkultur by the “Duke of permaculture” Paul Wheaton. Both are big proponents of the practice and it’s really quite simple to construct:
- Gather wood in a bed like shape
- Bury said wood with soil
- Plant your new bed
There are dozens of variations on the above 3 steps and even more theories why this is a superior long term garden bed system. I’ll leave that up to you to do the research but having a bit of first hand experience, I can also make a claim to this superior method. Here’s one of my older Hugelbeds on March 1st of this year with some early potatoes, bulbs, herbs and some newly planted rhubarb:
Constructing the new Hugelbed
There’s a small spot in the upper garden that I’ve never had much success with, it is right under a massive Digger Pine and gets some pretty nasty western hot winds in mid-summer. It’s certainly not the most ideal spot for a hugelbed but I can’t imagine anything else doing any better so this year we decided to build it out.
Here’s some shots of the small 6’x10′ area for the new mini hugel:
If you are short on extra top soil you can dig down a foot or two, place wood in trench and use your dug soil to fill on top. This method reduces your overall hight of the bed as most the wood is below grade:
Next, we gather up some random old logs and branches and start filling in the trench. I like to keep everything super saturated during this stage:
Time to start piling on the top soil. Soaking the top of the bed as you fill helps disperse the soil down into all the cracks so there are no air pockets in your bed. I like to have a good 8 – 10 inches of top soil on top of all the woody material. Exposed wood will wick moisture out of the core of your bed and evaporate moisture so watch out.
I like a good 45 degree angle slope on all sides of the bed and there’s really no way to plant and water the sides unless you mulch. Try watering the bed at this stage and you will get mostly run off and rapid erosion. Add 3-4 inches of mulch and water again. Zero run off! It’s quite amazing how well this works:
Time to plant! I love mixing annuals with perennials in our Hugelbeds. Since the Eastern side of this bed will get tons of shade we decided to go with lots of strawberries, cilantro, and basil. The Western side and top will grow Tomatoes, Squash, Cowpea, Snap pea and and an early crop of Broccoli Rapini. I also chose to mix in some flowers like Zinnia, Blue Flax and Sunflowers for the peas to climb.
All Done! Here’s some finished shots of our newly planted Hugelkultur bed. Notice the solar aspect in the late afternoon (top) photo compared to morning (bottom). This microclimate should allow for successful strawberry growth in a normally hot climate.