Hugelkultur (Hill Culture)

Definition - What does Hugelkultur (Hill Culture) mean?

Hugelkultur, hill culture, or hill mound is the process of creating raised garden beds filled with decomposing wood, along with other organic materials, nutrients, and air pockets for the roots of plants. Hugelkultur is a gardening method that involves using compost created from biodegradable materials to improve the overall soil quality over time.

Typically, hugelkutur beds are about 3 feet by 6 feet (0.91 m by 1.8 m) in area and about 3 feet (0.91 m) high. Consequently, they are comparatively easier to maintain because of the height above the ground and are the best type of raised beds for areas where the underlying soil is of poor quality.

Some hugelkutur beds can become six feet tall, or in some cases even more. But these enormous scale hugelkutur beds are not necessarily richer in nutrients.

MaximumYield explains Hugelkultur (Hill Culture)

The concept of hugelkultur is based on the decomposition on forest floors that happens when trees fall and start to decay. These decaying trees provide ecological facilitation to seedlings, increase porosity from wood decay, and allows waters to soak in like a sponge. The water is then slowly released back into the environment, consequently benefiting the plants nearby. After a few years, hugelkutur creates a extremely rich and full-of-life soil.

Hugelkutur beds are similar to lasagna gardening, the Ruth Stout system, and sheet mulching as it produces a raised bed garden that is rich in organic matter that feeds the soil so it gets better as time passes. However, hugelkutur raised beds are specifically made on a foundation of wood made from tree trimmings, logs, clean scrap lumbers, or even from entire felled trees. The wooden base breaks down extremely slowly and keeps the soil fertility and moisture retention strong over time.

Not only do hugelkutur beds differ from previously popularized bed buildings with their massive size, but also differ in featuring much steeper sides than most other lasagna gardening bed type techniques. Hugelkutur beds have steeply sloped sides which are usually at an angle of about 45 degrees which is believed to reduce soil compaction over time and increase soil oxygenation.

Moisture retention is another characteristic by which hugelkutur beds differ. Cellulose and lignin eating fungi slowly consume the woody base material of the hugelkutur bed as it slowly breaks down. This results in the transformation of the logs and branches in the hugelkutur bed into something similar to a sponge (filled with numerous tiny air pockets). Thus, this unique texture of decomposed wood supports consistent moisture levels that encourage strong plant root growth. So, even in dry climates hugelkutur beds can go for weeks without supplemental irrigation.


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