Hügelkultur is a composting process employing raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds.
Hügelkultur replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on forest floors. Trees that fall in a forest often become nurse logs decaying and providing ecological facilitation to seedlings. As the wood decays, its porosity increases allowing it to store water "like a sponge". The water is slowly released back into the environment, benefiting nearby plants.
Mounded hügelkultur beds are ideal for areas where the underlying soil is of poor quality or compacted. They tend to be easier to maintain due to their relative height above the ground. The beds are usually about 3 feet (0.91 m) by 6 feet (1.8 m) in area and about 3 feet (0.91 m) high.
Hügelkultur is German word meaning mound culture or hill culture. It was practiced in German and Eastern European culture for hundreds of years, before being further developed by Sepp Holzer, an Austrian permaculture expert. In addition, recent permaculture voices such as Paul Wheaton and Geoff Lawton advocate strongly for Hügelkultur beds as a perfect permaculture design.
In its basic form, mounds are constructed by piling logs, branches, plant waste, compost and additional soil directly on the ground or in a shallow swale. Mounds may also be made from alternating layers of wood, sod, compost, straw, and soil. Although their construction is straightforward, planning is necessary to prevent steep slopes that would result in erosion. Some designs recommend that mounds have a grade of between 65 and 80 degrees.
In his book Desert or Paradise: Restoring Endangered Landscapes Using Water Management, Including Lake and Pond Construction, Holzer describes a method of constructing Hügelkultur including a design that incorporates rubbish such as cardboard, clothes and kitchen waste. He recommends building mounds that are 1 meter (3.3 ft) wide and any length. Mounds are built in a 0.7 meters (2.3 ft) trench in sandy soil, and without a trench if the ground is wet.
- Miles, Melissa (August 3, 2010). "The Art and Science of Making a Hugelkultur Bed – Transforming Woody Debris into a Garden Resource". The Permaculture Research Institute. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
- "The Many Benefits of Hugelkultur". Permaculture Magazine. October 17, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
- Palmer, Kim (August 14, 2013). "A Garden Made of WOOD; Hugelkultur (Hooogellocullocher or Hewogellocullocher) A Nature-Inspired Method of Gardening in Beds Built on Logs, Touted as a Drought-Resistant Way to Produce Food". Minneapolis, MN. Star Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
- Lauterbach, Margaret (February 2, 2012). "Margaret Lauterbach: Clippings fuel fertile 'hugel' mounds". Boise, ID. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- Martin, Claire (April 11, 2014). "Hugelkultur , translated: A path to richer soil". Denver, CO. Denver Post. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
- Wheaton, Paul, hugelkultur: the ultimate raised garden beds, retrieved 6/9/2014
- Hemenway, Toby (2009). Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 84–85. ISBN 9781603582230.
- Feineigle, Mark (January 4, 2012). "Hugelkultur: Composting Whole Trees With Ease". The Permaculture Research Institute. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
- Shein, Christopher (2013). The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem. Timber Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1604692709.
- Holzer, Sepp (2012). Hügelkultur. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 131–134, 139. ISBN 978-1603584647.