Hugelkultur is a German word that means “hill culture” or “mound culture”. It is a gardening or farming technique that involves using wood debris (branches, logs, twigs, etc), to create raised garden beds. While it may be a concept that seems new to us, it is a technique that has been used for hundreds of years in German and Eastern European cultures.
Hugelkultur has many benefits for the climate of the Llano Estacado region. They retain moisture, build soil fertility, help to maximize surface volume, and produce flavorful fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Mark Hilliard of Plainview, TX, recently shared his own experience with hugelkultur with us. We have outlined his process below (photo credit for all photos: Mark Hilliard)
I layered in elm tree limbs, manure, cotton burrs and corn leaf litter, wetting between each layer.
The theory of hugelkultur is that the wood releases nutrients as it rots and stores water like a sponge.
My good asparagus is in a 4′ x 4′ bed made just like these.
The 3rd image is a finished bed. It looks a little like a grave. These go across the contour of the garden which slopes toward Running Water Draw.
I lose about a foot of elevation over 70 feet so I plant perpendicular to the slope and installed ‘swales’ to direct water into the beds so the wood can store it. Technically it’s not swale farming but it works similarly.
Mark planted these beds in 2013, and says they are still doing well to date. The soil over those beds has remained very soft, easy to dig in compared to the surrounding soil. It’s most likely from all of the organic matter that I mixed into the trench. I think it’s a really viable process. I may build a few more across my slope this next winter. (Learn more about Mark and his hugelkultur beds through his blog, Running Water Pottery.)
If you would like to learn more about hugelkultur, there are several great resources that offer a wealth of information:
- Hugelkulture: the Ultimate Raised Garden Beds
- The Art and Science of Making a Hugelkultur Bed – Transforming Woody Debris into a Garden Resource
- The Many Benefits of Hugelkutlur
Do you have any experience with hugelkultur? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!