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Hugelkultur- (no cow horns involved here)

Northeast, IL(Zone 5b)

I read that article last week and realized that I have the beginnings of several hugelkultur beds in my yard, where I have been throwing the branches trimmed either deliberately (by me) or accidentally (by the numerous storms this summer). So now I have begun filling the piles in with smaller branches, leaves, grass clippings and garden trimmings. We'll see how long it takes them to break down.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


Perhaps I should break down all the small twigs and branches that always come sailing down from
my trees in high winds and dig them into my beds--especially my new, raised bed.
I still think something is wrong in there as far as the soil is concerned. Just mu gut feeling....

Usually--I gather all these twigs and break them up in 12" (+ or -) sizes and put them on my neighbor's fire pit
as kindling....He loves it--and I do not have to put any out in my trash.

HMMMM.....Wonder how long it would take for these to decompose in a bed??? I could break them up in small bits....
I can see how these could aerate the soil--but lack of O-2 was mentioned as a cause of my yellowing leaves on my
Tomatoes this year--as I had dug in a lot of semi-composted leaves in the soil that filled this bed....
Now they were composting--and--perhaps---robbing my Tomatoes of Oxygen. Not sure I believe that...but....

My SEM composter is working gung-ho this summer....Maybe because I have added a lot of coffee grinds
to it via all the coated filters I threw in there (From my collecting of grinds from my local 7-Eleven).
I can tell you there is a serious Bug City going on in there! Every time I lift the lid--it is like--WHOA!!!!
I now have 3-5gal buckets full of Coffee grinds. Need more buckets.....
Called it quits----Thanked them--and said I may resume in fall.....

Still plan to build an open compost pile at the end of my raised bed--just have not done anything about it....


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Gita, although composted leaves make a great soil amendment, they are low in nutrition, so you need to add fertilizer when growing vegetables.

I collect about a hundred bags of leaves from around our neighborhood in the fall. There never seem to be enough.

I plan to add some broken up twigs in my garden next year, just to see what happens.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

My preferecne is to let any woodc "soften up" for a year or two before trying to compost it. Otherwise, it is the slwoest component in the compost heap to break down, and keeps me from using the compost when 90% of it is ready.

I had a bad experience putting much too many raw wood chips into a poorly-aerated bed of clay soil near the water table. It got very heavily fungus-y and dusty, seemed to reject water. So now I'm nervous about adding wood to soil, and like to compost it first, or "hugelculture" it first, so it gets past the "huge amounts of fungus" stage.

maybe the trick is to put a healthy layer on TOP of the woody layer, so roots don't need to dig into the fungus that first year or two.

But I know other people add wood chips to soil successfully. Maybe they just use less than I did, at any one time. Or have better aeration.


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Fresh chips and clay sounds too close to that 'clay plus sand equals concrete' situation, given your experience.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Yes, or "clay plus not enough compost still equals mortar"
"mortar plus anything is still anaerobic and sticky".

I do think that the anearobic or hypoxic nature of that bed was an especially bad thing to mix lotys of wood chips into.

(No sawdust, just chips.)

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

The fallen twigs from my trees are already dead wood. That is why they fell down....

It is amazing that all the bigger branches that have come down from my trees bear the scars of the
17 year Locust damage. The scarred over cuts by the Cicada to lay their eggs in the branches that have healed over...

It is amazing how long after the 17-year-old infestation the effects of their damage are still evident.
Most of the branches that have fallen down from my trees show the healed over damage from the last wave of Cicadas.

HMMM--Let me think-----The next one will be in 2021.. Ten years from now.
I will never forget my 1st experience with these Locusts...It was in 1953, Two years after I emigrated to the USA..
It was horrible!!! Walking all over the sidewalks anf having their dead shells crunching under my feet....

Of course--there are the annual Cicadas--that sing in the trees all through early fall every year--and right now.
And they emerge from 1/2" holes in the ground leaving people to wonder what the heck came out of there????

I may not even be alive in 2021 any more....I would be 85 by then.....God willing!
Mortality is sure on my mind at this time thinking that far ahead.....



Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Heck Gita, you're way more energetic than my mom was and she got to be 91. Its becoming common these days to be over 90. So good news is you will very likely get to see them again!!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Gita -

they emerge from 1/2" holes in the ground leaving people to wonder what the heck came out of there

That's what those holes are! I was one of those *wonderng* people. LOL

I'm planning to live until at least 90! - My mom is 93.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


My Mom and my Aunt (her sister) both died at 83.
Of course--my Aunt got hit by a car. My MOM had been slipping into dementia for 10 years.

By the time she died--of pneumonia in a Hospital--She had already been a total vegetable for 2-3 years.

I think I am holding up pretty good. If nothing crazy happens to me.....


Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Stay away from those falling limbs Gitagal ... 8 )

I had built two of these beds. I find when using wood for the hugelkultur bed, a more rotted wood works better, contributing more nutrients than consuming them. The smaller broken up pieces of branches work good in the layers of organic compost which helps provide the nutrients and air as the tree branches rot.

We have just had the driest summer (still is) and the plants in hugelkultur beds did well in full sun with little additional watering.

When the tomato plants were done in one of the beds, I pulled them just to see what the roots had done.
The roots had grown down into the rotting wood which was still moist yet we hadn't received enough moisture to have saturated the bed that deeply.
I was amazed and impressed and have since built a third bed with more to come.

I'll definitely recommend experimenting with this type of bed if you are interested. Kristi

This message was edited Sep 9, 2011 6:20 AM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

podster - how deep were those beds? Did you dig down into the ground and line the bottom, or did you start at the surface and build *up*?

We have collected two large piles of dead wood from our trees over the past five years and I would love to put them to work in the garden.

Lake Park, GA

Great idea -- I wonder how cones and branches from pine trees would work? Totally going to give it a try!

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Quote from HoneybeeNC :
podster - how deep were those beds? Did you dig down into the ground and line the bottom, or did you start at the surface and build *up*?

I did both. The first bed that I planted tomatoes in had good soil so I dug a pit between 12-18 inches deep. I placed the wood and saturated it well. Then replaced the soil and worked in compost, planted and mulched with pinestraw.

The soil where the second bed (and now the third) was compacted sandy clay and not great. I built on top of the ground with wood, soil and compost. Then planting and mulching. The future beds will primarily be on top of ground but are not as large as some of the Hugelkultur beds are normally done.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

podster - interesting...

The ones you built on top of the ground ---- did the soil drift down into the wood? I'm trying to imagine how the pile looked once the rain washed the soil into and around the wood.

How high were the ones you placed on top of the ground? I've been thinking of attaching two 12" boards and standing them on edge to give a 24" depth to these kinds of beds. Do you think that would be deep enough? Or do they not need to be that deep? I have to do raised beds because I garden on a slope. Without the beds, the rain will wash my good soil into the neighbor's lawn!

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes, like any compost that is worked into the soil, it will settle and the soil mixes in with the wood.

Being on a slope, I don't see why you don't just build a type of retaining wall for this type of bed on the downhill side and then work to add the materials from the high side. These types of beds can be built up to act as rainwater catchment areas also. To slow down the rainwater and let it be absorbed into the beds in this manner. The unlevel ground should not be a problem. Ours is probably not as steep but we are definitely on a hillside here also and diverting any possible rainwater is part of my goal.

The above ground beds are not as deep as the one I dug down. I did put walls on them but for a different reason. I live with pets that will stay out of the walled beds but if left open they will decide it is for them to walk through and to lay in the mulch like it is a dog bed. Building sides for now will deter them and later when the beds' root system is established, they should be used to staying out. The sides also prevent it from washing should we ever get a rain again.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

podster - I don't have the funds to build a retaining wall, but wood for raised beds is within my budget.

We collect rainwater in a rain barrel and various other containers, but it's hard on my back to use buckets to water the raised beds. I have been thinking about using a submersible pump, but don't know if one could be hooked up to a regular garden hose.

Our dogs have been taught to stay out of the raised beds, too.

Virginia Beach, VA

Submersible definitely connect to a hose, it will make your life easier. Go to az pond for any pump that you might need.


Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Honeybee ~ I didn't mean building a retaining wall literally. If you search through the Hugelkultur threads and photos, you will see others used pieces of wood (logs) from dead trees on the down hill side as a retaining wall. That was actually what I had in mind when I stated that. That way as it rots, it will enhance the bed also. The logs/wood could be pyramided in toward the hillside to prevent rolling or could be staked with wooden stakes or metal t posts or... even a wood retaining wall would work adequately.

some ideas and info links

On this one, scroll down to her swales and terraces.
By terracing, you might not even need to build a retaining wall. Just a thought.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

podster - thanks for the links, they have some great ideas on Hugelkultur. I don't have logs large enough to use for the sides of raised beds, and moving them from the woods would not be possible - my hubby is 79, and I'm 67 - we just don't have the same strength as when we were younger.

We do have two large piles of small branches/twigs that have fallen from our trees over the past five years, and I've noticed one of them has actually shrunk in height, so I'm anxious to dig down to the bottom to retrieve whatever humus is there. I have to get it out anyway because bamboo has begun to grow up through the pile!

In the established area of the garden, I have been terracing the beds by using 10" boards on one side and 8" boards on the other, but I'm going to change these out for 12" and 10" respectively because I've noticed that deeper beds need less watering in the dryer summer months.

When we get the new area free of bamboo, I'll put in even deeper beds and put the branches in the bottom.

I'm looking forward to fall this year because my son-in-law purchased and older model truck a few months back and he said I can borrow it to collect leaves.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes... I add leaves too but they and the dead wood surround me and are free for the taking. Same with pinestraw.

I am glad you looked thru the links. You can see not all beds are the same.

My beds are not true Hugelkultur beds but on the same principle. DH would protest big humps all over the yard so I'm doing them as raised beds with the wood as a base. I have not been disappointed in the success.

As with you and your beds, I too am thinking outside the norm to make things work better.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

podster - I'm glad you are having success with your raised beds using wood as a base - it gives me even more reason to give it a try.

Batesburg, SC(Zone 8a)

Hmmm...Hugelkultur...I made up my own version. I raked all of the leaf mold, twigs and sticks, pinecones, pine needles, etc..from the front 2 huge blue storage containers full. Soaked them in rainwater for about a week. Then, I removed 6 wheelbarrows of sandy soil from beside the garage for my garden. I put down already wet newspapers...lining the bottom. Oh, that is after digging down about 6"-8"..with tree roots etc. About 18" deep. 18' long.
Anyway....I lined the bottom with wet newspapers....set my plants out.....not putting them in the newspaper areas. Then, after planting 2 rose bushes and 3 clematis, I proceeded to empty the 2 blue containers of soaked debris. Using a pitchfork, I deposited it all along the bed. I then tossed the rocks and bricks back on top of it all, to help compress it and anchor it for a bit. The plants are thriving beautifully. I need to take pictures.

Thumbnail by moxies_garden
So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I'm using the hugelkulture principles to edge the lower portion of a new garden (food forest garden) area I am currently "building" on my sloped lawn. The upper "edge" will ultimately have a swale and ditch dug above 2-3 shallow connecting bog ponds where I will filter greywater from the washing machine, to help water the garden.

The area uphill (behind the house) is steep, so there is a lot of rain run-off I hope to capture, before it all runs into the creek at the foot of the property.

Batesburg, SC(Zone 8a)

Here it is half finished. It will always be a work in progress, I think.

Thumbnail by moxies_garden
Brady, TX(Zone 8a)

Old topic I know but the following just came out in Texas Gardener 'Seeds' newsletter:

Hugelkultur is an ancient form of sheet composting developed in Eastern Europe. It uses woody wastes such as fallen logs and pruned branches to build soil fertility and improve drainage and moisture retention. It is intended to take advantage of the natural fertility and moisture-retaining qualities of rotting wood while enhancing the decomposition process. Many vegetable crops do well when planted in a Hugelkultur. Thanks to Carl Wayne Hardeman, Seeds subscriber, for bringing this to our attention. Look for more on Hugelkultur in future issues of Texas Gardener magazine.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Yep ~ saw that and I am looking forward to future issues as I've found this to be an interesting means of drought gardening as well.

Brady, TX(Zone 8a)

How exactly have you tried it? Pitch it in a corner, pile it up, put down a "layer" and plant in it, etc.?

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I've done a couple different types ~ one pit and one on top. Have built a couple more since them.
I described them in my posts earlier in this thread if you are curious.
It worked very well this past summer.
If you want more links or information, I will help. Off to work... Kristi

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I started a hugekultur edge to one of my new beds (on a slight slope) last fall. Won't be able to plant in it until warmer weather gets here.

Here's a couple more links...

There are many threads on hugekultur in various situations on the Permies Forum (a mostly US forum), from various zones to individual concerns and techniques. You just have to scroll through the pages to find them.

Hobart, IN

Late to the party as usual. Just saw a podcast yesterday about hugelkultur and am intrigued. I live on a wooded sloped lot and always have tree branches laying around and definitely fight erosion on a cheap budget. Having used tree limbs and logs laying on the ground to control run-off in the planting beds, I do see them rot over time. The podcast I saw yesterday used cut lumber but guessing that will eventually rot over time as well. Has anyone with established hugelkultur beds seen what type of wood works best for containment? I also have clay and the constant amending of soil gets to be backbreaking at times.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Cindy, I seem to remember that a few tree species are not recommended, depending largely on what you want to plant in a hugelkultur bed. For example, I have lots of black walnut but won't use it due to the alleopathic compound juglone in it, unless it's a bed for a specific crop (like raspberries) that tolerate juglones. (Juglone is toxic to plants such as tomato, apple, and birch, and may cause stunting and death of nearby vegetation.)

I think cedar is not recommended, either. You will (probably) find that info somewhere in the links I posted above.

Hobart, IN

Thanks for the info. I have various oaks and the occasional wild mulberry here for putting in the bed and just trying to think what would work for me to contain the bed. Straw bales not so good. Wondering about concrete blocks (construction foundation, not decorative).

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