Incorporating hügelkultur into community garden raised beds


I have a confession to make… I’ve only learned about the concept of hugelkultur about a year ago – shame on me! However, ever since I heard about it, I became a fan and started thinking of a way to incorporate it into my gardening practices.

If you, like me, are not yet familiar with it, here’s a brief overview of what hugelkultur is. Pronounced “hoo-gul-culture”, the literal translation is “hill culture”. The principle is that wood fragments and organic materials (leaves, straw, cardboard, etc.) are built into a mound and covered with soil, resulting in a raised garden bed that looks like a small hill.


The organic materials then slowly decompose, releasing nutrients into the bed (a properly built bed can utilize these nutrients for decades!), but the most important side of hugelkultur for me was water retention. The wood fragments accumulate excess water, which can be released into the bed during drier periods. If you’d like to read about hugelkultur in more depth, I encourage you to take a look at this article.
New hugel beds look something like this…

Stitched Panorama

or like this.

Image source:

You’ve probably noticed that, as with any permaculture-related practices, you need to dedicate quite some time to planning and setting hugelkultur beds up, but then you reap the benefits for years to come. Unfortunately, in a setting of a community garden, the existence of which is completely at the mercy of the land owner (we sort of exist in this permanent state of anticipation of being kicked out from the lot…), such a long term approach is not exactly practical. However, there is no reason not to learn from it!

So my plan was to forgo the construction of the mound, but bury a log and some dried out weeds and garden waste in the center of my conventional raised garden bed. The results are quite incredible: I finished the upgrade this winter, and now I barely have to water this bed at all! We’ve already had a couple of dry spells this summer, and the plants did not even start to wilt during those!

Here is a fragment of my first raised bed introduced to hugelkultur, the way it was in late May.

img_2753By now, it is next to impossible to see the log that I buried in the middle of the bed. Here is a small peek:img_2752

Since my first bed was definitely improved by this upgrade, I decided to bury a log in my new, unfinished, bed, as well.

The steps are pretty straightforward and intuitive:

  1. I dug a hole of appropriate size and placed the log inside. It is very important to use wood that has not been treated with herbicides, pesticides or other harmful substances, as you don not want those to leak into your garden!img_2739
  2. I started covering the log with organic matter, such as nut shells (kindly provided by the evil squirrels from my balcony)…img_2740 … and cut grass.img_2742
  3. I’ll keep covering it up over the course of summer, so when I’m sowing crops for winter harvest (mostly leafy greens, maybe brussels sprouts and leeks), it will be ready to function!

Now to the next challenge: incorporating hugelcultur practices in my balcony garden!



3 thoughts on “Incorporating hügelkultur into community garden raised beds

  1. Pingback: Community garden update: after a week of neglect – The Fire Escape Garden

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