7 Reasons Why You Should Build a Hugelkultur Raised Bed
First off, what is a hugelkultur raised bed? Hugelkultur may be a strange term if you’ve never heard of it. It’s German in origin and translates to “mound culture.” The technique is a permacultural concept that essentially mimics what nature does.
What goes on inside a hugelkultur raised bed is basically the same thing that happens in a forest. Organic matter breaks down and creates an ecosystem that is amazing for plants year after year. It is a wise option to consider for any soil building campaign. Now on to the benefits!
1. Water Less Often
One huge benefit of a hugelkultur raised bed is that it requires less watering. This is because the wood and other large organic matter inside the bed absorbs water like a sponge. When conditions get dry, the water will slowly permeate into the soil. If you live in a dry climate or deal with water restrictions during the grow season, this could be a Godsend.
Taking a vacation during the summer and won’t be home to water everything? No problem. Some people only water their hugelkultur raised bed once or twice throughout the entire season. All of the grass in your yard may be dead during the hottest, driest months of the year, but your garden will be thriving.
2. Mimic The Growability of a Natural Forest
In a forest, the changing seasons and natural aging of plants, trees, leaves, etc. cause the ground to become littered with debris. When that debris breaks down over time it intrinsically becomes a natural compost that is thriving with soil life. This living community of microorganisms feeds plant life year after year.
When you build a hugelkultur raised bed, you are allowing your own plants to receive those benefits. I hear the taste of whatever you plant is amazing, too. And the benefits will continue for years to come. Amending soil every year won’t be as necessary either, because…
3. Benefits Get Better Over Time
If you’re like me, doing work once and reaping the bene’s for a long time sounds like a great idea. That’s why I plan to build my own hugelkultur raised bed this year. As the wood and other debris break down, the soil will naturally get better with time.
At first, one of the benefits of this method is the air pockets within the bed. They allow for aspiration and give roots an easy way to spread. As time passes, the wood will shrink as it breaks down and form even more little air pockets. This action virtually tills the soil itself, so it won’t be necessary on your end anymore. How awesome is that?!
As the wood, branches, leaves and sticks continue to break down, they become compost. As compost processes it heats up, thus your hugelkultur raised bed will be warmer than the surrounding soil. If you live in a cold climate like me, this could extend your growing season. The opportunity to grow longer is a pretty amazing benefit, I’d say.
4. Build One Easily with Readily Available “Trash”
The “trash” being referred to is any kind of natural yard debris including grass clippings, leaves, tree trimmings, old dead trees and other stuff from your (or your neighbors’) backyard(s). Be advised, however, that using materials exposed to a bunch of pesticides or fertilizers (usually grass clippings are highly exposed) should be avoided.
It’s also not a good idea to use certain types of wood. Cedar, for instance, takes a long time to break down. Plus it naturally contains properties that aren’t beneficial to the microbes you are trying to encourage. Other types of wood like black walnut are toxic to many plant types.
If you are unsure, just check online if the wood you have is okay to use. Definitely don’t use any scrap lumber that has been treated with chemicals or painted. Other “trash” such as eggshells and organic waste from your kitchen can also be used, and it’ll add more nutrients such as calcium.
5. Significantly Reduce Your Fertilizer Needs
Tired of spending money on fertilizer every year? A hugelkultur raised bed can help with that. Since the soil becomes naturally composted, your fertilization needs will eventually become nil. It may take a year or so to get to this point, however, so keep that in mind when starting your project.
You can always buy a soil test kit that measures the nutrients available in the soil. Consulting tests such as these can help you optimize for your plants, especially in the first year. While the wood is initially breaking down it will consume much of the available nitrogen in the soil. Chances are you will have to correct this for your plants to grow well. Using a nitrogen-rich medium like unfertilized grass clippings could be all you need.
6. Can Be Large or Small Depending on Your Needs
Some people probably won’t like the sight of a tall mound in their yard. Permaculture gurus might say that the best beds should be several feet tall (6 or 7 feet), but their situation may be different from yours. Yes, a taller bed with more organic material will last longer. But you can do whatever you want.
One option to consider: dig a trench to start piling wood into. The deeper you dig, the more you can fill it with. This can aid you in avoiding an overly tall mound that might otherwise be seen as an eyesore to you and/or your neighbors. Also keep in mind that as everything breaks down, the mound will shrink.
7. Super Easy Maintenance
Want the benefits of an awesome garden without all of the upkeep? Then build a hugelkultur raised bed! As you’ve read by now, the benefits only increase with time. Supposedly there are techniques where you don’t even have to plant seeds the following year. Just walk outside and harvest what you want.
Imagine if all you had to do was put in the time and effort to build one hugelkultur raised bed (or more) and benefit from it for years. Sounds like an awesome opportunity to me and I plan to build one in our backyard very soon.
Watch & See How A Hugelkultur Raised Bed is Made
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