Hugelkultur is a system that utilizes buried wood at the base of one’s bed.
The concept behind Hugelkultur is that as wood breaks down, it develops into a sponge like material, storing water in its decomposing fibers. The concept for this type of system was born out of the observation of the forest floor by its creator Sepp Holzer.
We moved a Hugelkultur bed built last year to a better location, and in the process we had a chance to see how the bed was performing inside.
Upon the inspection of the bed’s insides, we found this happening.
This bed was completely unwatered. During the extended 2 month long drought, the first 4 inches of the top soil was dry as of a week before our rain. Even with these conditions, kale was growing well, if not slightly slower than normal.
With the addition of a new Hugelkultur bed came some refinements and new design elements.
With this bed we dug below the grade to create a sunken cavity where our wood would be placed. This would allow for a deeper soaking and storing of water. This cavity was made level to allow for an even distribution of water
We happen to have a an abundance of wood that has been curing outside in the rain. Conveniently the sourced wood was also tarped for the duration of its curing which allowed for a great culture of mycelium to develop in the wood.
This is also a great benefit of Hugelkultur in that it inoculates your bed with a great number of beneficial micro organisms which make nutrients and minerals readily available to the plant root nodes.
New for this bed is the use of larger diameter wood logs. This is moving closer towards a more ideal Hugelkultur. With the increase in size, we gain an increase of years where the wood is present to act as an organic sponge.
Over the length of the bed the conditions transition from partial sun to full sun (8 hours). The head of the bed happens to be placed in the sunniest spot in the garden. In order to increase our heat and solar gain, the bed was shaped so that the slope of the bed is angled perpendicular to the angle of the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes, along with being oriented to directly face the sun at its peak in the southern sky.
Rocks are a great addition to any garden. They happen to be my favorite material for creating beds. They won’t rot and they have the ability to collect and store energy.
For example they create microclimate conditions which allow water vapor in the atmosphere to be condensed around the rocks’ cooler underside, which in effect is like a mini drip irrigation during the cooler months of spring and early summer.
Secondly, they have the ability to collect and store the sun’s heat energy allowing for heat to be released at night when our New England nights dip down into lower than optimal temperatures.
A mixture of Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch were broadcast. These grasses are traditionally used to overwinter a crop field in order to protect the ground and prevent weeds from taking over. They also fix and add nitrogen back into the soil. For our purposes they provides a roots structure to hold the steep slope of the bed together, prevent weeds, and also to act as a chop and drop source of nitrogen rich biomass.
After I planted the bed with our vegetables, I started to trim the grasses and place the clippings around the new plants. This allowed for the plants to be mulched and fertilized in one action.
Utilized first at the sunniest spot where our tomatoes are planted, we were looking to soften the night time temperature swings of New England’s late spring nights. As mentioned previously, rock is a collector of energy and has worked well in keeping a warmer micro climate around the tomatoes.