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Have you ever heard of hügelkultur gardening?! It's a European horticultural technique. If you own some property and have access to some downed trees and fallen branches, hügelbeds are a unique and wonderful way to grow lettuce and herb gardens, wildflower vistas for pollinators, bountiful vegetable gardens and more.
Simply mound and layer a bunch of decaying logs and branches with soil, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Tightly fill in the cracks and spaces well with grass, leaf litter, and manure. The tighter the better. Water well. (When it starts to sprout mushrooms, you'll know it's wet enough.) Then top with a generous layer of soil, followed by mulch. If you build your hügelbed in the fall and let the whole thing settle over the winter, it will be ready for planting in the spring.

The best woody species for hügelbeds are alder, apple, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, dry willow, and birch. Avoid treated wood and toxic species like black cherry and black walnut.

The rounded hügelbed mounds can be as long and high as you'd like, upward to 5-6 feet high, but heavy equipment is generally needed for these higher heights. Smaller 3 foot beds are easier to work with and last without watering for about two or three weeks. However, the greater the mass, the greater the water retention and self-sustaining enjoyment, if you're looking for a taller hügelbed garden experience.

You'll want to note that as the wood breaks down, hügelbeds sink. One that starts at 6 feet high, for instance, will ultimately sink to about 2 feet after several years of decomposition and settling. You can always add more soil or compost to the top. Your healthy, nutrient-giving, living, breathing ecosystem will still be fully in place. Just keep feeding the soil microbes.

In the first year, your hügelbed will need watering as the wood breaks down. The rotting wood will be using up nitrogen that would otherwise be going to your plants, so it’s recommended that you plant legumes the first year since they produce their own nitrogen. Grain legumes could include soybeans, peanuts, cowpeas, yellow peas, and fava beans. Forage legumes include alfalfa and clover. Cover crops like fall-planted winter rye, if left to stand until June (some varieties grow to 6 feet tall) can return nitrogen to the soil.

If the beds are high enough, they won't even need watering after the second year. The higher beds can offer more surface area for planting and their height can make harvesting easier. It just depends on what your needs and wishes are.

Eventually, the decaying wood will hold water like a sponge, making the bed drought-resistant. The top of the bed will be naturally drier than the base so you can plant things that need more water nearer the bottom and those that like it drier near the top. You can plant on the sides as well as on the top and bottom, increasing crop yields. The benefits are many.


:: CONTINUOUS SOURCE OF NUTRITION - the decaying woody matter is a source of long-term, slow-release nutrition and helps to keep excess nutrients from filtering into groundwater. A large bed can give out a continual supply of nutrients for 20 years (or longer if only hardwoods are used.) 
:: IMPROVES SOIL STRUCTURE - as the woody materials break down, tiny air pockets open in the crumbling soil, allowing air to reach plant roots. This means healthier root systems and plants. The soil aeration will continue to increase as branches and logs break down, which means the bed will be no till, long term.
:: PROVIDES A LONGER GROWING SEASON - the heat-producing process of composting organic material will warm the soil in a hügelbed, providing a somewhat longer growing season and increasing rich, nutrient-building biological activity. 
:: RETAINS MOISTURE - the decaying wood also acts like a sponge, storing rainwater to release during drier times. After the first year, larger hügelkultur beds don't need to be watered again. This can be especially beneficial in dry or drought-prone regions.
:: INCREASES YIELD PRODUCTION - because hügelkultur beds are self-sustaining ecosystems, they increase the productivity of a garden. With a rich continual source of nutrients and a continual supply of water, plants will thrive and produce higher yields.
There are many good reads about hügelkultur gardening online, but we share the following source to show you how the process can be incorporated into landscape design. Imagine the possibilities! ... ... it's a unique, but beneficial way to garden.
Understanding soil biology will help Haitian communities regenerate their soils and watersheds. 
| CLICK to watch one way that hügelkultur beds are made (7:04min)