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I heard about hugel kultur beds, study a bit about it and I think it might help me fix my backyard. It is about 13x11 m that I want to be fertile (so far only weed grows in it). It is heavily packed and a pain to dig around.

If I make a long hugel bed (across the whole yard) let it do its thing and spread the resulting soil afterwards to the rest of the yard will it work?

Also, how long does it take to break down pine wood (I have lots of left over pine boards from the construction)?

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Hugel Kultur beds are basically underground compost heaps. The beds are filled with logs then covered with soil. They provide nutrients, help retain water and as the logs decompose they help aerate the soil underneath.

It will take a few years for the logs to decompose. As they do the raised bed will get shorter so keep that in mind about how much volume you'll have to spread around.

I don't see why your plan wouldn't work since you're basically going to compost the wood and the spread the compost/soil mix around your yard.

If you want immediate results you can buy compost by the dump truck full to incorporate into your soil instead of waiting a few years.

If you already have the wood and don't mind waiting if you rent a chipper to break the wood down into smaller pieces, add an appropriate amount of plant material that is high in nitrogen and the equipment to regularly turn a compost to keep it hot you can make your own compost in as little as a month. If the pile is not actively managed it will take months.

Personally I would go with compost because it's faster and by ripping apart the hugel kultur bed you're going to destroy some of the benefits of that type of garden bed.

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  • I plan to make some raised beds for vegetables. I could make the Hugel Kultur for those. In my case, I don't have logs, I have lots of weed clippings (probably with seed heads) and lots of pine timber that was used on construction (mostly boards), it has some cement on it, but not much to greatly increase the pH. Can I use the clippings and the timber? May 11 '14 at 22:59
  • I'm not an expert on hugel kultur and only discovered that page I linked to last year so I can't answer your follow up questions but understand the process enough to know that once the wood decomposes spreading it around the yard will help. But compost, like I said, will be much faster. Check out the link in my answer it has some mention of pine and tanins. May 12 '14 at 4:24
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All plants do better in raised beds. Don't need sides of wood or brick or concrete...just double-dug fluffy beds. Allows for soils to warm quicker in the spring, easier to pull weeds, more air gets into the soil and you can more easily monitor water requirements. At the foot of my raised beds (between the lawn and ornamental planting beds, between my vegetable garden beds and walkways) I create a trench that takes excess water away to protect both beds and walkways from eroding.

The pictures that came up on hugel kultur were quite...interesting. I looked at the pictures then came back to finish this answer. Then I'll go read about hugel kultur more closely, grin. Improving your soil and doing bed preparation makes sense. It doesn't have to be expensive or back breaking. Thought I'd get a few ideas off to you before I'm off to study.

Whenever beds are being made I've found that dealing with the lawn at the same time saves time, money and work. Use a sod cutter to redefine your lawn edges and remove sod that doesn't do well. Then, instead of hauling all that great dirt and organic matter off to the dump, use the old sod for building up your plant beds. I top the turned over sod with topsoil (from making my trenches between the plant bed and lawn and/or topsoil delivered with organic matter mixed in for you). I usually use at least 4-6" of topsoil to shape my beds covering the old sod. Plants are planted and I leave a few inches of root ball uncovered to allow for 2" of decomposed organic mulch. You can see that if you have a lawn that needs fixing, building up beds with old sod can sure save money and your back.

As organic material is decomposed and used by the organisms in the soil the height of your bed reduces greatly. For example; during the fall, I had the electrical company who were cleaning debris, cutting down trees and pruning to maintain their power lines use my place to dump huge loads of wood chips. These piles were easily 6 to 8' in height. Underneath were blackberries! The piles steamed all winter long and by summer they were only 6" deep. I added alfalfa pellets (old-style kitty litter) to assist the decomposers with nitrogen. The horrid blackberries were GONE. All that was left was 6" of decomposed organic mulch (thousands of sq. ft).

My vegetable garden of course had raised beds, 1-2' high, 3' wide. I grow cover crops during the winter. So far my favorite is annual rye. The grass was dark green and 2-3' high...all winter long. Turned that under in the spring and covered the soil with 2" of the free decomposed organic mulch. I gave my 'slaves' a month to do their thing and then, I was planting.

Raw wood, lawn-clippings, weeds (roots and tops), leaves, food scraps are all examples of un-decomposed organic mulch. Depending on the material (pine scraps, cedar), the soil condition and the weather it can take YEARS to get raw wood decomposed. There is a whole world of microorganisms devoted to decomposing, the minute something dies the decomposers are on-the-job. These guys need NITROGEN to do the decomposing work. If you use bark chips for mulch you can be assured that the decomposers are hard at work using up the nitrogen in the soil possibly compromising plants. All the other micro and macro organisms (slaves) go...dormant, or find new homes until the un-decomposed mulch becomes decomposed and available as food. These organisms, this life in the soil is all important to the health of plants.

Clayey soils are just fine soils with proper management; no tilling when wet, double dig your beds by hand (just once), they hold onto water and nutrients better, top dress once a year or so with decomposed organic mulch to suppress weeds and feed all the (slaves) doing work for you.

The ONLY way to improve soil, any soil, is to know what you have (send in samples to your cooperative extension service), know the pH, the amount of organic matter, how much in percentage of your soil is clay, silt, sand, amount of nutrients and then how to manage what you've got. Allow your 'slaves' do the work of mixing organic matter into your soil. Just feed them well...careful with pesticides.

Finding decomposed organic mulch is not easy. Horse, steer, chicken manures work well IF they are decomposed, not fresh. They've got weed seeds of course and you have to be aware of what antibiotics, steroids, other medications with which the animals have been treated. Composting your own is smart but takes time. Other mulches that come from garden waste people haul off their property are not dependable. Weed seeds, disease, problem insects and pesticide residues are the norm. My favorite mulch is human sewage mixed with sawdust and COMPLETELY decomposed. It truly is beautiful; dark taupe in color, fine texture. No sticks, lumps, stones, no weed seeds, no pesticide residue and NO SMELL! It is the only mulch that is tested and monitored. Unfortunately, it is a little high in heavy metals so not to be used on your vegetable garden or your rice paddies, grin. But great for all your other plant beds.

Those free chips that year were the best deal. I had to wait a year for them to decompose. Otherwise, green cover crops grown during the winter for your vegetable beds is an inexpensive way to improve your soil. Green cover crops out-compete weeds all winter, too. Human poo/sawdust is the best mulch for all your other beds (decomposed). I'll get back to you after I read about hugel kultur! Hope this helps...

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