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Hugelkultur – the Best Raised Garden for Low Maintenance

Wood Rot for Your Raised Garden Plot

What’s hugelkultur, when would you use it, and how do you say it anyway?

Pronounced something like: Hoogle-culture, this centuries old method of raised garden beds, has migrated to the west and been eagerly adopted by permaculture fans and those with problem soil and terrain.

Who tends nature’s garden? Who is out in the forests and fields adding soil amendments and fertilizer? Just Mother Nature of course.

Hugelkultur raised garden beds are the cheapest and most natural form of gardening.

Modeled after Mother Nature’s example, Hügelkultur (also spelled huegelkultur), translates from German as “hill culture”). Using wood and wood rot along with other natural debris, these elevated garden beds are especially beneficial for those living in or near wooded areas.1)

Nature quote, nature meme, nature is the best classroom

Nature is the best classroom.

Practiced in German and Eastern European societies for hundreds of years, hugelkultur utilizes just three ingredients—like nature—to create an incredibly fertile environment for gardening: wood, soil and mulch.

Brought to North America by Sepp Holzer, an Austrian permaculture expert, this natural form of gardening is becoming increasingly popular because of its nature-friendly, low maintenance, commons sense approach to permaculture gardening. 2)

We started a couple hugelkultur beds last year, and were impressed enough that we’re planning for more. It’s perfect for us because we live in the woods with ample access to hugel bed makings, and some of our garden areas are rocky with poor soil. We also lead very busy lives running multiple businesses, so this low maintenance gardening method is a perfect fit for us. We’re eager to see if we’ll have less trouble with moles in the hugelkultur because they sure tore up some of our row beds this past season. 3)

Our hugelkultur beds are our best producers so far.

Here’s a small illustration to help get your head into the concept if it’s new to you, and we share these in larger and crisper formatting on the last page as well.

Images from Paul Wheaton, also known as The Duke of Permaculture, from his site,

These nature-modeled gardening methods can be incorporated into virtually any kind of land area, however it’s especially conducive to areas near natural woods for the ready access to wood and wood debris which is the foundation of a hugel bed. Beyond that hugels are especially beneficial for land that may be hard to garden or farm.

Hügelkultur replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on forest floors. A natural permaculture approach, it’s especially beneficial for land that is otherwise harder to farm, such as hilly or dry land.

Hugelkultur often eliminates the need for watering.

Hugelkultur conserves water, increases the surface area to grow upon, and improves the growing medium and thus the crop yield with each passing year.

Cover image from A Sepp Holzer Hugelkultur garden.4)
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Hugelkultur, the King of all Raised Bed Gardens

The focal point of this video is a project in Dayton, Montana where author Sepp Holzer, installed over a mile of hugelkultur beds in early May of 2012. The second part of the video shows the results in mid September.

Hugelkultur Farm in Montana

Michael Billington is currently the land manager there. He explains how the beds have not been irrigated and goes into some detail of the qualities of the food from the different aspects of the hugelkultur: the north side tends to be sweeter and the south side tends to have more bite (lettuces tend to be more bitter and mustards tend to be hotter).

Special appearances by Christy Nieto from Bellingham, Washington (see her smaller berm / raised garden bed in the background – she reduced, but did not eliminate irrigation); Melanie and Brad Knight from Sage Mountain Homestead in Corvallis, Montana (building hugelkultur with a bobcat); Sepp Holzer adding branch mulch plus throwing seed; Jessica “Jessi” Peterson showing the mulching technique.

The Hugelkultur Recipe

  • Wood and brush covered with soil
  • Immediately plant seeds
  • Mulch

In steep hugelkultur raised garden beds, mulch is pinned to the sides with branches shaped like pegs (referred to as nails in the video) to help retain the mulch.

Once the hugelkultur beds get to be about three years old, the plant growth will be about five times greater. This is just the first year and the wood has not yet rotted much.

Hugelkultur also extends the growing season.

Areas that have 90 frost free days can now have 150 frost free days!

NEXT – Scroll down for a video on making a hugelkultur bed on level land, revealed in layers.

Building a Hugelkultur Bed on Level Land

This 3:22 minute video shows the making of a hugelkultur garden bed in a level lot.

Very cool, right?

Hugelkultur in Pictures

Now… more for the visual folks: These excellent illustrations perfectly depict a pictorial explanation of hugelkultur.

hugelkultur, raised-garden-bed
Raised garden bed hugelkultur after one month. Image from Paul Wheaton on
Raised garden bed hugelkultur after one year. Image from Paul Wheaton on
hugelkultur, raised-garden-beds
Raised garden bed hugelkultur after two years. Image from Paul Wheaton on
Raised garden bed hugelkultur after twenty years. Image from Paul Wheaton on

Toward the end of the growing season, the hugelkultur bed can look more “natural” especially with various plantings at different stages of going into winter mode. It’s normal and mimics what’s happening in the fields and forests. Time to harvest the last of the gardens gifts, pull up the desiccated and fading annual plantings, and tend to getting the perennials set for the winter and next season.

Here’s a interesting video when Dan shows how he harvests his fall crops and puts his hugelkultur garden in order for the oncoming winter, (though he is in zone 9b in California). In this video, Dan is all action and no talk! ? Enjoy!

For more on permaculture and the GardensAll permaculture experiment, you may also enjoy this article.6)The Ultimate Raised Garden Bed – Permaculture with Hugelkultur

Autumn is an especially good time to start your hugelkultur beds because of the abundance of leaves and limb debris accessible in the woods in fall. But whenever it is that you’re reading this… start gathering materials and planning because your hugel can begin aging from the moment you start it.

Images from, online home of Paul Wheaton, “The Duke of Permaculture”.7)

Cover image from A Sepp Holzer Hugelkultur garden.8)

Ready to Hugelkultur?

Pronounced something like: Hoogle-culture, this centuries old method of raised garden beds, has migrated to the west and been eagerly adopted by permaculture fans and those with problem soil and terrain.


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