Hugelkultur (pronounced who-gull-cull-ter) is a way of building raised beds. The technique has been used for hundreds of years, and mirrors the way nutrients return to the soil in a forest.
A Hugelkultur bed is a low mound built of dead wood covered with other organic materials. The decomposing wood gradually turns into great soil for new plants: it releases nutrients, holds water, and keeps plants warm with the heat produced by the composting process.
A Hugelkultur bed is easy to build, and uses materials that are often found in yards for free and thrown away as waste. The first step is to place logs, branches, or other woody material where the mound will be built. The material can be placed in a shallow trench, or can be broken up so that it will lie close to the ground. Contact with the soil helps the decomposition process. Watering the pile thoroughly also helps the organic material begin to break down.
Once this “frame” has been built, the spaces between the wood can be filled with leaves, grass clippings, food waste from the kitchen, and other small organic matter. Finally, the pile is covered with topsoil or mulch.
The bed can be planted into immediately, with either seeds or transplants, or can be left to break down for a few months before being planted. The new occupants of the bed will benefit from both the quality of the soil and the favorable microclimates that develop on mounds.