What Is Hügelkultur?

Build healthy soil your garden can rock out in with this German compost technique.

What Is Hügelkultur? Photo courtesy Jon Roberts/Wikimedia (HobbyFarms.com)Lasagna gardening. Sheet composting. No-till gardening. You’ve probably come across these and similar gardening techniques before. They are all slightly different variations on building a raised bed from layers of organic matter, which rots down right where it is, getting better and better as it composts in place. Techniques such as these promise that you can improve tilth, preserve soil structure, and create the garden bed of your dreams without a lot of backbreaking labor or expensive, imported garden soil.

Although some of these published methods offer specific "recipes” to create ideal, no-till beds, the basic technique is simple: Pile on a lot of organic, compostable material, and let nature take its course.

The latest bed-building method to turn gardeners’ heads is actually an ancient technique called hügelkultur. The German word, meaning "mound culture,” is usually pronounced "hoo-gull culture” in English-speaking gardening circles. It is one of many techniques associated with permaculture, a philosophy that seeks to understand, mimic and incorporate natural relationships and systems into the garden.

Hügelkultur differs from previously popularized no-till bed-building techniques in a few key ways:

1. Woody Base Material

Hügelkultur beds are ideally built with a base of logs or branches and prunings from woody shrubs. The larger the woody base material, the more self-sustaining you can expect the beds to be over time.

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