Build a Hugelkultur Bed

Reader Contribution by Crystal Stevens

We recently hosted a Free Permaculture Workshop at La Vista Farm. The topic was Hugelkultur Pollinator Garden. The farmers at La Vista Farm partnered with Maxine Pohlman of the the La Vista Ecological Learning Center the Oblate Fathers of The Oblate Ecological Initiative and several dedicated volunteers including fellow Mother Earth News Blogger Annie Kelley. The group was  concerned about the dwindling population of monarch butterflies and honey bees and wanted to build a pollinator garden that would offer both food and habitat for pollinators. We built the beds on an already existing terraced garden. Hugelkultur beds are made to retain moisture, serve as a living bed and support various root structures of a number of different plant species. The basic concepts behind hugelkultur are to utilize existing materials to form living raised beds which promote healthy ecosystems for animals and insects. These beds are low maintenance as the branches act like a sponge to retain water and vital soil nutrients. The beds can be built at any height and typically the sod layer in the bed space is removed with a sod removing tool and placed upside down on top of the final bed and planted directly into. We chose to not go with this method because we were battling with invasive Johnson grass.

The first step was to weed the terraced beds, which was done by hand by a group of dedicated volunteers prior to the day of the workshop.



On the morning of the workshop, the group helped to gather organic materials from around the property (all materials were gathered from within the radius of about one acre). We gathered fallen oak and pine tree limbs and branches and cut them into manageable sections. We raked leaves into one pile and pine needles into another. We scraped and gathered detritus leaf litter mixed with other organic matter from a nearby abandoned driveway. We used spoiled hay bales leftover from Halloween.

We then created 1-foot-wide by 1-foot-deep trenches on three of the four beds. Hugelkultur trenches are typically larger for vegetable and fruit gardens. 

We placed the fallen limbs and branches into the trenches. We then layered leaves, pine needles, spoiled straw, and other organic materials. We topped it with wet chip mulch to ensure the leaves didn’t blow away.

The beds will be topped and folded in with food scraps and red wriggler worms throughout the winter to speed up the decomposition process.

We have recently collected seed heads from a nearby prairie which we will plant in our high tunnel soon to overwinter. In the spring, the beds will have decomposed enough. We will add a layer of topsoil mixed with compost and will plant native pollinator attracting transplants both from seed as well as plants dug up from around the property.

We have also been collecting swamp milkweed seeds that we will eventually be planted in the hugelkultur beds.  Swamp milkweed is on the endangered plants list in our region and we hope to do our part by increasing the population within the next few years.

Dedicated groups of Eco-conscious individuals who hold earth stewardship as a moral imperative truly do help to make this world a better place. I am honored to be a part of a community with so many of those individuals.

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