If you're a lazy gardener, Hügelkultur may be just what you're looking for. Pronounced hoo-gul-culture, this natural fertilizing technique originated in Germany in the seventies and has continued to grow in popularity over the years. It's perfect for those nature lovers who want the benefits of the garden with a lot less effort.
A Better Look at Hügelkultur
Hügelkultur is essentially mound gardening. You collect your supplies, turn them into a mound, and plant your garden on top of that mound. Because of the specific supplies that go into the Hügelkultur mound, your plants receive a steady diet of great nutrients to help them flourish. And as a major bonus, this form of gardening keeps most of those pesky weeds at bay.
The magic of the mound shape also allows for plants to receive sun all throughout the day, so make sure to plant vegetables or flowers that need or can tolerate lots of sun.
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Instead of diggings or making garden boxes, you'll be purchasing things like wood and mulch to strategically pile together to make your mound. Unless you live in a place with access to large amounts of organic materials, Hügelkultur mounds are not free, and depending on the scale of your ambitions, they can even get pretty expensive, so make sure you know the facts before you have piles for miles and no good way to take care of them.
To build a proper Hügelkultur garden, you need wood/wood materials, nitrogen materials, quality soil, mulch, and plants. You'll also want to supply yourself with a good amount of time to pull this project together.
You'll also need a good chunk of land for this project. If you live in an apartment complex or a townhome, this may not be the garden for you. Instead, consider using window box gardens or another form of small gardening to get your vegetable growing fix.
If you do have the land, plan for a mound that is around three to five feet fall, and a few feet wide. These mounds can be as long or as round as you want, so work with your yard space. If you need to get creative with the shape of the Hügelkultur mound, you're not alone. While these garden beds are typically long rectangles, they can be made curvy, round, or even horseshoe shaped.
Building Your Hügelkultur Mounds
Start with wood materials. You can use branches, logs, wood chips, or any kind of woody material that you want. Pick a wood type that won't rot quickly or that won't add acidity or other problems to your soil. Good wood includes alders, aspen, cottonwood, maple, oak, willow, apple, birch, and maple. If you're unsure of what type of suitable trees grow in your area, your local Parks and Rec department can help.
Some people dig a trench to lay the largest pieces of wood, and if you're feeling especially ambitious, you can make it extra deep in the middle, giving you space to pile in plenty of material. Over the years, these pieces of wood will decompose, releasing critical nutrients for future plants, and feeding worms that enrich the soil.
After you've tightly piled your wood the way you want your mound to look and watered it, the next step can get a little stinky. You need to add a layer of something packed full of nitrogen, and this usually comes in the form of manure. After you add manure, you can also layer in grass clippings and compost. After everything is on the mound, give it another good watering.
Soil comes next and you need to pack it on the mound evenly. It might be tempting to buy expensive soil, but regular gardening soil will work great. Pack the soil down around the mound and once you're happy with the way it looks, water this layer too.
Next, add mulch to your Hügelkultur mounds. This can be hay, leaves, or even straw. You can purchase mulch, but you can also make your own. Mulch is the most important step because it will protect the garden mound and help plants grow well.
Once your mulch is down, you are ready to plant. Pick plants local to your area and that work well with the light you have in your garden. To plant in a Hügelkultur mound, simply move a little mulch aside and get planting.
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