Hugelkultur, pros and cons

toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)January 6, 2013

All the pros are listed in the links below, and sounded like fantastic idea. Any drawbacks other than being tall triangular mounts and kind of picky when it comes to type of wood used, ie no pine etc.?

Some links to HugelKultur
Link From Rich Soil

From youtube

From Permaculturenews

from permaculturenews again

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By the time you dump that much soil on the logs you might as well just stick to raised beds, imo.

The roots of plants will break up all but the most hardcore compacted soil once they get past the first 1 ft. of "good" soil.

It seems to be most useful if you have some ungodly amount of waste wood/trees you need to get rid of.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Sun, Jan 6, 13 at 20:01

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 7:59PM
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I second the above comment. If you have big piles of brush or logs that you can't otherwise get rid of, and you have topsoil to pile on top of it, then have at it. That being said, I can't see the point of making it a first choice for gardening. As with all these methods, the fact I always keep in mind is that people have been growing great gardens without hugelkultur or hay bale gardens or double dig gardens for a long time. While each method might 'work,' none is needed to produce great harvests. People seem to fall in love with the idea that they've discovered a 'new, improved' way of gardening, and forget that the boring old normal way works just as well.

Personally, if it was me and I had the wood on hand, I'd hire a grinder/chopper thingy and make wood chips as small as I could get them, and then use them for mulch and compost them.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 9:33PM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

I have been using woodchip etc for years with good result. I get a truck load (about 16 yard3) of freshly chopped trees from local arborist every 2 years or so. That being said, one mustn't stop exploring and trying. Just because something worked doesn't mean there aren't better ways. Otherwise, we will still using candles and buggies.

All the published articles on Hugelkultur claimed that the wood or log that forms the base help to retain water during wet months; then release water and all kinds of nutrients, humus when the logs decompose. As such, it sounded like once the logs are totally decomposed, it's time to restart. I live in the desert, water retaining sounded wonderful to me.

Never tried it but am very curious and tempted.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 11:23PM
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The greatest problem I have heard about much of anything is "but we've never done it that way before". There are those that have never tried something, or even have never heard of something, that will tell you that it will never work, is too much work, or the way I have always done it is better.
Hugelkultur is one method of improving soil and it does work, although not overnight. Just as some will adamently maintain that tilling is a must or that laying down wood chips as mulch or that laying most any material down as mulch will not improve soil, because "we've never done it that way" or that Biodynamic gardening is pseudoscience those are mostly from lack of knowledge.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 6:53AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

our new raised beds with corrugated roof panels are constructed using hugelkultur process, that is we had available lots of main branches and bark and stuff so we piled it in the bottom of teh beds then filled over it with the soil pushed up to create our home site.

with the depths of our beds we can plant straight away and got great results, there is no evidence of nitrogen draw down.

to me the classic use of HK can be improved upon for gardeners to use it.

Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 2:49PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

couldn't find the right pic before must do some office work,

how do we get more than on pic online?


    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 2:54PM
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>The greatest problem I have heard about much of anything is "but we've never done it that way before".

Not only has this been done, it's been studied at the university level in many countries.

If we want to nit-pick the the very least you should semi-sink or otherwise lower the mound if water retention if a concern. You'll lose more water the higher the mound is made...similar to any raised bed thanks to the effect on temperature/evaporation on the soil.

Also on the point of environmental effects, it can take anywhere from 5 to 25 years for that wood to break down, though it will break down eventually. A lot depends on weathering (moisture, sun, microbe quality, fungus, insect/grub/"pests").

If you're going to dump more than 12" of soil on top of anything, though, you can pretty much grow whatever you want on it. You can line the bottom with smashed up brick and still get a crop...only the brick won't quickly rot down or add much of anything to the soil in the long run.

IMO, Hugelkutur is a good way to get rid of excessive logs/limbs rather than something new or untested...and I'd sink some of that wood into the ground rather than piling it on top of the ground if I was going to use it for moisture control.

That said, I'd rather use the soil alone and mulch 3-4" letting the mulch add to the top layer soil profile as it breaks down. Some people have excess wood to get rid of, though, and a proper environment to break it down quickly.

An alternative to an "alternative", even though it may be considered conventional, isn't a bad thing to explore.

Also, fwiw, I'm a certified permaculturalist. Innovation on existing techniques, as well as planning the proper technique for your environment and available inputs is something I pay attention to. Also, fwiw, getting certified is rather easy if anyone is interested...the design part is the only "hard" part, though it's not that challenging and very rewarding.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 4:44PM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

Would you all be concerned if the log used happened to be pine? In this case Pinus ponderosa, (commonly known as the Ponderosa Pine, Bull Pine, Blackjack Pine]

Should one be concern with tannin? It will break down slower but how will tannin hurt the growth of plants or the roots of plants?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 5:06PM
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It is believed by most (though research isn't highly available outside of tree cropping/forestry systems) that soil tannins aren't harmful to root development, though it can restrict available N and throw off the C:N ratio balances.

Also, if your soil is high in metals (especially Al) there is an increased chance of Al toxicity in the root zone. This should only be an issue with soils that are already low in might want to remove any residual pine straw/leaves if you're working with low pH soils.

Breakdown of these types of woods will most likely take a longer period of time thanks to the resins/tannins/etc in the wood, too.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Mon, Jan 7, 13 at 17:18

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 5:16PM
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It strikes me as an excellent method to build swales (berms laid across a slope to trap water). You have the bump, the water sponge, and the organic matter. In my little practice, I have been putting one spent mushroom log in each fruit tree holes, though I started last year and I do not have results yet.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 9:02PM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

Acting as water retainer and organic matter provider, the longer it takes pine to decompose isn't an issue, is it? So long the tannin etc aren't hurting the growth plants on top of it?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 9:59PM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

2nd thought. Decomposing logs are more porous which enables retaining water, the sponge effect. If pine or so that doesn't decompose quickly, and their resin fills whatever porous area, then they won't have the sponge effect to retain water?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 10:19PM
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david52 Zone 6

I believe I mentioned it in another thread on the same subject, but I'll repeat here.

Watch out for termites. If you live in an environment where they exist, this pretty much creates an eat-all-you-want buffet for the little fellas.

I have several branch piles covered with bark/soil/leaves/veggie waste/soil around my border, and at least two of them harbor, or serve as the grocery store - for significant termite colonies.

I have no idea if this is beneficial to the soil and gardening, but I do know that if they get into your house or garage or any structure, its a very expensive mess, and insurance won't cover it.

/ask me how I know

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 10:30AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

yes swales using that type of timber can be constructed, no need to cover with dirt, just let the flotsem build up on the top side. as for termites they simply help break down the timber, we live in a land of termites, we built our home to be termite resistant only some treated pine for dressing in the home, so if they did eat that no worries just replace it, the rest is steel and cement.

i honestly can't understand why universities etc.,. would research a mulching method?? does not make sense, if people don't support the idea then that is their loss, hugelkultur really on any good to those gardeners who have that sort of material, and good gardeners are recyclers as well keep the stuff from land fill and cut the use of chippers.

hugel is just another copy of nature in action, so needs no egg heads getting involved.

research for humanity.

also with the termites you need to have a barrier between plants and house, then no worries.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens bale garden

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 2:02PM
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>i honestly can't understand why universities etc.,. would research a mulching method??

A university will research almost anything that 1- a prof. has interest in 2- a student who gets their research approved (usually for phD project) and gets an okay for 3- whatever study might be tied to a grant they proposed/accepted 4- what surpluses/sources are available in an area which may be better utilized rather than being waste/low-income (value added production, new uses for something, etc).

The use of pine bark as a soil-less medium used to be a less-used practice until it was trialed in a variety of horticulture/tree-shrub container projects. Now it's very common...with almost recipe-like nutrient/care instructions...for use in many container crops where pine bark is available in high supply. It's one thing to know you have's another to know how to best use it because it's been studied extensively in order to find out the best way to use the least amount of inputs (the bark itself, whether it works better mixed with other things, water/nutrient scheduling, etc).

When you're asking a farmer/nursery owner/etc to change the way they do things with 100s-1000s of plants, they like to have faith in it. Many don't have the time or space to experiment, themselves.'s also worth mentioning there's more than a few agriculture colleges out there with legit/strong Permaculture study programs. Some just offer a few classes and some (such as U.Oregon) have full-on programs developed to research/development.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Tue, Jan 8, 13 at 16:51

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 4:05PM
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toffee-el(Z8b Sunset Z13 Elev 4650ft)

Hey gardenlen, what's a termite barrier? How to do it?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 11:42PM
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Toffee - Pine works just fine. There are some farms in New Mexico using pine slash to make water retention berms and pits in their orchards.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 7:53AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

termite barrier around house is nothing planted within 2 meters of the house and no cement paths within 1 meter of the house, this are should be a dry area, we dug a 300mm X 300mm trench near the foundations and filled it with builders sand and had the termite man apply his liquid barrier into it, then we covered it with stone chip.

we pulled out trees and gardens within that 12 meter area.

never had termites in any house we have owned,


    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 2:27PM
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I put a pine stump in a container last year and the eggplant grew great. A dry pine stump vertically buried makes a great water buffer; absorbing excess and slowly releasing it.

Did a lot with hugelkultur in my garden. Most useful if vertically buried. But if you have thick clay soil (like mine) digging in lots (50%) of wood chips makes a bigger difference.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hugel & wood chip bed construction

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 1:19PM
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I experimented with Hugelkultur last year, making one of my 10 beds a hugelkultur bed. With a shovel, I myself, dug a trench 3+ feet deep, 3 feet wide and 8 feet long (I am 63 years old). A neighbor brought over honking large aged tree stump logs which we put into the bottom, covered with branches, then twigs, then leaves, then the soil I took out of the trench, then compost, then wood chips! So far this Spring I have planted it with carrots. Want to plant deeper rooted things, like tomatoes, but they might grow to high on this elevated bed.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 6:39AM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Good for you suegee1950! I wish I had that much energy!

I'm close behind you in age, I'll be 60 in June!

I have a backhoe and I dug out a 6' deep X 4' wide X 10' long hole. And I'm filling it in with tree limbs.

I have so many large oak and hickory trees dropping limbs that are 10" and larger in diameter ! I'm running out of places to pile them up without them getting in the way.

I have a pile 50' long, at least 10' high and 30' wide in the back corner of my pasture! I think the limb drop was caused by our severe drought a few years back.

Everything to gain and nothing to lose is my opinion about it!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 3:18PM
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