I was fortunate to attend the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) conference in Austin in early February. Growers and meat producers from all over the state gathered to share their tips and strategies for organic and sustainable agriculture. I attended a session given by Arturo Arrendondo who spoke about various methods to conserve water and resources in your growing practices. HugelKulture is a method of gardening originally practiced in Germany.  

The following is a quote from Arturo:

“A HugelKulture is a type of raised bed garden that allows you to use organic materials that are too big to go into the compost pile. Over a 3 to 5 year time period the materials in the bed decompose, and provide a slow release of nutrients for the garden plants. Because of its three-dimensionality, a HugelKulture raised bed garden combines the multiple functions of rainwater harvesting, catchment, and irrigation using no cistern, pumps, or PVC pipes. Done properly, there may be no need to water all summer!”

I decided to build a HugelKulture in an 8’ by 4’ space in my garden to see how well it works. The way to design a HugelKulture is to first lay out the size of garden you want to install. Then you procure some the largest logs you can handle and that will fit in the space you are working with. My neighbors had a large tree fall down, so they allowed me to cut up some of the logs to use for my base. I purchased concrete blocks to enclose the bed. However, I don’t think Arturo uses anything to enclose his beds. I then placed the logs on the inside of the bed to a depth of about 2’. On top of that I worked in partially finished compost and leaves. Then on top of that I put in finished compost mixed with top soil at a ratio of 3 parts compost to 1 part soil. I thoroughly watered in each layer as I went. As the logs decompose they are supposed to absorb and hold rain water to alleviate the need for supplemental watering. They are also supposed to release nutrients for the plants. I understand in the first 2 years that the decomposing wood will also absorb nitrogen.      

Submitted by Mike Schmitt