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Grow a garden on hard-pan, lava rock or other inhospitable surface by building a  hügel first. Much less expensive than container or raised-bed gardening, hügelkultur is a traditional way to build a garden bed.

Never buy bagged soil again! Build a hügel and make your own planting soil. Once the hill is built, nature does the work.

What is hügelkultur?

Hügelkultur means hill culture (German). It is a process of recreating a forest floor in a garden bed in order to generate healthy, lightweight, nutrient rich soil where none exists.

Why use hügelkultur?

To create a hospitable growing environment on a hard-pan, lava rock, or other hard surface. To build or rebuild soil where there is no soil.

Hugelkultur February 2023

Hugelkultur November 2023

The Ultimate Raised Bed: Hügelkultur

Hügelkultur, pronounced HOO-gul-culture, is a German word meaning mound or hill culture. This gardening style has been practiced in Germany and Eastern Europe for centuries.

This practice encourages repurposing garden debris into a flourishing natural ecosystem. Enjoy the benefits of soil fertility, good drainage, water retention, and loads of organic material for soil warming. 

Please click here to read the full article on Hügelkultur by Pauline Atkins, UCCE Master Gardeners of El Dorado County, published in the Mountain Democrat 04-19-23.                                                                                                                             

How to build a hügel

Large logs are laid down first, logs with micororganisms, macro decomposers. Base layer is hard wood, large stumps, and large branches.  

Second layer is smaller pieces of untreated wood and sticks and then twigs.

In our garden, we’ve installed a plexiglass window in the side of the hügel so that we can watch the decomposition process. You can do this too, just for fun and amazement, if you want.

After the hard wood in large pieces and small has been added to the pile, the next layer is leaves and garden debris, then mulch, wood chips, other organic material, straw and horse manure are added to the hügel.

  • Rotted hardwood logs
  • Hardwood branches
  • Decomposed wooody chips
  • Shredded leaves
  • Shredded straw
  • Broken down horse manure
  • Crumbs from the forest floor
  • Woven cardoon leaves for "retaining wall"

To form a high mound, bamboo sticks are woven around the edge of the pile, basket-weaving style and large fronds placed around the edges for reinforcement.

A hügel’s top layer should be built of grass clippings, green waste, mulch, compost and topsoil.

After building, a hügel needs to be watered and then rest as the decomposition process begins.

What do I plant in my hügelkultur?

Plants that thrive in hügelbeds include squash, melons, cucumbers and other sprawling and vining plants.

How is hügelkultur like composting? 

Both feature the decomposition of materials for use in the garden and produce fertile, healthy soil over time. To learn more about composting, please visit our composting resources page. 

Composting Resources