May 11, 2012


A few weeks ago we were installing a 4 x 8 raised bed in the backyard and simultaneously clearing a neglected patch of side yard for potato planting. The side yard was filled with a bunch of logs leftover from trimming our Black Walnut tree ten years ago, and covered with a very fat layer of leaves. When we realized we didn't have enough soil to fill even half the new raised bed, and that we needed to clear out the logs, we decided to dump the logs in the beds and call it a pseudo hugelkultur.

Logs on top of cardboard on top of grass

"A what???" you say. Hugelkultur (say it with me: WHO-gull-cull-tour) is a permaculture technique that basically involves burying logs and other organic matter under a layer of soil and then planting stuff on top of it. From what I gather, a hugelkultur bed is normally a rather large mound, as much as six or seven times higher than our 12-inch tall raised bed.

Miscanthus trimmings on top of logs

Proponents of hugelkultur claim it can eliminate the need for both irrigation and tilling, because the logs hold moisture and "self-till" as they break down over time. I can't speak to those claims, but if you want to know more, check out Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur page.

Ours is definitely not a by-the-book example of this method, but it sure beat paying for couple of yards of who-knows-what-quality soil to be delivered in order to fill the new bed. (I'm not a big fan of our local bulk soil options, so I was happy to find a different solution.)

Leaf mold and soil on top of dry grass

The layer on top of the logs is last season's growth of our huge Miscanthus grass, which we cut and placed in the bed before adding a mixture of leaf mold and nice soil from the chicken area. Then we repeated with more logs, grasses, leaves, and soil to complete the bed.

Rico the Boxer monitoring progress

It remains to be seen how this pseudo-hugelkultur bed will work out in the end, but since it both saved us some cash and used up previously neglected yard resources, I was willing to give it a try. Since we used Black Walnut, which is actually toxic to a large number of other types of plants, that's a possible problem, though Black Walnut toxins are most concentrated in the roots and we didn't use those. I'm especially curious as to whether there will be any noticeable difference in the amount of water the bed requires. For now, the lettuce and corn are growing quite nicely in there!

Corn and lettuce in the hugelkultur bed

Is this something you'd ever try, either because you're a permaculture enthusiast or because you like the idea of a frugal method of filling a new bed?

UPDATE: Lettuce worked out well, but the corn not so much. I'll need to add a thick layer of compost to this bed to get some nitrogen and other nutrients back into the developing soil.


  1. Hmm Your frugal lettuce looks bigger than the lettuce in my fancy earth box. Good job!

  2. I wish I had seen this before my attempted frugalkultur! We just did something very similar but I had to start everything on top of black plastic to keep those invasive australian pine roots out. How is the hugelkultur bed working for you?