When we build berms where grass is planted we start by edging the location that we are to mound up. After cutting the rough shape we picked the best clumps of grass and transferred them to low spots and barren patched in the yard. After that we proceeded to turn over the grass by carving out small shovel sized chunks of sod. Leave the turned over grass for a few days then turn over again adding wood chips and sticks. In large mounds only the first foot will need to be turned over to prevent the lawn from entering into the mound.
Hugelkultur is the building of beds with a wood core that has soil layered on top, this can be in the form of a berm or a flat plot such as a raised bed or trench that is filled in.
Why use hugelkultur?
Reduce or eliminate the need to water.
Reduces yard waste and keeps nutrients on the property.
There is not need to till.
The main reasons to use hugelkultur is to add organic matter to the soil.
Organic matter in soil…
The wood core of hugelkultur will soak up water and hold it for later release, this helps reduce or eliminate the need for watering during drouts.
As the wood decomposes it will leave air gaps in the soil that replace the need to till.
To build one you would get your largest pieces wood and lay it down then cover it with soil then add more wood and cover it with soil, repeat the process till you have a good sized mound or you run out of materials. The larger the wood you start with the longer it will take to break down meaning the bed will last longer with out as much maintenance. When building the hugelkultur berm you will want to make it tall and fairly steep, this is because the mound will shrink some and you will get that most growing space vertically. An added benefit of tall berms is when harvesting your vegetables they are higher off the ground and you will not need to bend over as much to harvest. The bed can always be added to so if you start and it turns out smaller than you wanted start gathering more materials to add.
The soil can be sourced from the space below the bed before it is started, next to the bed in the form of a ditch, or from somewhere else on the property. The last option should be to have it delivered.
After the bed has been built plant it as soon as possible, by planting it right away it will be easier to sow the seeds since the soil is still loose. Also planting will help hold the soil in place.
Want to make it prettier then get stones and build a border around it, or use more logs as a border it is also a good use of wood that will not break down easily.
What to plant?
Over all plant what you want. If it is build with wood chips then use plants that have high nutrient demand such as: (tomatoes). The reason is that the first year the bed will give off lots of nutrients so we might as well make use of it.
Things to watch for.
Willow and a few others will root and grow if they are wet so if you are going to use them then dry them out before use. If some branches start rooting and then popping out of the bed you have a few options, cut the growth back just under the soil and cover, pull the branch out if it is not to long and set to the side to dry or cut it up and add to to the compost bin.
Some wood should be avoided such as cedar due to its natural pesticide and anti-fungal properties. Other wood such as Black locust take forever to decompose, and woods such as Black walnut and Black cherry are toxic to other plants and animals. Those woods are better suited for practical applications such as furniture, tools, and fences, or even fire wood.
What to do if you do not have access to wood.
Some alternative materials you can use are the same as what you would use in compost such as plant clippings, paper, and cardboard. Other than using compost you can contact your utility company to see it they can provide wood chips, ask friends and neighbors to let you know when they trim trees and bushes so you can help them dispose of the branches. If all else fails you have he option of purchasing wood chips and soil from landscaping companies. Planting potatoes is a good option to add organic material, plant and wait for the growth to die back then you can harvest the potatoes. The potatoes you miss will multiple and grow next season if a few die off that just becomes food for other plants.
For more info go to richsoil.com/hugelkultur/