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Hugelkultur: Composting Whole Trees With Ease

What is it?

Hugelkultur is a composting method that uses large pieces of rotting wood as the centerpiece for long term humus building decomposition. The decomposition process takes place below the ground, while at the same time allowing you to cultivate the raised, or sunken, hugelkultur bed. This allows the plants to take advantage of nutrients released during decomposition. Hugelkultur, in its infinite variations, has been developed and practiced by key permaculture proponents such as Sepp Holzer and Masanobu Fukuoka for decades.

Photo: Cricketbread

Building… above ground

Building a hugelkultur bed can be as simple or as involved as you want. You can make small, 60cm mounds of rotting wood right on the ground. Place the wood like a puzzle, allowing as few gaps as possible. Add grass clippings and other finer nitrogen-rich organic matter to fill the gaps left between the logs. Lastly cover the whole heap with 5cm of top soil and plant on and around it. These smaller micro hugelkultur beds can be built if you just need to dispose of some smaller woody material. A pile of sticks of any size can be covered over with grass clippings and a layer of soil. Add a little bit of urine here and there to provide some nitrogen to stimulate the sticks breaking down and the plants growing; after one season, digging into the pile, the wood should be unrecognizable. The size limits of hugelkultur beds are up to you, but beds up to nearly 2 meters tall and/or wide are not uncommon.

Photo: Cricketbread

What’s going on in there?

The most obvious fact is the rotting wood acts as a carbon source and the grass clippings are a nitrogen source, alerting you to the fact that some decomposition is going to take place. By using carbon-rich fresh wood, you may decrease the overall nitrogen content of the pile in the short term, because the wood will initially rob the surrounding matter of nitrogen. This is counteracted by using rotting logs that have absorbed much or all of their total nitrogen holding capacity, and by adding strong sources of nitrogen, like grass clippings or manure, to the hugelkultur as it is built. Adding urine to the hugelkultur bed periodically to feed the nitrogen need of the wood is also highly effective. After fresh wood absorbs nitrogen to its maximum capacity, it will start to break down faster and start giving nitrogen back in the process. If you use wood chips, or many smaller twigs and branches, you have a greater surface area to deal with in regards to nitrogen absorption and should add the appropriate amount of “greens”.

Click for larger view

As the wood breaks down further, it will create air pockets that bacteria and mycelium can invade, further hastening the decomposition. These pockets will eventually collapse, shrinking the size of the hugelkultur over the first year or two. This is normal settling and can be counteracted a bit by adding a fresh layer of chop and drop green manure or compost to the surface of the hugelkultur bed each year. It can also be accounted for by starting out with a bed slightly larger than you intend it to be once settled.

Building… below ground

Hugelkultur beds can also be installed completely below ground, or even with the top layer a bit sunken in arid environments. Simply dig a ditch, fill it with the logs and some nitrogen-rich organic matter, and bury the lot of it under a layer of top soil. The deeper you bury your woody material the better; as roots grow into the rotting core of the hugelkultur, they are going to be treated to a nutrient rich, reasonably constant water source. When buried, hugelkultur beds will retain even more water than raised beds.


A pile of wood has a lot of energy in it — imagine burning it in a bonfire. This release of energy is equal to the energy produced during the decomposition, but consolidated into a short period of time, while the decomposition process takes months or years. As the hugelkultur bed decomposes this energy will generate heat to help stimulate root growth as well as extend your growing season. This energy also takes the form of fuel for all the life in the soil: mushrooms, worms, termites, beetles… everything! If things like termites end up in abundance to the point of being overwhelming, simply run some chickens over your hugelkultur bed to turn a nuisance into an asset.

To get the most benefits out of a hugelkultur bed, build it to an initial height of 2.1m! This will shrink to 1.8m or less within the first few months to a year. An often overlooked benefit to having larger raised beds in the form of mounds is an increase in surface area available to plant.

Water retention

One of the main benefits to using a hugelkultur bed is that they can retain water better than humus alone. Think about a rotting log in the forest, if you break off the decomposing top layer, you will likely find a moist environment full of small life right under the surface. This moisture-containing life will remain constant in all but the most scorching of droughts. Our buried wood serves an almost identical function as a sponge buried in the ground. After a rain, any nutrients in the top soil are washed deeper into the ground, but in a hugelkultur bed this water and nutrients are captured by the rotting wood. In dry times, the plant’s roots can lick at the moisture contained within the rotting logs. A 60cm tall, above ground, hugelkultur bed can maintain a usable level of moisture for about 3 weeks after it is saturated. Larger beds of 1.8m can hold enough water for an entire growing season. All of this extra moisture retention in areas that receive moderate rainfall can often lead to riparian species growing where you would not otherwise find them. As the bed decomposes, the moisture retaining wood will become humus that can not hold water quite as well as the rotting wood, but makes up for this by being able to hold onto other useful nutrients and oxygen better than the wood alone.

Waste management

A comment from a farmer in North Carolina noted that hugelkultur is a useful way to dispose of unwanted woody organic matter. By simply pushing their brush into a pile, burying it under some grass clippings and some excess poor quality soil, they solve the problem of the getting rid of all their “waste”. The side effect to this activity was to create a fertile bed that provided a good potato yield the first year.

If you are harvesting the woody matter locally, by installing a hugelkultur bed you can save a lot of energy that would otherwise be used just in disposing of it. Often times municipalities have green waste programs, such as tree clearing around power lines or keeping the sides of the roads mowed, that can offer you a free local source of waste material to build a hugelkultur bed in an area with no available brush, such as in a suburban neighborhood. Also look toward local businesses such as arborists or landscapers to acquire larger logs. All of these activities can help reduce the load of transporting these materials to a waste site while at the same time fueling a fertile plot of productive land. Since the logs can be used whole in hugelkultur you don’t even need to spend energy chipping them.

Soil life… fungus:bacteria

The content of a hugelkultur bed being what it is, predominately rotting wood, there will be more saprophytic fungus — fungus that feed on dead things — than bacteria, which prefers an environment more akin to the humus we will eventually create. This leaves a few interesting opportunities to the would-be hugelkultur bed designer. One opportunity you have when first building your hugelkultur bed is to choose to inoculate the wood yourself with a desired species of fungus. To ensure successful inoculation, you can cover the ground with a few layers of cardboard before building the hugelkultur bed. This acts as a temporary barrier to other fungi and becomes food later in the process, after your inoculation has taken hold. The higher initial ratio of fungus to bacteria will promote tree growth. The fungus interacts with the roots of the trees, trading nutrients for starches. The mycelium also aid in the distribution of the water stored in the rotting wood to the surrounding areas. .

Time stacking

The next opportunity comes from the soil changing dramatically over the first 3-5 years in the hugelkultur bed. It will start off with all that dense, rough, woody material that things like squash, melons, or other vining plants will love. Trees planted on or around the hugelkultur bed will see improvements with the extra fungal life in the soil. Masanobu Fukuoka noted that planting trees beside coarse organic matter, such as in hugelkultur, improved their growth. As time passes your hugelkultur will consist of more and more humus — eventually you will be left with a mound of deep rich soil. As the trees reach maturity the fungus of the rotting wood will subside to reveal a more vibrant bacterial life more suited for smaller plants.

As well as advocating burying coarse organic matter, Fukuoka suggests that a hugelkultur style bed offers “gradual soil improvement by planting deep-rooted trees, grasses and herbs” and that “channeling and capturing nutrient-rich water from upland forests above the property… is an important part of sustainable, fertilizer-free agriculture.”

Mature hugelkultur raised bed.
Used by permission from paul wheaton’s hugelkultur article.

Some of the more desirable woods are:

  • Alders
  • Apple
  • Birch
  • Cottonwood
  • Poplar
  • Willow

Less desirable woods include:

  • Cedar – lasts long because of natural anti microbial properties
  • Black walnut – contains the toxin juglone
  • Black locus – resistant to rotting, may be more useful in humid areas
  • Pine and fur – both contain tannins

A few interesting resources I found while researching for this article can be found below:

Comparison: traditional bed at left, hugelkultur bed at right


  1. Very interesting! as I am considering creating some extensive, sustainable food gardens at a property where the entire south side has been overplanted in conifer trees. Some of the conifers will remain to retain the Japanese look of the house & landscape, but many will come down to make way for productive gardens, designed to harmonize with the house. This is my first glimpse of hugelkultur & after scanning it again I wonder – is sappy conifer wood suitable, or is the wood pictured & discussed for this method exclusively from deciduous trees?

    1. I have 50 dump truck loads of wood chips of all sizes much of which is both cedar and pine and have spectacular results right away.

      1. I liked your comments. can you send me pictures of your plants. i would like to try the same thing in my patch

      2. Ihave access to MUCH ponderosa pine both logs and chips…but all say not to use…so you have had success? (with pine) ? I only have a tiny bit of good weather left to work in yard…and want to get two new beds started …like today….have leaves have straw have small lilac, aspen, and Auss tree branches….and many beetle killed pine stumps on property would like to use those stumps

        1. There is very little evidence one way or another about using pine for Hugelkultur. I have used X Cupressocyparis leylandii chippings in trench Hugelkultur for years now without any detrimental effect on vegetable production. X Cupressocyparis is particularly resinous and I have been warned not to use it. Precisely the reason why I did. This year I have been using Pinus sylvestris chippings as well. I know that this is just anecdotal and not the species you are using but I would suggest that you give it a go. What else are you going to do with your stumps?
          Two things should be considered; some conifers have leaf litter and chipped bark with a higher pH than broadleaf trees. In any case changing the pH of soil would need a considerable amount of chippings.
          Secondly, there are not great piles of undecomposed pine littering the world and poisoning the soil. Something is decomposing it. It does break down in the soil exactly the same as broad leaved trees.

  2. P.S. I see that conifers are “less” desirable because of tannins – but where does that put them on the spectrum for functional hugelkultur, practically speaking? We also have access to downed cottonwood here & I could broker the conifers to other uses.

    1. If I had the choice, I would go for broad leaved trees rather than conifers. However, oak was used, and may still be, to tan leather. I presume this was because it had a high level of tannins in its bark. After the tannin had been extracted the waste bark from the tanning industry was used by the old European gardeners to make hot beds because it produced a long lasting heat as it decomposed. It was the only way that Northern Europeans could produce home grown pineapples.

  3. Fantastic info and perfectly timed. we recently bought the urban permaculture DVD and are in the process of doing a complete garden makeover as a result,to plan the garden beds we needed to cut down a very large palm tree,the base of which would be about a meter across which is too big for us to mulch,so it was about to be cut up and sent to the green waste depot. Now you have me thinking that perhaps it could be utilised in a hugelkultur bed.
    would the palm be suitable for this method?

  4. All wood will work in this application, some are just better than others. For the less desirable wood, make sure to let it rot more extensively before burying it. While it might be a little slower going with a tanin-rich pine, the process will still end with great humus. Stunted growth the first season is all I would expect, if that. Keep it topped off in nitrogen and see if there is a fungus that thrives on your “problem” wood.

    1. Mark, I believe that sulfur adds acidity to the soil. It lowers the PH, where adding pelletized lime will lower the acidity giving a more alkaline soil. I’m in South East Louisiana and am cleaning up 8 acres that was torn up by hurricane Katrina. For 10 years the pine, oak and other various trees have been laying in heaped piles, rotting. 9 years ago I cut much of this up and just made these huge piles of wood. Today, I have these massive piles of rotted wood and vegetation. Most of this is pine. The matter in the piles is a deep orange red, similar to a fine mulch. Can I add top soil and plant on these heaps?

  5. Excellent idea. I have a heap of partially rooting wood/coarse vegetation which i was going to burn (again) as it was too coarse for the compost heaps. Now I was also about to build some raised beds. I have the railway sleepers ready but I can now put them to better use re-building the rotten steps up to my main garden. The raised beds can be the Hugelkutur variety. I also have a load of very rotten branches and large logs which I will use. Funny thing is I am at home this weekend and I was planning major garden work.
    Thankyou for a brilliant article.
    Kev C

  6. Thanks, Mark – I see that conifer will go into one experimental Hugelkultur bed & that we will compare it with a couple of beds based on Cottonwood. I really appreciate your comment re seeing what fungus shows up in the conifer bed, since I plan to inform my gardening & growing more & more with soil microbiology. I am starting my study with Dr Elaine Ingham’s SFI approach – Soil Food Web Institute. Any further links to good explainers – welcome! The conifer soil pH will be useful if consistently more acidic – Blueberries, for example.

  7. What a fantastic article. As an Australian Broadacre farmer coming up with broadacre permaculture ideas in a transitional system I really value such experimental work outlined here.
    So there is a use for those fallen pine and cypress trees that were traditionally heaped and burned. As for adding nitrogen, animal manure, particularly the manure washed out of handling yards, could be ideal? Burying the logs on contour in the path of the manure feeding more green manure and fruit trees for farm workers to enjoy.
    All those farms in Western Victoria that are ripping down and burning ten year old blue gums to sow wheat could really be burying the rows of trees and growing more productive species using poultry manure as a nitrogen source.
    Mind you, it does cost a lot to dig a hole…

  8. Greetings from Finland!

    Are hugelkultur beds anaerobic? Won’t they produce methane when the trees decompose? Is there any research done over this issue? I think would be important to know witch GHGs hugelkultur beds will produce, before pushing the method to very large scale use.

    – Aapo

    1. Hi Aapo,
      I have often been accused of producing methane by using hugelkultur but the decomposition of wood in the soil is very slow. Burning, however, is very quick and produces carbon dioxide.
      Regardless of almost everything, when something decays the process is catalyzed by microorganisms and the formula is:
      Of course the process of decay is a lot more complicated than this and the contribution of archaea is not fully understood at the moment.

      However, the final product of composting, everything else considered, is carbon dioxide and water. A proportion of the carbon will be diverted for a time into the bodies of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals but eventually, lastly and finally we all end up as carbon dioxide and water – with a relatively small amount of iron, calcium, phosphorus etc.
      This is exactly the opposite of photosynthesis where carbon dioxide and water are combined with the help of sunlight energy to produce carbohydrates.
      There are other pathways for the carbon to go depending on the microorganisms that it encounters. If anoxic conditions occur – and they very often do, then methanogenic bacteria will use organic molecules to produce methane. They are strictly obligate anaerobes, which are poisoned by the presence of oxygen levels as low as 0.18 mg/L of molecular oxygen.

      2C organic+2H2O=CO2+CH4

      Composting, it is suggested, when done well constitutes an aerobic environment where methanogenic bacteria will not be able to live. Let me tell you a secret, methanogenic bacteria are ubiquitous. They are everywhere and what is more; anoxic environments are more common than you expect. Obligate anaerobic bacteria can happily live in the plaque on your teeth. Micro environments in compost heaps will be anoxic. Methane is produced.

      So why are we not overwhelmed by methane? Why is there so little in the atmosphere? Possibly because there are another set of bacteria called methanotrophs or methanophiles that are able to use methane as a source of both carbon and energy. What is more they can grow aerobically like Methylococcus capsulatus or anaerobically, which means that regardless of where the methane is formed (in the compost heap or deep in the ground after I have buried logs and brushwood) these bacteria can metabolize methane by either incorporating the carbon into their bodies or producing carbon dioxide and water in energy production. Some like Methylomirabilis oxyfera reduce nitrate to nitrogen with the help of other microbes and so contribute to nitrogen loss from the soil. An archaeon is implicated in the breakdown of methane by sulphate reducing bacteria, and this leads to the characteristic smell of hydrogen sulphide or rotten eggs that is sometimes associated with the breakdown of organic matter. .

      The difference between the relatively aerobic conditions of a compost heap (I still maintain that even the best of compost heaps are mostly anoxic) and the relatively anoxic conditions of buried vegetation is the speed at which methane can be metabolized. As methane use by methanotrophs is slower in anoxic environments there could be a buildup of methane but my contention is that I bury comparatively small amounts of green matter and that the soil methanotrophs can deal with it fairly easily. Also, anaerobic decomposition is a relatively slow process.
      In land fill sites there is a vast amount more organic matter compared to my allotment. This has been demonstrated to overwhelm the methanotrophs and the production of methane is very evident.
      So I argue that burying vegetation will produce no more methane than a compost heap would. If some of the carbon buried in whatever form is prevented from quickly decaying, possibly it could become a carbon sink. There is some evidence of carbon staying in the soil for considerable amounts of time. Remember, burning is an instant production of carbon dioxide.

      Burning just bypasses all of these processes and goes straight to the greenhouse gasses of water vapour and carbon dioxide without the opportunity for carbon capture within the bodies of heterotrophs.

      1. Wow, what an answer!! lol… My brain hasn’t had a workout like this in ages. I’m wondering if this answers a question I had. I was going to volunteer with this non-profit that goes around collecting unwanted citrus fruit in the suburbs of Southern California. I was told that collection benefited the Earth by keeping this rotting fruit out of landfills, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I thought decomposing foods is what we wanted returned back to earth? Anyway, let me go back over your response to make sure I understood it. lol


  9. Good question, Aapo! A framing question for those with experience in field soil-microbiology studies : Assuming you have good soil in the range of “normal” – into what depth in the soil is the soil microbiology considered identifiably “aerobic”? For example, perennial alfalfa has a very deep root system – is the whole life cycle of alfalfa aerobic? From my beginning readings of Dr. Elaine Ingham’s work with The Soil Food Web – she does seem to say that areas with a root-zone rhizosphere can be anaerobic, depening upon local conditions, having mostly to do with water saturation excluding air. Back to Hugelkultur – I was thinking that beds the size I was envisioning – maybe 4-5′ across & 4′ high – would tend to be aerobic throughout due to having good drainage & no compaction to exclude air enough for aerobic microbes.

  10. I am interested in using hugelkuture as a solution to some of the problems with the country we are working. The soil is basically structure-less decomposed granite, which becomes a waterlogged slurry when wet, and sets like concrete when dry (we can have decent dry spells). My idea was to use the beds as a swale, so it can absorb the water when it rains, but excess water is free to run away. Has anyone had any experience (or have any advice) with this? Also, the two main timber species growing are radiata pine (plantation) and eucalypt (native), does anyone know how eucalypt would go?

    1. Placing hugelkultur in trenches on flat or gently sloping land is ok but hugelkultur is not stable enough to be use as a swale mound on any significant slope. It might be possible to create a standard swale and infill the ditch part with hugelkultur provided the mound side of the swale is first stabilized with trees. If you have significant slope consult an earthworks specialist.

  11. Great article. Is there any feedback on Australian implementations with local wood sources?

    Whilst I love the idea of implementing this, I can see the cost of cartage from the apple orchards to my place in NC Vic could be horrendous (on top of the costs of digging holes) making the venture horribly difficult to justify.

    1. Great idea if we could share this info.
      Fast growing trees can be planted on your property to be used in future for this purpose.
      I would like to find out if this works with Camphor Laurel trees – a class 4 weed in the northern rivers NSW…we have acres of it!

      1. Did you ever try this with camphors? I’m going to try this week…. i have a camphor in the middle of my food forest with no discernible negative impact on growth

  12. Hi – I just heard a story about forest fires in the US Southwest, claiming that people have disrupted the fire-cycle in the region. There are more standing trees per acre than there were before European settlers came there, so crown fires are more common.

    I was wondering about the applications of hugelkultur in the region. It seems like this tecnique could be used to cull trees, bury carbon and increase water retention in the dry climate!

    Has this been tried before?

    1. The King Fire (over 95,000 acres) came within 10 miles of my home. Half the area had the highest level of damage. I attended a post fire meeting put on by local, state, federal folks. The meeting focused on how people can get up to 90% funding for forest recovery. I did not hear anything that would please a permie.

      I am making slow progress on a 50′ long Swale/Hugelculture next to a deck.

      I am using Pacific Madrone, Black Oak & Pine. I am planning on using some Pine and bush chips that have been rotting slowly for the past 5 years. I am wondering if the fungus in them will help and what percentage I should apply.

      1. I think that this is a trial and error job Paul. There is no research that I have found about Hugelkultur let alone proportions of what to add. I have been adding about six inches of composted brush chippings to Hugelkultur trenches on my allotment garden and it does not seem to have harmed any vegetables I have grown.

  13. I can’t wait to try this method. I have tons of logs, branches and leaves I could use.

    Now I’ll have the trenches dug. I’m getting lots of help, I’m. wWOOFer Host. Lots of
    Young WWOOFers have been helping me here in Beautiful Bowen Island.

  14. I have implemented this around my property. I’ve noticed that in my sandy property plants seem to grow a lot faster in the hugulkultur bed. I live in the desert.

  15. What a brilliant idea and imagine my excitement upon seeing poplar as a desirable wood! We’ve just moved and the property is overgrown with poplars which initially was bad news as they’re a pain to eradicate BUT we’ve just about used every part of them now – goats can and will eat the leaves and smaller branches and even the bark and now garden beds from the thicker branches and wood. YAY! I found this post this morning and already my first bed is half built. :D

  16. Would a large felled date palm tree make a good foundation for an Hugelkultur bed ?

    Thanks for any reply, sooner the better – one nearby was just chopped down and hacked into nice-sized half circle chunks. But it’s set out for heavy trash pickup. Should i grab a few chunks ? Or seek some other kind of tree ?

  17. Hugelkulture looks promising as a way to manage small acreage dry forest in the Sierra. I would like to know more about larger scale attempts to apply this to reduce the potential for crown fires. I’m modifying my Unimog forest tractor/backhoe to experiment with this on 25 to 50 per cent slopes. Looking for recipes for a reasonable start in my effort. Have quite a bit of standing dead Pacific Madrone on Sites clay/loam soil 3-12 feet deep. Clay already stores lots of water through the dry summer and fall. Trees (Ponderosa pine, Sugar Pine, Doug fir, Incense cedar, Madrone, Dogwood) already grow very fast. Objective is to break up continuous forest in favor of clusters of trees and promote health of larger (more fire resistant) trees. Have too much duff and understory because of fire supression. Would like to use high beds as part of rotational grazing scheme to keep fine fuels under control. Also planning keyline plow or swales or tiles to move water from seasonal spring blackberry patch covered valley to ridges. We get about 60 inches of rain annually, sometimes 6 inches in a day but not much runoff other than compacted areas due to the thick clay/loam. Again, the primary objective is to reduce the chance of a crown fire.

  18. I would like to know if other kinds of trees are suitable for hugelkultur such as pear, plum, beech, linden, maple, cornel, oak, elm, chestnut, ash, hazel, elder, etc.
    Thank you.

  19. This sounds great as I am just starting to clear years of brush and fallen trees which I was afraid to burn as we have a lot of poison ivy about and w/o leaves is hard to identify. I am wondering if there would be draw backs to burying some of the poison ivy within my instincts tell me that as it will not be dug into all would be fine…?

  20. I have buried X Cupressocyparis leylandii in what I call trench hugelkultur. This conifer has very sticky, resinous sap which some gardeners say is allelopathic. However, when buried with other woody material about 600mm deep there is no effect on yield of nitrogen hungry vegetable plants. When digging down about three years after constructing the hugelkultur bed, I could find no trace of the X Cupressocyparis leylandii except a lovely friable layer of organic matter that could be incorporated into the top soil.

  21. Very excited about this technique! Couple questions – how large can the logs be? I have about 15 massive logs 2′ x 3′ to bury along with a ton of branch debris. Do you recommend digging a ditch of a couple feet or just piling this on top of the ground directly?

    Also, I have a ton of invasive ivy. Can this be included in the Hugel or how do you recommend getting rid of it? Thanks!

  22. I have three beds of dry, rotted pine and eucalyptus. Added BIM, Lacto Bacillus extract to the beds They have produced 200-250 kilos of sweet potato and ihame along with tumeric and ginger. I have about 30-40 more pine and eucalyptus to harvest so will be making alot more hugelkulturs next year. This what I have to work with and it works. good info.

  23. Some good questions. How large can the logs be? I doubt if there is any limit to the size of the logs but I have not seen any literature to back this up. The problem is covering the logs with top soil. The only way that I can do this is by digging out a trench and putting the logs at the bottom then returning the top soil to cover the logs. So I think that digging a ditch about two feet down will give you some top soil to begin covering your logs. However, lots of people just put the logs on the top soil and cover with soil obtained from elsewhere.

    1. hi anthony….I have used both methods you mentioned. If you don´t have an earth mover of any kind which I don´t cut the logs so you are able to pick them up with help. simple as that. my first experiments in hugelkultur was 4 years ago. made 2 x30-35 foot beds. I just started throughing rotted logs various types of tree branches lots of green bios mass, woody bushes mixed with green manure(cow shit) and various mushroom, fungi extracts and kept adding material for a year… didn´t add soil of any kind due to compacted and the distance to haul to the site. I also just keep adding material to the beds. I decided not to break my back and let nature make the soil. The other method was making beds with large pine and eucalytus trunks. I have used a mix of green and dry or rotted wood. Added lots and lots of branches and green biomass..whatever i can get my hands on around the farm. just through stuff on them everyday . added clay soil mixed with sharp sand from the river and cow manure be it green or otherwise. cover with lots of mulch and start planting. I have fig trees, tumeric, sweet potato, ihame-taro, ginger, various herbs and annuals…just experiment.

    1. I must admit that living in the UK I have little experience of poison ivy, however many people avoid composting rhubarb leaves because they have the mistaken impression that they are poisonous. Microorganisms have an extraordinary ability to decompose a vast array of chemicals and this includes the oxalic acid of rhubarb and I would conjecture the irritant in poison ivy.
      Taking precautions – just as you would handling euphorbia- I see no reason why poison ivy would not rot down to carbon dioxide, water and a few minerals in a hugelkultur system. I would be very surprised if any of the poison ivy irritant remained in the soil just as I would oxalic acid from rhubarb leaves.

  24. Great article. Friends of mine in Grass Valley CA are putting this into practice. One row. Also it seems to be an intensifying of what forests already do. And nitrogen fixing plants (alder, etc) would be good as mentioned. And in view of the current drought in CA, this looks like good practice.

  25. BTW, went ahead with the palm chunks i asked about a year ago – seems to be fine.

    However – made the MISTAKE of using some branches pruned off of those fruitless decorative Bradford pear trees. (only since then discovering they are a listed invasive) Those things are like zombies from the grave – sending sprouts growing up through the hugel, even after lying on the ground drying out for many months before burial. Cut them back over and over, they keep on growing.

    1. There are a number of plants I would not add to a hugelkultur bed. Calystegia sepium; Equisetum arvensis; Armoracia rusticana and especially Persicaria wallichii. All of these are invasive plants.

  26. Pine and other conifers are excellent for Hugelkulture. A pine log burried half way in soil,
    will dangerous to walk on the following year, since it will collapse rotten underfoot. The ground biology will reach up to grab it and transport the goodies underground for microbeasty parties. Plant nice chunks of pine under where you’d like to have blueberry
    and tomato beds. Or Azalias. Don’t even bother to neutralize the acidity. Capitalize on it.
    Burry every piece of wood you can find. Rake your leaves into garbage bags, toss in some dirt and some water. Use this later to fill the spaces between your hugelkulture log laying. ( it will be reduced to near powder by the dirt organisms ), as the most excellent inoculant. Cedar, though more resistant, will still decomose, just more slowly. Not a bad thing, always. All things biological compose, and release methane and CO2. If you put it underground, it will do the same thing, but take longer to release into the atmosphere, as both are used by micro organisms. The CO2 will eventually reach the surface, so trees can breath it. I am an actual biologist, so, I am not against CO2 as gov scientists claim to be. ( but that’s another issue ). Burying is always prefered to burning, as buying builds the soil, and burning depletes the soil ( by throwing away the carbon ). The best use of black walnut, is to rebuild grasslands. All plants decomose, and become food for the soil beasies. Bury a BW stump or log, and plant a non food tree on top. BW inhibits
    germination, but even undergrassland, is excellent longterm. Things like to rot, and become ‘corrupted’. Just put them in an environment of plenty, and out of sight. Just like

  27. We have a lot of falling ( over 100 yr old) locust trees on our property. I have heard that locust is rot and mildew resistant. Is this a tree that is impossible to use or just difficult?

  28. I have just had a huge (to me) tree cut down and left in place. it isn’t as flat an arrangement of limbs and trunk as one might want to start with….but it is what I have and I am not moving it so hugel it I will.

    Question. Can I just start dropping grass on it and yard waste on it? In the past when I wanted to clear grass I planted squash gourds or pumpkins. so I plan to do the same here and let them grow up and over it for the summer as a sort of screen for the neighbors benefit.

    Any other ideas? the free-er the better.



  29. Hi – I’ve just started to look into permaculture design for a small acreage. Could I use this idea for passively creating ponds and swales in gullies using the water retention of the wood? and creating a great place to plant edibles?

  30. I did this for many years. It works great. Then i stopped. A massive colony of termites then redirected their hunger toward my house. This is a personal hell i am dealing with. I have kids so i am constantly worried my house is going to collapse one night while they are sleeping.

  31. Hi all, I pile softwood chippings which has been used as rabbit bedding, layering it alternatively with grass clippings, after 12 months the result is beautiful sweet smelling moist compost type material. Having read about Hugelkulture think I will dig a pit and start filling it with this and the chippings from the many and varied tree prunings and leaves from my small woodland. Sounds brilliant, no landfill, no journies to the recycling centre and no commercially bought compost, brilliant.

  32. Mid-Willamette Valley, western Oregon, silty clay loam, urban lot, about twentieth of an acre tillable. We go about two months in summer with no to little rain, though this weather-year we are approx. 4 and 1/2 inches of rain Behind Schedule and our Dry has lasted longer than “usual.” Hugelkultur sounds like good way to keep the clay soil “open” farther down, as well as holding moisture longer into the hot months. And the wood lasts a long time, years, not just months like softer organic materials, and this sounds good, as we also have drainage problems in winter, when we get nearly all our approx. (usually) 39 inches of rain for the year. It would be nice to have giant wooden sponges holding the water, underground in the stead of the little lakes in the garden! Sounds like very good very slow-rotting carbon sink that feeds generations of varied creatures on the carbon’s very slow return upward. I have tried a compost pit, before, and this sounds even more sensible to do, which I will, starting with about half a big old half-rotted apple tree and other smaller dry tree wood. Anticipating both veggies and good-feelings will grow with more vigor!

  33. I live in the middle of an oak, hickory woods and a lot of oaks have been dying this year. I think too much rain followed by not enough have been part of the reason. If disease is a reason, could I still use the wood? Also, due to surgery , broken arm and lousy knees, I have not been able to do yard work for the last 2 years and weeds have taken over my yard. When I get them cut, can they be added to the hugelkultur bed or will the weed seeds take over the bed? I have cats, could I add soiled litter to the bed as I am making it? What about groundhogs? will they dig into it and become a problem?

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