Hügelkultur: We did it!


Master Gardeners are a breed apart. What other group could you ask volunteers to dig five tons of compacted soil out of a hole and then put it back—and get all the hands you need?

Dig is what we did Oct. 15 in the demonstration garden. As you remember from last month’s article in the Thymes, a “normal” hügelkultur bed rises 1 – 2 feet above buried wood, so you need to dig 1 – 2 feet down and then build the bed up with the original soil mixed with organic material. Unfortunately, our site is not “normal.” We have over two feet of compacted topsoil and clay above what looks to be the original land. To avoid our wood sitting in a “bathtub” of clay, we had to dig all the way to that original, farmable layer—a full 2 1/2 feet, through the compacted clay. Hard going when you’re doing all the labor by hand with nothing but shovels and esprit de corps!

In the trenches
Hügelkultur completion

After digging through this compacted zone, we placed a layer of green wood on the original soil. This was covered by a mix of manure and soil. We continued to layer old wood, manure/soil mix, bark and twigs, manure/soil mix, etc., and finally added canna stalks/tomato vines pulled from last season’s plantings. This filled our trench, but we were only up to ground level. Building up, we then mixed in the remaining soil, manure, and compost. All it needed after that was a straw blanket, and it was ready to rest till spring. The final bed is 3 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 24 feet long.

To complete our hügelkultur experiment, we added two more beds 24 feet long; one tilled with a cubic yard each of manure and compost mixed in and one (our “control” bed) just tilled. After planting next spring, we will compare the plants in each bed. Hopefully, the results will be well worth the effort!


Many hands make light work, and that was certainly case for the hügelkultur project installed at the demonstration garden at the Johnson County Fairgrounds last month. JCMGs provided both time and materials, and thanks go out to all who participated. Special thanks to:

  • Larry Weber for the wonderful wood slices that will be the base of the huglekultur berm
  • Sharon Jeter for the old wood that will balance out the new wood and be our sponge at the base
  • Dan Flynn for the primo manure that will balance out all of the wood so there are no nitrogen ‘low spots’
  • Thanks to Linda Schreiber for photography.