The Hugelkultur Bed Experiment Update

hugelLast fall we decided to convert part of a garden bed into a low  hugelkultur bed to see how it would work for us. To compare we prepared the bed right next to it using a rototiller. In both beds we used the same mix of soil amendments and we planted the exact same varieties in the same configuration. They are also hooked up to the same water line. So other than one being a hugel and the other being tilled, they are, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same.

The season is still fairly early but I’m already seeing some differences.

tomatoesThe tomatoes are slightly larger in the hugel bed compared to the tilled bed.

peppersSame with the peppers. Especially the habanero, which is notorious for being a slow growing variety.

eggplantsThe eggplants are doing equally well.

watermelonWatermelon germination was the biggest difference. I had much faster and better germination rates in the tilled bed compared to the hugel.

Of the squash plants that germinated at about the same time, the ones in the tilled bed are bigger and more vigorous.

bedsThe biggest difference though is a substantially smaller amount of weeds in the hugelkultur bed.

The season has just started and production hasn’t even started yet and that will be the real test to determine which bed works the best.

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  1. Shelley says:

    So interesting to see the progress so far! I’ve been thinking about making one of my beds into a hugelkultur bed and if it would be worth it. I’m looking forward to your next update on the comparisons!

  2. I am planting raspberries in a hugelkultur bed. We’re in So. Cal. and it’s so hot and dry in the summer I’m hoping that I can cut back on the water bill. I’m excited to see your next update on the beds.

  3. This is fascinating! Thank you for posting it. I am so curious to see how this pans out.

  4. Birgitt says:

    I’m delighted to see a direct comparison like this. When practices become popular, it’s always nice to see a scientific evaluation of their true efficacy. I look forward to a follow up.

  5. I wonder if the reason for hte differences in the plants that you mentioned is the wood decay removing nitrogen from the soil to complete the decay process… I understand for wood to decay takes considerable amounts of nitrogen.

    • That’s definitely a possibility, though we added a ton of chicken manure and compost to the bed. I’ve talked to a lot of other people in our area, including permaculturalists that have tried them and all but one said they haven’t seen a difference or they didn’t work.

      • The wood / soil interface is actually pretty small in a typical hugel bed, so nitrogen depletion shouldn’t be much of a problem. Only if you till in something like sawdust would you run into serious issues.

        On a side note: my understanding is that the real benefits of hugel don’t kick in until year 2 and later, when the wood has decomposed into a spongy water-absorbing mass. It’ll be interesting to see future updates of this experiment.

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