Hugelkultur raised beds

There is a huge pile of tree branches and sticks in my back yard. I'll bet I could make a really nice hugelkultur bed.

Paul Wheaton is a permaculture expert. He says hugelkultur, which is German for "hill culture", is nothing more than making raised beds filled with rotten wood. This technique provides more space for nutrients and water in the soil. And if you build it big enough, he says you can eliminate the need to irrigate.

"A lot of times when you grow, say, raspberries, you end up having to water it a lot to keep the raspberries alive, then the raspberry flavor is diminished. It's kind of watery-flavored," says Wheaton. "Whereas, the raspberry plant finds water in the rotted wood from last winter, which is rich in nutrients, which then in turn makes it so that the raspberry flavor is very rich."

You can use just about any kind of wood except black locust, cedar, and black walnut, which is toxic to most plants.

Wheaton says building methods can vary, but creating a hugelkultur bed is simply piling soil over the wood.

"Since a lot of people don't have a lot of extra soil around, they might dig down a little bit to get the soil, put the wood down, and then put the soil back on top of that," he says. "The first time I ever built hugelkultur beds I was on 80 acres, and I had a tractor with a bucket on the front. So then I was kind of shaping the land at the same time as taking the top soil I scraped off in one spot, and would dump it onto the hugelkultur."

Wheaton says as soon as you're done building the hugelkultur, you can plant fruits and vegetables. As time goes by, the wood decomposes and shrinks, and the soil becomes rich in organic material.