How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots

The wooden raised beds in my kitchen garden were filled hugel-style, but for this year’s new addition to our far garden we decided to create trenched hugelkultur beds.  Here’s why…

Find out more about hugelkultur and gardening in clay soil: 

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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Trenched hugelkultur beds for clay soil

Trenched hugelkultur beds are perfect for areas with heavy clay soil.  It’s almost impossible to grow anything in heavy clay.  I know this from personal experience gardening here in our northern Virginia clay.

Two main problems with clay soil:

  1. Poor water drainage: clay soil often remains water-logged, choking the growth of healthy plant roots.
  2. Poor root penetration: compacted clay prevents plant roots from penetrating the soil and developing properly.  

Northern Virginia Clay Soil
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Stunted, water-logged roots are bad news!  They cannot support healthy plant growth, and your plants will never thrive in this type of soil.

You can definitely take steps to improve heavy clay soil over time.  However, if you want to fast track the process of growing a decent harvest in clay soil, hugelkultur beds are the answer.

Benefits of trenched hugelkultur beds

  1. Build the soil: layers of organic materials break down over time to improve clay soil.
  2. Improve drainage: elevated layers allow water to drain properly.  
  3. Allow root growth: loose, rich, organic materials allow plant roots to penetrate.

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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How to create trenched hugelkultur beds

A quick overview:

  1. Dig a trench.
  2. Pile on the wood.
  3. Add more layers.
  4. Top with compost.

Here’s a video we made to show you how we created trenched hugel beds in our northern Virginia clay.  Can’t see the video?  Click here to watch.

More details:

1. Dig a trench.

This step is optional.  Trenching results in a lower profile finished bed, and can help to improve drainage.  You could also choose to skip the trenching and simply start your hugel layers directly on top of the ground.

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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2. Pile on the wood.

Start with a thick layer of wood: logs, branches, scrap lumber from a saw mill.  I don’t recommend using wood chips for this layer, for reasons outlined here: 3 Important Tips for Hugelkultur Beds.

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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3. Add more layers.

On top of the wood, add layers of newspaper, cardboard, leaves, straw, or grass clippings.

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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4. Top with compost.

The last step is to add a thick layer of rich compost.  You will plant directly into this layer, so make it thick and make it good!

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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Do you garden in heavy clay?  Have you tried trenched hugelkultur beds?

How to Create Trenched Hugelkultur Beds | Roots & Boots
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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>

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