Hello - I would like to make a couple of raised bed gardens this spring and have been reading about the Hugelkultur method. I have lots of branches, leaves, etc. that I could use to fill the bottom layer of the beds, but my question is can I start a garden in the top layer this spring or do I have to wait another year so that the bottom layer rots first? Please advise. Thanks!
My suggestion is use whatever branches, leaves, or even entire green logs you have this year on the bottom. Add soil into every possible crack & onto the top. Then start planting. A large percentage of nitrogen fixers for the first couple of years is recommended. The amount of wood & other organics & how fresh it is partially determines how long it takes to completely break down. A full scale hugel will take 20-30 years. That's basically the point ... do a lot of work up front & very little in following years. Good luck & welcome to permies.
Argue for your limitations and they are yours forever.
My first-year hugelkulture beds have been especially good for squash, strawberries, beans, and chickpeas. But it's really important to get soil in all the cracks or it will fall through eventually and stymie your planting plans.
Go for it. Your first year will be about as good as the soil you have on top, so if that’s great it will do great (following instructions above), if it is horrible clay, it will only be slightly better than that if nothing is added on top. Regardless it will get better every year thereafter for as long as the wood you added took to grow.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
My experience was that crappy soil in barely-adequate amounts was actually worse than no hugel in year one, but with good soil and plenty of fertility things are very happy right from the start...
'Theoretically this level of creeping Orwellian dynamics should ramp up our awareness, but what happens instead is that each alert becomes less and less effective because we're incredibly stupid.' - Jerry Holkins
I use large amounts of oak leaves everywhere in the garden. No problem. Have never used pine in a hugel or traditional garden simply because we don't have much pine. I think it might be ok. I would try it but starting with small amounts first. The tree we have here to avoid using is black walnut.