• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

History of Hugelkultur

 
Shawn Richardson
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm writing an article on hugelkultur and I'm trying to find historical references for the practice. I noticed that someone else asked about this on this forum a couple of years ago without much of a response. So, I thought I would ask again.

Right now the only history of hugelkultur I can accurately write about starts in 1962 with Beba and Andra. There are claims all over the place that it is a practice that's hundreds if not a thousand of years old. But I'm just not finding any mention of the practice anywhere. I can find period explanations of how to burn a forest to clear it for agriculture, but I haven't found any mention of cutting it down and burying it. Considering how valuable wood was for construction and fuel, the idea that farmers would bury that wood seems a little tenuous.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. tia
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Pie
Posts: 1819
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
121
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Shawn Richardson wrote:I'm writing an article on hugelkultur and I'm trying to find historical references for the practice. I noticed that someone else asked about this on this forum a couple of years ago without much of a response. So, I thought I would ask again.

Right now the only history of hugelkultur I can accurately write about starts in 1962 with Beba and Andra. There are claims all over the place that it is a practice that's hundreds if not a thousand of years old. But I'm just not finding any mention of the practice anywhere. I can find period explanations of how to burn a forest to clear it for agriculture, but I haven't found any mention of cutting it down and burying it. Considering how valuable wood was for construction and fuel, the idea that farmers would bury that wood seems a little tenuous.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. tia


Unless you are fluent in Deutsch or Danish you will find precious little pre-1962 reference materials for your article.
The reason for this is simply it was not written knowledge, it was family member to family member and as such there was no real need to write it down (not to mention that at the time most folks were illiterate).
While it is true you can find old earthworks in Europe, there really isn't much written about this one technique in specifics.
There are some alluding tidbits in some of the old gardening methods books from the 1800's but this was not a subject deemed worthy of the efforts prior to then.
The reason for that is the time and effort it took to create a book with a quill. Once Gutenberg invented his press, the "important" books of the day were the first to be printed.
It was not until around a century later that things like gardening books were even thought of.

Growing mounds have been used in many parts of the world over the last few thousand years, more by convention than by invention.
Native Americans used them thousands of years ago, but they were not specifically built for growing crops upon.
They started out as trash heaps which were covered with soil for odor control.
Once there was a new trash heap started, people noticed that seeds inadvertently tossed out with the trash were growing from the old, soil covered dump sites.
These plants grew quite well and required little in the way of care or water
Some of the Nations built structures of worship using the same methods but instead of their "garbage" they used rotting pieces of wood, cleaned up from the building site and stacked as the core of their sculpture of snakes and other animals.
I would imagine the same would have occurred in ancient Europe and Aussie land.

The name hugel means Mound, kultur means in german the same as it means when spelled in English = culture.
As far as I have been able to determine, the original mounds were most likely just like here in Turtle Island, a by product of waste disposal.
Imagine you are a wood cutter, you chop down some trees and take the limbs off, tossing the smaller stuff to the side so all you are going to haul back to the village is wood that you can sell.
This goes on for months and you end up with a good sized pile of these little stick leftovers, now you need to hid the fact that this is where you get your wood from so you cover the sticks with soil from around the pile of sticks.
You just created a hugel! Not for  the purpose of growing food plants but to hide the knowledge of where you get the wood you sell.

Just like permaculture, hugel mounds are more about someone young (world time wise) putting together observations and ideas to come up with a plan, they then write down this plan and all the reasons behind each step of the plan.
All this writing becomes a book, people read the book and have an Ah-Ha moment of their own. Momentum gathers as more people read the book and begin to follow the ideas put forth and you end up with a "movement".

Just because there was an oral tradition that was not written down for hundreds of years, does not mean the knowledge was unknown.(the Christian Bible was oral tradition for a few hundred years prior to being written down), so was the Torah and the Koran.
You can locate references to what is now known as hugelkultur, some is written in latin, some in german, some in Danish and other languages.
The way I have found such musings is by going to antique book stores (one of my great pleasures is spending time with ancient texts) and spending the time to search for what you seek.

Unfortunately most of my collection is about  mathematics, physics, chemistry and alchemy, with a few Samuel Clemens books thrown in, since I love having first editions of these.
One of my Grimories mentions performing rites of fertility among "ancient mounds", this is found in a Deutsch book from the 14th century but it only mentions "mounds" not what they were composed of or even if they served some other purpose.

I wish you great luck with your research.  If you get to New York City, there is a little antique book store on 21st near the intersection of Broadway, they have some very interesting items in the back room, take a new pair of white cotton gloves with you.
 
Shawn Richardson
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you for your reply, but my experience is that there is a lot of information regarding agriculture and gardening all the way back to the ancients. I have translated Pliny writing about agricultural practices. Crescenzi wrote a 12 volume set on 13th century farming even describing Moorish hotbeds of buried dung covered by soil but no hugelkultur. Magnus is the 13th century gave detailed instructions on how to plant turf. You can find medieval instructions for grafting and pruning. There are detailed medieval instructions on how to make wattle raised beds including dimensions. There are paintings of gardens, and farms, and haystacks and peasants and all manner of agricultural construction but no hugelkultur. Burying trash is not the same thing. Every text I have ever seen shows the brush that was cleaned off the timber as being used for fencing, which makes sense since livestock would easily damage a garden. All the paintings of gardens show simple rectangular beds with wattle fencing. But I can't find any mention or even a drawing that might suggest the burying brush and timber to create garden beds. I can't find any mention of it in secondary sources either. The only sources that mention the technique are modern hugelkultur proponents.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic