There seems to be a lot of information out there on the benefits of hugelkultur and how to build hugelkultur beds, but not much about managing them.
About a year an a half ago I put in an experimental hugelkultur bed, about 5' tall and wide and 40' long. My initial thoughts were that hugels would be best suited to perennials, however I read that raised hugels were not very ideal for trees and large bushes due to settling. I went ahead and put in a couple of fruit trees and bushes anyway, just to see. The trees are doing ok, though no better than any of the other trees I planted in a more traditional manner. The rest of the beds I intended to put into a mixture of annuals and small perennials. The problem I am now having is weeds, particularly grasses.
Weeds are not a problem in my other garden and orchard areas, as I mostly use livestock to control them. I am afraid to give my animals access to the hugles though, because I would probably end up with short wide mounds of dirt with exposed wood in the middle. Even hand weeding seems detrimental, as pulling grass bunches quickly erodes the hugel, and composting the grass in place is out of the question as it would just re-establish. Plus, I though that once built, hugels were supposed to decrease work, not increase it. Am I just in the wrong climate? I live in the Pacific Northwest, which due to the wet winters and typically dry summers ought to be ideal for the water retaining attributes of hugelkultur.
As of now I have a large mound of weeds that have overgrown everything I tried to establish. I am wondering if I am missing something, or was the hugel bed just a wast of effort?
P.S. I am trying un-raised hugles as well; from my initial observations I think these might work much better in terms of management.
As with any other bare ground, mother wants it covered, the "weeds" are doing the job of erosion control.
Just chop them down when you plant or place a heavy mulch over them a few weeks prior to planting, then plant through the mulch.
Trees are best a few feet away from the base of a raised hugel so they won't topple when the hugel starts settling.
I have seen a lot of people use fresher cut wood to make their hugels where I live, this will work but it takes longer for them to start going strong.
The best wood to use is already rotting wood, this is because it will soak up water faster, hold it longer and there are already mycelium present within this type of wood which is a great thing for plant roots.
I usually make stuffing (filling gaps during the build) with what is termed "punky" wood which is wood that crumbles when you pick at it with your fingers. This stuff is super adsorbent and holds a lot of water.
I have one that is home to our Egyptian Walking Onions, they needed water once so far this year and that was after 1.5 months of no rain, an unusual occurrence in my area.
Maintenance consists of sink hole patching with soil, punky wood or compost, keeping a cover crop on so no erosion occurs, If it needs more topper then I put on more compost and mulch. Those are about the extent of maintenance.
In my world, weeds = plants growing where I didn't want them to grow. I just use them as a cover crop and chop and drop them when I want to plant something there.
Yes, pull the weeds, but don't be lazy and just drop them there. Take them over to the animals, feed the weeds to the animals (goats, rabbits, chickens, etc.) and let them process them. In a couple of days, when you clean out the animal compound, THEN you take it back to where you pulled the weeds out and drop it. If it's rabbit manure, you don't have to worry about burning the other plants on the hugel; if it's chickens, better mix in a lot of wood chips when you add it back in.