My take on hugelculture is that it depends upon a lot of different factors....
... How the hugel is physically constructed.
... What sort of components are used.
... What the local environmental factors are.
... What sort of plants are planted on the hugel.
On my own farm I've only constructed hugel pits. A mound would dry out rapidly due to the wind and sun regardless of how much wood was incorporated. Thus hugel mounds would be failures here and discourage people from using the concept. But constructed as pits, they work great in my situation. My first hugelpit pit has been functioning without irrigation for 4-5 years and growing bananas. It has functioned well even during the year where I only got 13" of rain. Because of the good results, I've been expanding the pit in order to double its size. I plan to build others as I have material to use.
I did not record the construction phase. Nor am I interested in conducting controlled experiments. I have a subsistence homestead, so as long as I get positive results, I use the method. But that being said, I do have plenty of other clumps of bananas not growing atop hugelpits. While they all live, even during drought years, they do not produce much in dry years. The hugelpit bananas constantly produce well.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
The style of hugel built has a lot to do with the environment in which it is constructed.
Success of the structure is very dependent upon observation of the environment prior to building and part of this equation is the state of the wood being used.
In Su Ba's case it was wisest to build below ground level (pit system) because of the drying winds she experiences.
If you are in a rain forest, it would be more to reduce water available than to provide more available water so very raised hugel mounds would work best there.
Assess all the variables pertinent to your area first, this will allow you to properly design which method will work best for you.
the methods generally acknowledged are; Horizontal lay of logs on surface, which is then built up with progressively smaller pieces of wood, each layer filled between with other carbacious materials then topped off with soil.
Vertical lay of logs on surface, with other carbacious materials stuffed between the standing logs, topped off with soil.
trench or pit dug, filled with either horizontal or vertical laying of logs, filled between with carbacious materials then covered with excavated soil back to ground level.
build up of a base layer of soil to raise the logs above the ground level, then number one or number two method followed from there.
hugel mounds work when completely thought out and constructed to meet the current environment particulars. Punky (rotting) wood adsorbs water faster than solid wood but it will deteriorate faster than solid wood, punky wood is the original method.
Observe and write down your local conditions, then you will have the data needed to build a hugel that will work best in your conditions, while also providing lots of plant growth/ production with the least amount of water input by you.
hey all! I don't have pics of my hugel beds (pits?) here in Louisiana, but they are working GREAT! We planted one hugel with hot peppers and on the same day planted sweet pepper in flat earth. Just by looking, you'd think that the hot peppers were a month or two older than the others. I'm using 4' x 25' beds, dug 1 ft deep, filled with a layer of wood, then a layer of chips, then a layer of manure, a layer of compost, and finally the original soil. They hold on to water well, but since it's been so dry here lately we have had to dump a couple of buckets of water on them now and then.
American by birth....Southern by the grace of the Goddess
"Your life is yours alone. Rise up and live it." -- Richard Rahl, "Faith of the Fallen"
I guess if no-one has done any testing to see how effective hugelculture is, then I could do some trials myself.
I'll try a few beds with and a few beds without wood and see if I can see any difference in my salad crops.
There are many various techniques for hugel culture. From pits to terraces, to raised beds, to mounts. From wood chips to branches to large logs. Each situation might warrant a different technique. Plus it depends on the resources you have available. If you have large logs than that is what you try to use, If you only have access to small branches then you would use that.
Sam, tell us more of your project. And do take lots of pictures of your trials and share the your method and why plus the results with us all.
We do a lot with hugel culture, but have not yet had much time behind us. Most of our projects involve creating hugel culture terraces as our ground is heavy clay with saturated soil for all of the spring time and I wanted our sea buckthorn (sea berry) plants to be above the saturated heavy clay as they do not like wet feet.
Here are two of the hugel culture terraces that we built on a slope on contour. With the terraces we have less of a slope, so it is easier to walk between the plantings.