Hugelkultur Composting: A Different Kind Of Garden Compost

By Nikki Tilley | April 13, 2021
Image by Sanghwan Kim
by Nikki Tilley
April 13, 2021

I have a tumbler composter and love it, but I also have an area out back where I dump stuff: a mound of layered debris and food scraps. These are just a couple ways I try to “give back” in the garden. But I don’t stop there. I’m trying something new this year”¦

Composting at Home

I tend to be a lazy gardener, so when it comes to composting at home, it’s usually in the form of one big heap consisting of garden and yard debris (grass, leaves, twigs, etc.) with kitchen scraps mixed in. Nothing fancy. It does the trick, though, and I have usable “mulch” for the garden whenever I need it – typically within a year or so. The compost pile is subject to change location now and then, but it’s almost always at the backside of the garden nearest the woods and wildlife garden. This keeps it from being too much of an eyesore but still gets plenty of sunlight.

I’ve also dubbed it my “volunteer garden” since it produces tons of new plants each season and I never know what will pop up from one year to the next. Sometimes these end up looking better than what I planted myself, so I like to let them grow as additional sustenance for wildlife. Some of the best pumpkins, squash and tomato plants have grown here without any help from me. I’ve even had a few potato plants grow, along with leeks and other crops. Once the season ends, I can mix what’s left back into the heap. The aged garden compost makes great mulch for my beds. 

The trusty tumbler sits just outside the house below the kitchen window. When I don’t feel like walking all the way to the wildlife area (where my compost heap currently resides), I just toss our kitchen scraps here. I also add used coffee filters, straw, shredded leaves and discarded potting soil. Give it a few good spins each day, or every few if I forget, and within months it creates nice, fertile compost for the garden.

Hügelkultur Composting

This year I’m trying something new. In addition to the usual compost heap out back and the tumbler next to the kitchen window, I’m creating a hügelkultur feature in the side garden. While this isn’t exactly considered compost per se, it does allow you to recycle woody materials and the like. In fact, you’re simply piling up wood and branches, along with other organic matter, and then covering it with soil. When it’s done, you end up with a perfectly fertile place to grow plants. I don’t plan on growing veggies in mine, though you definitely could. I want flowers instead. We recently had a bunch of trees taken out, so now what was once a semi-wooded area to the side of our house is now sunshine and rainbows.

Since one stretch of the area is already a garden bed, my focus has been cleaning up the newly untouched spot just below it – full of smaller tree logs, limbs, and other debris. It’s on an incline, so in order to keep all my soil or plants from washing down the hill, I was thinking of a berm. Remember, I’m a lazy gardener and the thought of having to lug all that wood/debris up the hill to the back of the house and into my compost heap is tormenting. There’s no way my back will survive that feat! Thus, the hügelkultur bed was born! Why carry all that stuff and nearly kill myself when I can just place the logs in the bottom and toss the rest on top. Even better is the fact that I can use all the surrounding leaves and whatever else as fill, and then cover it all with soil and mulch. A win-win for the plants and my back.

So far, I’ve gotten the initial base done and it’s topped with leaves and old mulch from the downed trees. All that’s left is some topsoil and plants. I’m looking forward to seeing the end result.

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