Updated: Apr 14
As a group of sustainability-focused farms, we all have unique ways of cultivating, each with its own set of benefits. One of our farms, Wildercraft, uses the traditional Hugelkultur (pronounced HEW-gul-kul-TOOr) method. This gardening technique has been around for centuries and is very popular in eastern Europe and Germany. Translated to mean “mound culture,” this process involves planting crops in mound-shaped raised beds, created by piling rotted, woody material topped with compost and soil.
For this method of gardening, you’ll need a few supplies, but future upkeep is minimal. Downed trees, broken branches, small twigs, and fallen leaves are the base layer, and your standard household compost will go on top. This could include eggshells, vegetable and fruit pieces, grass clippings, cardboard, manure, and more. Nitrogen-rich material is what you’re looking for here to help maintain a good carbon to nitrogen ratio within the Hugelkultur bed. Next, add a topsoil layer, enough to cover all of the other layers with an additional one to two inches on top. You can include some mulching material here, like straw or sawdust. Your mounds should be as large or as small as needed to fit your specific requirements, but keep in mind that as the innards decay, the mound will shrink, so a six-foot-tall mound will eventually become a two-foot mound once all of the logs and debris inside have been broken down. You should avoid using tree species deemed allelopathic, like Cedar or Walnut, when building Hugelkultur beds, and avoid including weeds that have gone to seed in your compost.
This gardening method works well for various reasons, one of them being its ability to trap moisture while supplying nutrients as the wood decays within. These wooden pieces also act as a home for beneficial mycorrhizae that help break down surrounding organic matter. And as an added bonus, because the decay is so active in the first couple of years, the beds stay warm, extending your growing season. In the hot summer months, the Hugel beds keep the roots cooler, helping the mounds retain water. Another benefit is the ability to create different growing conditions within the same bed, giving farmers the opportunity to cultivate various plants in the same area. The south-facing side is a sunnier and drier slope, while the north-facing side is much wetter and shaded. The top of the mound will be drier overall, and the base moister. This unique design allows the farmer to choose deep-rooted plants for the top of the mound, plants that prefer to be dryer on the south-facing slope, and shade-loving plants on the north-facing side.
This gardening method can be excellent for farmers who wish to have a low-maintenance garden. Hugelkultur requires little watering while it maintains a healthy growing medium for years to come. This technique is fantastic for a sustainability-driven cannabis farm as it offers less water consumption, nutrient-rich soil, and a sustainable way to use compost in the garden. Jared with Wildercraft says, “This process is sustainable in that we are using locally sourced materials, i.e., plant matter and tree matter from our properties, closing the loop on the farm. This is a sustainable way of using brush and trees from clearing out properties (such as for fire safety), and we keep it on the farm as opposed to burning it or sending it to a landfill.”
Once set up, these beds can be used immediately, and while you can let it rest through the winter to begin decomposing, it doesn’t require any winterizing before use. These beds can literally last forever, especially if kept up with fresh layers of compost and topsoil every now and then. They naturally become better with time due to their process of building a self-sustaining, healthy growing environment. It’s partially thanks to the indigenous microorganisms (IMO) that inhabit the soil, giving these beds the potential to aid in biodegradation, bioleaching, nitrogen fixation, soil fertility improvement, and the plant’s production of growth hormones.
As a no-till method of gardening, Hugelkultur beds are perfect for busy farmers who have their work cut out for them in other areas. It also grants the farmer additional time to give each plant the close attention to detail it deserves, creating a craft product of the finest quality. “This process bolsters appellations of origin and emphasizes our product of place,” Jared with Wildercraft adds. It’s these environmentally synergetic gardening methods that will shape the future of craft cannabis farming and define the industry’s understanding of how specific agriculture inputs create truly unique products.
If you’re a buyer looking for sustainably-grown cannabis, check out our Simply Clean Certified selection and reach out to us for a full inventory list. We also offer custom cultivation services, so if you’re planning your 2021 menu, let’s see if working with the Hive Mendocino Cooperative is the best move to support your goals. Our members take cannabis cultivation to the next level, and if you’re a farm looking for a cannabis cooperative to join, maybe our group is the right choice for you. Reach out to us for more details!
Photo by: Sanghwan Kim from Getty Images via Canva Pro