Garden design and maintenance

Creating a hillbed – DIY instructions and lots of useful tips!

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Organic waste and materials arise in absolutely every garden. Sustainable gardening is one of the most popular gardening trends this year, but how can you reuse old twigs, branches and lawn clippings? A hill bed is ideally suited for the sensible use of plant residues. As the name suggests, this is a bed that rises towards the middle and creates a good growth climate through several layers. Are you a hobby gardener and want to make optimal use of the space in your garden and have a high-yielding harvest? Then read on and find out how you can create and plant a hill bed yourself! In our article we will tell you what you should pay particular attention to, the right plants and much more!

Creating a hillbed – what exactly is it?

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, hill beds are made up of different layers of organic materials that accumulate in the garden. The way it works is actually quite simple and is particularly worthwhile for gardens with very damp and heavy soils. As the wood gradually rots, it slowly releases the nutrients it contains to the plants grown on it. This means that there is no need to use fertilizer, at least for the first 3-4 years. In addition, the decomposition of the materials generates heat, which also has a beneficial effect on growth and enables early cultivation. This allows you to harvest vegetables and fruits up to three weeks earlier.

When and where best to create a hill bed?

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Basically, a hill bed can be laid out all year round. But so that you can start growing your plants in spring, the perfect time would be autumn. This gives the layers enough time to decompose in winter. In addition, there is a lot of material available during this time that you will need for the cultivation. The sun is essential when it comes to the right location. The hill bed should definitely have a north-south orientation, so that all plants can draw evenly and optimally from the sunlight. Oriented differently, either a hot, sunny or a cool, shady side can result. So that the growing plants have enough space and are easily accessible, the hill beds are almost always elongated and should not be wider than 1.50 meters. The length can of course vary, but by default it is between 2 and 4 meters.

What materials to lay out the hill bed?

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To create a hill bed, you can either use an existing bed or a new piece of lawn. Most of the materials you will need are likely already in your yard. Usually, however, the following is used:

  • Branches and sticks
  • Garden waste and leaves
  • coarse compost
  • fine compost and topsoil
  • Clay
  • mown grass

If you have already found the right location, we recommend that you demarcate the area with stones or a string. You probably don’t want a crooked hill bed.

Creating a hill bed – step by step instructions

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  • First, dig the soil to a depth of about 25-30 cm. To protect the bed from voles, we recommend that you line the area with close-meshed wire netting. The easiest way to remove the sward is with a digging fork.
  • The next step in creating a hill bed is adding a thick layer of clippings. Thin branches and twigs, stems or other coarse material from your garden are suitable for this purpose. These form the core of your hillbed and provide drainage. Layer up a maximum of half a meter and also leave a little space to the edge. The wood ensures better ventilation of the soil, stores water and then slowly releases it to the plants. To avoid sprouting again, you should only ever use old wood without buds.

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  • Now layer the sward that you have removed on the wood with the green facing down. It also provides additional nutrients for the plants. You can also use thick layers of newspaper or straw. This layer should be about 15-20 centimeters thick.
  • Now you can create the actual food for the hillbed. It consists of damp leaves from the previous year and is mixed with either a load of manure or coarse, not yet fully matured compost. Because the compost is full of fungi and bacteria, it is the perfect nourishment for the plants. Layer it about 30-40 inches high.
  • And now comes the final layer that your plants will grow on. Cover the foliage mixture with ripe compost and some garden soil that was left over from the excavation of the sward. This area should not be more than eight inches thick.

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  • You could leave the soil a little loose – this will ensure better growth.
  • If you are laying out your hill bed in autumn, we would recommend that you cover it with either a layer of mulch or fleece at the end. Mostly hay, straw or old leaves are used. Mulch actually has a ton of important properties such as storing moisture in the soil, preventing soil erosion and creating a good habitat for various microbes, fungi and insects.

Which plants are best?

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Nitrates are released in the soil of a newly created hillbed for the first few months or sometimes even years. We therefore advise against growing plants that store these nitrates. The most suitable for the first 2 years are heavy eaters, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, radishes or even celery and pumpkin. From the second year you can also grow onions and carrots. Vegetables that store too much nitrate include spinach, lettuce and Swiss chard, or peas and beans. You can plant these after the third year. Perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb or artichokes can also be considered in the hillbed. Depending on how big it is, you can also plant different berries on it from the fourth year on.

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While you should always pay particular attention to fruit and vegetables in the first few years not to plant any nitrate-storing plants, this point is completely omitted for perennials and flowers – you will not eat them anyway. Almost all flowers are suitable for a hill bed, provided they like warmth and sun and have a high nutritional requirement. A hill bed is also ideal for mixed planting. Not only does it look very attractive, it also has a very positive effect on plant health. For example, garlic is a very good friend of roses because it keeps aphids away. But since there are also many combinations of plants that have a harmful effect on each other, we recommend that you plan everything carefully and coordinate the mixed cultures with each other. Ideally, the flowers are placed on the outside or, if they are higher species – in the apex.

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Regular watering plays a very important role in creating a hill bed so that the vegetables thrive and you can look forward to a good harvest. Always make sure that no soil is washed away. The nutrient supply generally decreases over time. Depending on the structure and planting, you may have to add organic fertilizer from around the third year onwards. The wood rots completely after about 6 years.

Create the many advantages of the hillbed

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  • The bottom layer of wood acts like a sponge, so to speak, which completely absorbs the rainwater and makes it available to the grown plants.
  • The stacked layers of organic materials and the wood protect your hill bed from flooding.
  • The rotting biomass heats the soil and in this way the growing season is extended.
  • The hilly shape also increases the cultivation area.

Hill beds as an element of a permaculture garden

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The concept of traditional horticulture is more based on what people want to grow. But a permaculture garden is always about growing the plants that are best suited to the local climatic and environmental conditions. So if you want to create your garden in the sense of a permaculture, choose a concept that strives for the permanent and sustainable coexistence of humans and nature. It is a philosophy that enables you to take full advantage of the resources you have around you. A permaculture garden gives you the opportunity to get a good harvest with relatively little effort. It is a closed system, so to speak, in which absolutely no energy is lost. For example, rainwater is collected on the roof, which can be used in the kitchen. From there it flows into the irrigation systems that feed the plants. They in turn provide people with food and wood.

The agricultural rebel – Sepp Holzer 

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Sepp Holzer is an Austrian farmer, author and an international consultant for near-natural agriculture. He founded the Holzer Permaculture with innovative ideas, but also old methods, such as building terraces or creating raised and hill beds. He is considered a staunch advocate of many ecological principles. On his Krameterhof in “Austrian Siberia”, at around 1500 meters above sea level, the diversity of plants is the top priority. That’s why citrus fruits, kiwis, cherries and pumpkins still thrive there despite the climatic conditions and in the middle of winter he also harvests radishes! Sepp Holzer works worldwide as a consultant for various agricultural and aquaculture projects and has already achieved amazing results in many areas.

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