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Maximize garden space with hugelkultur

     If you are an urban Fox Cities resident, and want to grow your own foliage and food on your condensed city yard, an urban gardening technique with roots in Germany and Eastern Europe will aid you.
“Urban gardening is all about design,” says Oren Jakobson, director of farm operations at Riverview Gardens.
A design city-dwellers can incorporate into their garden is, “hugelkultur.” Hugelkultur is a German term that translates to “hill culture” because plants are cultivated on raised mounds.
Hava Blair, gardens manager and market coordinator at Riverview Gardens, says hugelkultur is a raised mound with layers of soil covering old logs. Within the mound, turf is turned upside-down to cover the logs; this allows for the mound to retain water.
The hugelbed, created from the hugelkultur mound, self-fertilizes itself. After they are built, they do not require extra tending.

“Hugelkultur does not require tilling. When old roots decompose, they give off the nutrients they have taken up in their lifetime,” Blair says.
Hugelbeds prove to be advantageous for the Fox Cities area due to the native soil’s high content of clay. Clay-rich soil retains water and raised beds allow soil to drain faster, Blair explains.
She adds that after the spring thaw, the soil in a hugelbed will be less wet and easier to manipulate.
“Anyone can do it. All it takes is an area that it is safe to dig 12-16 inches down,” Blair says.
Blair explains most wood is sufficient to fertilize soil, but certain types should be avoided. She says gardeners should avoid black walnut and black locust because they contain a toxin which would seep into the soil.
Also, she says excess pine should be eluded because the needles increase the soil’s acidity, which would alter the soil chemistry.
Other than those specifications, Blair says people can utilize whatever wood or mulch they have.

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Since hugelbeds are raised they provide a more convenient design than a flat garden. “These are easy access and you do not have to bend over as much,” says Blair.
Hugelbeds range in a variety of sizes depending on the gardener’s needs. However, gardeners must keep particular zoning regulations in mind when planning and building hugelbeds.
Kurt Craanen, inspection supervisor of the city of Appleton, says a hugelbed is classified as a berm, which is defined by the Appleton zoning code as “earthen material and soil covered with sod placed in an irregular-shaped mound or linear-shaped mound along a property line, right-of-way, or other feature.”
He says most hugelbeds would be fine as long as they are not in the front-yard, or create an obstruction. Any sort of berm has to fall below a certain height before it requires more in-depth planning.
“When structures are over three feet tall, in the city of Appleton, people have to put together a site plan,” says Craanen.
Before a hugelbed is constructed, gardeners must consider where they place it. Craanen says people have to be aware if they are obstructing drainage when building hugelbeds.
He explains every property in Appleton built after 1982 had to have a drainage plan, but in older neighborhoods there tends to be more of a drainage issue because the land was not designed with a plan in place.
Even though the Fox Cities is developing a more urban atmosphere, urban Fox Valley residents can still enjoy the benefits of gardening. Hugelkultur offers the option to increase planting area when space is limited. Kick-off your urban garden and sow the flowers, veggies, and fruits of your labor.

— By Emily Showers

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