Hügelkultur is an ancient technique for making (raised) planting beds by layering old logs, branches, sod, cardboard, grass clippings, slashed weeds, some dirt, covering the lot, and then planting into the bed. Aside from the excellent soil that is developed through time inside the bed, Hügelkultur is especially appropriate when irrigation is either difficult or impossible.
Hügelkultur (mound gardening) was popularised in the last century by the Natural Farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, and by permaculturist Bill Mollison. In the last 25 years permaculture farmer Sepp Holzer built his Austrian hillside farm by adapting this technique to his needs.
On the grassroots level, irrigation-free kitchen gardens are a traditional form of agriculture long practiced by local folk the world over, using both under and above ground methods of what we now call Hügelkultur. It is easy to imagine that forest folk would observe and be inspired by a nurse log and, brains a’cranking, would try to reproduce the situation themselves. Or imagine that you’re farming in between the chestnut groves in the Cevennes foothills. You have wood to burn (sic), but have no water infrastructure to water your crop beds. The buried logs contain and hold in moisture and as they slowly decompose over time, leave rich compost in their wake. In desert regions Hügelkultur can be used to create swales that capture dew and create shade, forming microclimates that support a longer growing season. In cooler climates, the decomposition of wood and organic material heats up the heap, creating a warmer soil environment and ultimately a longer growing season for a wider range of cultivars.