Hugelkultur and Strawberries

It is, for the first time in a long time, a nice day. There is no rain. No wind. No chance of rain. No chance of wind. There is actual blue up there rather than slate grey. It seems a good time to tackle those strawberries we have had waiting. Once upon a time our strawberry patch was burgeoning, companion planted with chives, and gave bumper harvests that we had to fight Little D off with a stick. We kid you not, see the evidence below and there isn't even any strawberries there!

Blue skies means a chance to get some soft fruit in.

Strawberry thief, photo courtesy of Carl Royle

This bed brought in butterflies and hungry toddlers thick with strawberries around their lips. The day we had to move this patch - you are advised to move a strawberry bed every 3-4 years to stop pests and diseases - a little bit of heaven vanished from the garden and then other plans, other jobs and other ideas meant the strawberries took back seat to the planning and planting of new fruit bed. No more, time to bring back those strawberries! The old patch was planted through turned over turf, and this is a good technique, as the turf rots it lets out goodness and creates loam. However, we have an area that needs tackling in the cottage garden that means a revised type of strawberry planting that combines composting, fungi and tyres. 

Make use of old tyres as Hugel bed

We have quite a few tyres at Pig Row and rather than take them to the tip we have decided to employ them in a little raised bed/Hugelkultur experiment. Now, for those of you who do not know what Hugelulture is (pronounced Hoo-gul-culture), it is raised beds with a difference, Hugelkultur builds fertility in raised beds through the process of the gradual decay of wood. You can find much more on Hugel beds here. The principle is sound, and benefits fruit in particularly as most fruit in the wild can be found within forests or copses receiving benefits of leaf fall and decomposition of trees. Certainly within Permaculture, you can find fruit being employed in the design of food forests. We're not aiming for a forest here but are making use of what we have. The reason we want to use tyres is that every 3-4 years we can empty these, thus taking soil borne diseases out of the equation and destroying any pests along the way but then replant them in the same location so not to impact on bees, butterflies and birds. The soil full of beneficial mychorriza can be then reused around the garden to benefit the soil and plants. So, here's how we do our Hugel beds step by step. We weeded beneath the new beds before planting, you could use weed membrane, cardboard or newspaper as a barrier instead of weeding. Our Hugel beds are beside the path making it easier to harvest.

Hugelkultur in tyres

We broke down an old tree stump, already decaying, placed in cuttings from the hedge trimming we have just started and the weeds taken out - most of these were annual with no seed heads - and then added grass turf turned upside down. This is similar to how we planted the old strawberry patch.

Using wood and weeds to make Hugel beds

How to make a Hugel bed.

No waste left over in a Hugel bed

Now, these tyres are not as deep as some Hugel beds, so there is still every chance the weeds could make a break for it. So we employed a twist on this Hugel bed design and reached for no-dig method, and that method is simple: barriers. Now, the turf turned upside down is one barrier but we used some cardboard, paper packing from a recent delivery and placed it over the wood, weeds and turf. The idea is as all this rots it will produce heat and fertility in the shape of beneficial fungi, such as, mychorizza. The cardboard is there to stop the weeds getting through.

Barriers in gardening

We then topped off with garden compost - shop bought can be used too, we keep shop bought bags to put out compost in but often mix it together.

building a Hugel bed.

We then planted the tyres up. Three strawberry plants to a tyre. Below we have planted Elsanta and Cambridge. We have Marshmello to plant also.

Planting strawberries in old tyres.

The great thing about this process is that it can transform a space that has just been cleared quickly, taking an overgrown jungle to a productive space. All that growth taken away is simply reused in the tyres rotting layer, like a mini compost heap, just make sure there are no seed head or perennial weeds. In the areas between the tyres we will plant our chives, bringing back beneficial flowers to bees and butterflies.

Building a new strawberry bed

You can even plant in some sunflowers. Yes, dwarf sunflowers are a great crop as you can collect the seed from them too for eating. These tyres will stretch along both sides of the path throughout the cottage garden, giving us considerably more strawberries than we had in the old bed and mean that we'll have to watch Little D when he goes outside. 


  1. Tyres are just fab for growing anything in. My spuds have done brilliantly in them this year. I have climbing beans and squash in one too so looking forward to seeing how they come along.