We have a North Facing Slope in the center of western Washington. Of the 23 acres there are about 1.5 acres of roughly level spots. About half is in pasture right now, with 10-15 year old alder on the other half (not in the picture), and a few clumps of trees sitting above the level bits and framing the bottom of the levelest bit. Midpoint in the hill seems to get reasonable light in winter. Soil is 20-24" of silty loam on clay. Rich but might have stability issues on the big slopes.
Here is generally what it looks like... familiarize yourself then check the questions below.
Look at the green... this was taken in summer, and the dark green indicates winter water saturation. Lots of it.
Ideas we are thinking about: 1. If we were to hugelkulture on the flattish parts at an angle to the contour, so as to slow water but not collect it we could begin to create some southern facing micro slopes. My concern about going with the contour means that the first hugel would be sodden and frost pocketed but the lower ones would be dry.
2. Lots of late flowering fruit forest on the edges. But where? I am thinking about slowly swapping the down-slope (top of the picture) firs with leafy trees to make the flow of cold air better in winter and also to maintain a visual border with the neighbors.
3. Sepp Holzer style terracing. This is soft deep silty loam. I am very, very, very cautious about this. We are thinking about positioning a house in the clump of trees west of #4. on the still nearly level before it drops. We'll start with a swale and see how it goes from there.
4. A swale and a road. We want to put a road in, otherwise it will get wicked sloppy. We'll follow the western border up and take a hard turn across western #5 and up to the homestead.
5. ponds in the water runway... Eastern #6 is a grassy 8ft wide groove of water flow in the winter. We want to catch some of it and hold it for a while at the top, then hold it down at the bottom. Technically this will be for fire protection. But the clean stuff at the top pond might have been used for watering animals in the olden days, and the lower duck pond for watering veggies when things needed a little fertigation. There would be no harm in getting a little micro-hydro from the connection between the two in the present day.
6. Maintaining 2ft pasture strips between any open beds, to help in rotation, limit mud, provide food for our chickens and to give clover and mixed pasture greens a chance to heal this land that has been hayed every year.
7. Elliot Coleman style mobile greenhouses in #2
8. Getting a mix of trees into the woods. Especially ones that might coppice well. Need to get deer feeding plants out there too to keep them out of the people food beds.
9. Getting a mix of native berries into the edge and woods. Huckleberry, Salal, Oregon grape. There is nothing but alder and blackberry back there now, and the center clumps of firs. Sad.
What am I missing? What strategies would you try if this were yours to nurture?
Where are the best places for the big perennials?
What shade loving guilds might work well with all the shady edges?
What might be the best way to create mini-southern slopes without messing up things downhill from them?
Where else might beneficial micro climates be established?
What we don't think will work (but I like to be proved wrong.)
- Reflecting ponds. Unless they are in front of a hugel
- lots of terracing, seems a little dangerous with this soil.
- Sun traps?
- Passive solar earth berm pig huts
I'd love to discuss some of your questions with you. Perhaps we can break it down to the individual questions though, this is a bit overwhelming to try to respond to. Also, in the satellite photo, I'm assuming it's North Up? So, your slope goes from bottom to top as we are looking at the picture?
Edited to add: I didn't phrase that very well. The high point of the slope is at the bottom of the photo, right?
Thanks for responding Matt, I was feeling mighty lonely. Yes the bottom of the photo is south, and it is uphill. All that water is coming from the southern neighbor who recently clear-cut cut the hill behind us. I am trying to negotiate for the slash but I need some equipment to move it. Right now all I have is an old diesel land cruiser, not sure it is up to the task in this muck.
We definitely need to cut a swale across the top of the property but I am thinking I need to line it with geo cloth to slow the absorption and lessen the chances of a landslide.
The round field in the center bottom of the picture is a hill which seems like is serving as a water break, with surface water appearing in either side during the wet months.
The next weekend we get down there I intend to try and map contours with my GPS and take some temps in areas I suspect are frost pockets.
For now we are in planning stages, but we may have found a cheap trailer we can stick there for now while we develop infra.
There's not much to read yet, but we'll have fun trying! Please join in if you like.
Anyway, one thing that immediately strikes me about your site and plan, is the building site. Mine is very similar, and the existing house was originally built here in 1918. Like your building site, my house sits at the first level spot below the steeper pitch above. Because of that, the ground water level in the winter is, like, 2" above grade or so. I kid, but you get the idea. It's WET, and does create some challenges. It's hard to tell in your photo, but I would encourage you to go walk around there a lot now, while it's wet, and particularly during one of our multi day heavy rain events, preferably at the tail end of one of those when the soil is saturated. We are lucky in that most of our soil drains well, but you know that even so it spends a good part of every winter saturated. I really wish the builders of my place had the foresight to put the house on that really dry patch just up the hill a little ways.
I think of cold air like balls in a pachinko machine rolling down the hill and hitting things in the way. Cold air is like water, just more viscous though so it can stick.
Any surface with a little valley or stand of trees can hold cold air and create a frost pocket. If you look at the drawings above, each layout has varying evacuation speed. Brick layout seems like it would get the most light but air and water movement on it will be pretty slow. The angles should evacuate both pretty fast but sacrifice light.
What I really want to do is experiment without committing to digging, aside from modeling this in my head or on paper I am at a loss on how to find the best layout for my hill.
Good replies from various folks, but, as someone said, this is a huge and overwhelming topic. About 40 hours of design consulting should get us started. If you narrow it down to one or two questions you'd like me to focus on, I'll do my best.
My thoughts are changing about dealing with the water on grades like yours. I think our area's standard thought process is to channel the water, as we always see on the logging roads and similar sites. "Water bars" are sort of a cultural icon around here, am I right? Lately though, after watching all the swale videos I can find, I think that we have only gains to make with totally level swales even on our steep land with heavy rainfall. The idea is to slow the water to a standstill so it won't erode, right? So, a series of level swales, with flat spillways engineered to spill into the next one. Slow the rush of water down the hill, and control where it does. All I can think about with the designs above that aren't on contour is that in our winter rains the uphill trench of all of those off contour hugels will just wash away constantly. It will be hard to grow in and most likely will be scoured dirt in all but the dry summer. I could be wrong, but I've got spots on my hillside that seem to show that.
I understand the concept of holding the water seems to indicate that we'd be creating slide spots, but I think that in most sites around here the soil is totally saturated for most of the winter anyway. So at least keeping the water from scouring it will give stuff a chance to grow and keep the topsoil on your hill.
I dunno, that's what I've been thinking lately, and frankly, it's a big change for me. I could also be totally wrong, I'm good at that. I've been dealing with drainage issues here for almost a decade, and I think I've been going about it all wrong.
myself I'd probably start with fruit trees, if the slope is too steep you might want to put a swale below the tree down the slope, and if you are planting ladder harvest trees, might want to make some flat ground for the ladders..so you don't tumble down the hills. Once you have decided on the trees you can plant some guilds around each one, creating a superguild or a food forest garden..what fun.
Bloom where you are planted.
Matt, totally agree. The septic guy we talked to suggested curtain drains, I just smiled and held my tongue. (An herculean effort given my chatty nature). Hugels are interesting to me both as a microclimate and for water storage in the logs.
Brenda, we aren't that steep. A tractor has hayed the entire slope more or less on contour. But levelish scallops have been something I have been thinking might be useful too. Starting with trees is a great idea, especially working guilds out from them. Thanks.
That is a tough place to ask/give earthworks advice...I think each site would be different, as soils and rainfall can be so varied there. You guys probably refer to us who live in Seattle (with a mere 40" of rain) as "Desert Rats". Many of you get 4x that amount.
You want to slow the water down, but state that the soils are often saturated. A good soil engineer (from your region) should be consulted before starting any major earthworks project. Keeping the soil well covered with vegetation (at least in the wet months) will help slow the flow without drastically overburdening the saturation point. During the drier months it would help absorb the 'excess' moisture from the soils, leaving them readier to absorb more once the rainy season arrives. At the least, it could assist the trees get established.
If you go with fruit trees, I would suggest getting a tripod style orchard ladder. They are much easier (and safer) to deal with on irregular ground (once you get used to them).
I too am on a north-facing slope. I have had varying success with fruit trees. Last year two 5-year-old pear trees provided me with all the pears I cared to eat from July to November. The nice thing about north-facing slopes for fruit trees is that it delays flowering, thereby decreasing the chance of getting hit by a late frost.
I should add two caveats: first, when I say they are 5 years old, I mean I bought and planted them 5 years ago (well, now almost 6), I'm not sure how old they were when I bought them. They were about 5 feet high and in 3 gallon buckets, so I would guess they were at least 3 years old. Second, they are dwarf varieties, which do tend to produce much sooner but also die much younger. I actually was getting 1-3 pears off each for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year.
i like this thread, its a nice idea all together and gives me something to think about
i believe i'll give you an idea on what i think you should do with it when it comes to me
and then im gonna steal the idea and make my own thread:p
ok so i would have a few ponds integrated in areas 4 and 2, maybe even 3 as well, i would use what appears to be a natural draw in areas 6 and 5 to create rivers/streams that connect the ponds and power a generator perhaps, not certain how you're gonna connect the bottom pond back INTO the top ponds as i have no idea how Sepp does this, it seems to me you could use his farm as a good
i like the A-wing hugelbed idea as heat traps and cold sheds, i just dont know how well it would work, this isn't to say i have a reason to believe it wouldn't, it simply means i havent seen or heard of it working myself
if nothing else then at least angle them, you are right in thinking you shouldn't have them parallel to contour as they would likely do exactly what you think they will, i believe sepp angles his at a 40 degree angle down the slope
dont ignore the experience of mr. walker and do check to make sure where you are putting your home is not wet, my grandma recently bought a house that is in the lowest part of their two acre property, during heavy rains the driveway creates a small inches deep pond and one of the window wells actually filled and flooded a downstairs room last summer, so make certain of where you build your home
the a-wing capturing heat could also help to grow some out of zone plants that would otherwise freeze, though i believe it will only trap heat along the ground, leaving the tops of fruit trees exposed to cold air flowing down the hill
you may also desire to plant some windbreaks to protect some of the more fragile crops but that is all up to you
on the uphill face of hugelkultur beds, just make sure you have many plants with a large variety of root depths, it seems that some vegetation is able to at least survive there currently so with some diversity it should be fine i would think
I am on a north slope also and just ordered pecan trees. I don't know technical terms but I've been seeing this idea of the opposite of terracing where you dig in the hill. This person planted an entire orchard under ground and covered it with plastic that supposedly keeps them frost free. I was thinking of excavating a small area for a nursery. Is this something like what the v-wing term is? Sorry I'm having trouble with some of the terms. Thanks for patients:)