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Erosion Control Guild Idea

 
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I'm new to Permies, but I wanted to run an idea past yall. I recently got some land in Colorado and I'm planning ways to stop the erosion in the gullies. I had an idea generally following the three sisters pattern and wanted to see what more experienced people thought.

To explain the area a bit, the grow zone is about 5B to 6A, but temperatures can reach into the 100's at the peak of summer. Its incredibly windy at times when the clouds come over the mountains so I am in need of starting a windbreak as well. Rain is sporadic, and the soil is so abused it doesn't hold any water instead letting it all run off. Its mainly sandy on the surface going to down to heavy clay as you dig.

My plan is to plant along the south facing ridges of the gullies in the hopes that it will stop the runoff so I can both refill the land's aquifer and prevent further erosion. To do this I want to first plant Black Locust trees along the upper part of the gullies to serve as both a windbreak when they grow over the lip and to add nitrogen to the soil. Then surround the Black Locust with Maximilian Sunflowers which are drought resistant and have thick roots. My hope is that the roots are thick enough to both hold in the soil and keep the Black Locust from taking over. Among the sunflowers I want to plant cowpeas, and buffalo gourd. Cowpeas because they are drought resistant and seem to grow well with sunflowers judging by all the cover crop mixes I've seen, and buffalo gourds because I've already found some wild specimens on the property and because they fit the role of squash in the original "Three Sisters" grouping. The added benefit being that as the buffalo gourd's spread they will provide surface cover to keep the rainfall from pounding more soil off the slopes. The optional plants are to place bee balm and comfrey around the edges where the bee balm won't shade the buffalo gourd so I can have the added mulch and insectiary benefit.

Thoughts, advice? I'm new to regenerative agriculture so this will be one of the first guild's I've attempted to grow, but because they're all drought tolerant plants I think they stand a good chance being watered only from runoff as the scattered showers come through in the summer time. I know Black Locusts and Maximilian Sunflowers both take over, but considering I want to put them in 20ft deep gullies I don't much care. I've yet to devise a planting design for the north facing slopes with shade loving plants.
 
pollinator
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Great but challenging project.

You didnt mention if you have plans for check dams, gabbions, or other reshaping. It sounds to me like a bit of this type of preplanting work would improve your chances of quick success.
 
Paul Cleveland
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I've made a few check dams, the issue is they work too well. Most of them catch so much sediment that they're buried after a single rain event. After that they're not very good for slowing the water lol. That's why I shifted focus to the slopes, if I can hold in the sediment better on the sides of the gullies then I think the check dams will be more effective and i wont have to keep building on top each time hey get buried.

The other alternative I was thinking of was to transplant reeds in the spring time along the new sediment beds created by the buried check dams. The creek bed is dry between storms so it ought to be doable.
 
master pollinator
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The idea is to keep adding to the check dams until the erosion is healed.

Perhaps the best plant for erosion control is Switchgrass.  I'm using a combination of brush dams, one-rock dams, and Switchgrass to heal our gullies.

https://permies.com/t/51421/Creek-repair-brush-dams

https://permies.com/t/53556/Creek-repair-rock-dams
 
pollinator
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"check dams work too well"

So it sounds like you have a lot of loose material being washed downstream. As suggested you can keep building up the check dams taller after each rain event. This will build a deep fill in the gullies of sediment - great for trapping and slowly releasing water back into the surrounding land.

You can also approach the problem from the other end. Start high and build on contour barriers to slow the flow of water and let the sediment drop out. Depending on your conditions you may be able to do a lot just with simple rows of stacked rocks just a few inches high.

You might find this video interesting/useful. They walk down from high altitude to low, going through a series of swales and check dams.



In particular, look at how much material is help up on the simple terrace walls at the top of the mountain. If you stop the sediment washing further down you will have less sediment in your lower stream, as well as lower flow rates so easier control of flow down stream.
 
Michael Cox
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Also, have you looked at vetiver hedges plante don contour for erosion control? They are highly effective living sediment trap.

Vetiver itself won't be viable in your climate as it is not frost tolerant, but you might be able to use some of the principles in your planting and design. Key is that the stems of vetiver grasses are very close together near ground level, and when planted in a hedge the water is forced to flow slowly through the plants. There are lots of excellent videos of them in action. Including some that show the amount of soil that can build up over a few years of use. The resulting terrace can be used for your other desirable plants.
 
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