Notes from Windward: #69
Terracing the Main Garden
Putting to work the concept of reuse
Right now the weather is transitioning between the late snow and the early rains. Whenever there's
a streak of sunshine we're working on terracing the main garden.
Since it's a lot of work, why are we bothering?
One of the main problems we had last fall was water retention. I would
water the corn, and most of the water would dribble downhill as soon
as the straw covering the base of the corn plant saturated. The soil
here becomes solid from mid-June to October, and is almost
impermeable. Water runs down the hill soon as it gets a a chance. When
growing crops, especially water-intensive crops such as corn, that's
not a desirable feature.
spring's not quite here yet; the morning after installing the retaining wall
However, there are a couple things that can be done to remedy this.
One is to improve the soil quality by digging in plenty of compost.
Another is to make sure that the water cannot run downhill except
through the soil. This means cutting into the hill and building
retaining walls so that three terraces are formed.
We've already added some compost to the soil, and as time goes on I'm
sure we'll add more. Compost retains water much better than clay and
gives nutrients to the soil that the plants can then use to grow and
produce fruit. However, adding compost is only part of the solution.
Making the First Terrace
Lindsay wrote about disassembling the pigpen to create the retaining
wall for the first terrace. Making a terrace is not as simple as it
seems, but it is a worthwhile investment.
the first of the short ties and rebar
We began by tying masonry string from one side of the garden to the
other, making sure it was level. Then we dug a trench for the railroad
ties (which used to be part of the pigpen) by referring to the level string.
On one end of the garden we had to dig a rather deep trench, but on
the other end we didn't need to dig at all. What we did have to do
was to make sure that the bottom of the trench was angled towards the
terrace we are building so that the wall would tilt into the soil a
little, giving the structure more support.
Then we hammered the rebar into the trench every 18 inches, since the
railroad ties already had predrilled holes with that separation.
Sometimes we'd run into rocks and would have to stop and dig them up.
Sometimes, though, we were lucky and the rebar went into the ground
driving home the rebar
The next step was to slide the railroad ties onto the rebar. We found
that some of the railroad ties were too long, so we put in the ties as
well as we could and Walt volunteered to chainsaw the ends so that
they would all fit snugly. We built three layers of ties. Then we used
the maul to hammer the rebar into the ground as far as it would go.
Our interlocking railroad-tie retaining wall is looking pretty sturdy.
new snow graces the new retaining wall
In the meantime...
Lindsay and I have been musing on the concept of reuse during this
process. The pigpen, a circular structure, was disassembled and
recombined into a long straight wall. All the components of the pigpen
are still there, except that now they make a wall. The earth works in
this way at its most fundamental level. When you die, your atoms
disassociate and are formed into plants, perhaps, or are carried down
a river. The plant is harvested and shipped to New Jersey (say) and
some person in Hoboken eats it. You're a part of them now. That's
essentially what happened with the pigpen. Sustainability is all about
convincing a pigpen to make you a wall.
After the retaining wall went up, the uppermost terrace was still not
level, so the water would continue to flow down the hill if we didn't
do something about it.
So we did something about it. Andrew, Camille, and I spent an
afternoon moving earth from the high places to the low places of the
terrace to even it all out. It was a lot of work, but it will be worth
it once our water usage is more efficient in growing healthy plants.
Since the hill that the garden is on slopes north-to-south as well as
east-to-west, we made sure that the north-south slope was level. We
can use the east-west slope to our advantage by allowing water to flow
in that direction in a controlled manner. We intend to build up the
slightly shorter side with compost as time goes on to even out the
east-west slope eventually. The garden is an intentional landscape.
Camille and I used the surveying tools Opalyn has for making
measurements to see whether the terrace was level. First, I measured
my eye height by using the hand level and looking at the measuring rod while
both Camille and I stood on level ground. Then, I stood on the north
side of the terrace as Camille placed the measuring rod on the south side of
the terrace. I looked through the hand level again and found that the
measurement was larger. This meant that the north side of the terrace
was more elevated than the south side. We compensated for that by
adding more earth to the south side.
Camille and I measure differences in elevation
So we're done with the first terrace. Whew! Two more to go...
Camille lends scale to the terrace
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69