May 24, 2012


Jeff and his beloved wall

Once again, I was asked to do something that I had never done before. The powers that be have asked me to construct a rock wall and then build a terrace behind it. After it is done it will increase our growing space by about 960 square feet! Giving it a couple hours of attention per day, it has taken me almost 2 months to complete. In the process Andrew has been coaching me and sharing his rock stacking wisdom. I have learned a few things in the process and I intend on sharing my thoughts with you with the following words.

A terrace by one definition is a flat area made on a slope, used for cultivation. The terrace is being built in the southernmost part of the garden and will be about 12ft wide by 80ft long. The wall that will help shape the terrace is built using native basalt that we have collected from our property, roadside ditches and friendly neighbors yards. This wall will be holding back the soil to create a level space used for cultivation.

Building this wall has taken a lot of time and energy. Sometimes it flows together like a seamless pair of pants and other times it seems as though there is no rock that will fill the void. This wall is a puzzle much like any other except in this puzzle there are many pieces for each place, it is up to you to find a way to make it fit.

a section of the walls face, no big holes

When you are placing your rocks there are a few good guidelines to follow. The first is that the length of your rock should be running into your wall. It is natural to place the rock in a way where it takes up the most room, but this is not the strongest and should be avoided. It is also wise to orient the rock so that the second greatest dimension is also on the inside of the wall. The strongest walls come from rocks that are leaning on the rock that was placed before them. To my knowledge there is no specific name for this but you may hear it described as rocks that are all running together.

length running into the wall, 2nd largest dimension standing vertical

After you place a stone that is steady and you are happy with, you should fill in behind it to give it added support. (*Because the soil is dynamic and will change over time, the support from the soil should be very minor.)

lay one stone, pack it in

When you are leaning the new rocks on the solid ones, it is good to make their contact point high on the rock so that the direction of the pressure is down.

build in one direction, lay one course at a time

After you place a rock that you are happy with, be sure to step back and check your work.

lay a few stones, take a step back and look

If you are packing to a certain height then it is good to establish a level line using something like masons twine and build to this line, making a nice uniform wall.

Hindsight has given me some additional thoughts that I would like to share with you now in addition to the thoughts above. If you are turning over soil and altering a current piece of land to make your terrace, do it in a time when the soil is moist and the perennial grasses and other plants have not yet began taking over your area. As the days have become longer and drier, the dirt is hard and difficult to break up.

I have enjoyed building something that will last a really long time as well as help increase the amount of growing space in the main garden by 37%.