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vertical permaculture?  RSS feed

 
                          
Posts: 12
Location: mile high desert sky island
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Hi all, I've been reading the forums for a bit, first post.  I'm in southeast az, a mile high, and my place is on a canyon wall.  I'm on a terrace about 30' wide with vertical and near vert walls on either side.  I'm south facing and I can use the ascending vertical wall and steep slopes above me.

I see plenty of info on swales on contour, but I just don't see that working on a 50deg plus slope with vertical rock wall sections interspersing it and breaking up the contour.

Is there any info out there that deals with permaculture on steep slopes?

As far as my flat land, I started in feb. With the area looking like a landfill for building materials.  I spent the past several months digging out enough trash that I could actually see the ground, and now I've got herbs, veggies, and pollenators coming up.  I just need to figure out what to do with all the vertical space I have to work with.
 
Jeff Mathias
Posts: 125
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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Hi Rusty,

Do you have pictures? What are the vertical walls composed of it sounds like mostly rock? Is there enough soil on the 50deg slope to do any terracing? What is your average rainfall and how does it come?

I am picturing vertical rock canyon walls around your home and slopes capable of being carefully walked around on for the most part. A few different ideas to get you thinking about below but more information from you would better direct responses to your situation.

1. Use the vertical south facing walls to grow (maybe espalier) trees also citrus that would benefit from the additional heat that may not otherwise grow for you. I assume this area stays warmer in winter and may not receive much if any frost etc.
2. Drive, drill and epoxy etc. anchors points to grow heat loving vines up the vertical rock faces.
3. Grow vines from the top of the vertical walls down. You can start with grapes and later grow other annual types down the grape vines.

On the slope we need more information (pictures); I assume since you mention swales and are in AZ that water collection is important to you. An important part of swales and terraces is to slow the flow of water and help it get into the ground, as well as directing the excess to places of our choosing. Do you need the slope terraced or swaled to protect you home area? Or is it more for water retention? Also get some trees going on the slopes, trees help a lot to stabilize soil on slope.

A few ideas either way:

If the slope cannot be swaled or terraced in long sections like are common. You can design mini or micro swales and terraces. Just be sure if you get a lot of water that you keep in mind the mini/micros must overlap in a staggered fashion.

If swales or terraces are not an option you could look at putting in paths (wheelbarrow wide is a good width), think of these as mini terraces when you design as water is likely to follow these paths so keep them more on contour than not if your slowing down water flow. Find likely places along the path to push around rocks and open up larger areas for planting if necessary.

If paths are also mostly not an option, look at moving some rocks from up slope to down slope creating mini retaining walls to plant behind. Look for flatter areas you can open up a bit more etc. Just make sure you are not creating future problems.

To give you some other resources to think about: Look up Walnut Canyon and the Indians that lived there. They are further northwest but in AZ and lived in a scaled down version of what I picture you describing. Most of their farming occurred up on the rim of the canyon, but small areas along the terraced paths where also put into use.

Jeff
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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seems that the main problem might be access ..esp if you have to harvest. How high are these vertical walls and how would you reach the produce?

I wonder if maybe growing vines down the walls from the top might be helpful, or even up the walls from the bottom, if you could reach the fruit to harvest it..otherwise you might want to plant something that will fall free of the plant when ripe and roll down the vertical to the bottom to be harvested.

possibly you could put in some zig zag paths or steep steps up between the plantings so that you can reach them ..but this could also be dangerous.

there used to be a show on HGTV out of Canada where the lady was gardening on a near vertical slope and she had put in some steps and paths..but I do NOT think that she was using food crops, only ornamentals
 
                          
Posts: 12
Location: mile high desert sky island
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Thanks for the quick replies, and water retention is my main concern since it's been getting drier here every year.  This past year we didn't get any percip for 6 months straight, right after a record freeze last year that killed a lot of native stuff, cactus frozen solid in double digit negative temps for a week. 

I want to catch and retain as much moisture as possible, as it's been unpredictable here the past 6 years.  I've got some low lying areas on my main terrace that I'm wanting to line with pond liner or something similar to try and catch as much runoff as possible.

I have a few steep paths and switchbacks on the property and have a 'rim trail' along the upper edge.  My rock wall sections are up to 50 feet.  I'll try to get some pictures if I can get my cam to work.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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this is kind of hard without a picture or even a crappy drawing.

too many variables to imagine what your describing accurately
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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Yeah, pictures would really help.

I think the general idea of swales which is to slow down and infiltrate the water can still be applied.

Getting trees growing is going to be your best way to reduce the dryness, so maybe you can start this with small interventions around your trees to direct water to them in the beginning (e.g. make some basins).  Trees will also help to cut down erosion which will allow a better soil layer to develop on your slope.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Interesting... I bet in soil storage won't be enough because the rain comes to fast, and too infrequently, and your soils are not deep enough or water retentive enough to carry you through the dry season - you may need actual water storage, or very fast annuals to take advantage of the wet season (which might not be enough is some years).

The rock may be like a giant roof, and may concentrate runoff... this might be a place for a cistern - given you likely have the aggregate nearby, concrete might be the material of choice.  There are some cool pictures in Mollison's manual--they look like ideas he picked up from arab settlements.  natural storage in rock.
 
                          
Posts: 12
Location: mile high desert sky island
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Paul Cereghino wrote:
Interesting... I bet in soil storage won't be enough because the rain comes to fast, and too infrequently, and your soils are not deep enough or water retentive enough to carry you through the dry season - you may need actual water storage, or very fast annuals to take advantage of the wet season (which might not be enough is some years).

The rock may be like a giant roof, and may concentrate runoff... this might be a place for a cistern - given you likely have the aggregate nearby, concrete might be the material of choice.  There are some cool pictures in Mollison's manual--they look like ideas he picked up from arab settlements.  natural storage in rock.


Lack of rain has been a problem here, especially this year, and water does just go right through my soil, I can watch it seep, or sometimes pour out of the wall below my terrace.  I was looking at the big rock wall, and it looks like it might be in a position to carry a sheet of water down it in a rain, if it ever rains again here

What would be good to plant in rocky hardpack on a steep slope at a mile high that would help my soil?

Thanks again for the input, I appreciate it.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9690
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Hugelkultur pits.    Chip out basins in the rock, fill with wood (rotten wood if you can find it), top with soil and plant whatever you want to grow.  The pits will retain any rain or irrigation you put in them.

 
                          
Posts: 12
Location: mile high desert sky island
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Hugelkultur pits.    Chip out basins in the rock, fill with wood (rotten wood if you can find it), top with soil and plant whatever you want to grow.  The pits will retain any rain or irrigation you put in them.




Thanks, and that's what I just did right now, a pile of dead wood of various stages, buried in dead weeds and oak litter so far, and I'm going to add some soil later when it cools down.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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i agree with the hugelkultur beds, but also you might be able to add some clay bits here and there, if you dont' have any, a bag of just plain non chem added kitty litter has clay in it and you could sprinkle a little in some of your beds to help hold some moisture..also piles of rocks over the hugel areas might help to hold some moisture as well, and rocks will also condense dew and moisture out of the night air and drop it under the rocks to the soil beneath.

lots of good info in Gaia's garden by toby hemenway about gardening where there is no rain.

maybe dig a hole, put in the hugel and stuff, put in some scraps and compost, plant in the compost, then mulch, and then add a few rocks or stones and if possible put a swale on the downside to hold any moisture?
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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The Rainwater Harvesting books by Brad Lancaster are well worth it Rusty, and will answer all your questions, and give you lots of ideas to try.  I highly recommend them.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I like that idea particularly if you find or create a natural catch basin and then build your bed on top of it topping with a rock mulch... so that the rain collects as a sub surface pool and sub-irrigates... or maybe a crack that you can plug the bottom with rock, gravel than clay, then wood and compostables.  Maybe check dams in a natural drainage (with spillway and splash apron please), also filled with organics. 

I imagine you'd want to reduce planting density (or at least be prepared to cull savagely if the season turns bad).
 
                          
Posts: 12
Location: mile high desert sky island
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Yesteraday it rained, so I got a chance to watch what the water does.

I found a spot on the biggest rock face where water funnels into a crevice, and where it went back into the ground.  I buried a small piece of plastic liner and a roof gutter section in the rock under the drip.  I buried the gutter section and underground catch basin in rock, so just about half of the gutter sticks out.  I may try to do the same thing in a few more places where I can find drips.

I also have some low areas, basically an L shaped trench about 2' deep, maybe 40' long and variable width that end up filling with water during a heavy rain.  I'd like to use it as a pond/cistern.  Would it be a good idea to try to seal it up with bentonite?
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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