I've been reading here for a couple of months, including the prolific thread on hugelkulture in general, which seems so long and overwhelming I thought it might be better to start a new thread about the particular idea of using hugelkulture on hillsides as a form of terracing. (I saw one or two posts about that idea but not much conversation, unless I missed it which is entirely possible considering the density of that thread.) Anyway, if this post should be there then I apologize and hope one of the kind folks in charge will just move it on over.
My partner and I are about to embark on a permaculture project on a mountainside in Venezuela. Subtropical climate, lots of rain during the rainy season which is most of the year, it seems, and then nothing during the hot "summer", although the summers have been shortening lately - thank you climate change. We have about an acre of land in a forest. Clay soil, but lots of soil life and amazing fertility. We plan to use a fair amount of the space for forest gardening, planting lots of useful trees, and have the great fortune of basically being able to "plug in" to an already functioning and healthy forest ecosystem, just shifting it over to tree/plant varieties that produce for us. So that's the big picture. I'm in overwhelm, of course, and to get a grip am following the start small advice I see everywhere and focusing on what will basically be the zone 1ish kitchen garden, otherwise known as the veggie patch. It's in an area we've already opened up to build our water tank, and we want to get producing relatively quickly to become more food self-sufficient. It's a not-too-steep hillside of about 11X16 meters, north facing which doesn't matter that much being so close to the equator - it gets full sun pretty much all day.
So this slope is just above the terrace that was cut into the mountain by the previous owners of the land, where we are going to build the first and smaller of 2 earthbag/bamboo structures, where we will live while we complete the second larger one. We are going to stabilize the wall with vetiver grass and will probably also toss in some vetiver among the veggie plantings as well, because besides being an awesome stabilizer it's also been shown to be very friendly to other plants - a 2fer! Structurally, we want to keep the water from crashing straight down the slope for all the myriad obvious reasons, so I was thinking a series of swales, each one followed by a berm on the down slope side where the plantings would go. Reading about hugelkulture, I'm thinking that those berms could be small-scale hugelkulture berms. That is, largeish deadwood mounded with soil instead of just mounds of soil. Seems to me that the sponge action of the rotting wood will be good not just for assuring that we never have to water in the summers, such as they are, but also to hold water that would otherwise be running down the mountain destabilizing things and draining nutrients. My plan is, from up slope to down, swale, hugelkulture berm, path, repeat. First, I am digging out the rampant grass that spreads with the most fantastic die-hard-with-a-vengeance rhizomes and will cover the entire area with cardboard to try to stifle those that I don't get to. We'll leave it alone for a few months while we're building, and hopefully the organic material under the cardboard will further nourish the soil and bring out more worms, etc. Then we'll do the swales and berms and paths. Now here are the two variables that I have questions about (for now - more are sure to arise).
1. We have a ton of the brush etc. that we cut to clear space. It contains a lot of woody (twigs, woody vines) material plus some leafy stuff. That will be sitting and breaking down for these months as well, but it for sure won't get to be finished compost. I'm wondering where it can fit into the hugelkulture - on top of the wood and before the soil seems right...?
2. Paths. I said down slope of each hugelbeet and before the next swale would be a path. In that case could I plant the swales with plants that dig extra water? I've seen where people have mulched the swales and then the swales themselves were the paths, which would be a great space-saver, but it seems like in a rainy climate like ours that would leave you walking in puddles a lot, which is inconvenient. Am I right in that assumption? Anyone have an idea for a better arrangement than mine or how paths would fit into my situation? I want this to be a no-dig garden, so the paths have to be useful and permanent.
Any other ideas suggestions warnings or whatever from the permies will be most appreciated. I'm a total newbie here - the more information I can get the better. I'm sure I'll be posting lots more questions about all kinds of things as we progress in our project. Nice to "meet" you-all .
I am also looking at some land with a slope, and have thought along the same lines: the berm part of the swale should be a huglebed.
If the swales are built on contour, this gives a nice natural watering system to your grow beds.
As far as paths are concerned, you could keep them in a low growing cover crop. This would help control runoff, keep mud to a minimum, and also supply abundant organic material right next to your grow area where you want it.
Good luck with your project.
I've been checking out sepp holzer's work - very impressive. He works on such a large scale thought that sometimes it's a little intimidating, but still a great inspiration.
Thanks for the input!
Zafra Miriam wrote:
to hold water that would otherwise be running down the mountain destabilizing things and draining nutrients. My plan is, from up slope to down, swale, hugelkulture berm, path, repeat. First, I am digging out the rampant grass that spreads with the most fantastic die-hard-with-a-vengeance rhizomes and will cover the entire area with cardboard to try to stifle those that I don't get to. We'll leave it alone for a few months while we're building
I'm quite concerned that these two things might not be compatible. ie, dig out the existing rampant weed/grass, on a rainy slope, and leave it with no vegetation for several (mostly rainy?) months - seems like a recipe for a mudslide, or at least topsoil erosion. My instinct would be to weed a swath and build the berm for that swath, then weed the next swath and build the berm for that swath pretty much without waiting between weeding and berming - and if you can't get to that because of housebuilding, don't start with weeding out what's holding your soil in place, until you're ready to hold it in place some other way. Not that I'm a big fan of rampant weeds, but even they can serve a purpose.
Thanks again for the welcome and the input! Cheers!