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What to plant on a steep clay bank...

 
Tom Wilson
Posts: 1
Location: West Auckland, New Zealand
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Hi

I'm new here. I've been voraciously reading through the posts and am feeling pretty inspired. I thought it would be a good idea to ask a question about my first permaculture project on my new land.

Here's my place. We've had a bit of land excavated so that we could move our tiny trailer house onto the site.



I'm wondering what I should do with that big old clay bank behind my house. It's pretty steep and hard to walk up because the clay is dry and crumbly.

I would like to plant it up to stop it from eroding and it would also be nice to get some food growing on it.

My initial thoughts were to put in some dwarf fruit trees with a miniature retaining wall beneath each one. The retaining wall could be made from logs that we've got lying around the property. I'm not sure what I would do with the space between the tree's though. I feel that I would need to cover all the clay with something to stop it from eroding. A ground cover of some sort?

Any advice on what would work well in this situation?

Thanks for your help
Tom
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 709
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I would terrace the land. Everything else is a menace. We did build retaining wall in a very simple way: Get railway sleepers (or any other suitable timber) and starposts, stack three sleepers or so and whack in the starposts, then fill with soil and compost. Without a terrace the soil will always go downwards, fertilizer and water too. If you want to harvest or prune it is not great either. I wouldn't make the terraces too wide and to high.
 
Taylor Brown
Posts: 21
Location: Little Rock, AR 7b
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Tom,

Congratulations on the new land and trailer house!

I would go with small swales on contour. Clay has low permeability, so getting the water to stay on the slope will help. You can set the overflow points (aka sills) progressively farther from the driveway so as each swale overflows, it fills the next. I would plant with pioneer species, like comfrey and black locust, and maybe some daikon radish to build organic content. Mix in a few annuals and experiment with what grows well in your zone. Chop and drop the pioneers and radish for a few years to build the soil both from above and below.

Regards,
Taylor
swales.jpg
[Thumbnail for swales.jpg]
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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A swale on contour coming off your roof line would capture lots of water.

A terrace with trees above the swale -even better.

Comfrey around the trees.

Mulch till the trees are established.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 399
Location: Georgia
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Day lilies will grow on that type of slope. Even the ones that go
dormant in the winter will hold soil in place because of their tubers.
I would add them to the list of things that might go there.
 
Michael Young
Posts: 41
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we have a similar horrible spot with awful soil on a steep slope. at the very top of the slope I planted a row of jerusalem artichokes. On a row about 1/3 of the way down, I planted a row of fig trees, then at about 2/3 of the way down I tilled up the top layer, mixed in some miracle grow, and I scattered out several hundred mixed varieties of sunflowers. This is new stuff. So long-term, I can't tell you whether it worked or not. we had some sunflowers. and we had some impressive looking jerusalem artichokes. the figs are too young to tell. But they're still alive. so that's a plus
 
David Goodman
gardener
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Location: Zone 9a/8b
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I think Taylor nailed it.

Also, I've seen a peach tree (from a tossed pit) growing on a steep slope in Appalachia and happily bearing away.

I'd get all kinds of stuff going on that slope right away. I'd also skip the dwarf fruit trees and just plant a bunch of them from seed. The root systems are a lot more expansive that way. Yes, it takes longer - but some of the more precocious ones can start bearing in 3-5 years.
 
David Goodman
gardener
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Location: Zone 9a/8b
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BTW: Tiny house = awesome.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 709
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Swales are actually a good idea, i would combine them with terraces. I would not let the water run down from the roof directly, rather store it in a big water tank
and the overflow in the swale. Don't use a rain barrel it is useless you want at least 3000 litres even when your roof is small.
 
James Colbert
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Looks like you need some Lupins.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 221
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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If gardening is your goal I would go with terraces because it is really nice to be able to pick stuff without having to bend over much or to be able to sit comfortably. I would avoid anything railroad tie though as that is adding things you don't want to your soil. Rock or used brick are often good sources for retaining walls. Piled carefully you often don't need mortar. Logs will also work if you have a source for fairly large ones.

Swales is the other best answer. Be sure you get the proper erosion control over flows in them so they don't wash as clay is bad about trapping water till overlfows then washing out. Work from the bottom up planting the swales so you have a sediment trap in your lowest, soonest, in the form of vegetation.

Beyond that your next best bet is to simple cover the hillside in vegetation. Start with a mix of seeds with grasses and some broad leafs. Mulch well and irrigate with tiny trickles of water or with a fine misting sprinkler run in very short bursts. If the water is running off you have run it to long. If you go this route I would build a low swale so you can catch soil that erodes so it doesn't run off.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 709
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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It seems that the steep hill is a sunny spot, maybe the best spot to grow something. You could also pack stones in wire mesh for the terraces.
First you build the wall and then you fill it. With earth and weeds and compost and the like.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I love the tiny house. Looks cozy.

I would second the earlier advice about avoiding railroad sleepers, ties, or anything else treated with creosote or tar or whatever, especially if you expect to be eating anything growing in proximity. Terraces are a great idea, though.

I would suggest looking into clumping (runnerless) bamboo species. As geoff lawton pointed out in his most recent video, they have dense, shallow root mats, and properly situated are ideal for trapping silt and soil carried away by rain. Properly situated, they will form terraces on their own, or a little faster with your help.

I would strongly suggest, even if you do bring in topsoil and amendments yourself, that you plant mulch species to work with your sediment traps. That way, you are creating a soil machine.

Also, hugelbeets with swales on the uphill side will help to retain water, and give you nice, deep soil in which to plant.

-CK
 
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