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How steep is too steep?

 
pollinator
Posts: 107
Location: Los Gatos, California Zone 10a (30°F to 35°F) Steep South Facing Slope, Rocky Soil, Ph 7.1
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Inspired by Sepp Holzer, I found this 40 acre plot in the Santa Cruz, CA mountains for sale.  There was a forest fire in 2008 and it looks like it has a 400 ft drop per 1000 ft on the top half and steeper below, but it's S by SW facing and looks like if could be a good candidate for terracing.  (I've read Sepp's book, but I haven't got the videos yet.)  Without knowing the cost of an excavator to make the terraces, at what point does it make sense to look for other land?  Also what does Sepp do with the very steep slopes created between the terraces?  Is it a bit of an academic question since I haven't been able to convince my wife we should buy the land, but I would like to know what people think.

Thanks,
Patrick
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Posts: 299
Location: North Central New York
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Sure looks pretty.  And the view...  Wow.
How about access?  I didn't see any roads.  Looks like goat territory.
 
Patrick Freeburger
pollinator
Posts: 107
Location: Los Gatos, California Zone 10a (30°F to 35°F) Steep South Facing Slope, Rocky Soil, Ph 7.1
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There is a small road on the top.  It goes from about 2400 ft on the top to 1800ft on the bottom - I don't have the exact boundaries mapped out.  It may not make sense to terrace and leave it to the goats.
 
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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What about water?  This is a drought site in a drought climate.  Are you depending on catchment?
Is fire a recurring issue on this site?  No answers, just asking questions...
 
Patrick Freeburger
pollinator
Posts: 107
Location: Los Gatos, California Zone 10a (30°F to 35°F) Steep South Facing Slope, Rocky Soil, Ph 7.1
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The previous house had a well, but I assume it would not be enough for irrigation.  The area gets about 22"/year (all in the winter months) and I was hoping a hugelkultur raised beds would be able to retain the water.  I assume the next fire wouldn't be due for 30 or so years after the nearby forest has built up a lot of dead wood.  I was planning on a partially underground or concrete house that would be fireproof, but I know the farm and fruit trees could be exposed to the next fire.
 
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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i see a lot of work, but a lot of beautiful terraces full of food.
 
pollinator
Posts: 462
Location: South West France
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Who are the nearest neighbours and what do they do ? 

Are there rocks or trees big enough on site or nearby to take the strain of the earth ? Is there anywhere you can cut fodder easily for your animals for winter? Is the road easily accessible for hay and straw wagons ? How deep is the earth? Because if there's rock under there, the depth of your terraces will be limited and you'll lose a lot of water.

Is there enough wood for heating, making shelters and fences ?

A slope is a wonderful thing for irrigation and spreading goodness in the soil but you have to get the raw organic material up there in the first place.

On the other hand if you have enough room for zone one and two in a plateau, the earth there will be good and providing the existing trees are mature and
healthy you could free range goats, hardy sheep and pigs on the slopes.

If you're young and fit then walking up and down won't be a problem but think about the future. The way I see it, you're not just spending money here - you're spending your energy and enthusiasm, so spend it wisely !


 
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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Terracing can certainly be beautiful as well as productive.    Some of that annual rain in the Santa Cruz mountains comes at several inches a day, so that is a factor.

What is your final goal?    One could create some fantastic raised beds on flat land using that excavator money. 

I agree with Irene;

  The way I see it, you're not just spending money here - you're spending your energy and enthusiasm, so spend it wisely !



Having said all that, it sounds like a lot of work, but could be an interesting and rewarding project in a lot of ways.  Keep us in the loop.
 
                        
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Location: sub-tropics downunder
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g'day patrick,

from the top that is too steep yes terracing will work but that is a lot of work, and also i'd have doubts about living in bushfire country, but at the end of the day you call the shots. for me my criteria for buying would rule that land out nothing over 8% 6% slope being the best. also as one gets older that sort of slope gets steeper.

len
 
Patrick Freeburger
pollinator
Posts: 107
Location: Los Gatos, California Zone 10a (30°F to 35°F) Steep South Facing Slope, Rocky Soil, Ph 7.1
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At first I was excited to find 40 acres of 'relatively' affordable land just over an hour outside the SF bay area.  But you guys brought up some good points.  I'm sure after the fire, what little topsoil was there was washed down.  This is not a 'simple' exercise with some heavy machinery pushing dirt into terraces, but a process of building walls and slowly filling them in with organic material.  It would be morally devastating if all that work was lost in a big rainstorm.  5-10 acres of more usable land may be a better value even at the same price.

Thanks everyone,
Patrick

PS - I turned 40 last year - I try not to slow down, but I've noticed I get injured more frequently and heal more slowly than I used to.
 
Patrick Freeburger
pollinator
Posts: 107
Location: Los Gatos, California Zone 10a (30°F to 35°F) Steep South Facing Slope, Rocky Soil, Ph 7.1
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All,
I found a good thread on terracing here: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/permacult/msg1121450913552.html

and Deston Lee's facebook info was helpful: https://permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=2624.0

There is a recommendation for Bill Mollison's book "Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual" or a PDC course, but it looks like there is a fair amount of engineering involved in getting the terracing right and the steeper the slope the more important the engineering.

Thanks again.
Patrick
 
Valerie Dawnstar
Posts: 299
Location: North Central New York
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I didn't mean that you should get goats.  Just that the site looked comfortable for them.  Like a pond looks comfortable for ducks. 
To give something of a reply to your "how steep is too steep?"  -- depends.  How much money can you put into it and how much work?  Is it a balance that would fit your goals?
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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And the answer to that site may not be to try to make it behave like a flat site... maybe you grow lots of pine nuts, and seek subtle micro-climates to put pockets of terrace and light...
 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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Paul Cereghino wrote:
And the answer to that site may not be to try to make it behave like a flat site... maybe you grow lots of pine nuts, and seek subtle micro-climates to put pockets of terrace and light...



Thats a very good point Paul.   A lot of hillsides probably get terraced because there is no other option such as a small country with increasing population.  Or someone who already owns hilly land and can't afford to move elsewhere.   Intentionally buying a steeply sloped site and then terracing it might be way counter productive.
 
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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before you give up on that land, read Tree Crops by J. Russell Smith.  and there are plenty of ways to hang onto that dirt without terracing.
 
Posts: 71
Location: the state of jefferson - zone 7
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That property looks beautiful for Holzer-style terraces, though would need equipment and be very expensive. As Sepp says, "ask your wallet."

Also what does Sepp do with the very steep slopes created between the terraces?



Mostly he does the same with the steep areas as he does with the flat ones. Seed them with an extremely diverse mix of plants!
 
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Landslide coming there next month!

check out the 1862 flood.

 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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You will thrive, wherever your planted!

james beam
 
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Irene Kightley wrote:"Who are the nearest neighbours and what do they do ? 

Are there rocks or trees big enough on site or nearby to take the strain of the earth ? Is there anywhere you can cut fodder easily for your animals for winter? Is the road easily accessible for hay and straw wagons ? How deep is the earth? Because if there's rock under there, the depth of your terraces will be limited and you'll lose a lot of water.

Is there enough wood for heating, making shelters and fences ?

A slope is a wonderful thing for irrigation and spreading goodness in the soil but you have to get the raw organic material up there in the first place.

On the other hand if you have enough room for zone one and two in a plateau, the earth there will be good and providing the existing trees are mature and
healthy you could free range goats, hardy sheep and pigs on the slopes.

If you're young and fit then walking up and down won't be a problem but think about the future. The way I see it, you're not just spending money here - you're spending your energy and enthusiasm, so spend it wisely!"





This last sentence is true wisdom!! But you will be spending money as well, over time developing steep land is way more expensive than flat land, two to four times as expensive. Also you could never get a permit in california to terrace this property..... you could do it illegally, but you are risking getting into serious trouble with the newly created environmental crimes task force, a five agency task force that can ruin your life. You could be facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and remediation costs if you develop a piece of property like this in Cali.

 
Posts: 79
Location: Humboldt County, California [9b]
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When ever you change your property, terrace, pond, drain, slope, etc..., you are legally (at least in most places) responsible for it's effect on your neighbor. Not only the catastrophic type failures like a terrace collapses and buries someone's home or property, but also just something like putting a road in and changing the drainage if now your neighbor's field is flooded.

There was a fellow in Los Angeles who wanted a pool in his backyard. The engineer told him that he needed a retaining wall. He shopped around until he found an engineer who was willing to sign off on his plans without a retaining wall. All went well for several years til one rainy season the hillside collapsed, destroyed his house and almost killed him and his son.

My point is not that no earthwork should ever be done, but that worst case scenarios need to be considered and mitigated. If your dam fails is your neighbor at risk? If so, perhaps a smaller dam and a series of catch basins would mitigate that risk.

 
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