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What to Do with a Steep North-Facing Slope?  RSS feed

 
Nicole Alderman
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My husband and I bought five acres of north-facing slope a year and a half ago, three acres of which are protected wetlands (the area that’s orange). We’d like to make the most out of our property, but most of it—at best—gets partial sun in the summer and very little/no sun in the winter.

Here’s a little background on the property. We have two areas that are sunny and relatively level. The northern-most one has a blueberry/strawberry hugel mound, lots of trailing blackberry, some thimbleberries and huckleberries, asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, dandelions, and a cherry tree. The other sunny area my husband wants to keep for our kids to play on, though I do have a sprouted apple seedling, two dwarf apple trees, and some plum trees. Our wetlands is full of continually falling alder, maples, and conifers. It also is home to tons of salmonberry, huckleberry, thimbleberry, nettle, and blackberry. I’m excited about what I can harvest from the wild, as well as possibly sneaking in more different edible foods. We have a pond and a stream, but both are protected.

I would really like to make better use of our steep, shady hill. It’s sunny-ish in the winter and shaded in the summer. We’re already tapping the maples that grow on it, but I don’t know what else I can do with it. Would fruit trees grow there? Would it be best to pasture chickens/ducks (I want ducks, husband wants chickens) and eventually sheep on it? What would you do with a steep, shaded-in-summer, northern-facing slope. I’m sure we could make another pond if we dug down—there’s a lot of ground water and rain where we’re at. We are however short on funds (who isn’t!)… Any ideas?
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View up the hill
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View down the hill
 
Landon Sunrich
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This looks like pretty familiar terrain... I'm slightly hesitant to give out too much advise because I'm fairly new at implementing permaculture - and I really need to stand somewhere for a bit and get the feel of it too - but I will say your place looks like it needs ducks too me! Geese would love those grass patches too while you spend some time thinking on what to plant and what to thin out to make more sun room. Chickens to appease your husband would be a good option if you have lots of rotting wood (to smash up for bugs) and leaf litter. I am working on a chicken jungle (mostly hemlocks) myself. Also I sneak things in next to existing foodstuffs. Lots of nettles? Try sneaking in some mint or strawberries as an understory - pick out the relevant nettles (to avoid shade out) and leave some for seed. You could also try ripping a few lines on contour on that sandy hill and planting some carrots parsnips and leeks. I have had some luck with those three in sandy soils.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I might be thinking about some raspberry and loganberry bushes as well as perhaps some blueberries near the wetlands
 
Nicole Alderman
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Landon Sunrich wrote:This looks like pretty familiar terrain... I'm slightly hesitant to give out too much advise because I'm fairly new at implementing permaculture - and I really need to stand somewhere for a bit and get the feel of it too - but I will say your place looks like it needs ducks too me! Geese would love those grass patches too while you spend some time thinking on what to plant and what to thin out to make more sun room. Chickens to appease your husband would be a good option if you have lots of rotting wood (to smash up for bugs) and leaf litter. I am working on a chicken jungle (mostly hemlocks) myself. Also I sneak things in next to existing foodstuffs. Lots of nettles? Try sneaking in some mint or strawberries as an understory - pick out the relevant nettles (to avoid shade out) and leave some for seed. You could also try ripping a few lines on contour on that sandy hill and planting some carrots parsnips and leeks. I have had some luck with those three in sandy soils.


Thank you for the ideas! I think it needs ducks, too--they provide eggs, meat, and cooking fat. My husband had a pet duck, though, as a child...and he lived in an apartment. So, he just thinks about ducks as making a lot of poop. But, I figure, if we rotate them through all that grassy area, no one place will get too poopy... I hope! I hadn't thought of using our rotting wood for chicken feed. We have a LOT of it, as the alders in the wetlands are constantly falling down (we will never lack for firewood, either. In the 1.5 years we've been here, we've had 3 large hemlocks fall down and at least 20 alders). Our soils aren't sandy as much as rocky. They're technically "gravely loam," filled with rocks the size of pebbles up to two-fist size (and bigger, of course, but most of the rocks fall in that range). Would carrots, parsnips and leeks still do well in gravely loam? It seems to hold water really well, but that could be because there is always water to be held...

Landon Sunrich wrote: I might be thinking about some raspberry and loganberry bushes as well as perhaps some blueberries near the wetlands


Why in the world didn't I think about that?! I definitely need to get me some more berries! All my thinking has been consumed by livestock and trying to figure out where I can put fruit trees so they (A) won't shade out other plants and (b) get adequate sun for food production. How much sun do fruit trees need to put on fruit and stay relatively disease free?

Thank you so much for your help. Having a fresh set of eyes really does help!
 
Landon Sunrich
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So my orchard was established about 20 years ago. Since then three ceder trees have gone bonkers. Two large ones to the direct south and a HUGE one to the west. My plum tree (semi-dwarf unknown variety) put out SO MANY plums still it gets maybe 2.5 or 3 hours of direct light through light alleys mostly during the late morning (say 10-11:30 and again around 4 - 4:30) but if the rains come in early or we get a bunch of fog off the water for a week or more in a row during late august - mid September I will loose more than half of them to a grey mold. The cherries do much better mold wise and have the best light (maybe 4 hours direct per day)

Now normally I would never advocate using music to psychologically program and manipulate your children - or to use your children as direct leverage against your husband but...



In this case it might be worth a try - if you can trick your kids into thinking farming is fun that grassy play space your husband wants to keep might just get a whole lot more productive

Beware though as it could lead to parodied rap music and affiliation with Amish like cults

One other thing I would add just from my own limited experience. Watch the sun and shadows. Like lots. Grow things out in concentric circles from your canopy species - keeping in mind the shady side will likely be different than the sunny side of the circle. Bills spiral is a three dimensional one. The center point being the tip of the highest tree and working out from there. Sorry that lone tree in the middle of the grassy hill got the better of me for a moment there.

Have a good season!
 
Landon Sunrich
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how gravelly and compact? Like, if you've got a 1 in 2 chance of a bone jarring 'Kahthunk' every time you drive in a digging bar I wouldn't bet on carrots or parsnips being able to grow threw the rocks, but roots do make some space for them self and the occasional smoosh faced carrot just adds character unless your trying to sell nice bunches. I've grow leeks, potatos, cabages, kales, spinaches, carrots, radishes, et all in gravelly loam. Or as I've always heard it called: North West Glacial Till.
 
Nicole Alderman
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It’s good to know that they will survive limited light conditions, and still make some fruit!

My husband and I both really like Weird Al, and we had fun listening to it together… which may be why I was able to encroach into the yard a little to plant a Frost peach and a Gravenstein apple today. They’re bare root, so I’m wondering if I really should go out there and prune them. Embarrassingly enough, I haven’t pruned any of my trees—I’m scared to do it wrong and haven’t really had the time to research into it. Anyways, as for our kids complaining, one is only five months old, and the other exists only in out thoughts, hopes and plans .

That lone tree in the middle can no longer bother you—it no longer exists! We cut it down last year, but I haven’t taken a more recent picture since the ones I posted. Luckily, the wind blew over two more trees a few days back, so that should help with the light a little, too. I’ve been staring at shadows and light spots for months now, and am continually amazed at how much it changes through the seasons. I lost my rosemary this year because I didn’t realize that, in the winter, our house’s shadow just barely covers it; whereas in the summer, it’s in full sun. So, I spent today staring at all my trees, drawing out their shadows in my mind. Thanks for the suggestion!

Our soil isn’t that compacted, so hopefully the carrots, etc. will do well. The more food variety, the better, in my mind. Our soil is technically Tokul Gravelly Loam—the state soil!
 
Jesus Martinez
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My suggestion, after living in a similar area with a similar hill is to build some tall E-W oriented hugel mounds out of all the fallen alders and maples and hemlock you can find. I would make them as Paul suggests at no less than 7ft tall to begin with, probably 5ft piles of tree material (logs, branches, etc) this way the sun will collect best on the hugel mounds and warm them. I have hugel mounds of N-S, E-W, and diagonal ones as well. The shade sides are good for growing cool weather crops and the warm side is obviously best for warm things like squash, melons, peppers, and herbs. I keep all of my tomatoes in a greenhouse for best production although I'm going to try some bush varieties outdoors again as I had ok results with some last year using colored plastic over the soil. You can use old tires for planters as well to help warm the ground.

A greenhouse such as the one I made here: My Greenhouse is really easy and cheap to make. The one change I would make to mine is that the north wall would be attached to a 4-6ft wooden wall so I could get extra height out of the greenhouse, which is something I will end up doing later this year.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thanks for the help! Our current hugel is only about 3 feet tall--we will have to build higher! I'm wondering, though, if they should be on contour or not? If I having them so one side faces north and gets lot of sun, then it's on contour and water (I have a very wet property) will build up, right? My current hugel mound has one side facing SW and the other side NE. That specific spot is slants to the NE, so the hugel ends up being perpendicular to the contour. The rest of my property slants straight to the south. Should I face the beds so their sides face west and east? It won't get as much sun that way, but the water won't pool up, and it won't cast shade down the hill, either (the other reason I've been wary of building so high). What do you think?
 
Jesus Martinez
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Thanks for the help! Our current hugel is only about 3 feet tall--we will have to build higher! I'm wondering, though, if they should be on contour or not? If I having them so one side faces north and gets lot of sun, then it's on contour and water (I have a very wet property) will build up, right? My current hugel mound has one side facing SW and the other side NE. That specific spot is slants to the NE, so the hugel ends up being perpendicular to the contour. The rest of my property slants straight to the south. Should I face the beds so their sides face west and east? It won't get as much sun that way, but the water won't pool up, and it won't cast shade down the hill, either (the other reason I've been wary of building so high). What do you think?


I would put them slightly off contour if you are worried about water issues, that way the water can drain, but slowly as we are still fairly dry in the summer.
 
Meryt Helmer
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I bet some real wasabi would enjoy your north slope.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I've been interested in Wasabi growing for a few years. Here's a good PDF from WSU

http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/pnw0605/pnw0605.pdf

Wasabi likes it wet. I decided to plop down some store bought roots in a muddy clay section on the shady side of a hugel along the edge of two little bathtub sized ponds. Its growing.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'll have to try it! I'm not much one for spicy food, but my husband loves it. Where did you get your wasabi roots, Landon?
 
Landon Sunrich
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The grocery store I go to has them just a couple feet away from the wheat grass
 
John Saltveit
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I would plant tap rooted trees to stabilize the landscape: Madrona, pawpaw and walnut if you get enough heat for them to ripen, gooseberries and currants and berries because they don't need as much sun. Is the issue amount of sun or stabilization of steep slope, or both?
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
Landon Sunrich
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Hey Nicole, I just stumbled upon this brief video and thought of you're situation



Here the video maker puts in a South facing sloping hugel on a north facing slope. Not as steep as yours but an interesting concept for sure.
 
Bill Erickson
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That is a really cool idea, great find Landon.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Landon Sunrich wrote:
The grocery store I go to has them just a couple feet away from the wheat grass


I hadn't thought to check the grocery store. Thank you! Thanks also for the video on the hugel, too!

John Saltveit wrote:I would plant tap rooted trees to stabilize the landscape: Madrona, pawpaw and walnut if you get enough heat for them to ripen, gooseberries and currants and berries because they don't need as much sun. Is the issue amount of sun or stabilization of steep slope, or both?
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR


There's already some wild gooseberries up there, and they do really well. I'll definitely be adding more of them, as well as currents. I have no idea if walnuts and pawpaw do well here. I'd read somewhere that pawpaws aren't very successful in the Pacific Northwest, which disappointed me, because all our shade seemed conducive to it. Maybe I'll try experimenting with it down the road, after we've bought things we know will succeed, like berries!

As for your second question, the hill is currently very stable. It has some maples, cedars, hemlocks, salmonberries, blackberries, and grass roots holding everything in. I don't however, know if it would stay stable if we rotated, ducks &/or chickens &/or sheep across it. I'm afraid of messing around with large earthworks since I'm very inexperienced, and I don't want to destroy the stabilization that's already there. I'm afraid if I put in swales, I won't have them level, and I'll have large erosion problems...

Hugel mounds are seeming rather safe, though, especially if I put them slightly off contour like Jesse said. We have large amounts of rotting trees and limbs left up there by the previous owner, so we wouldn't even have to move them that far!

Thanks for all the ideas and inputs, everyone. You guys are great!
 
Jesus Martinez
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

There's already some wild gooseberries up there, and they do really well. I'll definitely be adding more of them, as well as currents. I have no idea if walnuts and pawpaw do well here. I'd read somewhere that pawpaws aren't very successful in the Pacific Northwest, which disappointed me, because all our shade seemed conducive to it. Maybe I'll try experimenting with it down the road, after we've bought things we know will succeed, like berries!

As for your second question, the hill is currently very stable. It has some maples, cedars, hemlocks, salmonberries, blackberries, and grass roots holding everything in. I don't however, know if it would stay stable if we rotated, ducks &/or chickens &/or sheep across it. I'm afraid of messing around with large earthworks since I'm very inexperienced, and I don't want to destroy the stabilization that's already there. I'm afraid if I put in swales, I won't have them level, and I'll have large erosion problems...

Hugel mounds are seeming rather safe, though, especially if I put them slightly off contour like Jesse said. We have large amounts of rotting trees and limbs left up there by the previous owner, so we wouldn't even have to move them that far!

Thanks for all the ideas and inputs, everyone. You guys are great!


Just don't put the salmonberries in the hugelmounds. even small roots will grow 4+ feet through to the surface.
 
John Saltveit
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Pawpaws do great in the PNW, especially anywhere near sea level. I have had many produce fruit at both of my houses. They are way more than hardy. I have had some be amazingly productive. We are in Portland smack dab in the middle of the PNW.
John S
PDX OR
 
Nicole Alderman
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John Saltveit wrote:Pawpaws do great in the PNW, especially anywhere near sea level. I have had many produce fruit at both of my houses. They are way more than hardy. I have had some be amazingly productive. We are in Portland smack dab in the middle of the PNW.
John S
PDX OR


That's good to know! We're a little over 500 ft above see level, which is hopefully close enough. I was remembering this thread about Douglas Bullock's fruit tree recommendations: http://www.permies.com/t/9214/plants/Douglas-Bullock-Fruit-Tree-Recommendations#86494

Paw Paw Varieties:

He said there are few Paw Paw varieties that will ripen well in Seattle. If your goal is for good production and you don’t care about messing around with more experimental varieties, he’d recommend skipping on the Paw Paws.
 
John Saltveit
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My extremely productive ones were at 440 feet. Portland does get more heat than Seattle. I would only grow earlier ripening varieties if I lived in a Seattle like environment, but they should ripen. They have to be in full sun. The biggest issue with pawpaws is pollination. To get a lot of fruit, you probably want to hand pollinate, especially at first. Depending on your environment, they can be a good choice. Even 30 miles inland is a lot warmer than right on the Sound.
John S
PDX OR
 
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