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Crater Gardens

 
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Hello Zach. This is my 1st in a series of multiple questions. I am glad that I have the opportunity to talk with you.

In looking at The Sage Mountain Center and the healing waters project it looks like crater gardens are an important part of the ecosystem being created.

I would like to know:
How are crater gardens implemented?
What are the functions of a crater garden?
What are some plants that would thrive in a crater garden?
Any important information that needs to be known about crater gardens.

Now, since I brought up your healing waters project I suppose I will also talk about that.



I love to hear about people who are creating paradise, and so I would like to know how I can help.
I know that there is the fundraising that is being hosted, but would like to know if there are also other ways to help.

thanks.
 
pollinator
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Hello Daniel, thanks for the thoughtful media rich questions!

Crater Gardens are implemented using heavy equipment to reshape and reorganize the available natural resources. Each situation is unique but the idea is to create an enhanced and protected micro-climate by building up berms while digging a depression in the surface of the earth. Water retention is key, there is always some kind of water retention in the bottom of the garden, as large as nature provides. First all of the topsoil is removed, then the various layers of subsoil are reorganized. Solar gain and protection from wind are all maximized as much as possible.

For the Crater Garden at Sage Mountain Center we removed the top soil storing it for later use, then mined sub soil to build up the road that has always been a problem for them. Once enough material was excavated from the pit and the road built up terraces were formed in a snail shell pattern to the bottom of the garden. Clay was packed into the bottom to form a small pond and the topsoil was mixed with manure and added to the terraces. The boulders that were excavated were placed in the slopes of the terraces and then mostly covered with topsoil so the majority of the rock is buried. This way the boulder acts like a passive solar radiator, with insulation around most of the stone but an open face to collect the solar energy; very similar to passive solar house design.

The water in the bottom creates dew most mornings providing a light watering for the plants in the garden. The water and stones are excellent at storing the energy from the sun creating an enhanced micro-climate. Because the garden is protected from wind this energy is preserved better as only a light breeze blows through the garden in harsh winds. The increase in humidity is quite noticeable. Last year we had very severe drought with fires all around us and smoke in the air. In a crater garden that I designed and created last spring it was surreal to walk into the garden and smell and feel all of the humidity. The humidity helps buffer the temperature and water actually gives off heat when it freezes. During the winter snow collects in the crater garden providing insulation for the soil and plants during the coldest times of year.

Such an enhanced micro-climate allows the cultivation of species that would otherwise not survive and production from species that would otherwise struggle. I'm trying mulberry in the Crater Garden at SMC, a zone 6 plant in a zone 3 climate, I'll let you know how it goes. With these kind of techniques Sepp has grown lemon trees in the Austrian alps and Bananas at his new place. I expect everything we have planted to be more productive than it would otherwise be, and we've got plums and pears; locals would think we're crazy to try so high in the mountains. Even getting fruit off of apples is very rare for people in our area, but once established I expect our apples to be productive. How far the climate can be stretched is something that we'll learn more about as more crater gardens are created and observed. They are great places to grow fruit trees, berry bushes, medicinal herbs, vegetables, water plants, anything you desire really.

That's really just a start butit should help people gain an idea of some of the benefits.

As for how to help with the Crater Garden at SMC and the Healing Waters Campaign, helping us raise the finances to complete the project will give us wings and allow us to make this a demonstration crater garden for the Americas. Helping share the word about the project is a great way to help, as we spend most of our time working in the mountains and don't have a huge network. Getting it out to lots of people is what makes a crowd fundraiser successful, so any help is much appreciated.

There will also be ample opportunities for people to help out and learn about the project on site as we continue the project. Sign up for the Perpetual Green Garden or Sage Mountain Center newsletters and you will be notified when we are having a work day. If you are interested in coming and helping for a longer period of time send me an email and I'm sure we can arrange for something. There is plenty of work to do and Sage Mountain Center has plenty of room and a beautiful model facility.
 
Daniel Kern
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Thanks for the full response.

Crater gardens sound like a beautiful work of art. And from some pictures that you shared in this thread I can see the beauty.




I'm sure that as the gardens develop the beauty also evolves. If you have any pictures of mature crater gardens to share I would love to see them.

I love the idea of creating microclimates which can fit the needs of plants from other zones. It is an extraordinary idea which will surely change the way that people see things.
I know that 1 of Paul Wheaton's goals is to grow lemon trees in Montana. It sounds to me that using crater gardens would be a way to fulfill this goal. Is there anything else that you haven't already mentioned which may aid in the abundant growth of lemon trees in Montana in a crater garden?

I just planted a banana plant in Texas. But I don't have a crater garden. so I haven't decided how i'm going to help it to survive the winter yet.

What is a good size for a crater garden?
What is a good slope?
I understand that terraces, boulders, and a small pond are also important factors, are there any other elements that i didn't just mention?
 
Zach Weiss
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Crater gardens are a pretty new thing in the Holzer toolkit, it is my understanding that he came up with the idea a number of years ago in Siberia. There is a book that includes then in German by his son and daughter. That said you can see examples of this type of gardening everywhere, just not under that name, because it makes so much sense. I've heard there is a large one in California, the top terraces of which are the native climate, increasing in micro-climate as you travel further into the garden with a tropical zone at the bottom. So far I have only been to the 3 I've created, one of which was just the first phase as the whole 5.8 acre property will eventually be a crater garden. So I don't have much in the way of pictures of mature crater gardens but each of the ones we created last year have really shown some incredible growth. I've been working so much on other projects that I haven't had time to go back and visit much to take more pictures. Here is the only picture I have of the one outside Bozeman this year.



As I am also buying property and living at the crater garden at SMC I will be able to keep much better photo records of the garden and keep people updated. If we hit our funding goal I will be getting a time lapse camera for the garden as well as a data logger to record the temperature and humidity over time. These would be really valuable tools to enable other people to learn about crater gardens from afar.

For really stretch climate production providing insulation for the winter is really important. Make a wire fence around the plant and fill it with leaves, straw, or whatever good insulation you have access to going into the winter. This helps protect the plant throughout the winter, subjecting it to much more mild temperatures. This will be very important for Paul growing a lemon tree in Montana as well as for you growing a Banana in Texas.

Crater gardens can vary in size, slope, aspect, it is all dependent on the site and what is available. The ones I've made so far have been roughly an acre or two, but I have my eyes on a project that would result in a nearly 700 acre crater garden down the road (I got the "think big" bug from Sepp). Additional elements will include spillway(s), berms, stumps, hugelkultur, and any other elements that could be incorporated into a garden.
 
Daniel Kern
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Wow! big crater gardens sound like so much fun! I can't wait to see more results coming out of your projects and the development of crater gardens worldwide. I have a lot of straw that I can use to insulate the banana plant, so that is what I will do. Thanks for the advice. Will I ever need to remove the straw for the plant to get some sun during the winter?

Btw I love the idea of incorporating basically all the other permaculture/ holzer agroEcology ideas to the crater garden. That is genius.
 
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I'm building a small scale kratergarten now! I'm trying to make a microclimate in my herb garden. The krater is about six feet by eight and I'm filling in a lot of it with sizable rocks. One side has some punky wood buried below some funky goat/chicken bedding hugelkultur style.

This is a photo of one point in the process. I hope to take more and update soon.
 
Zach Weiss
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Daniel Kern wrote:Will I ever need to remove the straw for the plant to get some sun during the winter?



Sepp didn't go into detail on this but I got the impression that he left the plant in it's organic blanket for the whole winter and then removed it once temperatures warm. It would be a good thing for you to ask him in Austria in two weeks!

 
pollinator
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The idea of a crater as a garden that forms micro climates is quite interesting. I grew up on the prairies with cold winters and can see how that would work and make sense. However, I now live in a much damper climate (Vancouver Island) though not as humid as the great lakes region. I would think the whole crater might fill up over time with water. Has anyone done experimenting with variations of this idea? I am thinking a "box canyon garden" for a micro climate that still allows the water to leave or some other shape that gives a drier than normal area for plants that need that. The box canyon variety would of course need a hill to start with or very large berms.

As always, I am suggesting the feature has to fit the climate.
 
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Thinking about big-scale crater gardens, I guess one of the world's biggest crater "gardens" must be The Eden Project in the UK.

The Eden Project - Wikipedia
The Eden Project

This popular visitor attraction was built between 1998 and 2001 to celebrate the Millennium. It's situated a few miles from St Austell in Cornwall and is built in a disused clay quarry. The Eden Project exists to teach people about plant life in all it's incredible variety. For those of you that don't know the UK, Cornwall is in the south-west and is already one of the warmest places in the country. At the bottom of the giant pit it's even warmer. There are then giant greenhouses at the lowest point called biomes - to give you some idea of scale, the tropical greenhouse covers nearly 1.58 hectares (3.9 acres) and stands 55m (180ft) at it's highest point. The combination of the protected environment of the pit plus the greenhouses means they can grow tropical plants such as coffee and fruiting bananas.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eden_Project_geodesic_domes_panorama.jpg
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eden_project_tropical_biome.jpg

The range of climates they have created is impressive from Cornwall's own sunny temperate to Mediterranean to tropical. All the areas outside the biome greenhouses are planted to with a mixture of edibles and ornamentals. You can spend the whole day with ease and it's still popular with plant lovers and holiday makers.

I'm a gardener who's also interested in architecture and I love it there. This thread has made me think: There must be a whole lot of former quarries out there just waiting to be "cratered"! Thanks for the inspiration.

 
steward
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the biggest crater graden I know of is Moray near Cuzco in Peru. look for the foto's it is incredible. it goes down nearly a hundred meters. Sepp somewhere speaks of this in a video a saw, he just birefly speaks of these structures that he saw in Peru, and i think he was speaking of Moray. we don't know if there was a water feature at the bottom but could well be.
i'll just post this video, i did'nt see it all but just wanted to let you see:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07nZCMTINkg
i don't know if you knew about this structure seems a crater garden quite big
 
Lorenzo Costa
steward
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One of the most remarkable feature of the site of Moray is the vast difference in temperature that exist between the top and the bottom reaches of the structure, which can be as much as 15°C. This large temperature difference created micro climates, similar to what is achieved in greenhouses in modern times, that was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.
yes we had already spoken about bowl terraces they were'nt called crater gardens, but it seems to me we're at the bottom of the same bowl/crater
 
Zach Weiss
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Video Update on the Crater Garden at Sage Mountain Center

 
pollinator
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Whooo. Does anyone have any personal experience of doing one of these? I'd love to do one but I've been on the phone and it is looking like some massive red tape for me. I'm wondering how other people went about it.
 
pollinator
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elle sagenev wrote:Whooo. Does anyone have any personal experience of doing one of these? I'd love to do one but I've been on the phone and it is looking like some massive red tape for me. I'm wondering how other people went about it.


Here's my attempt. This photo is from fall of last year, it had only been in for 3 months at this point.
I just did it, no permit. The building inspector loved it when he came out to inspect our work on the house.
I did however hide it with a large dam/berm, so it can't be seen from the street.
IMG_0838_2.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_0838_2.jpg]
 
elle sagenev
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Bill Bradbury wrote:

elle sagenev wrote:Whooo. Does anyone have any personal experience of doing one of these? I'd love to do one but I've been on the phone and it is looking like some massive red tape for me. I'm wondering how other people went about it.


Here's my attempt. This photo is from fall of last year, it had only been in for 3 months at this point.
I just did it, no permit. The building inspector loved it when he came out to inspect our work on the house.
I did however hide it with a large dam/berm, so it can't be seen from the street.



I love it! Unfortunately I'm going to be open to the public so I need to dot my I's and cross my T's.

What did you dig yours with?
 
Len Ovens
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I wonder if something like this would be able to be transformed into something like that. The land ought to be very cheap if they are done mining. Getting it to start growing stuff again might take a while.
google-mine.png
[Thumbnail for google-mine.png]
Open Mine
 
Zach Weiss
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pollinator
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Any updates on the crater garden at Sage Mountain? When I saw it in late September, it was pretty cool to see how much more lush it was in there compared to everywhere else around it. Did the spring runoff full the pond?
 
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Hey Zach...are you out there???

I'm listening to your Renaturing the Landscape audio which is just wonderful. I realize it's the audio from a slide presentation. At the end of Part 1 you make a comment that the crater garden won't work (according to Sepp) without the terraces and trees. I can't seem to find any information on the tree point. Do you know if this is something I could find in Sepp's new book?  I have that on my shopping list.  I'm assuming the trees are meant to shade the pond and mitigate evaporation. If there's more to it than this and anyone knows the answer, will you let me know?

Thanks,
Caroline
 
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I am interested in crater gardens too. We have a low spot that we need to turn into something (pond or crater?) soon as it's breeding ground for mosquitoes.

How would you dig something like that? Do you need an excavator and an experienced operator? I don't even know where to start with the digging.
I have read all Sepp's books (I am fluent in German) but I don't know how to go about the actual earth works.

Update: here is a picture

IMG_0259.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_0259.JPG]
 
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Len Ovens wrote:I wonder if something like this would be able to be transformed into something like that. The land ought to be very cheap if they are done mining. Getting it to start growing stuff again might take a while.



Be wary of buying abandoned open pit mines.  If it was mining metals the chances are it will be highly toxic for centuries to come due to either the metals themselves or the chemicals used to help extract the metals. Gold mines are a prime example, most large scale ones are cyanide leech.  Most of them are superfund sites anyway though and would not be up for sale. Another prime example from Montana is one of the most toxic lakes on the panet, the Berkley Pit in Butte Montana.  You may have read about it recently due to snow geese dying by the thousands after landing on it. It is also a great concern for Butte's water, since it has been filling with more water every year and will eventually start spilling into the groundwater and streams around Butte.

Otherwise if it was a quarry for rock or gravel you would have a much easier time converting it. There are millions of abandoned gravel pits in the US alone, many of which would probably be workable. There are still the concerns of oil, antifreeze and other gunk from the large industrial machines used to remove that soil of course. Just driving around my hometown there are at least 15 gravel pits within the valley some that have ponds already formed and thriving. I imagine many of these would be less expensive to purchase since they are pretty torn up.

I find this to be a fascinating project.  I will be keeping my eye on this thread.
 
Caroline LaVin
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Hi Simone,

About 4 weeks ago I was feeling exactly how you are now. No idea how to start. I watched the fabulous 3-DVD set World Domination Gardening  https://richsoil.com/wd-gardening.jsp where they filmed digging a pond, a swale, hugelbeds, and even footage with several newbies running the excavator. That was *extremely* helpful.

Then I googled "Crater garden" and "Krater garden" and watched every video I could. I listened to this presentation by Zach Weiss which is similar to his "Renaturing the Land" podcast, but this one gives a wee bit more info about the Crater gardens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE15UCbXcsY   The quality is not great, but I'm grateful to whomever videoed it!  In it he talks a little bit more about trees on the crater garden. They are important, in part, because their roots help the water get down to the pond. He mentions there are additional reasons. I *surmise* these are: shade and that tree roots exude moisture themselves. Fruit trees are planted on the mid level of the garden. Water-loving things at the bottom. Drought-resistant, nitrogen-fixing shrubs/trees at the top. (I'll let you google what those might be for your zone/climate.) He says Sepp says the pond will dry out without the terracing and the trees.

Somehow, I saw someone digging a little fish pond with a compact tractor so I searched for videos of "digging pond compact tractor" on YouTube. That gave me a lot of hope. At minimum I think I can get the sod stripped off, and maybe the topsoil below it, with the normal bucket, not excavator...don't have that attachment. If I can't handle the heavy clay, then it'll be time to rent or hire someone. We'll have a builder here next summer finishing some construction, so I might be able to talk him into it.

Lastly, there are some excellent and inspiring photos of Crater gardens and other earthworks on Zach's site: http://www.elementalecosystems.com/#projects

Good luck!!!
Caroline
 
Simone Gar
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Thanks Caroline! I will watch the video for sure. I have looked over Zach's site several times already.  I wish we could just invite him up
We do have a tractor and removing the sod might be ok if it's not standing water already when the snow melts. I am also thinking maybe our neighbor could bring over his bobcat. That might be a start. But then? I guess I start looking into excavator/contractor pricing.
 
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