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What could I do with steep, forrested, mountain land in WNC?  RSS feed

 
Christopher Baber
Posts: 30
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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I'd ideally like to purchase about 10 acres of land to start our homestead on. I can live with anything +/- 5 acres easily enough I think. I'd like to be within about an hour of Asheville, NC.

I've been looking at land for months, and the only land that's remotely cheap is the side of a mountain. Looking at Google Earth and placing paths on the land I've found shows slopes from 30% to 50% being pretty normal for anything I can find in my price range. geoff lawton says that anything over about 23% should terraced, which is expensive, and requires high skill level to do right. I'm not sure I've got the skill or money to do that right now, and I also think that the costs to do that will put me into the price range of gentler land anyway. I could do the terraces over time, a little at a time, but I'd really rather avoid it to be honest.

Other than terracing, is there any other way to put steep land into a more productive state without spending a fortune?

I've tried looking at much smaller plots, from 1-2 acres, since it's better than a suburban lot, but once you get that small, the cost/acre goes up so fast that it's about the same price as buying 10 acres, but with 9 to 9 1/2 acres being the side of a mountain, and still only getting maybe 1/2 to 1 acre flat enough to easily do anything. I'm kind of thinking that I'd just as soon buy 10 acres with 1 acre flat enough to use, and at least have some buffer to the neighbors, but I would still prefer to put it into some kind of productive use one day.

Anyone have any thoughts/suggestions on what could be done?
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 400
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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This thread might be helpful... http://www.permies.com/t/5790/permaculture/plant-steep-slope Blueberries may be an option as well. And you can always use containers -- just level them by digging in slightly to make a small ledge. Enough old bathtubs placed end to end and you'd have a pretty nifty terrace automatically!
 
Christopher Baber
Posts: 30
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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Thanks for the link. That was good info. Sadly, the links to Sepp's steep orchard video pointed to a video no longer available. I searched youtube and came up empty. I did find and watch a video from Ben Faulk on how he handled his "steep slope", but in the video it looked like a very gentle slope he was talking about, so I'm not sure it really applies to the land I've been looking at.

It does seem like terracing is going to be the 'best' option, but probably not the cheapest.

I suppose I'll have to use the timber I clear for some hugel beds, and somehow tie that into the terracing.

I've not purchased anything yet, so maybe I'll just need to spend more, buy less, or go further away than I want and buy something not quite so steep. I suspect the cost of terracing will be about the same as the extra cost for gentler land.

If only I had more money
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 400
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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books dog food preservation forest garden goat trees
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Christopher Baber wrote:
If only I had more money


Christopher, I don't think terracing HAS to be expensive. Hard work, maybe, but not something that you really need to pay for. I have successfully terraced very steep slopes using nothing more than a shovel and hoe (and a lot of sweat!). And honestly, once you get your technique down, it doesn't take all that long. Look at Asia -- they terraced whole mountains using hand made hoes and shovels way back in the stone age (practically). This link http://www.nzdl.org/gsdlmod?e=d-00000-00---off-0hdl--00-0----0-10-0---0---0direct-10---4-------0-0l--11-en-50---20-home---00-0-1-00-0-0-11-1-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&c=hdl&cl=CL1.16.9&d=HASH01ddf12679fcd1bd96b4344b.4.2.4 shows quite a few possibilities and gives some pretty precise measurements if you want to tackle it DIY. It really isn't necessary to build huge, wide terraces buttressed by expensive retaining walls. Just make each terrace about the size of a garden row with a narrow path to get to your harvest and you should be fine. Incidentally, the method I have used is approximately what is shown in figure 17. I did the whole "double-dig" thing back when that was in vogue (before no-till became the thing). You could start out with deep digging and then go no-till for the future, since you are going to need to move that soil initially anyway -- and no reason not to incorporate hugelculture into the terraces at the same time. Just place the logs before back-filling the terraces.

Oh, and one more thing... its a lot easier to incorporate a nice, natural looking water feature (with falls and pools) on a slope than on flat land. Think of that as a big bonus!
 
Christopher Baber
Posts: 30
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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That link is fantastic, thanks for sharing. I'm tired just thinking about how much work it would be to do that by hand, but I expect to have much more time than money when we get started, so I'll just think about how much good exercise I'll get, and how great the water feature will be and all the fresh food I'll get once I'm done

I think I would follow figure 17 also, it seems to make the most sense, and let's me go a bit at a time, which seems logical.

I've bookmarked the site, and will read the rest of that information as time permits.

Thanks again.
 
Jamie Davis
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Having looked in that area extensively, i decided to cross the border to e tn. No income tax. Gentler slope. Cheaper land.
 
Gail Vance
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I live here in WNC, don't have a large enough piece of property to call a homestead, but it slopes down to a creek fairly steeply. Some advantages: WNC get A LOT (esp in Trans. Cty) of rain and slopes drain better with our clay-ey soil, we are at the mercy of late frosts and cold air rolls downhill leaving tender plants at the top of the slope relatively unscathed, depending on the orientation of the slope more light is available for longer. So, all is not bad.... also lots of good cardio walking up and down
Some good friends are homesteading on an insanely steep piece of property here in Trans Cty. It has taken a couple of years, but they have terraced quite a bit of their land, all by hand, using only what was there to use. Take a look.http://eightowlsfarmstead.com/
Another advantage to our area, folks are quite nice and do not hesitate to pitch in when needed, so don't think of it as going it alone, think of it as helping others (and learning new things in return) who will in turn help you with those projects that need more hands.
Good luck.
 
Matt Baldwin
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Some friends of ours around Ararat, Va have a U-pick orchard, part of which is on a steep slope.  The owner said when he was developing the orchard he needed to built terraces to plant his trees on, and he had no money for heavy equipment.  So he hitched up his 2-bottom plow to his tractor, and started cutting terraces into the hill with it.  After about 10 passes, he had enough of a terrace to plant his trees.  30 some years later those terraces are great to walk along and pick apples.  Don't necessarily need a big excavator, just an old tractor and a plow....
 
Thom Illingworth
Posts: 26
Location: Greensboro, NC, USA
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Christopher:   You might want to try terracing this way (I did it on a much smaller scale):   Use trees that you've cut down.   Place them along the contour(s). Stack them for higher support, if needed, on steeper grade.  Use shorter lengths to make sharper curves, if needed.  Pound scrap rebar lengths into the ground to hold the logs from rolling down hill.   Dig into the back of the terrace and dump the dirt behind the logs until the area behind the logs is relatively flat.   Repeat another log support at the back of the terrace where you stopped digging.  Do this up the hill as far as you want to go.  Granted, this is a temporary solution, because the logs will eventually rot and need to be replaced with other logs or a more permanent support. But it will get you going.   Good luck.
 
Len Ovens
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Location: Vancouver Island
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Thom Illingworth wrote:Christopher:   You might want to try terracing this way (I did it on a much smaller scale):   Use trees that you've cut down.   Place them along the contour(s). Stack them for higher support, if needed, on steeper grade.  Use shorter lengths to make sharper curves, if needed.  Pound scrap rebar lengths into the ground to hold the logs from rolling down hill.   Dig into the back of the terrace and dump the dirt behind the logs until the area behind the logs is relatively flat.   Repeat another log support at the back of the terrace where you stopped digging.  Do this up the hill as far as you want to go.  Granted, this is a temporary solution, because the logs will eventually rot and need to be replaced with other logs or a more permanent support. But it will get you going.   Good luck.


Use the sod dug up on the outside of the trees (downslope) and the trees may not need to be replaced. I am assuming some soil in there too I guess.

The idea of paying less for steeper land is sounding good to me.

 
Thom Illingworth
Posts: 26
Location: Greensboro, NC, USA
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Christopher:   You might also try the "net and pan" technique described by Mollison in the Designer's Manual.  More info at link:net and pan from PRI

Thom
 
Jotham Bessey
Posts: 103
Location: Newfoundland, Canada
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Thom Illingworth wrote:Christopher:   You might want to try terracing this way (I did it on a much smaller scale):   Use trees that you've cut down.   Place them along the contour(s). Stack them for higher support, if needed, on steeper grade.  Use shorter lengths to make sharper curves, if needed.  Pound scrap rebar lengths into the ground to hold the logs from rolling down hill.   Dig into the back of the terrace and dump the dirt behind the logs until the area behind the logs is relatively flat.   Repeat another log support at the back of the terrace where you stopped digging.  Do this up the hill as far as you want to go.  Granted, this is a temporary solution, because the logs will eventually rot and need to be replaced with other logs or a more permanent support. But it will get you going.   Good luck.

If the land has a lot of trees, you could actually make a living retaining wall. Cut the trees leaving a set of high stumps along contour. Lay a row of logs along the stumps. fill in behind them with soil. lay another row of logs on top of the first and fill behind with soil. until you reach a height that makes the terrace the desired width. The stumps will be the support holding the logs from rolling down hill. Since the trees were not cut to the ground, the stumps will re sprout resulting in a living post. keep the tree stumps trimmed and plant a row of closely spaced trees along the retaining wall. By the time the logs rot, you will have a fence of tree trunks with stubby branches.

Or..... that's my theory anyway.
 
M.R.J. Smith
Posts: 73
Location: North Idaho at 975m elevation on steep western slope, 60cm annual precipitation, zone 4
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We have land almost exactly like what you describe. It's a  blessing and a curse- just like everything. Just think of the pros- drainage, gravity irrigation, frost pocket control, etc. there are just as many patterns on slopes as on flat land- you just have to observe and keep an open mind. You would be remiss to buy sloped land and try to  treat it like flat land- its not and any preconceived notions you have about it could be counterproductive.

That being said, access is a pain- that's really the only con in my mind. Be sure to plan it very wisely because it's a lot of work to put in. Everything is more work, really but as Baruch Spinoza says "all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."

I'm glad I'm not a flat-lander. Living in the mountains is badass.

Edit: I second the notion that terraces are easier than people make them out to be. I use the exact rebar/pile logs and soil method as well and it's pretty darn easy. I call them hugel-terraces because I hope plant roots will hold the soil together by the time the green logs start to decay.
 
Garry Hoddinott
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What can you do .... leave it alone.   Seriously, you will regret every step down the hill and have double the regret every step up it.  Trees are the best citizens for hilly land.  Consider advice provided Joel Salatin et al.  Lots of land is unused or under used.  Often a farmer is too old, or just uninspired to make use of his land.  In my case I'm 61, have 245 acres on mid north coast of Australia and run a few cattle to keep the grass down. I live 10,000klm away in another country.  Sadly I gave a bloke from Singapore full rights to use the land, including my car and caravan.  He lasted 4 weeks.  Thankfully I had no serious problems, but I wont be so generous with another.  Just ask around in the area you are interested, show some good faith, and you might be surprised.
 
justin edmonds
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Steep slopes, ,, Timber and orchards, "net and pan" to capture water to feed the trees.
 
Jotham Bessey
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Location: Newfoundland, Canada
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justin edmonds wrote:Steep slopes, ,, Timber and orchards, "net and pan" to capture water to feed the trees.


I thought that too, but if you are going to be fully permie, somewhere you will want veggies that grow on flat ground. Not a huge area like you were farming the place but small bed size terraces that gets some sun.
 
William Neaves
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Christopher Baber wrote:I'd ideally like to purchase about 10 acres of land to start our homestead on.  I can live with anything +/- 5 acres easily enough I think.  I'd like to be within about an hour of Asheville, NC.

I've been looking at land for months, and the only land that's remotely cheap is the side of a mountain.  Looking at Google Earth and placing paths on the land I've found shows slopes from 30% to 50% being pretty normal for anything I can find in my price range.  Geoff Lawton says that anything over about 23% should terraced, which is expensive, and requires high skill level to do right.  I'm not sure I've got the skill or money to do that right now, and I also think that the costs to do that will put me into the price range of gentler land anyway.  I could do the terraces over time, a little at a time, but I'd really rather avoid it to be honest.

Other than terracing, is there any other way to put steep land into a more productive state without spending a fortune?

I've tried looking at much smaller plots, from 1-2 acres, since it's better than a suburban lot, but once you get that small, the cost/acre goes up so fast that it's about the same price as buying 10 acres, but with 9 to 9 1/2 acres being the side of a mountain, and still only getting maybe 1/2 to 1 acre flat enough to easily do anything.  I'm kind of thinking that I'd just as soon buy 10 acres with 1 acre flat enough to use, and at least have some buffer to the neighbors, but I would still prefer to put it into some kind of productive use one day.

Anyone have any thoughts/suggestions on what could be done?
                       one thing you could try is looking at trading posts,craigslist or if you currently live in or near the area you could just drive around and look for sale by owner signs also you might consider going outside of the area I live in wnc and personally I think the ashville area is overrated there are much cheaper and more practical places that have just as much if not more to offer in sustainable development yeah the local community is already there but your never too far from ashville anywhere in wnc or even east Tennessee
 
Christopher Baber
Posts: 30
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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Well, I didn't end up getting what I was looking for, but I found a wonderful little place with 2 creeks, in a forest.  It's about an acre, but surrounded by lots of large tracts, so I feel like I own hundreds of acres.

One of the creeks, which runs right beside the house has a few steeply sloped areas, which are very soft, rocky soil.  stinging nettle and another, similar plant are the dominant vegetation right now, but I want that to change.  There are lots of native ferns and hostas are common also, but I don't have so much on other areas of the land that I can dig them up to replant on the slopes.  I'm wanting something low and creeping/spreading, which will hold the bank in place, and also look good at least most of the year.  Ideally I can get somethings which flower throughout the year, but their ability to hold the banks in place are the primary objective.

I've thought about just buying several bags of native wildflower seed and just covering the bank in seed and see what sticks, but think Id prefer to be a bit more precise than that.

Any ideas for plants to consider?

I've attached a picture overlooking the creek and the hillside on the other side.  It's about 15 feet down from my feet to the creek in the picture.  (we've had very rainy week this week)
20170422_090959.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20170422_090959.jpg]
view from outside dining room window
 
Len Ovens
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Christopher Baber wrote:Well, I didn't end up getting what I was looking for, but I found a wonderful little place with 2 creeks, in a forest.  It's about an acre, but surrounded by lots of large tracts, so I feel like I own hundreds of acres.


And it has a house.

From the picture, it looks wonderful.

 
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