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Land with no flat spots

 
Posts: 75
Location: North Idaho at 975m elevation on steep western slope, 60cm annual precipitation, zone 4
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I'm looking at a place that is at it's gentlest is a 15 degree slope, 30 degrees at steepest. There are 2 springs at top of property and it's forested pretty heavily. It's a lot cheaper than other pieces but I know building will be a pain. I'd probably have to terrace it, but I see huge potential for gravity water and a series of interconnected ponds. Does anyone in here have experience living on really steep land that has no respite? What should I be aware of when considering such a place with no turn-key usable land? Access and clearing land for pastures are my big concerns as I'm dealing with mostly a Douglas fir monoculture and I'd want to get some serious diversity in there but would have to start over I feel due to firs not being the best playmate for other trees.
 
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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We are in the same situation, however the property did have a shelf bulldozed in for the driveway, house and shop. The buildings do have minor racking issues, so I think the slope wasn't properly addressed during construction (foundation down to bedrock). This shelf is the only flat land on the property, but it runs along the driveway and in the opposite direction in front of a pond, and around to the pump-house which is very nice for land use and access.

I too am harvesting trees and replacing with other species. Lots of overgrowth, leaning and dead wood to be cleared.

My problem is the cost of heavy equipment and/or lack of physical labor. I would say plan on buying your own smallish excavator (with track not wheels and thumb) for trenches, swales, and making your own flat/terraced places. An excavator with a thumb will give you more use than your typical tractor on sloped land. And be careful regarding trenches - many times on sloped land with heavy rains helping water to leave your property without leaching nutrients or top soil is a better move than slowing down water without a containment plan such as a reinforced pond. Not all land is best served by swales, so make your choices wisely.

I just finished putting in a large french drain at the base of the steep hill running behind all my buildings and parking area. I'm hoping this will help with the soil saturation and building racking. So plan water and rain movement on your sloped land. Dense conifer trees and brush can deal with heavy water movement and soaked soils, but once you start clearing a few places and waiting for new growth you'll find things will change fast on that same land.

Springs are super! So very much you can do with water and gravity. Consider a ram pump for pumping to the highest point of the property for water storage in cistern(s). Have a pond dug in a strategic place near the house for fire protection and beauty (but not uphill from it unless your planning on a french drain *wink*) and use it for overflow from your high cisterns - run any overflow from your water-works back into the bed cut by the spring(s).

The thinning and replacing of the trees is a slow process but rewarding, be mindful of the water needs of your replacement trees - Douglas fir can tolerate the 3+ months of no rain (drought) that other deciduous trees cannot. Consider your placement of fruit trees, maybe plan out an irrigation swale to water fruit trees on slope - one you can block off during heavy rains. And plan for plants to grow for many years along that swale in between those trees until the trees grow larger.

Do use any dead tree trunks (seasoned thick wood) at the bottom of all your plantings, especially your fruit trees. I ran my tree stump cuttings vertically beneath my fruit trees, and their growth has just taken off. After I dug 24-30" deeper than the tree required, I packed in my logs and filled with the cracks with dirt up to the top of the logs. Next, I flooded with water a few times to settle the soil and load the old wood with water, adding more soil as needed. When done - add a few inches more of soil just to cover the very top of the stumps and plant the tree as usual.

These are a few of the considerations I can think of right off the top of my head.
If you have questions just ask all the best to you.


 
M.R.J. Smith
Posts: 75
Location: North Idaho at 975m elevation on steep western slope, 60cm annual precipitation, zone 4
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Thank you for your thoughtful response. I do have a few questions- they will be in chronological order.

How exactly does one address a slope properly when building? Did you mean they should or should not put the foundation down to bedrock?

Could you explain that last paragraph in a different way? I'm just not grasping what you're getting at. Do you cut the stumps up or just toss them in the hole?
 
Jami McBride
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Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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M.R.J. Smith wrote:Thank you for your thoughtful response. I do have a few questions- they will be in chronological order.
How exactly does one address a slope properly when building? Did you mean they should or should not put the foundation down to bedrock?
Could you explain that last paragraph in a different way? I'm just not grasping what you're getting at. Do you cut the stumps up or just toss them in the hole?




#1 Yes, if your slope is steep you will want tie ins to the bedrock. They do not have to connect the entire foundation to the bedrock. A house whose foundation sits on soil only can shift, sink, crack at door and window corners (such as mine) little movements play havoc with stick built homes. I had my home inspected by a foundation company - and only my two down-slope corners of the house are lower, by only 1/4". Homes can be more reinforced when built if the soil or location is a problem.

There are a few ways like building into the slope. One can run the buildings along the slope, staggered, with enclosed stairs connecting living area with bedrooms above. Or build up with stilts, canter-leaver, or day light basement.
However this I believe to be the most expensive methods. Here is a search link showing what I'm talking about - Build on Slope

Contact Soil and Water Dept in your area to schedule a visit on your property by one of their engineers. They can tell you how much soil, bed rock, sand, shale etc. your dealing with, and what you would need to do (like bring in top soil) in order to build a shelf for a dwelling. They were very helpful in my area. Otherwise you'll want to hire a contractor you like and they can give you some of your building options for a fee.


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#2 For planting trees - I had several aged stumps, some still standing some on the ground, all around 2-ish feet long and 8-10 inches wide. My goal was to use as much large, seasoned wood as I could reasonably manage. I had to dig heavy clay soil, so I needed this to be a reasonable process.

- Dig the hole as you normally would for that tree root/ball size.
- Now dig down another 2 or so feet more. I also enlarge the width of the hole just to give me extra log placement choices.
- Next, put your 2'-ish seasoned logs into the hole standing up, on end. Fill the hole with logs like this. Do your best to fill the width of the hole with vertical logs. Seems like I usually get about 4 - 5 logs 8-10" diameter. But don't worry, this is very flexible.
- Cover your logs with soil on all sides and fill with water to help move the soil down filling up any air pockets, this step is important and you will repeat it after you plant your tree for the same reason - no air pockets. Keep adding soil and repeat until it is even with the log tops.

Now look at where your at with the tops of logs and the normal top of your surrounding soil, sit your tree in and see how much more soil you need to add so you are back to the right depth for typical tree planting. It doesn't matter to much if you plant on the log tops or a few inches of soil over the log tops, you just want the newly expanding roots to make contact with the logs in a month or so of growth. They will run over and down the sides of the logs and take water up through them like a straw. I've played with laying the logs on their sides or standing them vertical and found the later to really case the trees to take off when planted in the spring. If you plant in fall it may not make as big a difference how the logs are placed as they won't be facing a dry summer as soon. My next experiment will be with other types of plantings, but this works great for trees for me, and the logs fit better standing on end.



 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Jami McBride wrote:[
#2 For planting trees - I had several aged stumps, some still standing some on the ground, all around 2-ish feet long and 8-10 inches wide. My goal was to use as much large, seasoned wood as I could reasonably manage. I had to dig heavy clay soil, so I needed this to be a reasonable process.

- Dig the hole as you normally would for that tree root/ball size.
- Now dig down another 2 or so feet more. I also enlarge the width of the hole just to give me extra log placement choices.
- Next, put your 2'-ish seasoned logs into the hole standing up, on end. Fill the hole with logs like this. Do your best to fill the width of the hole with vertical logs. Seems like I usually get about 4 - 5 logs 8-10" diameter. But don't worry, this is very flexible.
- Cover your logs with soil on all sides and fill with water to help move the soil down filling up any air pockets, this step is important and you will repeat it after you plant your tree for the same reason - no air pockets. Keep adding soil and repeat until it is even with the log tops.

Now look at where your at with the tops of logs and the normal top of your surrounding soil, sit your tree in and see how much more soil you need to add so you are back to the right depth for typical tree planting. It doesn't matter to much if you plant on the log tops or a few inches of soil over the log tops, you just want the newly expanding roots to make contact with the logs in a month or so of growth. They will run over and down the sides of the logs and take water up through them like a straw. I've played with laying the logs on their sides or standing them vertical and found the later to really case the trees to take off when planted in the spring. If you plant in fall it may not make as big a difference how the logs are placed as they won't be facing a dry summer as soon. My next experiment will be with other types of plantings, but this works great for trees for me, and the logs fit better standing on end.



How does this work out long term? One of the key pieces of advice when planting trees seems to be to avoid adding organic matter into the planting hole itself. Organic matter shrinks as it decays and the soil and roots will need to shift and settle. Air pockets will potentialy open up as the soil is washed through into teh void left by rotting wood. This process might take a good few years so the initial planting may appear successful but later on cause problems for the mature tree.

When I have had to plant on a (shallow!) slope I've made a small berm/mini-swale to help channel water to the tree and encourage infiltration. A wall just a few inches high made of wood chips seems to work for me.
 
Jami McBride
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Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Michael Cox wrote:
How does this work out long term? One of the key pieces of advice when planting trees seems to be to avoid adding organic matter into the planting hole itself. Organic matter shrinks as it decays and the soil and roots will need to shift and settle. Air pockets will potentialy open up as the soil is washed through into teh void left by rotting wood. This process might take a good few years so the initial planting may appear successful but later on cause problems for the mature tree.

When I have had to plant on a (shallow!) slope I've made a small berm/mini-swale to help channel water to the tree and encourage infiltration. A wall just a few inches high made of wood chips seems to work for me.



The rotting wood doesn't seem to pose a issue as far as air holes go - they pack in over time with soil from the sides and top. Adding small organic matter is an issue for a couple of reasons - one it can rob to much nitrogen from the young growing tree, and it can make the soil to rich for the tree. Ask your locate nursery about the type of tree and it's soil requirements. For my apple, peach, pear & plum I was told not to add fertilizer, compost or other soil enhancers just back-fill with my clay. I instead added a little sand to my dug out clay and I turned the soil so the top 8" of darker top-soil was now down in the hole and straight clay was at the very top. I planted my tress a little bit mounded and covered with raw wood chips. So far it's been 1.5 years and no sinking. I reload with aged wood chips a few times a year do to animals moving the chips, and their breaking down. Another point to remember is I planting on a slope so the land is already higher on the high side and lower on the low side, tree settling isn't going to be a big deal in my situation. In fact keeping soil on the down hill side is, so I'm going to dig a key downhill and place a long log in it to help hold things in place around the extended base of the trees.

I'm glad your berm of chips is doing the trick, that's great.

Have you read here at Permies about hugelkultur? The bury of large wood, offers many benefits to soil, plants and the retaining of water. Here are some youtube links too Hugelkulture Results

Maybe run your own little experiments - this concept works well in planters too.

 
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How do I build when the land is so steep I am afraid the tractor will role?
 
Posts: 13
Location: New Mexico USA
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Since your plan is to do pasturing you need to research planned pasturing in order to maintain if not restore grass land.

National Geographic covers the subject a little: NatGeo. and more on the subject can be teased out of The Google.

You might want to research Swales on Contour As once you start removing trees you will be opening up the land for water erosion.

Livestock do not need a lot of acres that are devoid of trees. In most cases one can have a 'bright shade' forest, that is a forest that is more spread out with a light and airy canopy and still have more than enough grass/fodder being grown.

I definitely would thin out the forest instead of clear cut, starting off with the diseased and dying pine/fir first. Definitely leave a line of firs on contour, meaning going side to side along the elevation lines to hold and maintain the soils as stable. For areas you wish to plant other trees, I would leave about 10' of space between the drip line of the Douglas firs and plant a hardwood or semi hardwood in the middle. The drip line is the edge of a tree's canopy. So if the canopy extends 8' from each Douglas fir, you are clearing a space that is 16 feet from trunk to trunk.

The issue with firs and pines are not so much that the trees are noxious and out to murder all other trees, its the needles that have high amounts of acids and other growth inhibiting chemicals that prevents other plants from growing/sprouting. So you just need to keep the fall of litter to a minimum and only rake out an are of about 24 inches away from your new planted trees.

Since it is Douglas Fir you have a type of wood that most dimensional lumber is made from. I would see what lumber agencies are in the local area and see how they would deal with getting to the trees and taking them out. If the property is large enough they might have to build a lumber road which means they will bring in bulldozer(s) to cut in levelish road, thus giving you a starting place for you to dig into the side of your hill and move earth to the down slope.

I think most lumber agencies prefer to clear cut, but you never know they may want to work with you depending on how much money they will get from the harvest.

Hills and mountains are usually hills and mountains because they are composed of sturdy material - rock. As such you would need to know what kind of rock you have. Is it a sheet form of rock like limestone? then most likely you can use excavated limestone to build a retaining wall on the down slope and have a sheet of limestone to build on. If its broken granite then the issue is digging out boulders or even having to crack them open some how in order to move them... solid granite might meet my favorite fishing tool trinitrotoluene more commonly called 'boom'. ;)


The 15 degree slope isn't that bad. You are looking at around 32 inches of elevation being removed for ten feet of width/length. To put it another way, if you where building a house that was 20 feet wide with the floor level uphill, then the down hill side would need about 5'6" of wall to support the upper level. a bob cat could probably do the rough digging and moving in a day or two, depending on how large an area you wish to clear. If that lumber company are willing to play ball and if you are willing to plop your buildings in a more centralized area they might actually do the rough cutting for you to get at the trees.

Scrape down to bedrock, which might be readily available since you have springs at the top of the hill, which means water is being pushed up and out, not out the sides of the hill. If you don't find suitable bedrock then piers are constructed which are basically deep holes filled with concrete and rebar which act like bedrock.

As for planting trees. If you are buying lots of them then go with "seedlings", yes there will be a lot of loss that first year, but you get more bang for your buck and its far easier to use a post hole digger (hand operated one) to dig a tiny hole which you can plop a tree in, pack it below grade then spread a bit of compost around the tree with a mulch material.  For deer and other plant predators tiny cages to keep the critters out is much more affordable, especially if you make them yourself out of chicken wire. I make 12-20 inch high cones that are 6-10 inches in diameter at the widest end.

When I did volunteer planting, we had a simple contraption for digging a seedling hole, called a Tree Planting Spade. One step, pul it out, plop in your seedling, dump the earth, tamp twice, move to the next planting spot, repeat.

Most trees are forgiving when young, as long as you protect them from predation (deer, rabbit, etc.) keep them moist and provide them a first year covering of loose mulch (because in forests trees drop leaf litter to protect their brood) most of the trees will survive.

If you are planting orchard trees, fruit trees then yes digging a massive hole and doing all sorts of labor to insure the tree survives the shock and thrives is needed.

 
pollinator
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I would go a different route.

If you're terracing yourself, I would suggest you first go for a walk. Walk your property, specifically across it on contour. If you see natural contour lines, drag fallen wood across it. It will trap sediment, topsoil, and organic matter descending the slope with the water. You have just placed a nurse log on contour. If you were to do this the whole width of the slope and at regular intervals up and down your property, you would effectively be encouraging the hydrology to terrace your land.

I would be very careful, on your walk, to identify evidence of erosion, and see what could be done to curb that with whatever debris is at hand. Hydrology can do much of your work for you, or it can destroy it all. So best to harness it.

-CK
 
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"There are 2 springs at top of property and it's forested pretty heavily. It's a lot cheaper than other pieces..."

Sounds like a GREAT place to me.
 
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