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Suggestions? Winter hardy crops and ideas for a hilly backyard

 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 9
Location: Virginia
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Hey Permies Peoples!

My name is Patrick, I live in Woodbridge, Virginia- it's kind of a satellite of DC, South of downtown by approx 60 miles (guessing). The area goes from hot and humid months to cold and dry months. As we're in the cold and dry and I have spent the warm mostly composting and building soil without tilling anything, I am curious as to what I should be focusing on next.

Even if I am not actively gardening (which I always seem to be, if only indoors), I am always composting. I have been focusing on composting a few bales of straw with amendments like rock dust, kelp and bone meal, mycorrhizal spores etc- I try not to overdose anything, but I will take cheap, junky compost or soil and beef it up by using piles of compost with heavy wood layers (I compost in a method loosely similar to how the book 'Teaming with Microbes' describes piles of compost within well-aerated containers, being consistently rotated with more organic matter. Without using any kind of chicken wire or containers, I have created a nice ground cover, shoving heaps of compost and rotting wood under layers of soil at lower areas of the yard. I have a worm farm indoors but it is currently vacant, now that it's cooler outside I'll likely start keeping worm pets to talk to and creep family members out with. I have used worm tea extensively in the past with molasses to break down straw and wood as well as get the local soil kick-started with microbial life.

I never really got anything special planted in my hilly, Northern VA backyard this last warm season. Now that it's cooler, it seems like a good time for me to disturb the soil a little bit in an effort to create terraces in along my hilly backyard and plan to heal the soil so I can really begin a food forest proper next Spring.

I have a good deal of this hill mapped out and feel like it would be a good idea to reinforce the keylines for irrigation with a few small ditches, backfilled with rocks, leaving the soil piled up to act as a terrace edge. I am making slow progress with wattle and daub / stone retention walls for my terraces but my hill is a 'gentle' enough grade that I'll have to do a little digging to make my terraces really pop out to form.
At the bottom of my hill I am building a fence between my far-too-close neighbors who feel the need to keep a camera in their backyard in a relatively nice neighborhood, and I have no idea if it's spying into my lawn- sorry if I sound paranoid about that but I would like some privacy in my backyard and not feel watched while working in my garden. Once I have a decent sub-soil liner and bed down to about 4" deep, I want to plant a number of black bamboo babies at the top of my mini-berm, behind a privacy fence. I think that would look nice and being at the bottom of my hill, it could help shadow a small pond I have been working on (tapped down the clay rich soil this past Summer and lined it with gravel and a few larger rocks, it's slowly raising a level of water and I put some olive oil in it to prevent mosquitoes from breeding there.

Something else about the privacy in my yard; there are only small, waist height chain link fences that I can't seem to speak to my neighbors about, so I will build my own privacy fences using black bamboo.
My hilly backyard faces East with a great all day sun and a few shady/mossy parts in the Summer/Fall (the deepest of now is my small pond). I am not certain how I will expand on this, however I have a great basic plan of what I want in my head that translates well out fo my imagination into my backyard, so far.
I have no animals to deal with slugs however I have been using a great deal of heavy mulch. I would like to have my entire backyard's edges built up with berms on 3 sides and enclosed live black bamboo privacy fences (a hopefully tasteful design that my neighbors like and I'll bury the bamboo deep enough with liner so it doesn't spread). Whatever I do, I will sprinkle a bit more diatomaceous earth around the border of my backyard.

I hope my words convey an idea, I'll post some pictures and mention my ideals, what I would like to happen and what I think may realistically come to pass
I will get a good deal of sun in my backyard at a nice angle even with a bamboo border fence (my strain gets up to about 30' which is the legal height for most things here). Inside of my fence I would like to create a couple of cobblestone paths, following the flow of water on contour and then plant things by height, with small rows placed in criss-crossing facing one another on slopes so I can get the most out of rainfall. The bottom of the hill is very fertile and has a flat area that would make a great semi-shade area.
I am not certain about the laws in my area, this is something I still need to take some time on but my backyard could really benefit from me having some chickens- or maybe grass-fed rabbits. Who knows what the future holds but this hobby has turned into a time-consuming labor of love that I really believe will become easier to care for when it's more established.

I would love to hear anyone's ideas or your own experiences with heavy mulching. I do not think I will spend the time here to establish a lot of hugelkultur but I do have one small bed going. I like the idea of starting fruit trees and planting a diverse number of plants with a chop n' drop method to help build up these layers or terraces.
Thanks for reading
 
Marianne Cicala
gardener
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Posts: 655
Location: south central VA 7B
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Hi Patrick - so happy to see a fellow Virginian. The black bamboo fencing would be wonderful. I look forward to seeing some pictures.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1304
Location: Central New Jersey
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If the slope of the yard is not too steep, swales on contour might serve as well as terraces, while being a bit less work - no retaining wall. geoff lawton has recommendations as to what slope is too steep for swales ,but I do not recall off the top of my head what his guidelines are.

Sounds like an interesting project. Good luck, and keep us updated.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I love the idea of building a privacy fence. hybrid poplar, isn't invasive like willow or bamboo and it will grow to 30ft in just 3years. I would recommend planting a plant every 5ft and just have them take over and just like willow they don't really mind damp or dry soil.
 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 9
Location: Virginia
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S Bengi wrote:I love the idea of building a privacy fence. hybrid poplar, isn't invasive like willow or bamboo and it will grow to 30ft in just 3years. I would recommend planting a plant every 5ft and just have them take over and just like willow they don't really mind damp or dry soil.


Yeah they grow pretty well here, we had some tree disease running rampant in my area in the 80s so I saw a lot of the trees I liked downed. I chose to grow black bamboo a few years ago in my backyard and managed to keep it pretty well contained. I have long planned for rhizome barriers and am well aware of how it can get a mind of it's own like Catnip and wander off to visit the neighbors lawn
I do like the idea of a poplar as well, a few of those would be great if I had more space, though I feel more comfortable with this species I've been playing with in my area. My backyard is kind of full up on trees at the moment, if I want to plant anything that needs a lot of sun anyway
Thank you for your ideas, I'll give a hybrid poplar a second look over today, I know they'd grow okay in my area, it's just that living so close to a city with nosy neighbors, I want something that will keep both physical bodies and eyes off of my property. It's weird trying to play farmer in your backyard with your neighbor's staring at you wondering if this was the day you finally flipped your lid
 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 9
Location: Virginia
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Peter Ellis wrote:If the slope of the yard is not too steep, swales on contour might serve as well as terraces, while being a bit less work - no retaining wall. Geoff Lawton has recommendations as to what slope is too steep for swales ,but I do not recall off the top of my head what his guidelines are.

Sounds like an interesting project. Good luck, and keep us updated.


I've had great success with my mini-swales so far! I am yet to assemble any kind of retaining wall and after reading this (and a number of online things about earthworks), I think I would be better off with none at all than the small ones I wanted to make. I would like to get some topsoil and wood chips delivered to my home sometime around next Spring, not to destroy the slope, just to make it a bit more gentle.
In the past, before I even knew the many of these words like permaculture, I had piled up a good deal of yard waste near a shallow end of my hilly backyard, which prevented rainwater from running down the hill and pooling up on the cement in front of the back door. After a couple of seasons of playing with dead branches and leaves, I managed to grow up a small berm that dandelions and clover love to grow on so I'm going to consider that a success
Thank you for your insight
 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 9
Location: Virginia
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Marianne Cicala wrote:Hi Patrick - so happy to see a fellow Virginian. The black bamboo fencing would be wonderful. I look forward to seeing some pictures.


Virginia is for lovers... of humidity and two very stark seasons!
My sympathies and yet at the same time, Virginia is so beautiful when the seasons change
I will likely begin digging trenches for rhizome barriers when it warms up again. I have a lot to keep me busy indoors (including tending to my baby bamboo) but when I get something more solid and less concrete I'll be sure to share pictures
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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