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save our terracing....please!

 
Posts: 73
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hello all,

Been a while, do apologise but had a lot going on over here in rural Italy since last visit.

My next concern that i'm looking for some sage advice on is our old terracing.

Our old farmhouse sit sin the middle of a steep hillside, full of sand stone i might add!

around the house is terracing (I will try and find some photos for you all), behind is partly an olive grove and in good condition, the empty space we're re-planting with more olive and some fruit and nut trees but below the house is another story.

When we bought the house we thought there was just a slope below as that is what it looked like, a slope covered in 8 feet of spiny bramble!

We cleared this rubbish after much blood, sweat and tears and now have a veg garden down there to make use of gravity to irrigate and free water! but the banks are in poor shape and the soil very soft until you hit bits of rock that is.

For the moment we have covered the entire area in landscape fabric for two reasons, firstly so that we don't have to try and dance around the vegeatbles every month to cut the bramble that regrows, and also to stop the huge amounts of rain we get here from washing away the terraces.

For my mind I have two solutions but am here because i trust you guys more than my own engineering ability

So i think it's either gabbions with stone (we have stone, although would need some work to move it) or polypropylene earthbags, what are your thoughts guys and gals?

Thanks i advance! Stuart.
below-the-house-clearing-started-.jpg
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Below the house, clearing started!
a-mountain-of-bramble-.jpg
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a mountain of bramble!
the-veg-garden-on-the-cleared-terraces.jpg
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The veg garden on the cleared terraces
 
pollinator
Posts: 2409
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Slopes
They are not too steep, they can used to survive and they can still can survive with just plant cover.
So my recommendation is just to get plants growing on the slopes, get some Nitrogen fixing plants (dutch clover and over seed 30lbs/acre)
You could also get some some haybale/strawbale and get some oyster mushroom growing.
The haybale can ask like a "gabion/block" and the mushroom will turn it into a mat as it decompose and hold the soil.


Now as to how to get rid of the bramble. Well......
 
Stuart Smith
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Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hi S Bengi and thanks for the reply!

yes, thankfully the banks are not anything like vertical, we have that in our favour.

we would like to avoid having to walk all over our veg beds every few weeks to cut the plant life growing on the banks in future, it's a lot of extra work each month on top of what we already have to do and we're bound to destroy our precious crops by doing so.

I might steal your haybale/mushroom combo idea for another part of the land though ;-)
 
S Bengi
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With the plastic bags filled with earth idea, the plastic is going to breakdown and not last too long in the sun.
You will then have microscopic plastic on your vegetables, and also they will leach whatever "wonderful" chemical it has.

I do prefer the stone idea more, due to the fact that it is more natural and permanent.  

I do think that vines and brambles will take over a house much less a slope if given enough time and no upkeep.
So I am not too sure how much weeding time you will save.

I like the idea of getting some plants/woodchip/etc on the slope and then some goose/duck/chicken/sheep to keep it in check with some rotational grazing.
 
pollinator
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Your climate should be suitable for vetiver grass. Vetiver will help with both slowing water run off and roots will stabilise the soil.
 
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Hi Stuart.

What are you using in the area for ground cover? I suggest you get some kind of living, growing, preferably perennial and/or self-seeding annual barrier on the edge of each terrace. Even if it was sod which you then seeded with clovers and a mix of local wildflowers and bird feed mixes, it would serve as a regenerating sediment trap, and a living geotextile knitting the soil together, and not only keeping what it can from eroding, but also trapping what you can expect to lose from the area above it.

Also, and I am assuming you have a period of drought in the high summer when I say this, selecting for local-adapted wild species will ensure they survive the dry months, and stay together well-enough to hold the drying terrace.

If the slope isn't too serious, I would seriously suggest thinking about on-contour sediment traps. These can be thought of as surface-based soil accumulators. They can be as simple as woody debris heavy enough to withstand rain and water movement placed in rows on contour.

You can also use your access paths as swales by digging them down a little and filling the recesses with woody material and woodchips. These would also trap sediment and increase infiltration, and you said that you're on sandstone, which leads me to think you might not have issues of waterlogging, but I would still want to see extensive root networks, preferably perennial, reinforcing the edges of those terraces.

I love the pictures, thanks! More would be awesome. We could also use some more details, so that we know what you're working with. Good luck, and keep us posted!

-CK
 
Stuart Smith
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Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hi Bengi,

I too like the idea of stone filled gabion cages but the price I think would be just too high for the amount we would need, we have for terraces, each around 2.5 metres high and 25 metres long, having just looked at the cost of a single cage we would need to remortgage!/ 😂
 
Stuart Smith
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Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Funny you should mention Vetiver Michael, we planted 200 alongside our driveway to the house in late summer, we're waiting to see how they cope with the winter before buying anymore, at €2.80 per plant it soon gets expensive and given the number we need for this part of the land I think prohibitively expensive...we will see how the first planting grows however 👍
 
Michael Cox
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You can propogate your own vetiver, if you don't mind a wait before it gets established
 
Stuart Smith
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Thanks for the reply CK, a lot to think about there.

My first thoughts are how to firstly rid the area of bramble and black locust sufficiently.

Woody debris might be an idea, I had tried to make an intermediate terrace on each bank by hammering in vertical posts and building a wall of trunks behind but couldn't get posts in far enough because of the stone!

No water logging here, drains pretty well fortunately although the valley we are in is quite high risk for landslides, there are a small number every winter, thinks there is a bit of clay around and about which probably doesn't help.

Will upload some more photos when I'm at my computer 👍
 
Stuart Smith
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Hi Michael, sounds like you know plenty about vetiver!! Do tell me more about propagation 🙏
 
Michael Cox
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Vetiver propogation is ridiculously easy. As it grows it sends up new stems from the ground, with their own roots. You can divide them easily - use something like a fork to break a clump off, then pull the slips apart into small clumps of about three stems and plant those. People who need a lot of vetiver tend to set up a nursery area where they can tend the parent plants and give them some additional water for fast establishment and growth. Then divide and transplant to the final location.

Key to success with vetiver seems to be the initial spacing of the plants. Spread  in a line at about 4 to 6 inches they quickly thicken up and form a dense hedge without gaps. Wider than this and gaps take a long time to close, and water can channel through them.

The leaves of the vetiver make excellent mulch for around your crops. Cut once or twice a year to a height of about 6 inches - this keeps it growing vigorously, and dropped leaves are a fairly long lasting mulch conserving soil moisture.
 
Michael Cox
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A few useful vetiver tit-bits

(One day I'll get a around to writing a dedicated vetiver resources thread!)



Here you see a dense vetiver hedge planted on contour. The hedge slows and sinks water, much as a swale would. The surface runoff deposits the sediment behind the vetiver, leading to natural terrace formation. Where terraces already exist, vetiver stabilises the terrace edges, and prevents bank erosion.



Vetiver also has a phenomenal root system. The roots tend to go down, rather than outwards, so don't interfere with crops planted nearby. In unstable soil vetiver roots have a massive anchoring effect, passing right through surface layers into cracks in bedrock. In a well planned and extensive system it can prevent large scale landslides, as well as more minor surface erosion. Roots will extend MUCH deeper than you can hope to acheive with stakes and other physical methods.
 
Michael Cox
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And here is some nice video on propagation:



Notice the water for the roots as the divisions are made.



A month later they are all showing new growth of leaves. Personally I think they could have done with slightly denser spacings. The gaps will take a while to close.
 
Chris Kott
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I love that root mass on the vetiver! Is it a sub-surface root mat, or does it go deep?

Either way, I could imagine that being an excellent thing to put in on-contour sediment traps to turn them into swales.

-CK
 
Michael Cox
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It goes really deep - pretty much vertically down, so it doesn't interfere with root zones of other plants. And yes, on contour sediment traps is an ideal place for them.
 
Stuart Smith
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it really does seem to be the wonder plant that it's made out to be!!

we found a company with a large nursery an hour away growing this stuff, I think they're one of only two in Italy doing so right now, when we spent €400 with them last year they were full of praise for the plant which immediately put me on the back foot, felt it was all too good to be true and they were rying to pull the wool over my eyes and take the money from my pocket!

alas...seems not!

those videos are great Michael thanks, the splitting seems easy enough so will be giving that a go, the resulting slips seem exactly like what we purchased as plugs last September, we also saw up four inches of growth on the plants before temps dropped too low, now they're all straw coloured, we were told this would happen over winter so looking forward to seeing what happens in spring!
 
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I may be goring your favorite ox, but maybe this isn't the best place for an annual garden.  When you say 'bramble' I assume your talking blackberries or something similar.  If so, there is adequate water for most trees.  

Maybe an alternative would be a good, spineless blackberry that you could cultivate in rows (I like triple crown, it's a good tasting, trailing thornless blackberry with big berries.  It's pretty easy to control if you only allow the trailing ends to touch ground where you want new plants.  I was careless about this and am now reaping the whirlwind caused by my inattention for several years).  A possible alternative to the fabric cloth might be to set up a chicken run where you don't want anything (like in future, or even current walkways, maybe with wood chips).  I'm pretty sure chickens can kill anything just coming out of the ground, if what they did when they got into my garden is any sign.  The chickens would also provide nitrogen for the plants growing down hill.

If you cultivated rows of blackberries with, maybe woodchip trails in between you would have the benefit of an annual with permanent, extending slope holding roots (you could also plant .  

Another alternative might be a hazel thicket or grove with whatever guild companions you pick.  I agree it is a shame to not have the gravity fed water for the garden,but it's a shame if your slope destabilizes also.  If you have some flatter ground near the house it might be better to move the garden.  I know in Haiti they garden on steep slopes, but I think that's more because of lack of alternatives.
 
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Ciao Stuart,
If you're near Roma there's some wwoof hosts with a heap load of vetiver - I need to go and check them out...
 
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I haven't tried it myself yet, but would sheet composting help with your bramble problem?

http://tobyhemenway.com/resources/how-to-the-ultimate-bomb-proof-sheet-mulch/

Seems like it would completely suffocate the existing bramble, and then you could plant whatever you wanted over top of it - vetiver, clover, blackberries, fruit trees, or even better, all of the above.
 
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With terraces like these it might be worthwhile to look at how some of the Asian countries (China and Philippines) and the ancient Peruvians manage their terraces.  Also, Mark Shepherd would probable be worth a look as he has extensive practical experience managing high water flows on hillsides and avoiding washouts.  One thing he likes is grading the terrace with a 1% slope on top of each terrace so that the excess water drains off to the side and cannot pour over the lip of the terrace; and any breaches he repairs immediately.
 
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This is what I did for the terrace wall created when they put our house in.
lower-wall.JPG
[Thumbnail for lower-wall.JPG]
Every time you walk to the garden cary a stone and but it on your bank
strawberry-wall.JPG
[Thumbnail for strawberry-wall.JPG]
put soil in the gaps and plant strawberries
 
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Hans Quistorff: I have considered doing that with the terracing I need to do. The soil around here is rocky, the saying is "the soil here produces two abundant crops of rocks a year!" I figure if I just dirt bank them, and toss all the rocks that I see onto the wall, it might be enough, with lots of deep rooted plants. Are you having any erosion issues? How long has it been in place?
 
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Stuart,

I suspect I will come across as a defeatist and perhaps also a bit blunt by saying this, but your situation seems to me like a case of working against nature.

Your slope badly needs stabilisation and protection against the elements, and the black locust and brambles had been fulfilling precisely that function.

Clearing the re-emergent brambles and black locust is hard work, and so is stabilising the slope. Double whammy. And by the sound of it, the outcome is not guaranteed with any of the methods recommended here by fellow permies.

Perhaps you may have to ask yourself whether you really need that veg garden on the cleared terrace - whether you need it that badly...
 
Chris Kott
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I think that many of the suggested approaches will do exactly what the OP needs to have a vegetable garden on that terrace. Simply seeding the edges with a groundcover suitable for periodic dry spells, one with a thick root mat, will do exactly that, and trap excess sediment in runoff from higher up the slope.

-CK
 
Hans Quistorff
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Pearl Sutton wrote:Hans Quistorff: I have considered doing that with the terracing I need to do. The soil around here is rocky, the saying is "the soil here produces two abundant crops of rocks a year!" I figure if I just dirt bank them, and toss all the rocks that I see onto the wall, it might be enough, with lots of deep rooted plants. Are you having any erosion issues? How long has it been in place?


Only erosion problem is soil washing from gaps when watering until roots are established. Weeding is a problem that is why weeding seat is in the picture but it is less than having strawberries in open soil. There is no fabric behind my rock wall but it was started against a solid subsoil excavation so it had no weed roots behind it. It was not done all at once but just grew as available rocks sowed up around the farm. It has been in place about 4 years.  I am preparing to replace the tiers that were used on another section now that I have accumulated more rocks. This will be a shade garden with shade loving flowers.
 
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I have an area of yard that is similar in slope and was covered with thorny vines. In the process of clearing an area near it we ended up covering it in the tops of trees we were taking down. They ended up staying there a couple weeks and when we went to move them we realized that the vines had become completely covered in leaves and pine needles as well as small branches deep enough (6 inches to a foot or 15 to 30 cm) that even though it was summer and there was plenty of light and water to the area they had not broken through and resumed growing. Also that slope was eroding prior to tree trash being thrown there and the erosion had stopped even with 4 straight days of heavy rains. We decided at that point it looked like the perfect slope for a form of hugelkulture and buried it in compost followed by wood chips held in place with branches pegged by forked tree... erm pegs (you know like they do to the tall hugelkulture mounds?) This all worked much better than I had ever expected and I went on to plant comfrey and vetch into it along with the pokeweed that somehow made its way in. Wasn't what I had planned for the area but as I wasn't planning on addressing that part of my acreage for a while I figure burying it all once a year in wood chips and letting them cook can't hurt lol.
 
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Vetiver would definitely be the way I would go if the climate is suitable.

As Michael said above, propagation is simple and is as he described. I turned 30ish slips into 90m of hedge (at 10cm centres) in about a year.

Make your slip spacing 10cm, no more. I have used it a lot here and that works best for quickly establishing a hedge that will hold back sediment and slow down water. When I plant it I basically pull up year old plants, split them up and plant the slips. I cut the roots and tops off the slips to aid quick establishment. The cut off leaves are placed on the uphill side of the slips and so the hedge starts working immediately.

Here is a pic of my hedge after about a year


I have written about it here - https://practicalprimate.com/vetiver/
I need to revisit the article, it was one of my early ones.
 
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