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North facing slope

 
Dan Poole
Posts: 25
Location: Central TX
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I am looking at buying some land, but finding that most places within my price range are less than ideal.The best deal I've found is about 7 acres pretty close to the city, but with a few problems. The one I view as the major problem is that the bulk of the property lies on a north facing slope. How much of a deal breaker would you consider this? Are there any clever ways around this? It seems like there must be a positive side to north facing slopes...I suppose I could get more chill hours than the surrounding area and maybe grow different varieties of fruit trees?

The property runs almost to the crest of the hill, but the adjacent property is covered in trees which would completely block the sun from any house I built. At the north end of the property is another hill, south facing, but adjacent to a relatively busy road and in the ~25 year flood zone of a creek running through the property (this is Central TX, so we get pretty bad flash flooding). One thought I've had is to build the hill up in the flood area, like the neighbor has done, then the house has a nice south facing wall. Still, most of the land is north facing, so growing things in early spring may be an issue.

I'm not married to this property and don't really plan on buying it short term anyway. Should I narrow my search to only include places with south facing slopes?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally, here in Central Texas I would see a north slope as a bonus - as we generally get too much sun and heat.    On the other hand of course you don't want all the sun blocked if you hope for passive winter heating or photovoltaic.  Best situation in my opinion is to try to get south-east facing slopes and avoid if possible west-facing slopes.

Be extremely wary of land in a flood plain.  A big section of our land contains catastrophically flooding seasonal creeks, and this has made life extremely "interesting" over the years! 
 
Dan Poole
Posts: 25
Location: Central TX
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Passive solar heating is part of what I'm hoping for, as well as starting annuals as early as possible. If only that hill could block some sun in the summer! I suppose one way to look at it is I could put less heat tolerant plants on that slope, though it still gets the full summer sun blast. At least there's no real western exposure anywhere on the land. Maybe I just don't worry about it?

It seems like every time I see a cheap piece of land and get excited, I look at the flood plain maps and find out its smack in the middle of one. There's always a catch. This one at least has a large hill that flood waters won't be able to reach in all likelihood. The flood maps show the 500 year area to be about 100' from the creek edge which leaves a lot of room elsewhere to put my house.

Since this piece of land doesn't seem to be going anywhere, I may just check it out again in person in the winter to see how much shading we'd actually get.

Any experience with cedar? There's quite a bit on the land and I've been trying to think of uses. Mulch and biochar come to mind. Mulching it would be an enormous amount of work though and I'd need a giganto wood chipper.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I see cedar as a huge important resource, as well as an enormous pain in the butt.  Remember you don't have to clear it all at once.  I've been using a lot of it in hugel pits.  Also, we place the cut-up branches in windrows across slopes to slow down run-off.  It can also be used to make brush dams in seasonal creeks - this is what we plan to do this coming "cold season".  Mulching some of it would be nice but we ended up not doing much of that because of the expense of renting a chipper and the amount of physical labor needed to make the rental worthwhile.  Trying to chip  all day was just too hard.    We use about 50% cedar for heating the house and cooking in winter, along with oak.  Well-aged cedar burns pretty clean though we do clean the flue annually.
 
Richard Kastanie
Posts: 88
Location: Missouri Ozarks
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North facing slopes have many advantages, and of course disadvantages too. I wouldn't go for a north-facing slope if I lived in a super cold climate, but in Texas I would think a north-facing slope would be an advantage overall. Where I'm at in the Missouri ozarks, north-facing slopes tend to grow larger, healthier stands of trees than south facing ones because the north-facing ones aren't as drought-prone and also tend to accumulate more organic matter because the warmer the soil is, the faster the organic matter breaks down. Better retention of organic matter in turn leads to more ability to hold moisture. Of course, there are other factors in moisture retention too, sometimes a quirk in the geology or past land use makes a particular south-facing slope have better soil, but the tendency in climates with hot summers is for the north-facing slopes to be better off.

North-facing sloped are good spots for orchards too, as long as you're growing things that are definitely hardy enough in your winters and also ripen easily with the amount of summer heat you have. Not only because of the fact that they retain more moisture, also trees planted on north-facing sloped tend to break dormancy later and are thus less likely to get hit by spring freezes than their counterparts on a south facing slope.
 
Dan Poole
Posts: 25
Location: Central TX
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Ludi - I certainly don't plan on clearing it all at once! How's the cedar working for you in the Hugelkulture beds? I've read on this forum that cedar oil has a tendency to inhibit the growth of other plants, but never heard anything conclusive on the topic. I like your idea of laying the branches on slopes for runoff.

Castanea - Thanks for the input! That makes me feel better about that site.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I've only used aged cedar (cut a couple years ago) in my hugel and I hav'nt seen any obvious growth inhibition. 
 
Suzy Bean
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Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
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Paul and Kelda review sepp holzer's Permaculture (the book) in this podcast: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/445-podcast-081-sepp-holzer-permaculture-chapter-1-part-2/
In it, they discuss Sepp's approach to dealing with north-facing slopes.
 
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