Gardening on a slope part 2: Raised beds and terraces

in Homesteading7 months ago (edited)

Welcome to part two of my series about trying to work impossible land. I've always been of the mindset that impossible things can still be done, they just take a bit longer. My taming of this hillside has proved to be no exception. It has taken me several years and no small amount of labor, but this once thorny forest growing over a mix of marsh and hardpan clay now has a couple good sized, very productive gardens, and just the right amount of lawn that you can walk barefoot in.


In part 1 I taked about the raised beds and the terrace a little bit, but I thought I would post about them with some more depth.

My main reason for trying raised beds was to improve soil drainage. Most of my hillside is hardpan clay, and any place that I dig a hole will fill right up with water every time that it rains. In the picture above you can see my first two raised beds, as well as a third that I added. These beds were put in an area of the lawn that I had previously leveled for a pool. The ground here stays too wet for most vegetables, but by putting my garden beds on top of the soil, my dirt that my plants are growing in drains well enough. I still have some problems with things like marijuana and peppers in this area during wet years. They prefer their soil to become fairly dry between watering, and they will grow in the raised beds here, but they don't always thrive.


In the terrace, my main reason for wanting the raised boxes was soil retention. This part of the hill does not stay as wet because of the steep slope, but any growing soil that I try to put on top of the clay will just wash down the hill, even in a light rain. In the picture above, I haven't disturbed any of the soil below the line of that small tree... all the brown dirt you see on the lower part of the slope washed down from the area where I was working.


The picture above is the same area two weeks later, after a mild rain. You can kind of see how some of the grass had started growing back, and then just got covered back up with mud.


The terrace beds don't get an awful lot of sun, so it was the first place we tried growing brassicas and greens. They did fairly well here, but I didn't really make a wide enough area for it to be comfortable when working in these beds, and over the years, they've fallen further and further into a state of disarray. This year they are in bad need of an entire rebuild, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves...


I planted three grapes on the hill above the terrace, because grapes are supposed to do well in poor soil, and I didn't expect that the soil in that spot would ever be anything but. They could use a little more sun, which is another thing I hope to work on this year, but they are finally starting to really produce. Last year we actually ate several, made some juice, and had a start on some wine, but it got left unattended when we made our unfortunate trip to South Carolina.


The picture above shows the other garden area we had at the time. This space was still too close to the woods, and too sloped at the low end. We suffered such problems as seeds washing out, not enough sun, the uphill side drying out all the time, too many insects, too many slugs... if you can think of the problem, it probably happened in this garden. The ring around the triple-trunk tree was our first herb garden, and has now been completely taken over by the mint and lemon balm. The blurry area in the foreground is where I had set up the newer pool back when the wife still lived here, which we now call 'The Ring'.


The Ring is where we planted most of our first flowers and other strictly decorative growth. The idea was to have a sloping terrace around the large flat ring where the pool had been, that would give us a consistent border and still hold soil well enough to keep our flowers. It's a bit high maintenance, requiring a rebuild of the walls every 2-4 years, but this gives us a chance to try new things in the area, and the stuff we plant here all grows great. This area is right outside the kitchen door, and is the first place that I started to clear for yard and garden when I moved in.


It's been a lot of work over the years, but I definitely feel it's been worth it. Even when it's looking neglected, like in the picture above, I'm happy to look out and see what I've built here.


The view never gets old, especially with the seasons in this area. One day you're looking out at a beautiful early fall day, with lots of green and just a hint of changing leaves...


The next day it's a monochrome post nuclear wasteland. Always beautiful, never boring, and just steep enough for a constant sense of danger. Ah, there's no place like home.


When it's abundant, it's breathtaking. Mornings when I go outside and it looks like this, it's hard to go in to work! Working the slope makes everything here more difficult, but I feel it's a good reflection of me: rugged and unwelcoming, but interesting enough to demand your attention.

Thanks for stopping to read this, I hope it gave some inspiration, or ideas, or at least a little entertainment. Keep coming back to see the slow evolution of my slope over the years, as well as a range of other projects that I fill my time with.

Until then, I hope your hearts, heads, and bellies all stay full with the things you love!


rugged and unwelcoming, but interesting enough to demand your attention.


I wondered if anyone would read far enough to see the little joke :D

Thought about you today, we went maple syruping! Never been to a place before so it was a pretty cool adventure. I was amazed at the amount of syrup and taps the operation has but it is a commercial business so they gotta keep it moving. What were the other types of syrup you’ve made? Was it birch and another one? I was trying to ask them if they did any others today but they got a little annoyed lol

Glad that you’ve got some decent land to take care of this stuff in. I hope I can get my hands on something like that so I can start my own small homestead to ward off needing to buy groceries for some things.

The only other syrup I've successfully made is walnut. I know that you can make syrup from the sap of hickory, birch, and sycamore trees as well, but I haven't gotten my timing right for the hickory and haven't had an opportunity to tap any birch or sycamore trees yet.

Land is cheap here in rural NY, if you can handle the taxes!

Those steps... I think I would have a hard time in the snow 🌨️.

They were rebuilt to be more decorative than functional. Everything around here is a hard time in the snow, and practically impossible when it's covered in ice! Fortunately, my only winter chores that required me to go up the hill were tapping trees and tending chickens, both of which have been moved closer to house along easier paths.