The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Backyard terraforming

Backyard terraforming

'Tis the season to be terraforming, tra la la la la, la la la la....

That early killing frost was the bane of my fall garden, but a boon to future gardens.  By nipping back a lot of the current growth, the hard frost made it easy to dig while it's still early enough that I can probably sneak rye seeds in to cover the bare ground for the winter.  I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by terraforming the upper quarter of the gully.
Clearing the gully
Long-time readers will be aware that this gully probably formed when previous owners of our farm let all the topsoil erode away from half of our core homestead.  The result is a swampy, weedy area that Mark has been slowly reclaiming with hand saws, clippers, and weedeaters for the last few years

Kill mulchBy this time last year, the upper quarter of the gully had changed from briers to sedges and grasses, so I figured it was safe to throw down a kill mulch and grow subirrigated tomatoes there this year.  The idea made sense, but I wasn't aware how swampy that part of the gully becomes during a wet summer, so the tomatoes caught the blight quickly and perished.  My current method for dealing with parts of the garden that make me sad is to avert my eyes and go somewhere else (not recommended), so I never weeded the tomato beds after the crop died, and moderate weeds started coming back in.

Current gully

This week's task was to ensure that the next crop planted in that part of the gully doesn't drown, achieved by mounding all the topsoil from the aisles onto the beds.  These rows may turn out to be a set of chinampas in wet years, but I'm willing to weed in muck boots if that's what it takes to turn this sunny spot into a productive part of the garden.

Making raised beds

And the results already thrill me!  I shouldn't have been so surprised when each shovelful of dirt came up dark and rich --- after all, if the topsoil eroded out of the gardens above, it had to collect somewhere, right?  Since the roots of the plants in these new raised beds won't be submerged in water any longer, I suspect this might become one of my best growing areas.

Next up on the terraforming list is some swales in the newest pasture, and kill mulching another zone of the gully so it'll be just as easy to dig next year as this zone was.  The gully is definitely shaping up to be one of our longest-term projects, but worth the tidbits of attention here and there devoted to the oft-ignored corner.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It is hard to tell in the photos, but does the gully have an outlet, and did you make the "chinampas" parallel or perpendicular to the grade? Or, "Will It Drain?"

A nice piece of ag drain might make it even nicer if there is an accessible outlet.

Comment by Eric in Japan Wed Oct 30 10:24:17 2013
I don't know if Eucalyptus trees would grow there but they can be used to dry up swampy land. Israel used them for that. Maybe you should try a few and see what happens.
Comment by lesley Wed Oct 30 16:42:19 2013
Eric --- Excellent point! I didn't really think about it at the time, just made the raised beds on contour (so they'll hold water instead of draining it). Time will tell whether that's a good or a bad decision --- I'm on the fence. On contour means the crops will be subirrigated; I'll just have to hope it doesn't mean the roots drown despite being raised up.
Comment by anna Wed Oct 30 17:38:02 2013

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