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

Holding water on a slope with punky wood

Logs on a terrace

Part of the reason I thought it was worthwhile to put a lot of effort into terracing the powerline pasture is completely unrelated to chickens and instead has to do with water.  The forest garden turns into a swamp during wet weather, and while I've blamed the excess water on everything from barn roof overflow to compacted clay soil, I'm willing to entertain the notion that the powerline cut has something to do with it as well.  After all, wet weather springs pop up at the base of that hillside during winter rains, suggesting that the lack of vegetation resulting from cutting trees along the powerline has sped up flow of water, resulting in a glut down below.

Logs holding water

In her new ebook, One Acre Homestead, Sara McDonald writes about slowing the flow of energy through a system: "The flow must be maintained, but catching and storing energy for beneficial purposes is encouraged."  In other words, one solution to my problem would be to keep water on the hillside longer, where it can hydrate plants and be transpired out through their leaves rather than flooding the forest garden below.  Many permaculture practitioners use ponds to slow the flow of water, but I want to keep things simpler by soaking up excess water with humus.


A trip into the nearby woods turned up plenty of punky sticks and logs already rotting into the ground.  I used the drop test to determine which ones were ready to move to the powerline cut --- if the wood broke into small enough pieces to haul when thumped on the ground, I figured it was ready.  Six trips later, the terraces were looking a little less barren and I was worn out.

Mushroom on log

I'll probably add more wood later, since this is just the bare minimum needed to hold unvegetated soil in place, but even this little bit should help.  In the immediate future, the logs will force water to pool behind them during heavy rains, tempting more liquid to soak into the earth rather than running off, and soon the wood will have rotted enough to suck up rain and release it slowly during droughts.  The wild fungi that came along for the ride can't hurt either.

Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home is now available on Amazon!  I'll tell you more about it next week in a lunchtime series, but you can read now for $1.99 if you don't want to wait.

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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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Thanks for the mention. What a cool project! I can't wait to see your terrace garden in a few years.

I was working on a stream bank restoration project last year where we planned to use a sterile Vetiver ('Sunshine' variety) plant to hold the soil back, similar to the way you plan to use Comfrey. Vetiver has an amazing root structure so it's ideal for this kind of work. I thought I'd mention it for anyone who is in a near tropical climate and considering a similar type of project.

Comment by Sara Fri Dec 21 08:46:22 2012
Alfalfa roots go 17 feet deep and draw up to the surface depleted minerals and trace elements.
Comment by Errol Fri Dec 21 09:56:03 2012

Sara --- Thanks for the suggestion! I'll bet it'll be helpful for warm-weather gardeners.

Daddy --- I couldn't seem to get alfalfa to take hold in poor soil areas. Have you tried it outside of good agricultural soil?

Comment by anna Fri Dec 21 10:39:37 2012
That's a great idea! I wonder how the change from the woods to the hillside will affect the mushrooms growing in the wood. If it doesn't shut things down too much for the mushrooms I could see moving inoculated logs there to add another harvest, probably once they're reasonable punky.
Comment by Milton Dixon Fri Dec 21 10:57:27 2012

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