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

North-facing hillside

Snowy garden

I write about our north-facing hillside a lot, but I only realized a few weeks ago that the term isn't self-explanatory to all our readers.  Basically, a north-facing north.  That means if you're standing on the hill and looking down, you're looking to the north, so in the northern hemisphere, you'll end up with a lot more shade in this type of landscape compared to on a south-facing hillside.  In the winter, especially, it's much colder the closer you are to the steep slope of a north-facing hill since the higher land blocks morning and evening sun for areas at the hill's feet (due to sun angles).

To illustrate my point, I walked up on the powerline pasture terrace and took some shots of our homestead from above.  The first photo in this post is what we call the front garden, which is closest to the hillside.  A week after the big snow, this area is still deeply covered because there's barely been any direct sun hitting the ground.

Melting snow

The second photo shows the mule garden and the southern chicken pastures.  This is at the southern extreme of our core homestead, meaning it's as far away from the hillside as possible.  I took both of these photos at the same time so you can tell that being further away from the hillside is a major boon in terms of winter sun.  (You can also tell that the quick hoop on the right has mostly bounced back with a little TLC.)

North- and south-facing hillsides both have their advantages and disadvantages (and southern hemisphere readers should, obviously, flip the terms around for their homesteads).  I nestle summer chicken pastures up against our hillside, but put the winter chicken pastures down in the sunniest spot, along with our winter garden.  Cool-loving plants like currants and gooseberries enjoy the cool microclimate of the north-facing hillside, and I keep meaning to try some peaches up there to see if the cold will retard bloom enough to miss late frosts.  If I had a south-facing hillside, it would be great for solar panels and fungus-prone plants.

In general, it's easier to take sun away (with shade trees) than to add sun, so unless you live in a very hot region, south-facing hillsides are preferred for most homesteaders.  But if you're picking an ugly duckling property, north-facing hillsides aren't so bad.

Weekend Homesteader: April provides other tips for finding the best spot on your homestead for various plants, animals, and more.

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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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I think Bill Mollison had the right idea in using terms such as "sun-side" or "Sunwards" and "Shade-side" or "polewards" to keep his writing useful for people in both hemispheres. Just a thought.

Comment by Joe Fri Jan 25 10:49:33 2013
Looking at your pictures there is a distinct tree line. Did you have to clear the garden of trees and under growth before putting in a garden?
Comment by Kathleen Olsen Fri Jan 25 11:12:55 2013

do you have any plans for the bank up to the mule garden? that area looks like a great place to plant perennial veggies and flowers. maybe you could lightly terrace it and plant things like ramps, Jerusalem artichokes, and self seeding flowers! sorry, i don't have open land to work, so i live vicariously though you folks...

i really think you should consider taking more photos from the powerline pasture terrace. it's a great perspective on the farm. before these shots, i didn't realize how varied the terrain is within the core homestead!

Comment by kevin Fri Jan 25 11:49:11 2013

Joe --- I always found those terms even more confusing for folks who aren't easily able to visualize what the sun does in the winter. Simpler for folks in other hemispheres, but probably harder for the mainstream American.

Kathleen --- We did chop down a lot of young trees to make our core homestead accessible --- it was quite an undertaking! They had all grown up in the last 50 years, so weren't very big, but there were a lot of them (and blackberry briars and Japanese honeysuckle). Here and there, we're still reclaiming parts of the core homestead.

Kevin --- That's the side of what I generally call the gully, and it is definitely the sunniest spot in the winter. Until this summer, you couldn't even get there for the brambles, and we're hoping one more year of weedwhacking will kill enough honeysuckle that we can start to use the space. By this time next year, we should know if our quick and dirty terraces work in the powerline --- if so, we'll probably try them there too and maybe grow some winter crops in the space.

Comment by anna Fri Jan 25 13:38:57 2013

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