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

Gardening on a ridge versus in a valley

Peach Ridge Ohio

The property Mark and I are currently considering is on top of a ridge --- high and dry. Microclimates have such a huge impact on gardening, and there are major pros and cons to ridges over our current valley location.

Sugar maple

On the minus side, ridges are more exposed to storms and wind, something we've never had to worry about in the past. In an area where rainfall is already 20% down from what I'm used to and where we'd be depending on city water, we'd have to get more clever about irrigation and rainwater catchment. Meanwhile soil also tends to be less rich on ridgetops since erosion naturally carries topsoil downhill.

Oyster mushrooms

That said, never again having to deal with waterlogged soil has something to recommend itself after over a decade in what I lovingly call a swamp. Fungal diseases should be rarer and ridgetops can (at least sometimes) be less susceptible to late spring freezes since cold air naturally flows downhill during the course of a night. And we wouldn't have to put up with the lack of winter sun that further chills our current farm either, which may make a ridgetop in zone 6A no harder for tender plants to survive than a north-facing bottom in zone 6B.

I'd be curious from those of you currently gardening on ridges. What other pros and cons would you put out there about these more exposed locations?

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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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Pros: Often a lovely view, with sunsets and sunrises Breezes Few drainage problems Privacy - you see see or hear who's coming

Cons: Erosion High winds, so you have to be careful where you plant tall crops or put up wind breaks Poor soil, so you have to amend a lot and/or build raised beds

I have found that the bogginess of the location is mostly soil-dependent. There are areas on the ridge that are dry, and others that become mushy when there's a heavy rain.

Comment by Garderner Wed Jul 19 09:44:09 2017

I live on a humid ridge top and I can tell you that fungal diseases are NOT rarer! In fact, this year is the worst so far! Another thing that I have to deal with are crows. I have scarecrows, CDs, netting, you name it.

Comment by Gardener Wed Jul 19 09:46:47 2017
In our area, elevation=wind. We have near daily mild to gusting winds due to our location between warm inland areas and the cooler coast. The ridge lines are notably more bare than the valleys, presumably due to less moisture and the windy conditions. We aren't on a ridge, but we're definitely elevated above the valley floor. The wind particularly impacts choices of types of trees we plant plus where we place them and how they are staked, and generally how we protect seedlings in the gardens.
Comment by Jennifer Wed Jul 19 10:00:20 2017
You are basically displaced because of more rain. Some are displaced because of higher winds (tornadoes, etc. maybe you shd check the weather and season (first and last frost) in the area you are looking at, thru their own weather reports (TV, newspaper) to look more critically at what the realtors tell you. For ex, here in Bristol, Tn/Va we have high ozone alerts alot, because smog (exhaust from cars plus fog) gets trapped between the knobs and the higher ridges, so better air is either in real woods, on the shore of lakes, or higher up. I don't think the garden is really as important as your own need for a good air flow! And your need for winter sun...
Comment by adrianne Wed Jul 19 11:10:00 2017
In my location (Cascade foothills) in Oregon the "flat" land is on the ridge tops, our soil drains very well, we are warmer, and wind isn't a problem, compared to lower elevations. In the summer we are usually above the clouds that roll in from the Pacific, while Portland will stay socked in until afternoon, and in the winter we have more rain due to orographic effect. Wouldn't trade it for anything!
Comment by NIta Wed Jul 19 15:22:16 2017
We have both a ridge (old pastureland) and a valley with gullies. The ridge is 700ft & near a state forest. Since this is new to us, we are testing a few gardens on the property. One is on the ridge and seems to have enough water (we thought it would be dryer), a little sandy and right now the winds do not seem to bother it however, we are planting white pine windbreaks on the W & E sides because we see the wind damage to other surrounding trees. Our soil seems richer in the lower gardens. All gardens are doing well organically.
Comment by Anonymous Wed Jul 19 16:51:11 2017

Every piece of land, comes with some tweaking. We have a north and south facing slope, with a valley where they both meet. We also have various gullies across the slopes. Where we have worked on the slopes, we've managed to retain more moisture. The slopes we haven't altered, are very dry.

The strategies for retaining moisture on slopes are, swales, hugelkultur, and/or hedgerows - built on contour. Any of these, will interrupt the path of water going down hill, and capture it. That's really the trick for gardening on slopes, by creating barriers to defy gravity. They say the best place to garden/live is the middle of a ridge. So not up the very top of the mountain, or down in the valley.

We built our house in the middle of our north facing slope (Southern Hemisphere) which is equivalent to your south facing slope. We can grow subtropical/tropical plants near the top of the slope, and temperate crops below. Of course, the wind is less in the valley, and more intense the further up the hill you go. It's difficult to plant windbreaks on a slope, because you have to have really tall trees, which can interrupt sun exposure.

Having experienced a range of different terrain on our particular block, the sweet spot is located in the middle of a ridge.

Comment by Chris Thu Jul 20 01:27:26 2017

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