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


Tablones are Guatemalan terraces.Much of Central America is mountainous, so it's no surprise to find a broad range of terraces throughout the area.  Tablones are a type of Guatemalan terrace created on steep slopes.  Farmers simply hoe soil downhill, using gravity to ease the work and creating step-like terraces about two feet wide.

Hoe down part of the terrace above to form two inches of loose soil on the terrace below.Every year, tablones are re-formed by hoeing a bit of soil from the terrace above onto the terrace below.  Crop stubble is left in place and ends up being buried under the new dirt where it will decompose quickly.  Farmers can easily plant their seeds in the loose soil, then hoe down a bit more dirt to cover it.  The result combines the best of no-till and till techniques --- the majority of the soil isn't moved, so erosion is minimized.  But the soil is loosened, which makes it easy to plant and keep down weeds. 

This post is part of our Central American Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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Haha, wouldn't it be a hoot to see terraces on the mountainsides of appalachia?

Doesn't the soil from the top just eventually all get scraped down to the bottom?

Comment by Everett Sizemore Wed Nov 18 17:54:26 2009

Actually, I see terraced hillsides around here all the time...but they're created when too many cows are grazed on too steep hillsides and the dirt erodes down into the cows' footpaths. :-)

I think that you're right that the dirt eventually ends up on the bottom of the hillside. But I'll bet it takes a long time --- probably centuries. Maybe it's slow enough that new dirt is formed at the same rate? Interesting question...

Comment by anna Wed Nov 18 19:10:45 2009

As usual, I find myself searching your site first when it comes to questions that pop into my head having to do with the homestead.

I'm worried that our land is too steep to just wing it with non-level borderless raised beds, but I was trying to avoid terracing because it is so labor-intensive and would require lots of expensive material (stone, pressure-treated wood, or cedar, the latter two of which I don't want near my food). I think incorporating swales, by their very nature, might help terrace out the land to some extent and am willing to invest the labor into them, but I still worry that whatever soil/compost I truck in and form into beds is going to wash away with the rain.

I don't think hugelkulter is practical simply because I want to build so many beds and don't know if we want to fuss with cutting down trees or finding already downed trees and hauling them and and...

Do you think that tablones might be an option? Maybe I should just buckle down and find thick branches and other material on the property that would suffice to hold up terraced soil.

btw, I've got your new book in my Amazon basket, but I'm waiting to order until I think of something else I need so I can get free shipping. :)

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Tue Apr 10 20:18:47 2012

Mitsy --- I'm in a bit of the same boat as you at the moment. Mark cleaned up a gully which is the sunniest spot in our yard in the winter, and I want to take advantage of that. But the sunny side is pretty steep! We're still pondering the best way to terrace that slope to make it usable, so I don't really have any advice yet. Except to say --- stay tuned! We'll probably experiment with something this year or next. :-)

Thanks for adding my book to your cart! I always look for the free shipping too, but I think that Amazon will hold your other book until October if you order two together. (At least that's what happened when I ordered another book while preordering Harvey Ussery's book to make the shipping come out free.) Just a word to the wise --- I got annoyed with waiting for the other book in my cart, canceled my order, and ordered the two separately. :-)

Comment by anna Tue Apr 10 20:33:19 2012

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