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Terraced Gardening

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Since the dawn of civilization, farming has been achieved on mountainsides. I have my own theories as to why, but nevertheless, the astonishing remnants of these incredible agricultural feats still remain


The truth to why someone would choose to farm this way is somewhat elusive, because after all it is much harder to harvest mountainsides than it is a flat, meadow farm. However, nothing worthwhile comes easy and there are certainly benefits from terraced gardening.



Natural erosion destroys the humus and top soil of rocky mountain slopes, leaving behind

nothing but sand and stone. Terraces combat erosion and help maintain the topsoil and humus, enriching the soil. With proper planning you can create a life long and prolific garden, even on very sloped terrain.



The typical and most sustainable retaining wall or terraced gardens are simply built with the rocks that are dug from the Earth to create the flat surface of the terrace. Like Drake, you start up at the bottom, then work your way up. This simple method negates the need for transporting materials while and the same time getting you more in touch with your land!


Of course when building terraces you must plan accordingly to avoid disaster. I recommend reading several sources before hand; one being Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. The building of terraces will naturally collect moisture. In wet climates you can unintentionally make your land prone to water logging and landslides if terraces are built incorrectly. Natural stone can be used to allow for more proper drainage as needed.


On the contrary, terracing on dry, dusty terrain will cause less erosion, creating water retention and allowing the natural water table to build gradually.


When designed correctly, terraces can be easily accessible, acting as pathways on a farm. You can make them to be wide enough for any type of vehicle to drive on, making harvesting simpler.


Terraces will also create microclimates as a byproduct. These are highly valuable to the mountain farmer as it allows them to grow a variety of crops deemed otherwise incapable at such heights. Studies show that at the Moray Ruins in Cusco, Peru, the terraces at the top to bottom had an average difference of over 50°F!


Imagine the gardening possibilities!


Climbing plants such as squash love the rock face! Many high elevation farms are utilizing terraced farming as the benefits are so apparent.


Major ancient cultures around the world grew their city gardens with terraces including water channels called "acequias" to allow people access to necessary fresh water.



Above all, there is an immense sense of wonder and awe when enjoying the sight of stone wall gardens. In the end you will have not only made farming a mountainside effective and easy, but you will have beautified it for generations as well.



So let's recap the benefits of terraced gardening:


  • An effective way to create pathways and use otherwise inaccessible sloped land

  • Excellent water retention, diminishing the need for irrigation

  • Microclimate fundamentality, allowing for diverse crop planting

  • Erosion combatting, allowing for the collection of topsoil and building of humus

  • Beauty and wonder achieved through magnificent stone walls


It's obvious to me why ancient cultures used to farm this way, and for some crops it will become mainstream again. With irrigation water drying up and topsoil depleting worldwide, all the benefits of terraced gardening should be apparent to the student of permaculture. The possibilities are endless.


 

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