All summer and fall,
I’ve been dreaming of turning the
steep powerline cut pasture into a useful part of the
farm. With the garden put to bed, I was finally able to steal
some time to put the first stage into practice.
First, the goals:
- Prevent chicken-scratching from causing erosion on a steep slope.
- Provide easy access so we’re able to manage the vegetation.
- Hold water on what’s otherwise a dry slope so trees won’t need
irrigation (with the side benefit of helping deal with the overflow of
water that turns the bottom of the slope into a swamp).
I’m starting with two
terraces, although I suspect I’ll eventually make three or four if
these work out. First, I stacked a lot of brush (cut out of the
pasture this summer) on the downhill side of where I wanted the terrace
to go, then I carved soil out of the uphill side to toss onto that
raised area. If I was building a terrace to hold heavy machinery,
I wouldn’t want to put biodegradable wood down there, but my goal is to
keep these terraces in place with root action in the long run, so the
brush just has to hold the slope until the roots get established.
Speaking of roots, I’ve
already planted the berm on the downhill side of the biggest terrace
with comfrey, and plan to seed cover crops (probably oats, then
buckwheat) on the unused flat part of the terrace this spring.
That way I’ll be able to turn the chickens into this pasture a bit over
the summer without worrying that they’ll scratch bare soil to pieces,
and I’ll also be building much-needed organic matter for the five tiny American
persimmons that will eventually spread their roots into this
space. The trees will be grafted to naturally dwarf Asian
persimmons once the trunks are four feet tall (in a year or two), which
means they’ll stay shrimpy enough not to mess with the powerline
Rather than putting the
terraces directly on grade, I opted to turn them into a switchback
trail, with one gently rising and one gently falling so the two
mostly-flat areas meet at the edge of the pasture. This is really
just to make it easy for me to access, and may have the unintended
consequence that water runs down the terraces rather than pooling in
them. I’m hopeful that a few logs laid across the terraces will
hold soil and water in place.
As you can see, the
digging is hard work, so I’m just plugging away an hour or two per
day. More photos to come, but meanwhile, I’m curious to hear any
feedback on the design. For example, do you think half-rotted old
trees about ten inches in diameter will hold the uphill side of the
slope if I pound fence posts in behind them at intervals? (Again,
this is just supposed to last for the first few years, until the plants
I stick between the timbers take root.) Do you think it’s
realistic to think I can get my terraces vegetated enough to let
chickens graze in here part-time this summer? I’m very curious to
hear from anyone who’s tried to terrace a chicken pasture.
hydrated so they can spend their days foraging for food.