Posted by: permamonk | May 17, 2011

An old fashioned wall raising party

Well, the ivy was removed and that left the hill clear for the next ambitious step: Terracing!!!

After a great deal of research and watching lots of how-to videos, we felt confident enough to tackle this.  I’m sure there are some of our fellow permaculturists out there asking why we chose to use pre-fab bricks instead of recycled objects like tires or timbers.  Well, here’s the rub.  When you know you’re going to live in a house (or Abbey) for a long, long time, you may feel free to be as resourceful as you’d like.  Unfortunately, as this house is not permanent for us and will be sold down the road, we have to keep yard appeal and resale value in mind.  When we have 20+ acres for gardening for the Abbey, then I promise you there will be tires as backfill and rocks as facing.  There will be reclaimed timbers and bamboo screens.  There will be adobe hermitages and straw bale chapels.  Until then, we have to keep the status quo in mind and be curteous to our neighbors view of our yard.  While I and many other like minded individuals think tires can be beautiful, we must accomodate.  We will take the middle road and use permaculture principals with excepted landscaping design.  The middle road.  It’s what monks are good at. 

Back to the terracing.  After the hill was cleared, we marked out the lines for the walls with marking paint.  Anyone who is going to try to design their own landscape should, by all means, mark out the whole design on the ground first before starting.  This will give you a far better feel for the spacial requirements and layout.  At this point, fixing something means marking a new line.  Fixing something after you’ve already put four walls in is something entirely different.  We marked out the walls, the lines for the porch, the path and the patios.  Sure enough, once it was all on the ground, we had to make adjustments and balance space.  But once it was all marked, we were ready to go.

For our hills, it was only 8 ft in height, which means four terraces covering that space would only have to be 2 ft. a piece if lined edge to edge from bottom to top.  Ours overlap a bit, so they would be just over 2ft.  This is important because if your terracing is going to be any higher then you have to build a foundation or sink the bricks into the dirt for stability.  The stones we found at the hardware store have lips on the back so that the bricks slope backwards and lock onto each other, so our short walls would be very secure. 

Beginning with the lowest point of the wall (ours would step up and dig into the hills as they curved), we dug horizontally into the hill and moved out from there.  The whole process, while strenuous, was fairly straight forward.  The only trick is to be sure that each brick is level and even as you sink them in.  We opted for a simple design using two colors of bricks that would alternate harlequin fashion from wall to wall. 

First (top) terrace

Here's the first terrace at the top of the hill. Easier to start there and work down.

Second terrace

The second terrace around the tree.

Third and half of fourth terrace.

Third and half of fourth and final terrace. (we ran out of bricks)

We managed about one wall per Sunday, with the third and fourth this past Sunday. Had we not run out of bricks then we could have capped it all off before dinner (though some people seem to like the turrets). With each wall, it was important to back fill with gravel. Luckily the awful steps from earlier in our story finally came in handy. We were able to rake the gravel out of the clay and use that. This is very important as it will help with drainage from one terrace to the next.
The final step will be to put landscaping cloth along the inside edge and fill in with compost. We’ll also finish the walls with caps along the top edge. These will have to be cut to fit and cemented down, but it will give a nice finished look to the whole project.
Speaking of compost, Br. Addison was busy in the front yard prepping additional garden space. The area along the walk way leading to the front door was a nice open and flat spot. It is in fact one of the few flat spots we have. Using the sheet mulch technique, he laid down cardboard and covered it with the two truck loads of free compost that our postulant Jamie and I had gotten earlier the week. For those of you looking for compost, check with your city/county to see if they have free compost sites. Ours does, and I’d hate to think how much all that compost would have cost had we gotten it retail.
By laying down the cardboad, this will smother the grass, weeds, and moss underneath without having to use chemicals or tilling. Eventually, the cardboard with biodegrate and mix in with the soil. The compost layer on top gives us a rich, ready layer for planting.
As luck would have it, in our excavation of the back yard, we discovered a fair number of hexagonal stepping stones. These we laid down to create a path into the garden so we can create key hole beds radiating out from the center. Around the bird bath we’ll have potted herds and such. The space outlined by the rough stone (also salvaged from the back yard) will provide space for a bench and lounging. 
On the other side of the walkway we have a steep slope which Br. Addison has started to sheet mulch and plant sweet potatoes.  Still keeping curb appeal in mind, this will give a lush green cover to the hill as the slips start to vine and the flowers of the sweet potato look like morning glories.  Awesome, non?    
The front garden

Walkway, birdbath, and compost. What a beautiful sight.

 Tune in next time for “Paths a plenty and compost ahoy!”   God’s Peace. 

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