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Green Hills

The new garden - terraced hillside

We closed on our place in the mountains in February 2021, about 3 years to the day that we began building our raised bed / terraced gardens. It’s been a major part of our overall blueprint from the beginning, though quite a few things have kept us from immediately implementing these plans.

We knew we weren’t going to be able to do much in terms of a full garden for some time, so in the Spring of 2021 we decided to plant several fruit trees in the orchard / permaculture area to at least get something started! Also, fruit trees tend to take a couple to a few years to begin bearing fruit, so getting those in quickly would give them a jump start for a period down the road…which is now.

We planted two plums and five apples to start with, and added three peach trees since. This was, at least, a quick fix for our eagerness and excitement to get some sort of food source in the ground as soon as possible.

We have just over 100 acres, most of it heavily wooded, with an estimated 3 or 4 acres of open area. Rush Creek feeds our pond and marsh which takes up about an acre of the that. On the low side of the pond, where the dam was built, we have a large grassy slope. At the bottom of the slope the creek spills back out, where an adjacent tributary joins it on our property before flowing down a mile or so where it flows into the Broad River.

That grassy slope is our garden. Well, part of it. At least the more formal part. We always thought of it as a terraced space, utilizing the slope for the terraces as well as for the direction it faces - almost directly south. The sun moves past this part of our land perfectly for growing in general and the terraces accentuate this even more by allowing us to plant taller plants closer together without one bed shading another.

Last week we finished the beds. In Charlotte we’ve built a few raised bed gardens. No big deal. Done in a day, or half a day maybe. Where we put them was flat, so the job was simple: the lumber had to be cut, laid out and attached, filled with compost and soil, and planted. Not so much here. With the slope we had to cut into the soil, level the components, fill or back fill various elements depending on the grade at that spot.

In the past we used untreated yellow pine from the big box hardware retailers. You don’t want treated wood, though it would last far longer, as the chemicals used will leach into the soil, and eventually into your food. Untreated pine is relatively soft and relatively light. It lasts 2 - 3 years, maybe 4 in some spots, but it does break down and rot.

For these beds we still used untreated wood, but we found a small local sawmill nearby and bought white oak boards, recently cut and still wet. And these, unlike most modern retail lumber, were cut “true”. Our 2x12 boards were true 2 inches and true 12 inches. And they were heavy. All of this should make them last twice as long as the stuff we’ve used in the past (for about 1/3 more in cost). But working with them was exhausting! Moving them from the stack to be cut to size, then down the hill from the work space, digging the trenches and cutting into the hill…you get the picture. Oh, add in working in 40 or so degree weather.

We got half of the garden done a few weeks ago, and the other half last week. After the first day our joints hurt so much - elbows, shoulders, wrists - all crying for a break between the two sections.

Last week we also found a place with free mulch. It’s freshly chipped wood from a tree service that keeps an open lot about 15 minutes from us. They offer free wood, logs, and chipped scraps. You just have to get it yourself. We also bought a dumptruck load of screened organic compost. We made multiple trips to the wood lot and had the compost delivered. We filled the first half (bottom) of the beds with the chipped wood, then the compost, then another layer of the mulch.

This material, the chipped wood in particular, will break down over time and we’ll add compost through-out every season to the top of the beds. We’ll practice “no dig” gardening which keeps nitrogen and other nutrients more alive in the soil. Another advantage of the terraces will be any nutrients that wash off or under the beds will flow down to the next bed. We’ll also be able to water the garden from the pond, just above it and over the small crest of the hill. We’re excited to work with this system, the hillside, though I’m sure we’ll find some things we need to adjust with it.

When we finished the beds last week we planted a couple of them. Not all, it’s early in the season right now and we aren’t used to the small differences in climate from Charlotte to here, but we planted what we’ve seen and read can be planted now, here. Radishes, turnips, potatoes, beets, spinach, onions, snow peas, chives, pac choi, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage & carrots. We’ll plant another round of these in a few weeks and then the classic summer stuff in a couple months (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, okra, etc).

Through out the season we’ll switch out things that finish their cycle or need to come out, replanting something in their place, all of this blended with permaculture and companion planting in mind. We’ve done a lot of research into these methods of gardening, and used a few of them already in our gardens of the past, this is familiar territory in general though the climate is a bit different here in the mountains.

I’m sure this will be a big learning year from what does grow well here to what animals we need to contend with. In Charlotte It’s primarily squirrels. Here we need to consider deer, ground hogs, bears and who knows what else. We don’t mind sharing but hope the battle isn’t too huge!

Later today we’ll plant three packs of onion starts - 90 each of yellow, white and red onions. They should finish up in a couple months, just in time to replace them with summer crops. I can’t wait to get going, it’s something we both love so much. The work that goes into it and the reward that comes out.


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