A Suburban Home – Converting an Unused Hillside into Abundant Annual Food Growth
Saturday, April 5th, 2014
Greensboro, North Carolina
A major part of the design for my Permaculture Design Certificate was converting a fourth of our property from an unused, hard-to-mow hillside into a place to grow food. In addition to the challenge of growing on a hillside (which turned into a major opportunity), a 30-year-old Silver Maple blocked most of the afternoon sun on the hillside. The solution to the hillside was to create beds on the contour of the land. The solution to the tree was to cut it down. Although we were reluctant to cut down any healthy tree, we now have more firewood, and the wood chips needed for the pathways on these new beds. Again, turning a challenge (we did not want to lose that bird-loving tree) into a positive.
Members of the Greensboro Permaculture Guild – 20 people! – came to our home on a lovely, mid 60 degree, early April day to help my design come to life. Following the contour lines I had marked beforehand (6 feet apart), the new beds could be visualized. Under the direction of Charlie Headington the beds would be created by digging into the top of the hill (3′ wide) and flipping that soil over to the new 3′ wide bed space. But first, the 3′ of new bed was prepared by driving a broad fork into the soil for aeration and adding amendments. The beds started by cutting straight down into the hill on the uppermost contour line, then taking a large horizontal 2″ slice of soil (containing all the turf grass and its roots) and flipping that, grass side down, onto the new area for the planting beds. Its important to use a spade (flat edge – no rounded sides) for this. Dig down straight, slice off thick solid horizontal hunks – 12″ if you can, so the grass will be smothered and not allowed to grow. At times, 4 people would work together to get these large chunks, and flip them, in tact, together. This process was completed over and over, adding a layer of compost along the way until the depth of the path was reached, and the bed was created. The final bed was dressed with a top layer of compost. The sides of the beds that faced out were pressed inward to make the bed sturdy.
An internal pathway was marked with bamboo, so we didn’t dig there, and will be sheet mulched and filled with wood chips soon. Paths were made wider in one spot where a Gas line runs. *Good point – call your local Utility Line Locator to mark those lines before you dig! It’s a free service in Greensboro.
The finished beds were completed by adding bamboo wattle fencing. Although the sure weight of the new beds, along with the root structures of the plants they will hold, is strong enough to not need fencing, the wattle fence adds a nice finish. And, since our home is on an exposed corner lot, the wattle fencing not only adds extra support, but also beauty.
Many thanks to all the wonderful folks from the Greensboro Permaculture Guild. We are already building community and sharing about Permaculture. Over half a dozen neighbors stopped and asked questions on this day alone.
~ Elaine Shields