Monday, September 21, 2015

Maximizing water on slopes: berms, swales, and countour

My Master Plan to plant my full-sun real estate (aka "the front yard") continues this fall....I learn by doing, so I tend to go do something and then revise it based on what I've learned. Several years ago, I build a sheet-mulch bed on the side of the house, which has done well, especially after I added a few berms to control water. I've been reading up on permaculture design over the last year or so, and plan to change that layout of that bed this fall to dig some swales/paths "on contour" for the permanent design.

In the front part of the yard, I built a circle bed two years ago, which is a nice feature. The first year, I planted it with Scarlet Runner Beans (growing up a "tepee"), which the kids loved. The second year, I put all my tomatoes there, and this summer, I had beans, chives, flowers, and an artichoke that grows well but hasn't bloomed.

Last winter, I saw this great idea in Mother Earth News to use straw bales and old windows to make some cold frames, so I plunked some down on my hillside to see if it would work. It did!
Cold frames with straw bales and old windows protected plants from several days of single-digit temps (Middle TN).
Once spring arrived, I put the windows away, added some compost, and planted the area with tomatoes, herbs, peppers, eggplants, and flowers. I was very pleased with this new "bed" area. It runs right next to a natural (and well-traveled) path, but I wanted to expand it for the next growing season.

Enter the simple A-frame, which is a great tool for figuring out where the natural contours of your hillside fall. I used a level with mine, but this video uses a plumb's short and explains how to do it if you're interested.

The "well-traveled natural path" is not  on contour, but I'm hoping to build/move my beds to intersect it. Today I dug out a swale, and I'm posing this to share my process and to get feedback!

Here is a longer view from the same angle as the "cold frame" picture above.
plans berm swale
Envisioning the future....

The green lines on the left show one side of the natural path -- I planted the border with some liriope (monkey grass) that I got from a friend this spring. I'll mulch the area to the side of it well, and plan to add creeping phlox and possible some perennials, though the Magnolia tree does offer quite a bit of shade. The orange area shows one side of my "cold frame" hay bales, and I plan to make this my path border....I have plenty of large limestone rocks I can use to set the path border.

Intersecting with the path, you can see the swale I've dug, which is on contour. I have some hay bales out right now to kill the grass and hold the berm. The plan is to build a small wall in spring (purple lines), using stone pavers that match my circle bed. I can build another berm/swale bed (lower purple line) next spring or fall, depending on my time.

Here is the swale (so far) from the opposite side:
The swale is about one foot deep right now, and about 1.5 feet across (maybe slightly less). I plan to make it a little wider/deeper, and fill it in with small rocks/mulch to make a permanent path. The top "triangle" portion of the bed will be planted with perennials/herbs.

And here's one more view, from the perspective of the middle circle garden. Next spring, instead of hay bales, we'll have a low wall of matching pavers. (Also, you can seem my awesome hugulkultur bed in the background.)
I'm planning to plant the berm in some kind of cover crop this fall, and will use some low row covers for winter planting in the old "cold frame" beds. I had great luck with all my herbs/veggies there this summer, so I have high hopes for winter gardening!

What do you think?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Breaking News: Waxed Paper Covers Watermelon!!

Waxed paper "sticks" as well or better than plastic wrap.
Yup, another loss for plastic wrap!

I moved the plastic wrap to the back of the pantry to make it less convenient. This morning, I cut a watermelon for breakfast, so I thought I'd try the waxed paper. Total win!

Also, in other "breaking news", a plate makes a great cover for a bowl in the fridge. Go figure.

What is crazy? Going to all the trouble and expense of harvesting resources, converting them to raw materials, using them to manufacture a consumer product (and all the steps inbetween), and then using that product once, and tossing it to the side and grabbing another product.

Those things don't "disappear" when we put them in the trash. It's not so convenient long-term.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Garlic chives with garlic flowers, to top potatoes