Around three and half years ago, we excavated our hillside – shaping the very steep slope into a series of terraces. We knew we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls to stabilise each terrace, so our solution was one that many people have used before us – use plants to stabilise the earth berms. The berms are angled at around 45 degrees (the legal steepness is 60 degrees where we live), are a hell-of-a-lot cheaper and turns out more productive and beautiful than retaining walls.
The earth berm below (circled in yellow) was our largest, most problematic slope to stabilise – our solution? Plant it out as a small edible forest garden (EFG). You can see the full process we went through to establish this patch here.
Directly after the earth works, we quickly covered the steep earth berms with jute mesh to help stablise the soil and hold the clover seeds we broadcast (in hindsight, jute mat would have been better). We then put in some basic timber shelves, back filled them with good soil and planted them out densely.
While we still think of this little patch as our young EFG – it’s starting to produce food, provide habitat and food to small insects and critters, plus it’s beautiful. We now sit in our seat (below), have a beer or a cuppa while fresh mint and nasturtiums drape over our shoulders. It’s transformed and we love it.
Contrary to most design approaches for EFGs, we’ve arranged our key plants in rows in order to help stabilise the steep bank and to create easier access in a relatively small space. Below you can see these lines reasonably well with currants at the bottom left, feijoa trees in the middle, a strip of comfrey and then myrtus ugni berries at the very top. There’s also rambling clover, mint, nasturtiums and many herbs in between all this as well.
As an ever-evolving space it’s always changing from season to season. We’ve made some changes here and there, like replacing the tamarillo tree with a fig, but only because we like figs more and due to limited space had to make a choice.
While I was out there this morning cutting and slashing the comfrey, using it as mulch around the fig and feijoa trees, I had a happy moment – realising that we never have to bring in mulch for this patch any more. It produces *so much* bio mass, plenty to cycle back into its own system, plus feed the chooks.
The baby fig tree *flanked* by a serious wall of flowering comfrey and a cape gooseberry.
Being a perennial system, the maintenance is *significantly* lower than our annual garden beds. While we’re currently busy weeding our spring veggie beds and keeping them under control – our EFG only needs only occasional attention. Our main jobs are pruning and harvesting to keep this tight space productive. For example, two or three times a year I’ll go through and “clear-fell” patches mint to dry for tea, plus give the neighbouring plants a break from being swamped by it. Below you can see a freshly harvest patch which will bounce back with fresh mint in no time.
A clear patch where the mint has just been harvested for tea. Image form October 2016
We’re approaching a very big summer/autumn of change for our property – expanding our gardens into the neighbouring block we’ve just purchased (with the bank). While there’s still a whole stack of details to finalise, we’re 100% clear on one thing – and that’s having more perennial, instead of annual gardens. The high productivity, improved soil health and lower inputs required make it a no-brainer!