The west slope is taking hold with a native wildflower and grass mix. Some volunteers, some seeded intentionally.
outdoor gardening & landscaping
Roots & Rock
A shovel and pick axe are the tools of choice for hand digging around here. Many of the rocks used in the short retaining wall to the left were dug from the gravel covered walkway. Digging is a slow process here. If you're not running into rocks, you're wrestling with roots.
The most innocent looking twig sticking up from the ground can often be attached to a network of 2" thick roots. They are mostly from the tenacious Scrub Oak.Those roots will continue sprouting for years if not removed.
Terraced Herb Garden
A large gardening and landscaping project is in progress on the upper part of the eroding east slope. We began by clearing brush and removing a few good size, scraggly Juniper trees. This we fed to the chipper to make a nice heap of mulch. Then, surface rocks were arranged to define the edge of the garden beds. Using the tiller, the garden beds were dug to around 10" deep and plenty more rocks removed. After tilling, about 3" of top soil was mixed in. We planted a flat of creeping thyme and top dressed it with an inch or so of mulch. They did pretty well until later in the fall when they were among the last of the green plants around. The rabbits ended up eating this "Rabbit Resistant" crop.
Even though we are officially a zone 5 for planting, we are choosing herbs with a heartiness for zones 3 and 4. They also need to be deer and rabbit resistant. Now add in relatively low water requirements and a tolerance for poor soil. That's not too much to ask, right?
A Place For The Camper
The perfect time to dig is while the ground is still damp. Otherwise, unless you have a back hoe, forget it. We poured these 2 concrete pads to set the camper upon. They are cinder block based with 4" concrete slabs on top. We're finishing digging up the roots which is a project in itself.
The ground has been leveled out and landscape fabric put down. Then, a good start on the rock border. That will be followed by 1"-2" of clean 1" gravel over the entire driveway.
A big "Thank You!" to neighbor Terry for bringing your tractor over and digging out this driveway. You're awesome!
Next, back that camper up on those nice level pads where it will be out of the way, in a nice location for visitors, yet close enough to hook up water and electric.
Some landscaping went in next for a little curb appeal, along with dinosaur egg planters to add the kitsch needed to maintain a coveted trailer park theme.
Hill Landscaping ...Phase 1 Done!
We finally got a start on the eroding east hill!
More than 6 years ago, when the excavator was here creating a level building site, he had to literally carve into the side of the hill. It was a real pain in the gluteus maximus because it turned out that it was mostly rock. Took lots more time than he had anticipated along with extra wear and tear on his equipment. In fact, this may have been the official turning point for him to make the decision to retire.
Now, from our experience, the rock here in southern Colorado is ever-changing. It is mostly siltstone, shale or something in between, making it a perfect candidate for fast breakdown. So, our eroding hill, in a relatively short amount of time has gone from rock, to crumbled rock, to sand, and finally to silt. Puts a new perspective on the proverbial, “Sands of time”.
It’s interesting to point out that the hill on the east side of the house has taken to Mother Nature quite differently than the hill on the west side of the house. It actually makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it. The excavator pushed all the loose rock and dirt from the building pad down the hill, to the west.
So, the hill west of the house, with its loose makeup had a much better chance of growing stuff than the east hill. It has come around quite nicely in the past half dozen years with a mostly native variety of plants growing on it, significantly slowing the natural erosion. Whereas the east hill remains mostly barren. It is hard enough for seeds to get started on any barren slope. Let alone that it is west facing at a 7,000 ft elevation where the sun is super intense. Add to that the difficulty of setting roots in rock.
The east hill stretches around a curve to the north side of the house and continues to the solar array location. I would say a total length of about 125 feet with an average of 20 feet of upward slope. OK, so this is part of the reason it took so long to get started. It was friggin overwhelming to take in the scope of the project for 2 DIYers! First getting a semi-clear vision of how you want it to look, working with a next-to-nothing budget. Second, wrapping our heads around a likely big timeframe. And third, the reality of considerable grunt work.
The solution had to be broken down into 4 phases. One phase at a time is fathomable. And here we are closing in the completion of phase one. Hooray!
How are we doing it?
Natural Terracing…Well, a natural terraced “look” at least.
Starting toward the bottom of the slope, we are creating natural “walls” with timbers from the property. We happen to have a dense lodge pole and ponderosa pine forest just above where this project is located. It is in serious need of thinning to get us more in sync with responsible forestry principals.
We dig long trenches deep enough to set about 1/4 of the diameter of the timber into. Set the timbers in place. Then, using a sledge hammer, drive 2-1/2 ft lengths of 5/8” rebar directly in front of the timbers to add extra security to the walls. The frequency is about 6 foot intervals. The rebar pieces have a point ground into them for a better chance of driving them into the rock.
Then, using a shovel and/or rake, pull down the silt and loose stuff on the surface to partially fill in behind the timber. After that is the icing on the cake…the mulch…about 5” to 6” deep. I can tell you right now that I greatly prefer lugging around 5 gallon buckets of mulch as opposed to rock. This process is repeated going up the hill. In the steeper areas, the walls are either taller and/or closer together. This section took 2-1/2 yards of mulch.
We have very special rocks here in the geological Raton Basin. They can turn to a pile of sand and silt in a handful of years, pretty much right before your eyes! This amazing sedimentary type of rock is called siltstone or shale, and it was formed over the course of a bazillion years in ginormous waterway beds. Yes! A long, long time ago it is believed all of Colorado was in fact underwater. Pretty cool stuff if you’re a geologist at heart.
However, as property owners trying to landscape a yard…mmm…not so exciting. Even my inclination to work WITH nature instead of fighting it is challenged by this ugly stuff. I find my mind wandering to a happy place where a bulldozer sweeps the yard and buries all this junk in a big hole, neatly covering it up like it never existed. Then, the rock is replaced by a 10” deep layer of rich, black dirt. This is part of the plight of a Midwestern suburbanite trying to create a small oasis of order here in southern Colorado.
So, wuddya do? Well, over the course of a few years ya learn some things about the rocks here. We actually are fortunate to have one type of sedimentary rock that proves to be quite sturdy. I’m not sure what you call it, but this type is a bit heavier than the decomposing stuff and is easily found on the surface, often growing several different colors of lichen. It has a slightly different look too. These rocks sometimes surface when preparing new garden beds. Now that we can distinguish the forever rocks from the disappearing rocks, the rebuild of garden borders and walls won't be completely in vain.
Going completely against the sustainability grain, we have also purchased pink granite rock and hauled it up here a ton at a time. Yeah, I know, boo, hiss, whatever. Let’s face it, for the most part us wannabees are some degree of hybrid between sustainable and conventional. Sustainability is more about the journey. It is a process. The goal is not static. If you are lucky enough to reach it, the very next day the game will change. And guess what…it’s OK.
Random thought: I spoze if I were a wild child living in harmony with nature, that would be pretty darn close to 100% total sustainability. Oh, until my forest disappears or disease sweeps my baboon brothers and sisters, or missionaries come in, kidnap me, and introduce me to big, luxurious bubble baths with water heated by an oil guzzling boiler. Oh yes, I could be swayed.
"I spoze if I were a wild child and lived in harmony with nature, that would be pretty darn close to 100% total sustainability. Oh, until my forest disappears or disease sweeps my baboon brothers and sisters, or missionaries come in, kidnap me, and introduce me to big, luxurious bubble baths with water heated by an oil guzzling boiler. Oh yes, I could be swayed."
After phase 1 of this big project, we have gone to the other end of this loooong hill. The reason?... MUD.
Yep, with Paul's trips back and forth to the power shed in the winter, we end up with mud being tracked here, there and everywhere. So, maybe this will be at least part of the solution; hardscaped stairs.
Hoping the pick ax digging will give way to shovel digging if this monsoon season will bring us some meaningful rain. On the brighter side, I've rediscovered gut muscles!
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