Environmental Project: Terracing

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After terracing

Brief overview of post

This post is about an environmental project creating terraced areas on a hillside with deep holes to fill with matter in order to hold and retain moisture and encourage abundant self sustaining eco-systems. This post includes a breakdown of the process, principles, method and ingredients required to undertake similar projects.


Introduction

Jesus has been engaging a project on his and Mary’s property over the last few months and God’s Way is documenting the process and intends to record the results over the coming years.

The project involves terracing a steep sloping hillside and digging large holes on the top side of the terraced roads. This is a similar idea to the Trenches and Holes experiment but on a larger scale.

The terraced areas have been made in order to get a lot of matter into the large holes. A small tip truck can drive along the roads and deposit matter easily into the holes.

Photos above taken before beginning the project

By clicking on any photo it will make it into a full page image so you can look closely if you wish


Here’s the break down of the process.

Why the project was done (including but not limited to…):

Jesus has noticed that even after extensive rehabilitation on the property there is hardly any new growth and very little pioneer plant growth on the hillside. It is quite dry and the soil quality varies. He decided to engage an experiment to try and hold water and stop it rushing off the hill side and down the gullies.

To benefit the land by holding water on the hillside so it slowly seeps down hill from the trenches and holes. This re-hydrates the land. The more water you can keep in & on the land rather than having it all run off, the better it is.

To benefit the land by having nutrients from the decomposing matter seep through the earth and benefit the surrounding areas of the trench. This feeds the land, animals, insects, microbes.

To give back much needed organic matter and nutrients to the earth in order to aid the soil to recover and encourage intelligent living creatures to flourish.

To begin giving back to a property and doing everything possible to rehabilitate it.

To give education and training on how to conduct a large scale land rehabilitation project, including, helping with implementation, documentation and ongoing monitoring of the site for volunteers involved with God’s Way Ltd.

Photos above are the same area and orientation before and after terracing and holes have been dug.

Basic diagrams of terracing

Diagram 1

Terracing Diagram 3

Diagram 2

Terracing Diagram 1

Diagram 3

Terracing Diagram 2

What was done:

  • Jesus Planned, designed & oversaw volunteers in marking out large scale terraced roadways, holes and trenches across contour lines of the hill. A hillside was chosen that is struggling to recover with hardly any new species growing in the damaged area. The idea is to hold as much water as possible on the hillside to have the greatest benefit to the most amount of area**.
  • Building large scale terraced banks, trenches and holes
  • Fill trenches and holes with organic matter that can decompose and leach nutrients and create healthy soil and ‘feed’ the lower parts of the properties. The purpose is also to hold water and moisture creating a slow release water supply on the hillside and below the trenches.

Below are basic drawings of depth, dimensions and levels for doing a contour terracing and trenches and holes on a hillside. The principles apply to any trench and terracing project: keep the base both sideways and longways level  so that water disperses evenly along the entire trench across the contour rather than one end or one side only. Ensure the top of the banks (swale humps) are level – see diagrams below. You want the base of the trenches and the banks level, so that moisture will be evenly dispersed over the greatest amount of area.

It is important to take into consideration where the trench is going to seep the most. You want to ensure that the seepage reaches the biggest area possible, or the targeted area.

Widths, lengths and details can be modified.

Basic principles of trenches and holes

Diagram 4

20170711 Trenches diagram 1

 

Diagram 5

20170711 Trenches diagram 2

 

Diagram 6

20170711 Trenches diagram 3

 

Terracing begins, images above. Press on any image to enlarge it


Dimensions of the trenches:

Dimensions are dependent on the area that you are creating the terraces and digging the trenches.

At the top of a hill it would be dependent on the diameter. If it was very steep you may run a trench along the contour of the land around the hill rather than doing a bowl shape at the top. This would be dependent on the terrain you are working with.

For the ones in this experiment they were dug along the contour of the land on near to the highest points of the property. They were part way down the slope of the hill. The approximate dimensions were as follows:

  • 1.8 metres deep, some places deeper
  • 100 plus, metres long (this varies from one area to the other but covers a wide distance across the face of the hill on contour
  • At least 3 metres wide some were wider

Trenches and holes images above


Where the terraces and trenches were dug:

The terraces were made and trenches were dug across the contour of a steep sloping hill. They were created on some of the highest points of the property in order that everything below will benefit.

Ingredients used in the terraces, trenches & holes

Ingredients to dig:

  • Excavator
  • Level – to ensure the bottom (long ways & sideways) of the trenches and holes is level. To ensure the banks are level.
  • Humans – to drive the vehicles, check the levels, direct the matter

Ingredients to fill & cover:

  • Hardwood chip + transport
  • Natural organic matter including but not limited to: cardboard, green waste, dead trees, tree stumps, felled trees cut up, cactus, anything that will break down but is non-toxic.
  • Tipper – to move earth, hardwood chip (a bi-product of saw mills)
  • Loader – to move earth, hardwood chip & debosia
  • Water + transport (or as a gift from God, Rain)
  • Humans – to direct & organise the matter

* As well as filling the trenches, it is also important to cover the banks and any areas that have been damaged or denuded in the process. You will need to take into consideration how much organic matter you need in order to both fill the trenches/holes and to cover the banks and any damage done creating the trenches and holes (example: exposed soil, or where the excavator has left track marks, trucks have dug up soil  when delivering matter etc).

Soil left uncovered and open to the elements with no ground cover dries out rapidly, blows away and can cause erosion quite easily.

The soil on these properties becomes like dust and blows away in the wind. We want to keep as much soil as possible in place and to do so we need to cover it with mulch rather than leave it open to the elements.

Ingredients required for documentation:

  • Video Camera
  • Stills Camera
  • Sound Recorder
  • Humans to manage the equipment & write up the data
  • Notebook and pen for diagrams and notes

Terrace images above


Method to create a terraced trench or hole on the contour of a hill

  • Plan and design the trenches and holes in a property specific manner. Design the terraces to suit the landscape. Choose the most damaged areas (already cleared), areas that are struggling to regenerate and the areas that would create the most benefit for the property
  • Dig the trenches and holes with excavator using the fill to create the terraces on the bottom side of the trenches and holes. In this project two long terraced contours were made. The holes and trenches were designed to go between trees so that the least amount of damage was done.
  • Some trees were removed, either dead, dying or one or two due to preventing the project going ahead.
  • Ensure the bottom of the trenches and the terrace banks are level as you go
  • Create a slightly sloping terraced bank on the lower downhill side of the trench if dug on contour, ensure this is level all along the terraced bank. These terraced banks were slightly sloped back into the holes so any run off will go into the holes rather than down the hill. If you do not make it level when it fills with water you will either have an overflow effect or you will end up with the top of the bank really dry. Remember you want to have as much moisture spreading as evenly as possible in the greatest possible area, or the specific area required.
  • Two terraced banks with numerous holes were dug across the hill. A lot of earth came out of the trench and it made a good wide bank. Any felled trees and some old logs that had been lying around for years were moved into a mound on the slope of the hill above the dam as a “third” swale to catch water run off and debris that may be washed down the hill in heavy rains. This will be far less not the trenches are in place but it is a way to create an “above ground” swale effect on a hill slope and damaged land.

Diagram 6

 

20170711 Trenches diagram 3

  • Fill Trenches as soon as possible after trenches have been dug. It is good to have the matter pre-ordered and to arrive as soon as possible after trench/hole completion, leaving earth exposed is not recommended.
  • Put in a ramp for animals so they don’t get stuck in the trench/hole if they accidentally fall in
  • Ensure that all work is done safely. Great care needs to be taken with the loader initially filling the holes and trenches. This is so the loader does not get stuck or fall into the trench. Watch out for power lines and potential hazards, always have a spotter and have at least two, or a team of people, working on dangerous jobs to watch out for each other.
  • Collect or Have fill ingredients delivered (matter)
  • Begin filling
  • If you consider the requirements before digging a trench, you can make it such a way that you can literally back the trucks into the trenches and drop the matter where you want it.
  • Cover all exposed earth and ground with matter (hardwood chip is ideal)
  • Fill with water – preferably by a large rain event, you can wait for this to happen. We are going to truck in some water to the trenches to speed up the process and fill them with water so they can begin decomposition much faster.

Notes

  • It is preferable to encourage decomposition rather than composting, this is due to wanting intelligent life to live, flourish and ‘do their thing’. So if you compost it gets too hot and kills everything. Example if you have a heap of green waste it would be better to create thinner layers, this creates less heat
  • If composting is intended to break down or prevent weeds or seeds germinating this can be put at the very bottom of the trench.
  • We suspect that the trenches will do a combination of composting and decomposition. Keep this in mind when creating trenches and holes.
  • Hardwood chip if layered too thickly can ignite. Ensure your trenches have enough moisture, or are layered to prevent them getting too hot and catching fire.

Above images are all of the same area from different angles and at different points in the process


Add the following ingredients:

  1. Layer of hardwood chip (fill approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of the trench)
  2. Green waste scraps, any other decomposable matter laying around
  3. Cover the banks, damaged earth and any other areas with hardwood chip
  4. Add water if possible, to speed up decomposition process
  5. Leave to decompose & seep
  6. Wait and see what happens
  7. Document the trenches and holes regularly to share with others what happens, who moves in, what creatures emerge, when you build a lovely big trench with lots of decomposing matter and moisture seepage.

Images above a swale made of piled up wood and tree stumps


Time & resources breakdown for two trenches:

Details to come

Excavator hours: 5 days of excavation time

*
Hardwood chip:  Cubic metres

*
Water:  loads for …trenches – water itself a gift, and the trucking to be paid for 10,000 litres per load, total of … litres for two trenches.

*
Time so far: Approximately … hours or more of loader, tipper & manual labour work to move all the matter into the trenches.

Loader break down:  Varying time due to dangerous nature of the moving wood chip into trenches.

Supervising the project and laser leveling the trenches over … days for one person. We had one person always with the excavator for safety and ensuring levels were level.

This would take A LOT longer if the wood chip was being moved manually with just arms, legs, forks and wheelbarrows. There is more work to be done in order to totally complete these trenches.

*
Time unaccounted for: guiding trucks into tricky areas, being onsite for matter delivery, planning and marking out, level measuring time during trench build (level measuring is approx the same as excavator time). Tipper moving piles of unused dirt, relocating dirt to other projects.

Images above, wood chip being placed into holes


Possibilities:

You can do holes and trenches on a small scale. From Jesus’ discoveries he has done both, and has found the big trenches to be really beneficial, but if you only have a tiny area then the trenches and holes can be scaled down.

We are looking forward to observing what happens to the terracing, trenches and holes with time. Watch this space over the coming years…

Thank you’s:

We would like to thank Jesus for his enthusiasm, time, direction, training and sharing.

Thank you to Jesus and Mary for offering this opportunity to God’s Way to document the process and record the information that they are generating their property.

hank you to the volunteers who contributed time to this project.

Questions:

If you have any questions please contact us through our contact us page, link here. Or go to the menu bar and choose ‘contact us’.

We feel enthusiastic about this project, are happy to share what we have learned and will happily publish answers to any questions asked.


** Notes & further considerations:

The planning of these projects is really important.

Taking into consideration the environment and eco-systems needs to be considered carefully for each project. Very fragile eco-systems would be treated differently to used farmland for instance. High mountainous terrain, or steep hills and flat or semi undulating areas would all need different considerations.

For some environments terracing may work, other environments cutting into the land would cause more issues and terrible erosion problems so it may be a matter of building up matter, or becoming innovative with the ways things are done.

The aim is to help land recover faster, not create more damage and problems. In all environments the problems need to be weighed up against the benefits. If the issues and damage will be more than the benefits it is best to not do it in that area.

The point of the trenches is to hold water and create nutrient soaks that hydrate and feed the land.


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Terrace – evening