Jitters about how stable the newly cleared area ensued. It is not an extreme slope, but a moderate slope, and we had some time before plants were going into the ground. Would spring rains wash that beautiful top soil to the base of our yard, or start making the back area unstable? Our shop teeters at the edge of that slope and if it were to give, would we start having issues with our shop? I guess only time would tell.
Our plan of action was to start working on the left side of the yard. We had decided that we would build Gabione walls to terrace the left side, creating nice growing beds and paths that would allow us to access it all. We knew that we didn’t want rigid straight lines for the whole side as the natural pathways throughout the yard were all curving and natural. Ideally we wanted it to look like it had flow rather than perfectly measured out lines.
So we started our internet searches. Neither of us had built a gabione wall and we truly had no idea where to start. Sure the pictures looked amazing and I had an idea of how the wall sections went together, but it was the ground preparation that we were concerned about. We didn’t want to do all this heavy work and in a year or two have our walls start tipping or falling over. And we still didn’t know how sturdy the soil in the yard would be. So we searched and watched videos and read other blogs or DIY tutorials and in the end got overwhelmed. This wouldn’t be the first time that research had led to too many options which we now had to decide upon. Neither of us are the best at making decisions like this so we chatted and got to the point where we made a plan of action…with hopes that it would be the right one!
We went and bought supplies to build our own cages. You can order cages online but we found the cost savings of making our own to be huge! Also we could then customize the sizes of each cage as we went. Each level may not be the same height, so we wanted the flexibility. Next we started having dinner dates in the woods….and by dinner dates I mean we went and found cut blocks, hauled loads of nicely shattered (nice flat edges) rocks to the truck and once we were thoroughly exhausted paused to cook up some hot dogs on a camp stove before heading home to unload that truck full of rocks into the backyard.
In between getting rocks we planted some edibles in our barrels. We also decided to see how things would grow in the actual soil of the yard so we created a bed around half of the tree (weed) stump where we planted a cucumber patch. We also planted 6 tomato plants, 2 tomatillos, 2 zucchini and a pumpkin on the steep slope behind the shop. We hoped that the ground would be fertile and grow well. We also hoped that having some plants back there would help stabilize the slope for the spring & summer.
Back to the Gabione building. We used an angle grinder to cut the large sheets of caging metal to size (we went with a heavy guage as we didn’t want them to bow or flex) and started wrapping the wire around to build the cages. We got quite a stack, which made it look like we were lobster fishermen storing our lobster traps in the yard. Once we got the stack we started cutting in the first wall path. As we dug, we expected to have to brace the soil with some plywood to ensure it wouldn’t come down onto the path. We were very pleasantly surprised when the soil held the cut form that we dug into the slope. There was no soil slipping down, and it held a very firm 90 degree angle. This is when we learned that we had nice clay mixed with our soil. Makes sense since we are in an area where a riverbed once ran.
Once we had our path cut we started putting in crushed gravel. This is what was suggested to us at a local building store. The person helping us said it would firm up once pounded. So we laid it down, pounded it (more back breaking labour) and checked to ensure it was level. It was level from end to end, but something we did to try and ensure no tipping was that we angled the wall to that it was tipping slighting toward the slope. It is very minor and to look at the walls, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t level, but we thought it would be the best option. A lot of what we read was on very tall retaining walls and all of them had a tilt to them so we decided to use the same idea with our small ones.
The first few cages came together beautifully. The rocks that we had collected were all brown and oranges when we grabbed them, little did we know they were actuall a rainbow of colors under all the dirt and grime from being rolled over by heavy duty machinery. We were more than happy with how it all turned out. Now we just had to fill another 6 or so and we would be done the first wall….as you can guess, this was slow going. By the end of the first summer we had done one full wall and half of another. Each load in the truck that we did, only really filled one cage, so it was a lot of lifting, hauling, lifting and then tetrising (yes that is a made up word) into the cages, then wrapping the wire around the top of the cages to close them up. It was exhausting and once it got hot (over 35 degrees) there is no way that you could convince either of us to do that work.
So instead we became gardeners for the rest of the summer and enjoyed watching our plants grown and started learning about how to prune, trim and kill any bugs that threatened our plants. Some of those bugs are nasty things that are spawned from the evil depths that spiders come from. I came across my first tomato worm. I had no idea what it was and I didn’t like it from the moment it tried to take the tip of my finger off. Rude little thing, I was just trying to pick one of MY tomatoes and it seemed to think it was his. Thanks to social media, I found out it was a tomato worm by posting a photo of it and some friends letting me know what it was. I had already destroyed the little finger biter by that point and was happy I had. I didn’t want out first batch of tomato plants decimated by him and his buddies. We scoured all of our tomato plants to see if any of his family was kicking around but in the end, it was only him. We were lucky.
We found out that our yard is extremely fertile and good for growing food. Our cucumbers exploded and I was able to make about 30 jars of pickles, plus we ate abour 6 cucumbers a week all summer and gave away as many as we could. We had an abundance of zuchini, despite the fact that we planted too close to the tomatoes to they kind of grew under a towering tomato plant. We had enough tomatillos to make lots of salsa verde for the winter, as well as plenty of salsa. Our tomatoes were giants and gave us lots of tomatos. We made 10 large pots of spaghetti sauce that was frozen for the winter months (mixed with peppers and herbs from our garden), as well as salsa and we canned some jars of tomatoes for soups and other tasty dishes during the winter. We did end up with a lot of green tomatoes in the fall as we didn’t prune the tomato plants properly so they didn’t get a chance to ripen. Once again thanks to the internet, I wrapped them in newspaper and left them in a cool place in our basement. A few weeks later they were beautiful red tomatos ready for canning.
All in all our first summer of growing was a success. We also had a rogue corn stalk and 2 sunflowers grow from some seed that the birds had dropped from the feeders. We took that as a good sign of the growing season to come. We knew that future years of growing was going to be successful. Just those few plants the first year as testers was all it took.