3 Top Benefits of Terrace Gardening

Rice fields terrace gardening at Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai, Vietnam.

Rice fields terrace gardening at Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai, Vietnam.

My family and I drove through Iowa one summer on our way to Colorado. I have to say that Iowa might be our nation’s best-kept secret. Of course, it’s not a secret to everyone. It was just a secret to me.

I should have remembered the movie, Field of Dreams. The beauty of the rolling hills and farms was inspiring. I felt like I was in the shire depicted by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings series.

You wouldn’t think, driving through Iowa and seeing all the hills, that 90% of this state is used for farming. You know what makes this possible? It’s a thing called contour farming and it’s roughly the same thing as terracing. You know…those little retaining walls you see in people’s sloping front lawns sometimes?

Maybe you have some terraced hills yourself. The famous painting by American Gothic painter Grant Wood called Stone City depicts the beauty created by contour farming practices.

Terrace gardening or farming has been around for thousands of years. There are many famous – and breathtakingly beautiful – rice terraces throughout China, Japan, Bali, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand just to name a few of the most recognizable places.

Preventing Erosion

The practice of terrace gardening or farming came about as a way to prevent erosion and to make steep hillsides into usable agricultural space where there was none. Farmers didn’t intend to make their hill contouring beautiful. However, it ended up being very beautiful indeed. One only needs to Google the words “rice terrace China” to be inspired by what is possible with a lot of labor, love for the land, and some wood and stones.

Do you have a hillside or two in your lawn that is hard to landscape? These things can be too steep to mow. In addition, they are sometimes too steep for grass or plants to take hold, making small-scale erosion a problem in your yard.

Additionally, a steep hill can be a challenge for some people even to access parts of their yard. You might be longing for a garden but instead, you are dealing with unusable space.

Benefits of Terrace Gardening

  1. Prevents Soil Erosion & Makes More Efficient Use of Water

    Just like the rice terraces throughout Asia, garden terracing can solve the problem of soil erosion and water runoff. For instance, if you have a graded lawn that slopes to the street which regularly sends dirt and water into the gutter system, a terrace will naturally retain that water on flat planes instead. That way, you can use your hill and save the drainage system from flooding.

    This is a good thing since some municipalities are writing legislature taking away government liability for flood damage to homes caused by sewage backups. The more new homes that are built on green spaces, the more sewage backups will become a regular thing.

  2. Creates Natural Steps & A Flat Space For Gardening

    If you have a sloped lawn, you know how difficult it can be to use it for play or gardening. With the addition of some earth or compost, a terrace can add quite a few extra square feet for those purposes. The possibilities are endless.

    What would you do with more flat, available space in your lawn? Would you plant a vegetable garden? Put up a play structure for your kids? Maybe put in a koi pond with a little waterfall?

  3. Creates Attractive Multi-level Landscape Opportunities
    Even if you don’t have a steep hill, several smaller terraces can generate enough height differences to play different shapes, colors, and sizes of plants off of each other in ways you wouldn’t ordinarily get to do.

    The material you choose to reinforce your retaining wall can heighten the whole look of your garden: stone, cedar, brick – they’re all slightly different and infinitely customizable.

How to Build a Terrace Garden

The first thing you need to do is determine the degree of the slope you have to deal with. If your yard is one huge slope, you may need to bring in engineer to get started. The last thing you want is to create more erosion from a broken terrace and extra soil. What a mess – and expense – to clean up!

If you are dealing with a smaller slope, determine the rise and the run of the slope and then the number of beds you want to build.

Rise:

How tall is the hill you want to terrace? It doesn’t have to be exact, but you need to measure it to calculate the run.

Run:

Basically, how many “steps” do you want your terrace to have, and how deep will they be? Calculate the total distance, in terms of depth, between the back of your top stair to the front of your lowest stair.

Dig a trench along the base of your hill to put support materials in place. This will be your retaining wall. The more steps your terrace has, the deeper your trench will need to be. Level your trench at the bottom and put the foundation layer down.

Next, you need to dig a trench for the sides of your terrace making the bottom of this trench level with the bottom of the front trench. Use spikes or construction rebar to anchor building materials into the foundation. Anchor the next level of building materials together with the first with spikes.

Now it’s time to flatten and fill in your first terrace “box.” Dig into the hillside until the back of the terrace box is flat where the next step is going to start and flatten the ground level with the layer of retaining material. You can fill this in with extra dirt or turn it into a compost heap. However, make sure to have proper ratios so it eventually turns into soil.

Repeat the steps to form as many levels as you desire.

Takeaway

Terrace farming and gardening have been around for as long as people have been growing things. This is a really beautiful and practical way to add interest and square space to your yard!

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