From Charlie and Judith Prichard in Clyde, NC: Is it possible to grow a vegetable garden on a slope (+/- 25 degree) without terracing and creating flat areas? We were thinking of clearing but not leveling several smaller (100 sq ft) circular or keyhole gardens spaced randomly across the hillside without disturbing the areas in between the gardens. Will vegetables grow on a slope?
Vegetables will grow on a slope. I used to pass a tiny homeplace in Madison County where the man would plow his steep ground (at least 45 degrees) with a mule every year. His corn patch was on one side, and his other veggies were on the other side ~ including squash that tumbled alongside the little creek next to his house.
I recently saw gorgeous pictures at the Tailgate Market of Laura Bower & Barry Rubenstein’s organic farm where many of the fields are on open slopes, so there is no doubt that you can be successful. However, if the vegetation around your garden plots is very weedy, tall, or thick… realize that this surrounding vegetation may be introducing unwanted weed seeds and preventing good air circulation (good air circulation helps prevent diseases). Be sure to thoroughly incorporate any soil amendments into your garden soil so as not to loose them down the hill when it rains. You may want to dig swales (low, wide ditches) at intervals to help capture water for your plants, since gravity will prevail and pull precious water down the slope and out of reach of your plant roots. Religiously plant cover crops to avert losing your topsoil to erosion.
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Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.