Here are 6 benefits to vegetable gardening on a steep slope. It may be a challenge but it is not impossible and in fact has some huge benefits depending on which direction the garden is facing. The previous owners of our current home had a challenge to put in a vegetable garden at the bottom of their back yard due to the steep slope. I am so thankful they did, as the garden provides a great deal of pleasure and food. The photos show that it can be done.
6 Benefits of Steep Slope gardening
- As the garden is south-facing it receives the afternoon sun for several hours - heat loving tomatoes love this
- Heat is retained in the 4 foot garden walls keeping the soil warm into the evening
- Water drains very well and no soggy spots in the garden
- Frosts occur more in the valley below and not in the garden
- Two of the beds are accessible from below with the garden at waist height. This is perfect for easy weeding and getting up close for insect patrol
- Tiered gardens require a lot more walking than a flat open space which equals more exercise
The topography of the land also affects frost prevalence.
Cool air settles at the bottom of slopes because it is heavier than warm air.
Frost pockets will then form in valleys where cool air is trapped
Concerns with Steep Slope Gardening
- Moving large plants, containers, compost or soil can be difficult as the terraces are not wheelbarrow accessible. Compost and soil have to be moved in buckets
- Containers dry out very quickly and sometimes have to be watered twice per day
- The greenhouse is not accessible by wheelbarrow, again creating extra effort moving dirt and compost
- Material used to make raised beds is often preserved wood. Brick and concrete may be a viable option. Old railway ties are usually covered in creosote and not advisable to use
- Building reinforced walls can be costly depending on materials used and if you can do your own labour
- Our four level terraced gardens trap the hot afternoon sun. The fruit trees are in full sun much of the day. They are all great fruit producers
- Narrow paths along the retaining walls are great for gardening all year and occasionally containers are placed on the path to maximize garden space
- The mulched garden also retains the moisture in the soil
- Use natural or reclaimed materials to build your terrace retaining walls - "Ecologically Sensitive Materials for School Landscapes"
- Creosote: Report about Toxic Trail & Safer Alternatives, Beyond Pesticides
Grow what you can with the area that you have. I have dug up an area of level lawn to extend the garden for more raspberry, squash or tomatoes. If you can increase the size of your vegetable garden it will be a bonus. There is never enough room to rotate crops as much as required which is why tomatoes in particular are grown in fresh composted soil every year.
Gardening on a steep slope may not be the perfect garden especially for those with physical limitations it may be impossible. Take your time and plan, and add a little more garden each year, if you have the space, and enjoy "the fruits of your labours". Happy gardening!
If you want to be happy for a lifetime.
Be a gardener
~ Chinese proverb
Links & References
- 12 Reasons to Grow your Own Food
- More Ideas on Growing our Own Food
- Portable Pollinator Pots
- 15 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Garden
- Raised Bed Gardens - the only way to grow veggies!
- January 2022 Some links updated and added
Can you say more about the retaining walls you've built... What kind of wood, how they are structured? Thanks!
Hi there Theresa,
What a great question - we are just now asking the same! When we moved to our current home more than a decade ago, the retaining walls were already installed. We believe that the pine wood logs used were preserved so more than likely they were chemically treated. They are now reaching the end of their life and will need to be replaced. Hence my very first statement.
We are looking for alternatives which are not expensive – a big challenge so far. One neighbour has installed a concrete wall (about 4 ft high), another has creosote pressure treated railway ties treated with creosote – a probable carcinogenic. Definitely not “organic” or healthy. The direction we are heading in at present is for some form of bricks (perhaps recycled).
The bottom gardens are no longer used as much for vegetables. We have five new raised beds https://caramelandparsley.ca/new-raised-bed-gardens-for-spring/ the latest being a 4 x 8 feet bed which is wonderful. The wood we used is untreated Non toxic pine 4 x 4 ft. long – 2 x 6” so the beds are 12” high and we dug down into the lawn another foot before adding compost & soil. We would have liked cedar but it is much more expensive.
Thank you for asking this important question. I am going to look into this subject much more, time permitting. Personally I like metal containers but if money were no object I would go for the bricks. I definitely think this subject is for a Caramel and Parsley article! Best wishes and if you find an economical, organic solution please let me know. Hope this has been of some help. I would be interested in what you decide – Best Wishes ~ Liz
Note 1: Our 5 new raised beds allow the garden veggies to be rotated each year
Note 2: When we lived on 5 acres in Northern BC it was very heavily treed with fir, poplar & pine. Some trees had to be cleared and were recycled (untreated) in making 4 x 8 feet raised beds as well as compost containers. It was a most incredible garden