How to build terraces?

Contents

Tough Tillage Update

A diagram of terrace construction

With harvest over, it’s time to start looking to next year’s planting season, and that means terrace construction.
Terracing is a great way to conserve water and soil and prevent erosion, especially for growers who live in regions with heavy precipitation. But before you dive in and start building your terraces this spring, you might want a quick refresher on terrace construction. To help you out, AMCO has created this guide to narrow-base terrace construction with our exclusive Terracing Plow.

PHASE 1: BREAKING GROUND

Begin shaping your terrace by making one or two passes along the terrace centerline. Make these passes 4 to 6 inches deep, with both gangs set at 10 to 11 inches on the tilt indicators.
Tip: You’ll get the best results if you keep your tractor speed at 5 miles per hour or above. Faster speeds boost the upward and inward movement of soil on the terrace, reducing construction time.

PHASE 2: MOVING SOIL

After you’ve broken ground, use one gang to move soil from the areas on each side of the terrace into its base. You can do this by lowering the right-hand gang and operating the left-hand rear tractor tire just to the right of the terrace’s centerline. The gang should extend 4 to 6 feet beyond the furrow made by the outside disc blade on the previous pass. For this step, set the tilt indicator to 11 or 12 inches.
Repeat this step 2 or 3 times on both sides of the terrace. You’ll know you’re ready to move on when the soil has been worked inward enough so that the tractor is almost centered on the terrace.

Tip: To prevent one gang from taking more wear than the other, occasionally flip directions and use the left-hand gang to move soil.

PHASE THREE: KEEP MOVING AND SHAPING

Set both gangs at 12 or 13 inches on the tilt indicators. Make several passes, increasing the gang tilt by about 1 to 1½ inches on each pass. Continue to build and shape the terrace until you reach the desired height. Then make one more pass with the tilt set at 15 inches to smooth the side slopes and “crown off” the terrace.
Tip: Tilt the gangs so that all the blades are moving soil. If only one end of the gangs is moving soil, increase or decrease the tilt cutting is even.

PHASE FOUR: PREPARE FOR CROPPING AND EROSION CONTROL

Even after the terrace is built, you’ll probably have to make a few more adjustments with your Terracing Plow. One thing you may have to do is smooth and broaden the terrace channel and back slope furrow for cropping. You can do this with a disc harrow or another type of equipment.

Investing time in quality terrace construction helps ensure a successful planting and growing season. If you have any questions about terracing or about the AMCO Terracing Plow, our tough tillage experts are happy to help!

AMCO TERRACING PLOW

When building a terrace, it’s essential that you use durable, high-quality equipment that’s up to the job. AMCO is the only company that offers a plow specifically designed for terracing. Capable of building 1,000 feet of terraces or more per hour, the AMCO Terracing Plow is significantly faster than using a bulldozer or other types of heavy construction equipment. It easily fits with your equipment and can be operated by a single driver, saving you time and money. The AMCO Terracing Plow also works within Soil Conservation Service (SCS) specifications.
AMCO’s Terracing Plow can handle both narrow-base and broad-base terrace construction. It builds and packs the terrace with multiple trips through the field. In addition to building new terraces, the AMCO Terracing Plow tool can easily refurbish older terraces.
Visit our Terracing Plow page for more features and for photos of our plow in action.

Did you know?

AMCO Terracing Plows can also be used for narrow-base and broad-base terrace construction.

Josh Slobin. A terraced field in Nepal.

Let’s plan for a short trip back in time, shall we? Jump in your favorite time machine, check the gauges and spin the dial. Destination: the Mediterranean basin in the Stone Age, the initial prehistoric landscape that allegedly witnessed the birth of agriculture and sedentary lifestyle. This auspicious and opportune location for long-lasting settlements from hunter-gatherers, who would colonize the area sometime around 12,000 BCE,1 is a landscape of grasslands, savannah, small hills, and low mountain ranges covered with large coniferous forests. The Mediterranean basin is famously heterogeneous, a patchwork of different microclimates hosting a large biodiversity, which transited from subtropical conditions to the climate we know today.

Let’s hop a bit forward in time: now imagine yourself walking in ancient Mesopotamia, the place from which Israel, Palestine, and Syria will rise up 40 centuries later. It’s a rough and rugged terrain, large plains giving way to rising hills and steeper mountains as you walk away from the ocean. Loam covers the soil everywhere, but if you were to dig you would quickly hit hard limestone within a meter. It’s a hot summer, although heavy rainfalls would come and last throughout the winter. Fields of ripening barley and lentils cover hillsides and riverbanks,1 cleared by the human hand of any forest, tree, or even scrubby bushes. Artificial irrigation ditches spread from the riverbed to the nearby fields. Agriculture flourishes, and the domestication of animals is in full swing.

Matt Spinner. Donkeys graze on terraces in Nepal.

In traditional sci-fi fashion, the passage of time now accelerates: around us harvests come and go, villages and cities are created, expanded, and deserted. Paths, then roads link communities together and witness increasing traffic as well as full-scale migrations. Time slows down: we are around 2000 BCE. The limestone bedrock is now clearly visible on the higher ground, the fertile soil dragged downslope by the rain and gravity with no native vegetation left to hold it back. Towards the rivers and the sea, swamps appeared from the accumulation of sediments, rendering the land inhospitable due to mosquito-borne diseases. The bare soil is scorched by the heat, having lost most of its ability to retain rainwater. The fields are not shining as much in the sunlight any longer, the yields decreasing with the exhaustion of the humus regeneration due to the cereal cropping technique (all mature crops are harvested and taken away for consumption, leaving none behind to replenish the soil).

Further up in the lower mountain ranges, it’s even worse: the declivity of the landscape sped up the rundown of fertile soil. Nonetheless, the ingenuity of humankind is at work: these uplands are now covered with rocky, winding terraces. These terraces, most often simply made from piled rocks, are uneven, narrow, and irregularly shaped, following the relief of the mountain. Each terrace holds a different crop variety, still allowing enough sustenance for the local population to thrive. Grazing goats bred for milk and meat are everywhere, eating any wild plant trying to conquer territory lost to human deforestation.

Back to the time machine for a final stop before heading home. Turning the dial forward 20 centuries, we find that the same land looks barely hospitable. Crops are scarcely to be seen. Armies came and went; Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans conquered, destroyed, and enslaved. Populations were killed or displaced, the terraces not maintained, finally crumbling down the slopes along with all the fertile soil that was once retained. Each destroyed terrace makes the land even more inhospitable for crop husbandry, precipitating landscape degradation. What we describe as the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization, is now a mostly arid land where farmers struggle to survive.2

This kind of scenario is not limited to the Mediterranean basin, although it is by far the most studied location. Terracing was an important concept in many agricultural traditions around the world. Along with the Mediterranean Basin, significant historical examples were found in Asia, Africa, and South America. It is highly unlikely that they influenced each other; rather, they are an example of how different cultures can hit upon the same solutions to solve similar environmental problems, in this case providing a sustainable agriculture by restraining, or even reversing, land degradation and erosion. This remains the single most efficient method against water-based erosion. Combined with modern tools, terracing might provide us with methods that improve upon those of modern farming, although many parameters have to be considered carefully. There is indeed much at stake: studies are unanimous in reporting that terrace destruction is worse for landscape sustainability than not building these terraces in the first place.

Christopher Rose. A terraced valley in Taray, Cusco, Peru.

As previously stated, terraces are an obvious solution for agriculture in high declivity terrain. However, they also offer much more than just being soil and water retainers. A controlled height allows for greater soil depth than the natural environment could offer, providing additional moisture to crops and potentially allowing crop varieties that could not flourish on shallow soil layers. A well-conceived terrace could retain water when needed or drain it according to a particular crop’s requirements. Potentially this water drain rate could even be altered every year in case of a crop rotation policy. According to the topographical orientation and the declivity of the slope, terraces could be built to provide the required sunlight exposure and air drainage for specific crops.3 Some even theorize that crop yields could be improved by terracing agriculture compared to traditional plain farming, although not in the first 10 years.4 There are modern instances where proper planning and design made a tremendous difference between failed terracing that left the land even more sterile (like in some regions of Rwanda) and successful land development leading to increased life conditions for rural populations (as in the Central Province of Kenya).5

The first obvious criterion is the terrain. Geology influences the type of terrace,6 but the cultural environment is also a factor.7 Terrace types can vary a lot. For example, they can be stepped, cross-channelled, or braided; they can have a narrow or a broad base, be parallel or perpendicular, and present different gradients and different outlets. A successful terracing project in a specific country is unlikely to be applicable on a different continent, in a different country, or even in a different region of the same country. Therefore, a local investigation has to be performed every time to predict the most successful terracing infrastructure, which is a painstakingly long process. Moreover, the local climate complicates things even further: in Iraq, without irrigation from natural springs, terracing for now is only economically viable in high precipitation areas with a seasonal rainfall of over 600 mm, where the gain would outweigh the high cost of construction and maintenance.8 In lower precipitation zones, terracing would only be worthwhile in higher declivity areas.

The second criterion is the required labour: besides the heavy machinery required for the initial drainage ditches and wall construction, conventional mechanized devices for plains farming obviously do not apply here—the shape and altitude of terraces are natural hurdles for such exploitation. However, the current development of precision farming might help to overcome these issues. Precision farming employs modern technology such as planes, GPS, and robotized devices to minimize the use of fertilizer and herbicide. Although such technology has mostly been applied to strip-cropping plains farming, it would surely be beneficial for terraces as well. Nonetheless, building the terraces themselves is not sufficient: additional agricultural practices must be standardized to maximize their use. Among them, the conservation of a permanent soil cover, the choice of adapted crops and their method of cultivation (e.g., rotation, strip cropping, etc.) as well as adequate contour ploughing and sowing are the most critical.4 Therefore, since terracing requires substantial additional efforts to cultivate compared to traditional plains farming,5 it is best suited to heavily populated rural areas.

Beyond geological and technical concerns, investing in terracing requires social, political, and financial stability. By far the most studied terraces are located on different Greek islands, where archeologists have studied their link to population changes.9 Nonetheless, we still do not understand thoroughly the ancient social context that led to the extensive building of these terraces. This point might deserve particular consideration to further ensure the local population in an area suitable for modern terrace farming fit a successful predictive model.9 Some terraces were in use up until the 20th century, suggesting the appearance and spread of terraces corresponds to increasing rural populations and more intensive farming. Their decline was largely due to massive urban migration, reducing the workforce and traditional knowledge of terrace building and maintenance.10

Bethan Phillips. Rice terraces in Yuanyang, Yunnan, China.

This is important to keep in mind for future development of terracing agriculture in developing countries. The African population in particular is still expected to grow exponentially before stabilizing to 2.5 billion in 2050.11 A massive social exodus towards urban centers could have a disastrous effect on decades of investment in terraces in rural lands that could be deserted. In France, Italy, and Spain such abandonment of traditional farmlands led to the quick reconquering by native vegetation, transforming the landscape into scrubland.10 Such transformation could have irreversible consequence on the agricultural potential of the land. For terracing, the lack of manpower means the slow erosion of the terrace by sheet wash, creating gullies that will carry the topsoil to valleys downstream.

Developing countries are also more likely to suffer from political instability. Terraces are infrastructure of strategic importance and likely worth fighting for. But once they have been taken down, whether through sabotage or the systematic destruction of a conquered territory, it has caused irreversible damage to the landscape, preventing any resettlement in a more peaceful future. Rwanda is a modern example of a civil war triggering serious setbacks in agricultural production when the genocide of 1994 prompted a sizeable part of the rural population to flee to neighbouring countries as refugees. The relative post-war stability, however, allowed for the reconstruction of terraces supported by governmental policies and NGOs.

Besides conflicts, the initial hefty investment into terracing a region in need would require a continuous injection of funds over several years and constant supervision. Due to the high cost of construction and maintenance, small landholders might only see benefits in the long run.12 State funding can be unreliable—the fast turnover of governments or the sudden appearance of politically more pressing matters might divert investments initially planned for such infrastructure development, especially if the benefits are not visible immediately. However, it is also unlikely that a local government would give free rein to an international organization to dictate their agricultural practices. Therefore, the origin of financial resources for such projects must be planned carefully.

In short, terracing agriculture is the most widespread traditional technique to enable farming in topographically difficult regions. Even now, terracing projects are envisaged in countries suffering severe drawbacks in their agricultural industry, such as erosion in Ethiopia and Iraq.8,13 Because terracing has huge potential both to slow down land degradation and improve the life conditions of local populations, it should be encouraged. However, since failed terraces create severe and sometimes irreversible problems for the landscape, terracing requires careful long-term planning in which political and social stability plays a vital role.

  1. Zeder, M. Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, and impact. PNAS 105(33), 11597–11604 (2008).
  2. Hillel, D. Out of the Earth: Civilization and the life of the soil (University of California Press, Berkely CA, 1992).
  3. Field, CA. Reconnaissance of Southern Andean Agricultural Terracing. National Academies (1966).
  4. Dorren, L & Rey, F. A review of the effect of terracing on erosion. Soil Conservation and Protection for Europe (SCAPE) (2005).
  5. Johnson, DL & Lewis, LA. Land Degradation: Creation and Destruction (Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2007).
  6. Grove, AT & Rackham, O. The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History (Yale University Press, London, 2001).
  7. Frederick, C & Krahtopoulou, A. Deconstructing agricultural terraces: examining the influence of construction method on stratigraphy, dating and archaeological visibility in Landscape and Landuse in Postglacial Greece (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield UK, 2000).
  8. Hussein, M et al. Designing terraces for the rainfed farming region in Iraq using the RUSLE and hydraulic principles. International Soil and Conservation Research 4(1), 39-44 (2016).
  9. Bevan, A et al. The long-term ecology of agricultural terrace enclosed fields from Antikythera, Greece. Human Ecology 41(2), 252-272 (2013).
  10. Petanidou, T et al. Socioeconomic dimensions of changes in the agricultural landscape of the Mediterranean Basin: a case study of the abandonment of cultivation terraces on Nisyros Island, Greece. Environmental Management 41(2), 250–266 (2008).
  11. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World population prospects: the 2015 revision, key findings and advance tables. Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241 (2015).
  12. Angima, SD et al. Soil erosion prediction using RUSLE for central Kenyan highland conditions. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 97, 295–308 (2003).
  13. Hurni et al. Ethiopia case study: soil degradation and sustainable land management in the rainfed agricultural areas of Ethiopia: an assessment of the economic implications. The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) (2015).

How to Install a Terrace Garden

Even if the topography of your yard curves into a steep slope, planting can still be possible on this unique kind of landscape. By installing a terrace garden, you can essentially break the large, angled slope into a series of smaller levels that are flattened like a step pyramid and make the area garden friendly.

By reshaping the sloped soil in this way, you’re also creating a system where rainwater soaks into the soil rather rolling down it. This prevents soil run off or erosion.

What Material Should You Use?

Pressure Treated Wood

One of the best materials for building your own terrace is treated wood. Treated wood, also known as pressure treated wood is easy to work with, blends well with plants, and is often less expensive than other materials. Most of all, this stuff lasts and has a long lifespan. There are many types of treated wood on the market–from railroad ties to landscaping timbers all of which will last for years.

If there’s an alert going off in the back of your mind right now about the dangers associated with treated wood, including harmful chemicals like arsenic and chromated copper arsenate (CCA), don’t be concerned. Such chemicals were used in the construction of pressure treated wood at one time, but that was decades ago. The Environmental Protection Agency has since outlawed the use of these things and modern treated wood is made with a different, less harmful compound. Outside of the U.S. this may still be a concern, but overall, any arsenic levels present are likely negligible.

Masonry

Other possible materials for terraces include bricks, rocks, concrete blocks, and similar masonry. Some masonry materials like field stone or brick are even made specifically for walls and terraces. This means that they’ll be much easier for you to work with if you don’t have any experience with this type of work. However, one drawback is that most stone or masonry products tend to be more expensive than wood.

Building the Terrace

The safest and most popular way to build a terrace is the cut and fill method. This technique leave most of the soil undisturbed, giving you protection from erosion should a sudden storm occur while the work is in progress. The cut and fill method also doesn’t require much in terms of the influx or buying of additional soil.

Step 1 – Know Your Building Codes and Surroundings

Contact your local authorities to find out if there are any utility wires nearby or hidden beneath the layers of soil on your hillside. They can also fill you in on local building codes. Many areas have building codes specifically pertaining to terraces and walls. If your terrace walls are considerably large, their construction must be reviewed by an expert to ensure the walls can stand up to water pressure in the soil, have proper drainage, and are safely incorporated with the rest of the hillside.

Because of the expertise and equipment required to do this correctly, restrict terraces you build yourself to no more than 1-2 feet high, depending on the limits in your local codes.

Even if you don’t want to hire a landscape contractor to do the work, it’s never a bad idea to consult with an expert who can offer several ways to approach your unique slope and help you choose the right terrace solution for your landscape and your budget.

Step 2 – Measure and Plot Individual Terraces

Determine the rise and run of your slope.

The rise is the vertical distance from the bottom of the slope to the top. The run is the horizontal distance between the top and bottom. Knowing these number will help you determine how many terraces you can ideally construct in the space and how large each one will be. For example, if your run is 20 feet and the rise is 8 feet and you want each bed to be 5 feet wide, you need 4 beds. The rise of each bed will be 2 feet.

Step 3 – Dampen Soil

In the 24 hours leading up to you breaking ground, water the soil at the base of the hillside with a hose. You don’t want to soak the dirt and turn it muddy, but if things are slightly damp it will prevent you from getting dusted out once you start digging and shifting soil

Step 4 – Dig the Horizontal Base

Dig a trench along the horizontal base of the slope. The depth of this base should be equal to the radius of whatever landscaping material you’ll be using. For example, if you’re using landscape timbers and your terrace is low (less than 2 feet), you only need to bury the timber to about half its thickness or less. The width of the trench should be slightly wider than your timber. Essentially, your trench depth will vary depending on how tall you want your terrace to be.

Make sure the depth is level and consistent throughout the entire length of the trench. If you find any uneven spots, add or remove the necessary soil with a hand trowel.

Once things are at an even depth, tamp down the soil at the bottom of the trench to compact it.

TIP: You may want to keep a wheelbarrow handy to help store and transport any excess soil from digging the trenches.

Step 5 – Placing Your Walls

Measure the length of the trench you just made. Cut a length of timber or masonry product that matches the length of the trench. If the trench itself is longer than any one length of timber or masonry, use more than one length and cut any that you have to in order to span the entire trench length.

Place these lengths inside the trench end to end to form the base of the retaining wall for your terrace.

WARNING: Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using masonry products. Many of these have limits to the number of tiers or the height that can be safely built.

Step 6 – Digging Out the Sides

The sides of your terrace will be made up of two trenches that extend from opposite ends of the first trench you dug and form two 90 degree angles. To make things clearer, when both the front trench and sides are dug out, your hill should look like it is encased in a three-sided box or U shape.

Unlike the front trench, which has a depth equal to half the diameter of the wall timbers, the side trenches should be deeper than the radius of their timbers by exactly 1 inch. For example, when you place your timbers the way they’re going to be positioned when set in to the terrace you find they have a height of two feet, dig your side trenches a depth of that same 2 foot diameter, and add 1 inch. Your total depth in this scenario would be 25 inches.

The extra inch on the side is there to leave room for a stabilizing spike to be driven through the timber and into the ground. Unlike the horizontal base trench, which is laying on flat ground, the side trenches and their retaining walls will be set into the slope. The spike helps them maintain their position.

Step 7 – Build up the Side Walls and Add Stabilizing Spikes

Cut a timber or timbers to the correct length and place them in each side trench. Drill holes through your timbers and pound long galvanized spikes or pipes through the holes and into the ground. An 18 inch pipe minimum length is recommended; longer pipes may be needed for stability for higher terraces. Place the next tier of timbers on top of the first, overlapping corners and joints so that they are staggered like bricks. Run spikes through this tier as well and into the previous one to join the timbers.

Step 8 – Top Spike Placement

Whenever you reach your top layer of timber which will depend on how tall you make your terrace walls, place a minimum of three spikes in it, taking care to position the spikes in different spots than you did on your bottom most length of timbers. If the spikes at both the top and the bottom layers line up, it can compromise the stability of your wall.

Step 9 – Fill the Area with Soil

Move soil from the back of the bed to the front of the bed until the surface is level and the timbered enclosure is filled. This process of taking soil from the rear of the slope, where more walls are terraces still need to be built and filling in the front terrace, is known as backfilling.

This is a great time to add soil amendments, such as compost.

Step 10 – Construct Additional Terraces

Repeat the process, starting with Step 4. In continuously connected terrace systems, the first timber of the second tier will also be the back wall of your first terrace. The back wall of the last bed will be level with the front wall of that bed. When finished, plant and mulch.

While the entire purpose of putting in a terrace garden was to transform the steep curved hill into something flatter and more rigid, it’s possible that even when things start to grow in that you may not like the look of the sharp angles and edges between your terrace levels.

Our expert gardening advisor Kathy Bosin suggests using low creeping perennials at the edge of terraces “to cascade over the hardscape, softening the edges of your terraces. Good choices include creeping phlox, thyme, and sedums.”

Other Options for Slopes

Groundcover

If terraces are beyond the limits of your time or money, you may want to consider other options for backyard slopes. If you have a slope that is hard to mow, consider using groundcovers other than grass. There are many plants adapted to a wide range of light and moisture conditions that require little care, but provide soil erosion protection.

Stripcropping

Stripcropping is another way to deal with long slopes. Rather than terracing to make garden beds level, plant perennial beds and strips of grass across the slope.

Once established, many perennials are effective in reducing erosion. Mulch also helps reduce erosion. The erosion that may occur will be primarily limited to the garden area. The grass strips act as filter strips and catch much of the soil that may run off the beds. Grass strips should be wide enough to mow across the hill easily as well as wide enough to effectively reduce erosion.

Want to grow your own veggies but don’t know how to begin? Dr. Viswanath, the pioneer of terrace gardening in India, will tell you all you need to know. The right mix of the soil, what veggies to grow and how to take care of them – here is your guide to a lush green urban terrace garden.

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“These are ready to be plucked too,” Dr. Viswanath Kadur plucked fresh red tomatoes as he talked about his lush green terrace garden. “Treat the plants like your babies and they will give you amazing returns,” he further adds, as I stand there appreciating his amazing garden which has several varieties of veggies.

If there is one urban terrace gardener who knows the secrets behind a healthy organic terrace garden, it is Dr. Kadur. An Entomologist by profession, he went to the USA to pursue a course in film production and started making agriculture films and documentaries when he returned to India.

But it was a delay in the landing of his flight that made him a pioneer and a go-to name when it comes to urban terrace gardening.

Dr. Viswanath in his terrace garden

“For some reason we were not able to land on time and were flying over the city. That’s when I saw the rooftops of houses and thought about the rising temperature of Bangalore city. The idea came to me that if these open rooftops could be covered, it could help to reduce the temperature, and that is why I thought about bringing terrace gardening into the picture,” he says.

The family’s experience of kitchen gardening came in handy and he started growing veggies on his own terrace. “Earlier in Bangalore, every house had a kitchen garden in the backyard. That culture got lost somewhere. I wanted to bring it back by recreating the garden on the terrace,” he says.

He thought of putting his experience and knowledge to use and started organizing workshops on terrace gardening in 1995. “Though we charged a fee, the response was great. We got over 100 people for the first workshop itself, which gave us the confidence that people are interested in this,” he recalls. Today Kadur and his team of urban gardeners, which include Laxminarayan Srinivasaiah and Dr. Rajendra, organize an urban terrace gardening workshop every month.

They also started a Facebook group to bring all interested people together. The group which started with just 9 members now has over 23,000 members from across the globe.

“When it comes to terrace gardening, many people are interested but they don’t know how to start and where to get the resources. Seeds are available at one place while saplings have to be purchased from another place – it is a lot of work. To solve this, we started a mela called Oota from your Thota (OFYT),” he says.

The terrace garden has tomoaroes, brinjal, chilleies, lime and many delicious veggies.

OFYT is organized once in every three months and brings together all the necessary equipment and resources for terrace gardening under one roof. From seeds to pots and soil, the little market has everything to offer.

In case you are a first timer and do not know how to grow your own veggies, here is your guide to get a healthy organic terrace garden –

“It is very easy. We the human species can naturally relate to plants, we live among them. So there is nothing major to teach or learn. You just show lots of care and you will get the return,” says Dr. Kadur.

1. Getting started – Get the right space

If a house is built as per the books and in the right way, anything can be grown on the terrace and it can take the weight of even bigger trees. You can also cover the entire surface with soil to make a lawn and experiment with it. In case you are covering the surface of the terrace with soil, make sure you water proof the surface to avoid any leakage into the home. If you are going for a regular terrace garden with pots, there are no extra efforts required.

2. How to get the right soil which is rich in nutrients

The right type of soil is very important as the nutrients decide the growth of the plant. The right mix of soil requires regular soil, compost coir peat (or sand) and vermicompost in equal quantities. “After the heavy rains make sure you add essential nutrients back to the soil as water tends to wash them away. You can add compost every week or so to make sure the soil has enough nutrition,” Dr. Kadur says.

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3. First time gardener? This should be your first step

If it is your first take at gardening, you can start with a small pot and single vegetable and than gradually expand to other veggies. Plants like tomatoes and chillies are easier to grow and do not require much care, so you can start with those. “You have to be very patient. It will take a couple of months to start giving results so you should not give up and keep taking care of the plant,” Dr. Kadur says.

Cabbage in the terrace garden.

4. What all can you grow on a terrace garden?

“Everything!” says Dr. Kadur. French beans, chillies, tomatoes, brinjal, okra and lime are easier to grow. You can also try cucumber, ridge gourd and bottle gourd. Root vegetables like potatoes, onion, radish, carrots, groundnuts can also be grown but they require a larger area.

Apart from these veggies you can also grow fruit bearing trees like guava, banana, etc. “I had seen a coconut tree on a terrace garden. If one can grow that, one can grow anything here,” Dr. Kadur says. He advises against growing a mango tree on the terrace as it requires a lot of effort. “Though mango can be grown, but it requires immense care and effort, which might be a bit difficult for urban gardeners,” he says.

5. Other important things to keep in mind

Watering regularly is a must. In summers, your garden requires watering twice a day. In winters you can just press the soil with the back of your hand to check the moisture and water accordingly. “I would advise not to water the garden in rains and even one day after the rain as excess water drains all the nutrition away from the soil,” Dr. Kadur says.

Another important thing is enough sunlight. The terrace garden should receive at least four to six hours of direct sunlight, and in areas where the sun is too harsh, people can use a shade to prevent the plants from getting scorched.

Dr. Kadur advises people not to use portable water and do their own Rain Water Harvesting. “Also, prepare your own compost by using waste veggies,” he says.

Chillies are one of the easiest veggies to grow.

With the efforts of people like Dr. Kadur, Bangalore has over 5,000 terrace gardens now, with an increasing interest among youngsters.

One of his favourite gardens is located in Hyderabad and is probably the oldest terrace garden in India. This 35 year old garden hosts trees like banana, guava and sapota, and the entire terrace is covered with plants, trees and grass. Dr. Kadur believes that with the government’s support, the country should be able to meet its vegetable needs through urban gardeners.

“There should be better facilities made available in villages so that people stop migrating. An old man cannot work in his farms as much as he did before. Once he stops, who will produce food for us as the younger generation is migrating to the cities? We need more people to go back to farming,” he says.

The healthy garden of Dr. Viswanath.

Dr. Kadur wants to take gardening to the slums and urban poor

“We will provide them with material and training. They will just have to take care of the garden. They can sell the produce and earn some money from it,” he says.

Dr. Kadur has also started engaging school students in organic farming. He believes that schools are the best places to inculcate the habit of farming among young minds. He has implemented the model successfully in BM English school, Hennur where kids grow their own veggies, sell it to their teachers and also bring it to the OFYT events.

“Put your soul into it, throw seeds and take care of them,” he concludes.

The first ‘Oota from your Thota’ event of 2015 to promote Organic Urban Farming/Terrace Gardening is going to be held on 1 February, 2015. The event will have demonstrations/discussions and exhibitions on organic farming inputs and products/foods, rain water harvesting, waste segregation & home-composting, vertical gardening, window farming, solar lighting, irrigation and so on. Check their facebook page for more details.

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Dr. Kadur regularly organizes workshops on organic and terrace gardening. To know more about his work or to be part of his workshops, contact him at – [email protected]

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We are living in a concrete age where we are hardly in touch with nature. We like ourselves surrounded by buildings, shopping malls, offices, etc. but hardly take time out to spend time in natural surroundings. If you can’t go outside, then the best option is to get nature inside in different forms. You could get back in touch with nature by having your own terrace garden. Well, it would fulfill two purposes- You can experience the therapeutic effect of nature on your terrace & you can grow your vegetables.

Having a small garden with organic vegetables can be beneficial. Vegetables from your garden are higher in nutrients than the ones you get from the store. You can eat clean vegetables and imagine the amount of money you could save. Here are terrace vegetable garden ideas which are easy to implement.

How To Grow a Kitchen Garden On Terrace?

Perplexed about how to start? I had mixed feelings as well. Initially, I had a lot of questions like- will I be able to take care of them? What kind of soil do I use? What vegetables to grow? How to place them? It sounded very overwhelming but when I started, it was a piece of cake. Currently, I have 6 vegetables growing happily in my terrace garden with a few other plants, and beautiful décor.

So this is how you get started with your terrace vegetable garden:

Gather all the material you will need:

So, collect everything you think you may need like pots, vegetable seeds, right kind of soil for all the vegetables you have decided to start with, natural manure, gardening tools, and cow dung if you have decided to keep it organic.

Plan A Layout For Your Terrace Vegetable Garden

Start by planning a layout on a piece of paper to decide how would you place your pots. This needs to be done very carefully, keeping the drainage system mind. Terrace gardens usually have space constraints and if they do not have a proper drainage system, the growth of vegetables might be affected. You also need to check of shaded and sunny areas and design the layout accordingly.

Preparing The Soil

Do not use normal garden soil for the vegetables. Instead, use a good quality potting mix which is properly nourished. Prefer organic mixture of soil instead of chemically treated soil as chemically treated soil kills beneficial bacteria and reduces the nourishment of the vegetable.

Choose The Planting Containers

You could use almost anything as a planter from wooden crates to plastic bottles. But, you could explore options like metal planters, recycled plastic planters, fiber planters or even grow bags.

Choosing The Vegetables

Since it is your first time, you can start with just one or two vegetable. Make sure to pick good quality vegetable seeds, so the vegetables are grown healthy and happy. Best Vegetables for your terrace garden would be- Tomato, carrots, onions, potato, radish, beetroot, capsicum, & chilies.

Start Planting Your Vegetables In Pots

Get ready to get dirty, and simply start planting the vegetable seeds in the pot with the right kind of soil. It is the best part of making your terrace vegetable garden. Your terrace garden will help you reconnect with nature and release your stress. It is a clinically proven way of anxiety management.

Don’t Let Your Plants Remain Thirsty

Take care of your veggies just like you take care of a child. Watering them is the key factor, so make sure you water them regularly as and when required. Make sure you don’t overwater your plants as that causes damage and decay the plant roots. Also, make sure to manure your plant before a heavy rainfall.

Plant Hygiene- Pesticides

No matter what you do, pests are going to find a way out to your beautiful terrace garden. You can use pesticides to keep them away, but make sure to use natural pesticides. It is easy to prepare pesticide at home and you can try that also. You need to make a mixture of baking soda, cooking oil, and water for this purpose and then you need to spray it on the plants to avoid fungal infections. Also, use other pesticides like Neem oil for aphids nightmare.

Protect Your Plants From UV Rays & Birds

Pests are not the only threat to your plant. Once it starts bearing vegetables, birds and UV rays could harm them. You could cover your plants with a wire mesh or green garden net to protect your plants.

Decorate Your Terrace Garden

It’s time to accessories your garden. You could use pebbles, decorative pots, install small railings. You could also place small statues, lanterns, & colorful pictures which complement the décor. For a more soothing effect, install fairy lights or bokeh effect lights.

Oh, and make sure to keep chairs and a small table in your garden, so you could sit and relax while enjoying the beautiful view of your hard work. It would be your perfect tea time spot!

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Backyard Conservation – Terracing

Use terraces to make flower and vegetable gardening possible on steep slopes, or simply to add interest to your landscape.

In Your Backyard

Terraces can create several mini-gardens in your backyard. On steep slopes, terracing can make planting a garden possible. Terraces prevent erosion by shortening the long slope into a series of shorter, more level steps. This allows heavy rains to soak into the soil rather than run off and cause erosion.

Materials for Terraces

Numerous materials are available for building terraces. Treated wood is often used because of several advantages: it is easy to work with, blends well with plants, and is often less expensive than other materials. There are many types of treated wood on the market–from railroad ties to landscaping timbers. These materials will last for years. While there has been some concern about using these treated materials around plants, studies by Texas A&M University and the Southwest Research Institute concluded that these materials are not harmful to gardens or people when used as recommended. Other materials for terraces include bricks, rocks, concrete blocks, and similar masonry materials. Some masonry materials are made specifically for walls and terraces and can be more easily installed by a homeowner than other materials such as field stone and brick. Most stone or masonry products tend to be more expensive than wood.

Height of Walls

The steepness of the slope often dictates wall height. Make the terraces in your yard high enough so the land between them is fairly level. Be sure the terrace material is strong enough and anchored well enough to stay in place through freezing and thawing, and heavy rainstorms. Do not underestimate the pressure of water-logged soil behind a wall. It can be enormous and cause improperly constructed walls to bulge or collapse. Many communities have building codes for walls and terraces. Large projects will need the expertise of a professional to make sure the walls can stand up to water pressure in the soil. Large terraces also need to be built with proper drainage and to be tied back into the slope properly. Because of the expertise and equipment required to do this correctly, you will probably want to restrict terraces you build yourself to no more than a foot or two high.

Building a Terrace

The safest way to build a terrace is probably the cut and fill method. With this method, little soil is disturbed, giving you protection from erosion should a sudden storm occur while the work is in progress. This method will also require little, if any, additional soil.

  1. Contact your utility companies to identify the location of any buried utilities before starting to excavate.
  2. Determine the rise and run of your slope. The rise is the vertical distance from the bottom of the slope to the top. The run is the horizontal distance between the top and bottom. This will help you determine how many terraces you need. For example, if your run is 20 feet and the rise is 8 feet and you want each bed to be 5 feet wide, you will need 4 beds. The rise of each bed will be 2 feet.
  3. Start building beds at the bottom of your slope. You will need to dig a trench in which to place your first tier. The depth and width of the trench will vary depending on how tall the terrace will be and the specific building materials you are using. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using masonry products. Many of these have limits to the number of tiers or the height that can be safely built. If using landscape timbers and your terrace is low (less than 2 feet), you only need to bury the timber to about half its thickness or less. The width of the trench should be slightly wider than your timber. Make sure the bottom of the trench is firmly packed and completely level. Place your timbers in the trench.
  4. For the sides of your terrace, dig a trench into the slope. The bottom of this trench must be level with the bottom of the first trench. When the depth of the trench is one inch greater than the thickness of your timber, you have reached the back of the terrace and can stop digging.
  5. Cut a timber to the correct length and place in trench.
  6. Drill holes through your timbers and pound long spikes or pipes through the holes and into the ground. A minimum of 18 inches pipe length is recommended; longer pipes may be needed for stability for higher terraces.
  7. Place the next tier of timbers on top of the first, overlapping corners and joints. Spike these together.
  8. Move soil from the back of the bed to the front of the bed until the surface is level. Add another tier as needed.
  9. Repeat, starting with step 2. In continuously connected terrace systems, the first timber of the second tier will also be the back wall of your first terrace.
  10. The back wall of the last bed will be level with the front wall of that bed.
  11. When finished, plant and mulch.

Other Options for Slopes

If terraces are beyond the limits of your time or money, you may want to consider other options for backyard slopes. If you have a slope that is hard to mow, consider using groundcovers other than grass. There are many plants adapted to a wide range of light and moisture conditions that require little care, but provide soil erosion protection. These include:

  • Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
  • Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
  • Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
  • Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
  • Potentilla (Potentilla spp.)
  • Partridge berry (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Heathers and heaths

Stripcropping is another way to deal with long slopes. Rather than terracing to make garden beds level, plant perennial beds and strips of grass across the slope. Once established, many perennials are effective in reducing erosion. Mulch also helps reduce erosion. The erosion that may occur will be primarily limited to the garden area. The grass strips will act as filter strips and catch much of the soil that may run off the beds. Grass strips should be wide enough to mow across the hill easily as well as wide enough to effectively reduce erosion.

On the Farm

Terraces catch runoff water, let the water soak into the ground, and deliver the excess safely to the bottom of a hillside much like eavespouts on a house. The earthen ridges built around a hillside on the contour cut a long slope into shorter slopes, preventing water from building to a highly erosive force. Some terraces are seeded to grass, which provides erosion control and a nesting area for birds. Terraces are often used in combination with other conservation practices to provide more complete soil protection.

Stripcropping is a common erosion control practice on many farms. Farmers often alternate strips of corn or soybeans with strips of hay. Many farmers put erosion prone areas into permanent cover.

More About Backyard Conservation
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Association of Conservation Districts, and Wildlife Habitat Council encourage you to sign up in the “Backyard Conservation” program. To participate, use some of the conservation practices in your backyard that are showcased in this series of tip sheets — tree planting, wildlife habitat, backyard pond, backyard wetland, composting, mulching, nutrient management, terracing, water conservation, and pest management. Then, simply fill in the Backyard Conservation customer response card, send a Backyard e-mail request to
[email protected], or call 1-888-LANDCARE.

< Back to Backyard Conservation

Hillside Terrace Gardens – How To Build A Terrace Garden In Your Yard

So you want a garden but your landscape is nothing more than a steep hill or slope. What is a gardener to do? Consider building a terrace garden design and watch all your gardening woes slip away. Hillside terrace gardens are a great way to grow an array of plants and vegetables without the worry of having all your hard work simply wash away. Continue reading to learn more about how to build a terrace garden in your landscape.

What is a Terrace Garden?

Now that your interest in a hillside terrace garden has been piqued, you might be asking yourself, “What is a terrace garden and where do I start?” Terracing in the landscape creates mini-gardens and is an excellent option for homeowners with steep slopes where planting is otherwise impossible. Terrace gardens help prevent erosion by dividing hilly areas into smaller level sections where water is more easily distributed and soaked into the ground.

Hillside terrace gardens are an attractive addition to the landscape and can be planted with a variety of evergreen creeping shrubs, perennials or annuals.

Terrace Garden Design and Materials

The terrace garden design you choose must be the one that best suits your landscape and the degree of the slope you are dealing with. Terraces can be built out of any number of materials, although treated wood is most often used.

Treated wood offers a number of advantages over other materials, namely its cost and the fact that it blends in easily with the natural surroundings. Many homeowners choose to use landscape timbers that will last for many seasons in the garden. If you’re planning on implementing a vegetable garden, you may want to consider using cedar wood instead to avoid any chemicals that may leach into the soil.

Other materials that can be used include bricks, concrete blocks and rocks or various sizes and shapes.

How to Build a Terrace Garden

Building a terrace garden can be a labor-intensive project and should only be attempted if you are in excellent physical condition and have had some prior carpentry or landscaping experience. If you are unsure of a project of this degree, it’s best to hire a professional who is skilled in such work.

If you choose to build the terrace garden on your own, it’s essential that you determine the rise and run of the slope you are working with. The run is the horizontal measurement between the hilltop and its bottom. The rise is the vertical distance from the bottom of the slope to the top of the slope. Use the rise and the run measurement to determine the height and width of each bed, depending on the number of beds you wish to have.

Begin the terrace garden at the bottom of the slope. Dig a trench for the first tier. The more levels you will have in your garden, the deeper the trench should be. Make sure your trench is level and place your foundational terrace layer into the trench.

Next, you’ll need to dig a trench for the sides of the terrace. It’s essential that the bottom of the trench is level with the first trench. Anchor building materials with spikes. Layer your next level on top of the first and anchor them together with spikes.

Dig up the soil in the back of the terrace box to the front, until the box is level. Add additional soil if necessary. Repeat these steps for all of your terrace levels. Be sure to find and follow detailed instructions for any complex garden terrace design projects you may have.

Terracing — building level steps on sloping ground — is a technique that has been used since ancient times by farmers around the world to grow crops and gardens. Think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the beautiful terraced rice paddies of Asia. Terraces are one of a landscapers great tools in steep and hilly country. If your property tilts as much or more as it runs level, you might want to consider terrace gardening in your yard.

As part of good backyard conservation practice terraces can play a role in xeriscaping and water conservation. Not only do they allow you to reclaim space from the hillside to plant vegetables or flowers and shrubs — terraces can be very decorative — they’re also a great hedge against water runoff and soil erosion. They can also create warmer, sunnier micro-climates for growing light-and-heat-loving plants and vegetables. Now — in the dead of winter — is the perfect time of year to start visualizing your hillside alive with tomatoes, trailing vines, and stands of beautiful blossoms.

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Here’s a site to get your creative juices flowing: a rather detailed drawing of a hillside garden — with compost bin! — from a gardening blog with a rather risque name. Notice how features like a storage shed, cold frame, even steps and benches are built right in. While this gardener had the help of a professional landscaper, you can see that much of the design — and the work — could be done by any reasonably energetic and skilled handy person. Here are step-by- step directions, right down to making sure there are no buried wires on the hill you’ll be digging up, for terracing a sloping yard. Here’s another from the Natural Resources Conservation Center which discusses different materials — wood, stone — to use for the walls and the steps to take to prevent heavy, water-logged soils from collapsing those walls (drainage is important). There’s also a discussion here of planning for the “run and rise” of your slope; in other words how deep and how high your terraces should be. You’ll also need to consider the contours of your hill, something that might require a level, stakes and line, or even the services of a surveyor, to make sure the contours are just so. Gardeners whose lands are mostly flat can still use the practice of contouring to conserve moisture in their xeriscape.

Don’t feel like you have to convert your whole yard in one season. We’re acquainted with one gardener — the proverbial friend of a friend — who visits only once or twice a year. Each time he visits, we get a photo journal of his progress. He admits that he did his terraces backwards, from the top down. But this allowed him to establish them at intervals. From a couple of stone-walled narrow spaces where he grew lettuce and marigolds, to a full hillside of growing spaces hosting an abundance of vegetables and flowers, it’s been great to see his progress and to hear him crow. His neighbors up there in Missoula, Montana get a few tomatoes, sure. But his south-facing slope, with their built-in windbreaks and natural air circulation that keeps off those first few frosts (if not too heavy) gives him a bumper crop.

Need more proof that terracing is a smart thing to do? Here’s Thomas Jefferson’s huge terrace garden on a Monticello hillside. It’s just another example of the vision and wisdom of one of our Founding — and gardening — Fathers.

Lisa Russo A terraced slope makes planting practical and harvesting easy.

When my friend Jonathan Long bought a house, part of its side yard was too steep to plant easily or efficiently. Being a practical man, he decided to terrace the slope.

It’s a solution that makes sense for anyone wanting a better vegetable bed on a sloping lot.
A terrace’s stone walls absorb heat during the day and radiate it back later, warming both the air and the root zones of plants. Depending on the dimensions of the bed and the thickness of the stone walls, that might mean warmer soil earlier and later, and a longer growing season. An added bonus is that cold air slides off and down terraces rather than settling around plants where it can damage them.

If your site is south- or southwest-facing, so much the better, especially for heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatillo and ground cherries.

Jonathan started by cutting the sod, turning it upside down and covering it with soil. The overturned grass and weeds became humus for the soil. Then he cut into the slope to form four equal-size beds that step down to street level.

Next, he dry-stacked stones (available from rock yards or quarries) at the lower front edge and ends of each terrace to make a broad “U.” Each terrace wall, none more than 20 inches high, is stacked to lean in slightly toward the dirt it holds back. This helps stabilize the wall. The higher the wall, the more potentially unstable it is, so he kept his low.

With the hard work done, Jonathan set pieces of broken concrete on the soil at the back of each terrace, forming pathways from which he can plant, weed, harvest and water.

If you’re inspired to build a dry-stack wall for your own terraced vegetable beds, here are other considerations:

• Plant crops that don’t require a lot of digging, such as root crops.

Spadework will be awkward unless you stand on the soil in the bed, and you want to keep this to a minimum because it compresses soil and endangers your dry-stack wall. Likewise, avoid planting corn and other large plants because harvest will be near impossible in such a confined space.

• Dry-stacked walls can be dismantled and moved or modified as needed. A cement foundation or adding mortar between the stones would increase the stability of the wall.

• Terraced beds are more vulnerable to erosion than a flat garden. Water, if applied too quickly, doesn’t have far to go until it runs over the edge of or through terrace walls. Add lots of organic material to soil to hold in moisture.

• The best way to water terraced beds is with soaker hoses or drip irrigation on a timer. Your plants will be happier, healthier and more productive, and you’ll save time and money on water, too.

• Stone walls provide lots of pockets and spaces for planting small herbs like creeping thyme or for sweet treats like alpine strawberries. (Don’t plant alpine strawberries into a south-facing wall; it’s too hot. They’ll do better along an east-facing edge, at the wall’s bottom edge or at the top where wall meets soil.)

• Stone walls may shelter slugs and garter snakes. Slugs can be controlled with beer traps, regular nighttime patrols with scissors, or with organic bait. Snakes are always welcome in my garden, though I’ve been known to jump straight up when one slithers out.

– Vern Nelson

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