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Barbara Pleasant:

My Hillside Vegetable Gardening

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My classic intro vegetable gardening book, Starter Vegetable Gardens, has been wonderfully updated for 2023. 
When gardening on a slope, keep kitchen herbs on the front row, within easy reach. Here prostrate rosemary tumbles over a section of retaining wall made of logs.
Running beds across the slope reduces erosion and gives you almost level footing in the pathways.
Terraced beds are accessible in wet spring weather, because the pathways bear the weight of human activities.
After much trial and error, we have settled on 18 to 24-inch long rebar stakes as the best way to support retaining boards. Wood stakes rot too fast for this job in a hillside vegetable garden.
One of the great things about a hillside garden is the emergence of natural layers of texture. Useful herbs including catnip, valerian and lemon balm reseed naturally, asking only for a small space to grow.  

Wouldn’t it be great to eat from your garden every day of the year? That’s the idea behind my newest book, Homegrown Pantry. Over 50 food crops are covered from both gardening and kitchen angles, the start of many great adventures in homegrown food. 

Thanks so much for supporting my work!

Gardening on a slope will keep your leg muscles strong, and it's a beautiful way to grow great food. Our hillside vegetable garden is on a northwest-facing mountainside at about 2,700 feet elevation. The elevation and exposure puts us in Zone 6b. The basic soil type is acid mountain clay, but after years of improvement it's now clay loam.


Here I'm posting photos and observations that may be of interest to others who are nurturing dreams of a beautiful hillside vegetable garden. Ours is made up of about 20 permanent beds that are terraced into the hillside.


To retain the beds, we use untreated boards from the sawmill down the road. The boards eventually rot and need replacing, but that's an easy job to take care of in spring. One-inch thick poplar boards worked well enough, but we have replaced most of them with thicker hemlock, which was the sawmill special a couple of years ago. 

hillside vegetable garden in winter
spring in the hillside vegetable garden
To reduce soil erosion and increase light exposure to plants when gardening on a slope, it is best to run permanent beds and planting trenches across the slope in a hillside vegetable garden.
Hillside vegetable garden summer
I love the visual drama of our hillside vegetable garden. The tiered beds show off the changing tableau of crops like actors on a stage. And though I'm sure climbing up a stiff hill twenty times a day is good for you, it's the only aspect of gardening on a slope that gets tiresome.

Instead of trying to garden in the steepest, shadiest corner of the garden, we built a beautiful chicken coop with attached decks -- one for garden stuff and one for people. Eggs can be gathered from the little deck. 

One of our pandemic projects was outfitting three beds with hardware to hold covers of plastic or row cover. The plastic attaches with wiggle wire, which holds it firm in the wind. We cover one bed with plastic in early spring, and use it as a greenhouse bed. 
Wiggle wire
Slopes can be slippery any time of year, so don't take chances. In summer we keep the corridors mowed because tall, wet grass is a dangerously slick. In winter I put Yaktrax on these old boots so I can stay safe-footed in ice and snow. Gravity is strong stuff. It wants you to tumble downhill.