Growing on a Slope

I’ve been growing in my veg patch for around 4 years now, and in many respects am very lucky that it is on a south facing slope. It certainly gets the sun all day! However, growing on a slope does tend to raise questions when you’re approaching a new plot, and now that I’ve had a bit of experience and learnt so much more about growing veggies, I think I would probably do things a little differently.

There are several options to dealing with a south facing slope:

  1. Run terraced beds across the slope (from east to west)
    This is more or less what I have done. When I took the plot over, it was a simple slope (steeper than it looks in the picture). I decided to put in raised beds, trying to make sure that each raised bed was kind of terraced and mostly flat. The idea behind this was that if I actually flattened off a portion of the slope, or terraced it in any way, then the flat part would get waterlogged. As it is, the drainage is not too bad as it is. The beds run horizontally from east to west across the slope, and I tend to plant the veggies in rows going across the beds, i.e from north to south.
    Pros: no water logging, plants get good sun all day, it looks nice
    Cons: I can’t remove the edges of the raised beds, and these provide great habitats for slugs.
  2. Flatten the space
    I have considered this, and it definitely has its appeal in that it would be easier to create no-dig beds without the edges (i.e reduce slug habitat). However, given the gradient of the hill, I do think it would get very waterlogged when we get the big downfalls that are so common here in Cornwall!
    Pros: Being able to remove edges of raised beds, being able to plant more/face beds north to south
    Cons: Waterlogging, plants actually get less exposure to the sun, would require a digger (or a lot of manual, backbreaking work!)
  3. Run rows up and down the slope
    On reading and researching, this is actually quite a popular way of growing on a south facing slope. The rainwater drains down the beds, all the plants have good access to sunlight, and depending on the gradient there is not necessarily a need to have the edges on the raised beds.
    Pros: Good growing conditions, good drainage, no bed edges
    Cons: Won’t work well on a steep slope, compost mulch can easily run off in heavy rain

Looking back now, I would love to get a digger in and flatten the whole thing so that I could make more of a success of the no-dig method that I’ve been using over the past year. Having a flat, level surface would mean I wouldn’t need to have raised edges to the beds (I’ve got all sorts, from wine bottle borders, to old telegraph poles) as these do provide glorious spots for slugs and snails to hide in. And I’d also be able to have a larger growing area in a smaller zone, facing in the right direction for the sun. However, I’m not quite ready to do that as I put so much blood, sweat and tears into getting it to where it is, that to now get a digger in and undo all that work feels like defeat.

What I am considering, is terracing it properly (albeit by hand, with a pick axe, a shovel and a rake!) to have 3 level areas for the beds. I can see the benefits of this in enabling me to get rid of the raised edges, but also avoiding too much water logging. I’d still have to have the beds running east to west, but that’s ok as I can still plant north to south. We’ll see how I feel nearer to spring!