Thursday, November 18, 2010


Plants are natures way of dealing with erosion and the various elements that are required to maintain an eco system. Without plants, there's nothing to feed the soil or retain moisture. What you end up with afterwards is sand - free draining, nutrient deficient, light weight soil erosion just waiting to happen. Which brings me to the title of this post, "Desertification".

Fancy word huh? Some may have heard about it before, but there's nothing like a good article to brush up on the theory. Which is why I want to share an interesting site I came across recently as I was doing some research for our property. Hitachi is a company I'm familar with that makes various consumer goods, but I didn't realise they had projects greening deserts too!

Horquin Desert Greening Project in China has obviously been edited to make for ease of viewing on the internet, but I also thought it was a healthy reminder that other parts of the world are experiencing desertification too. It was interesting to read one particular volunteer helping in the project, could remember grasslands where the desert is now and that was just 30 short years ago. That's six years less than my lifetime.

Rather than be scared about the reality of desertification though, I thought it was a good reminder that we all need to pay attention to how much we "green" and the benefits to people who get involved. In Australia, many of us just need to open our back door to see the effects of desertification. It's a terminal condition our continent has evolved into, simply because I think we didn't consider pulling out trees to graze animals or putting in another shopping mall to sell the meat, was going to do any harm. We didn't just stop the flow of water reaching those modified places though, we stopped the flow of fertility too.

On our own property, we come face to face with the reality of removing vegetation on deleted soils every day. Soil erosion from building our house is something we're still trying to amend after four years. We're having more success with each year, but I certainly appeciate anyone who's prepared to go tackle a desert to green! I especially loved some of the techniques they adopted on page 2 of the article. What a unique way of building contours on a sand dune!

Anyway, as an ode to desertification, I thought I'd leave images of our "not quite finished" front retaining wall project. It's in that transition period where you can still see the effects of soil erosion, before the garden grows in properly and we get that final 5% of the project done.

It's not quite there, but almost...

This is the left side of the 30 meter front retaining wall, all planted and mulched. There are a series of ramps and levels which makes site access on a slope, much easier. The plants at this stage are small, but have grown somewhat quickly this growing season. We have high hopes!

This is the right-hand section of our front retaining wall, with Hilltop chicken coop in the far distance. Not a lot of detail to observe, but gives the basic structure of the wall and ramps.

This is looking directly at the middle of the wall. There's a lower ramp which leads to the mezzanine level, and the unfinished area is where you can still see the red dirt.

A row of dianella plants at the bottom are designed to ancor the wall and catch any debris once they're established. We have incorporated some rock retained sections, and some salvaged timber: kept in place with metal stakes. This part of our retaining wall is the most exciting, as it's not as methodical as the manufactured Hanson blocks. It's a mixture of green and hardscaping which nature will mould and shape with the passing seasons.

While a lot of the hard manual labour has been completed on the wall itself, we have months (possibly years) of work to do on the top section of this very large wall. On the top sits a pond with attached swales to divert water run-off. I haven't shown a lot of pictures on the top, because its hardpan clay with a few patches we've improved for fruit trees planted up there. It will be the fenced-off area, for the chickens living in Hillstop to forage during the day.

Right now though, it's probably another 12 months of dirt shoveling as we're doing it all by hand.

A labour of love most definitely! From the first day we started here (note Dec 2008) it's taken about 2 years manual labour to reach this point. That's two summers, two winters, two springs and two autumns - and there's still more to do. For us, it's very much a labour of love because there's no money to be made from it. If anything, you're spending money, but the return is improved land via improved fertility in the soil, and reduced water flow - meaning it stays on the property rather than washing away.

The desertification we're seeing in our yard is something we want to change, it's something we're tackling and if I could encourage people to do one simple thing to save the planet, it would be to love the soil in your own backyard. Don't just build on it or save money by growing your own food on it - love it like a newborn baby. Do whatever it takes to feed that baby, because when it grows to maturity, it will feed an entire eco-system.

Your backyard (no matter how big or small - suburban or rural) all contributes to fertility.

I'll talk more specifically on feeding the soil in another post: by what seems to work here, what we recycle and things people wouldn't necessarily associate with healthy soil.


  1. You have very interesting terrain...lots of slopes it looks like. The wall is fantastic...and I especially love the rock. I assume you and Dave did the planning and the building too? How much planning did it take?
    I'm glad your back and I can't wait to hear more about your work with the soil.

  2. We definitely have plenty of slopes to spare here, LOL. Dave actually designed the ramp which has turned out to be a really practical feature. So much easier to walk to one side of the property or the other.

    We took about 9 months in the ideas and research department. We contacted a few landscape companies to give us quotes on a timber sleeper retaining wall and a sandstone rock wall.

    Those quotes came in between $6 and $10k as a rough estimate (3 yrs ago). The materials for the wall that we built came under $4k.

    We decided to go with the precast concrete Hanson blocks because we only wanted to put the wall up once. We knew a timber sleeper wall would've been cheaper, but it would also eventually decay and need replacing.

    Had we been able to afford it, we definitely would've paid someone else to build it. Being skint for cash at the time however, made us more resourceful in the end. Plus we learned to get our hands dirty and loved it, LOL.

    Now it's the long and patient job of waiting for the plants to grow!

  3. Wow, you saved a bundle by doing this all yourselves! I have to agree that it would be pointless to use logs...even though they look great. I believe in conserving ones energy by creating things that are permanent if possible.

  4. My goodness you've been working hard Chris but also very thoughtfully. Lots of planting and planing and digging...well it'll get there eventually! Grow plants, grow!

  5. Grow...GROW!!

    I'm with you on that chant, LOL.

  6. We are more than happy with the money we saved rebel, after all, you've got the plants to buy after the wall is built too.

    So the 6 to 10k we were quoted, could easily be more. The under 4 we paid for materials, would have gone just slightly over with plants.

    Mulch was free from the local council tip, and we would've paid for petrol to collect it either way. So yes, slow research and determination can save you money in the long run. :)

    The scariest part is making the decision to do it and trusting you can learn what you need to.


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