Nov 072011


Retaining walls

The hill came down, the walls went up


Before the rains come crashing down, take a good look around your property.  It’s especially important if you are on a hill or have slopes around you.  When water picks up speed it can really create havoc.  Take a look at this hillside. After a number of rainy days, the whole hillside came down into the driveway.  Fortunately, no person and no cars were there when the soil came down.

In an effort to get more light in the property the owners cut down many trees.  The result, light came down and so did the hillside.  They should have made sure the ground was planted and drainage was put in place.  To do it after the soil erodes is much more expensive. In addition to cutting back the hill and putting in retaining walls, we also put drain pipe behind the walls, at the top of the hill and at the bottom.  Water has to go somewhere!  Take a look.

Erosion control for steep hills may mean building retaining walls

Cement block wall at the bottom and wood retaining walls will hold back this hill

Construction of the retaining wall

Retaining wall in process

There's still too much soil, and erosion can be a problem

Cement block wall is not high enough, and soil needs to be removed

After the walls are built, it is important to plant for soil coverage.  I use seeds for immediate coverage and plants for long term coverage.  At the top of the hill we put in a swale to redirect the water away from the main walls. We covered it with erosion control blankets.  They are both 100% biodegradable, but they are slightly different. One is thicker and made of coconut fiber and the other has straw put between cotton netting. The thick mat is better for stronger erosion control and the straw allows better germination of seeds.

Two types of erosion control blankets - coconut and straw

The blanket on the left has straw and the blanket on the right is coconut fiber.


A long swale covered with netting and also planted with seed

For quick germination I used rye grass, Dutch white clover, vetch and California wildflower mix, with extra California poppies. We were lucky with early October rains that helped with excellent germination.  If you don’t expect rain, you should water the seeds to take advantage of warmer weather in the early Fall.  Once the winter rains come it gets too cold for most seeds to germinate.

Erosion control seed mix

Rye grass, Dutch white clover, Vetch and Wildflowers

Seeds germinating through straw mulch

Straw mulch holds the soil in place and protects the seed


Tomorrow I’ll talk about other simple erosion control  methods.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control






Nov 022011
Seemingly innocent cat

This cat looks innocent, but it's not!

I walked out into the garden today to look at my newly dug and seeded beds, only to find that the cats, mine and neighbor’s used it for their very own latrine. Actually disgusting. Because this poop harbors unsafe pathogens and is really stinky we don’t want it in our garden beds. Although I love to put up photographs of what I’m writing about, I will spare you this one.


What to do. Physical barriers, like netting, row coversand fencing are helpful in some areas. But it can be a lot of work to put them up.  I found this great mat, called a Cat Scat Mat that you lay down on the bed and it has prickly plastic things sticking up that the cats can’t walk on. Very useful for seed beds and smallish areas.

Cat Scat Mats, Set of 5 by Gardener’s Supply Company
Cats are also fastidious about licking their paws and if you sprinkle the ground with cayenne pepper, it is reputed to be effective. Let me know if this works for you.
When you do have to clean up the poop, be sure to wear gloves and DO NOT put it in your compost.  Ignoring the fact that I have written that everything natural composts, you don’t want to put anything that has pathogens into your pile if you cannot guarantee that you can get the pile hot enough.
I suggest you use biodegradable waste bags that you put in your garbage. You can find them here. Or you can use these in the ground pet waste composters. These are just for animal wastes.
As a matter of fact, I think I better write about what is NOT good to put into your compost.
The great and wonderful lab, also poops

We love our animals, but also have to deal with their poop appropriately

Check back soon, very soon.

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