August 31, 2022

Terracing - noun

Definitions: A soil erosion control technique where sloped hillsides are converted to a series of steps constructed across the contours to create flat surfaces for more sustainable cultivation.

Terracing in the Forest Garden:

Terraces are among the most effective techniques for conserving water and protecting soils in a Forest Garden. Farmers apply terraces across their land is to enhance the sustainability of farming on steep hillsides. 

In certain regions, slopes are so steep that very little can be done to slow water and erosion – even with berms and swales. Terracing can convert slopeswhere soil and water easily wash away, into steps, leading rainwater into the subsurface, enhancing moisture retention and leaving topsoil in place. 

To implement terracing, farmers begin by laying out contour sections across the land and removing the topsoil from each section, placing it aside. Then, farmers remove subsoil from the upper half of the section along each contour and place it on the lower half to create a horizontal step. The topsoil is then placed back on top. Adding agroforestry trees and grass along the edges helps to stabilize each step.  

Constructing terraces is hard work, however, and is therefore not a common practice. Much more often, Forest Gardeners will create berms and swales across the contours, stabilizing the berms with rocks, trees, shrubs, and grasses. This barrier traps water as well as topsoil washing away from above and, over time, can eventually form terraces in a longer but much less laborious process.  

Want to learn more about agroforestry? Sign up for our FGTC newsletter here. Plus, join our FGTC Facebook Group to get connected with a global community of agroforesters.