Farming on Mountains
How does terrace farming help us work around natural gradients?
Terrace farming is an ancient technique used to both cultivate crops and maintain a hilly terrain’s soil health, with the system ensuring moisture and minerals remain locked within the land. As such, farmers in arid, steep or high-rainfall regions can increase their crop yields and prevent damaging erosion. A terrace system consists of multiple tiers of planting beds, each stepped above another on the side of a hill or mountain. Each area is supported against the incline by a wall – typically a dry-stone structure, which ensures the soil remains level and packed with minerals by limiting runoff. Alternatively, in dry regions, the walls also help to maintain what limited moisture there is.
There are two main types of terrace. The first are retention terraces, used in low-rainfall areas and designed to capture as much runoff water as possible, which is then used to irrigate crops or distributed to lower terraces. The second type is the graded terrace, which is built at a slight gradient and designed to intercept and divert runoff water into protected waterways, preventing it from washing out other levels. In most terrace farms, a combination of these will be used.
The terrace system also allows for some controlled irrigation of crops within the planting areas. This is achieved through shallow channels that let captured water gradually trickle down through the stepped tiers by the power of gravity.
Multi-level mountain farming
Special retention terraces are sometimes built at the top of a terrace farm system. Their main purpose is to capture rainfall and hold it for future irrigation.
Between each terrace, there often lies a narrow gully which helps to transport excess water from the top planting terrace to irrigate those below.
Each of the terraces is bolstered by a dry-stone wall, providing a level planting area and also preventing the topsoil from slipping downwards.
Planting terraces are dug out of the slope in a staggered series of levels, with one above the other.
Terrace farms are found on mountain slopes or hill faces, with the terrain typically arid due to high levels of water runoff, mineral washout and erosion.