If you want to garden in the mountains, unless you live in one of the level valleys, you will need to work with the contour of your land. As there are lots of rocks up here, the solution is to make some terrace gardens with rock walls. This brings us to the geology of the Appalachian Mountains.
Exploring these mountains, you will notice at road cuts that there are many layers of different types of sedimentary rock. Some are course sandstone, other sticky clay, others brittle shale. The colors range from ochre to rust to olive to black to white to grey. Some layers crumble easily others break only under some force (usually where you want to plant something). On our mountain the harder, limestone layers rest atop the softer shale and sandstone layers. As the softer layers erode with freeze-thaw cycles and thundershowers, the limestone breaks under gravitational force creating a top layer of blocked rocks. These make for good stone walls.
The dominant theory about how the Appalachian Mountains formed is based on plate tectonics. The alternating layers of sediment formed as the continental plate moved around, emerging and submerging in fresh water and ocean regions. Shale and coal formed in fresh water times as organic matter flowed into low lying areas and got packed down. Sandstone and limestone (lots of shells) formed during ocean covered periods. At some point, the eastern US and north-western African continental plates pushed together, uplifting and folding two parallel mountains ranges, which then existed as the plates moved apart. Take a couple of throw rugs and push them together. Each will fold in a pattern, based on the direction of force.
This theory also proposes that the Appalachian Mountains of today are only the base of the mountains, which have most eroded back to form the East Coast and the Mississippi flood planes. Thus, the top of our mountains today was the bottom of the pile some time ago. That is how we find fossils of shells and corral on the top of our mountain.
Building rock walls is not much of a tradition around here. Occasionally, we will see a pile of rocks in a field, but most of the time the farmers just work around the areas where the limestone protrudes. Linda, however grew up in New England, where building rock walls seems to have been a genetic trait. I grew up in a household where hard work was the norm, not the exception. Combine these two characteristics and you get a lot of rock walls.
There was the original wall, around our fire pit, which our cousin put in one year in exchange for a vacation at our cabin. Then the wall where we would “put in a few tomatoes”, which became a second wall when, we would “put in a few more”. Now, we just keep adding rock walls as we add garden spaces. There are the walls below the fire pit, off the deck, supporting the wood shed and the garden shed. Next is the new strawberry patch below the grape arbor. Some day the archeologists will have a good time plotting out our gardens and reconstructing “the cottage gardens of Short Mountain”. Not exactly Machu Picchu.
How do you frame your garden?