Farm Life: Preparing the Harvest, Part 2, Rock Walls

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.  

Road cut with rock layers

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.

Looking East from South Branch Mountain

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.

Rocks where they lay

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.

Rhode Island rock wall

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?

Folded layers of rock


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
This entry was posted in Farm Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Farm Life: Preparing the Harvest, Part 2, Rock Walls

  1. Mother Suzanna says:

    I LOVE road cuts! They are so “telling” of an area. But I can’t say I have any kind of “FRAME” around my garden…just more houses over the rail fence and I’m praying the potted pitosporum grow FAST! Well, what can you expect in Silicon Valley.

  2. Barney says:

    The rocks of New England might be older? They seem rounder and smoother than the ones in your pics. Also the veins in the side hills are granite. Very interesting piece.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      My understanding of New England vs Mid-Atlantic geology is that New England was under glaciers at one time. Long Island & Block Island are the terminal moraine (e.g. big pile of rocks at the southern edge of the glacier). That would leave Rhode Island as rubble left over as the glacier receded. Your observation that a lot of the New England rocks are granite is correct.

      In the Mid-Atlantic, most of the rock is sedimentary from the layers of deposited erosion. These layers were not buried deep enough to become metamorphic rocks (e.g. limestone turns to marble, quartz & feldspar become granite). The occasional igneous rocks are mostly dikes, which are places that molten rock intruded into fault lines. These are usually vertical walls dividing sections of horizontal, tilted, or folded sediments.

      Some day, I’ll write about the caves around here, which are part of the geology of this region. Thanks for you observations.

  3. The Vicar says:

    Does this mean that in addition to chopping would on our next visit I can also look forward to building rock walls! Sounds like an epic vacation.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Actually, we are doing well on wood this year. Yes, you are welcome to move some rocks. Add some core stabilizing and back exercises to your work out routine at the gym. 🙂

      • The Vicar says:

        It will be just like the old days of damming up creeks with whatever rocks we could find. Another of my ongoing, inept attempts to subdue nature. Big effort, small picture.

  4. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, so your pictures seem familiar! We vacationed once in Greenville, WV where the mountains were just beautiful! Living in Ohio now, lots of clay soil, not so many rocks. It seems awfully flat. 🙂

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Where you grew up probably are the northern extension, lest we be the southern extension, of the same folded mountains ranges. We have never driven in Ohio, but the topographical maps suggest that the terrain is more level. Many folks migrated through these mountains onto Ohio and more hospitable farm land.

  5. Great photos and an informative piece. I always had an itch for geology. Still can recite Moh’s hardness scale that I had to memorize as a schoolboy.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Ohhhh. All I recall is scratching rocks with one’s nail vs pocket knife. Most of the shale and sandstone we have around here breaks into clay-mud-sand if left out over winter.

This Hermit's Door is Open: Step in & Share Your Opinion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s