"Typhoon Melor Headed to Santa Cruz" - Jute netting pinned to hillside

"Typhoon Melor Headed to Santa Cruz" announces the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The San Jose Mercury News says:
The first big storm of the season should rumble over the Santa Cruz Mountains and whistle through Silicon Valley starting tonight, dumping lots of rain, knocking down trees and power lines, triggering mudslides and turning the midweek commute into a mess.
So I changed my plans. I was going to plant some of my propagated plants, currently in gallon pots, but I'll wait till next weekend, when the soil, by all accounts, will be well soaked with up to 5 inches of rain. Instead we focused on giving the new path some protection from the deluge. And I also got a bunch of seeds, slated for October sowing, into flats.

I recently invited a neighbor to drop in and give his advice on erosion control and our new path. He has lived around here for longer than most folk and he built several of the homes hereabouts. Just as a reminder, here's the new path under construction, just a few short weeks ago when it was summer. Now it's definitely fall.

We were contemplating retaining walls of various sorts to keep the bank above the path from falling down. But "Just wait and and see what happens," were our neighbor's words o' wisdom. "If some soil comes down, deal with it when it happens. But I think you'll find things will stay pretty stable."

Needless to say we thought his advice about doing nothing was spot on, and followed it to a T. A cup of tea to be precise, and a McVities Digestive biscuit, the better to enjoy the doing of said nothing. But as he did allow that some jute netting might be helpful, we purchased some supplies - one roll and a whole bunch of six-inch staples. One roll was not really enough to do the job, but we got some areas protected and it'll all be interesting, seeing what happens on areas protected and not.

Saturday a friend from the other end of our road, who is getting into landscaping with natives, dropped by to see what we were going to do with the jute, as they also have some slopes that could be unstable.

She arrived as I was potting on the latest batch of Nasella lepida seedlings. I'm running short of time and this foothill needle grass germinates and grows very easily, so we quickly popped two small bundles of seedlings directly from the seed flats into each gallon pot, skipping the four-inch pot phase. We filled the pots with a mix of native soil with some perlite, mostly leftovers from other plantings.

I have maybe 65 gallon pots beyond ready for planting, waiting for rain to soak the ground. I want to use these lovely bunch grasses extensively for their appearance and for erosion control and plan to propagate lots more. They are perennial and have deep roots. We'll see what the results are. They may end up taking over, who knows.

Then we did a quick Google search on how to use jute netting, and my neighbor helped me roll strips down the hillside. We pegged them every foot or so along the seams with six inch staples, and we overlapped each strip by about 3 inches. It is definitely a two-person job.

There were instructions on www.laspilitas.com about burying the top edge in a six inch deep trench and pegging it down to the bottom of the trench and covering it with soil. But that sounded way too much like work, and anyway, we are not covering a huge hillside. I figure I can weigh the top ends with some boulders if we need to. It was also recommended to put mulch beneath and above the netting. I just didn't have time or energy for all that. If I get some time I'll throw some wood chips on from another area of the garden, hopefully before the storm hits. (I was way more interested in working with the seeds - of which more in another post.) So without following all the guidelines, we may be making a futile gesture with the netting, but I think it will help.

Sunday morning, while I planted seeds in the foggy, drizzly gray light, Mr Wood Rat moved a lot of logs and debris left over from this spring's tree removal to the wood pile (an edifice which looks a lot like a giant wood rat home!). Now the base of the valley looks a lot better.

Then together we used up the rest of the roll of jute.

We decided to peg the netting on the slope above the new path where the soil is soft, and let it cover the path itself, to try and keep things in place till I can get some plants in, such as those bunch grasses.

I'll plant things with different rooting habits - you want a mixture of plants with more shallow spreading roots, and those with more deeply-penetrating tap roots for good erosion control. I'm hoping to propagate endemic native shrubs such as toyon, coffee berry, hazelnut, coyote brush, ceanothus, Holodiscus discolor, and thimbleberry - to use here. Already growing natively on the slope are many fine natives such as toyon, coyote brush, some ceanothus, native blackberries, creeping snowberry, some coastal wood ferns, some tarweeds, bee plant, native brome grasses - as well as torrents of weeds in spring, including many annual grasses. So we didn't cover all areas. We focused on a couple of disturbed areas where there are few plants - and therefore few roots.

So this is how it ended up. A bit haphazard and experimental. We could have done more but we ran out of jute (and energy). You can see Duncan the dog with his frisbee in the distance under the retaining wall, and my dad's cottage behind him.

After Typhoon Melor delivers its punch, I'll let you know how the hillside survived (or didn't). Also our home-made "greenhouse" which has survived OK until now -- but who knows what will happen if we get high winds. But before that post I hope to share more about my latest adventures in propagation. So. We shall see!


Anonymous said…
Very interesting post! I'm glad you didn't bother with the mulch; my wood chips regularly go to lower ground in a storm. Maybe gorilla hair mulch would work, but not chips
Country Mouse said…
Thanks, Anonymous for saving me the work - makes sense. I've read good and bad about "gorilla hair" - the bad being that it makes a mat that doesn't allow water to penetrate, and that it doesn't look good after a short time. I also read that it's more flammable than some other wood-based mulches, but I find that hard to credit. Also it's expensive. But some people like it very much, so I remain confused.
Oh, I can't wait to see the before and after pictures!

You know, erosion is a big important standard for science, and one I love to teach. The implications of fire, deforestation, etc. etc. ... it's all drastic, but so much more common and yet an important concern is the little bit of erosion that occurs all over when we get rain like we're about to get.
Chari + Matt said…
I'm watching with interest, as I am planning to cut just such a path in my own backyard. Do you have any idea what the slope of your, er, slope is? Sorry, civil engineer is on the keyboard.

Are you going to shore up the uphill side of your path at all? I'm looking to do mine mostly w/ landscape ties.

Regarding mulch on a hillside, it sounds like shredded redwood sticks well. It looks like it when I see it in the landscaping supply yard. Mixed review on a slope near the Moraga high school: it slid, but it was installed right over a landscaping fabric, so, duh. Of course, you may feel like since redwood is not native to your site (if it isn't) that isn't appropriate.

Country Mouse said…
Hey Chari and Matt - we are in the midst of redwood country here actually, so that is not a concern for us. I was thinking about dragging some duff over as it is thick, but then I'm not sure if that would help. Neighbors have said it's good to keep the duff low but I'm not sure. It's habitat. The slope of the slope varies and it would be a good exercise to do some measurements, but we haven't yet. Maybe next weekend. We were going to shore up the uphill side but the knowledgeable neighbor said not to bother till we see what happens... I think we're going to see within a day or so!
Nell Jean said…
Wondering how you fared in the storm. We are a hundred miles from the Gulf Coast, but an occasional hurricane comes inland to do damage here. Frequently we just get 'outer bands' with fierce winds and tornados spin off. Even if there isn't an official tornado, wind is wind and a downed power line and blown off roofs are serious business.

Hope you mouses are in good shape. I'm off to check out Mr. Mouse's new blog. I keep non-Blotanical blogs on the RSS feed so as not to miss a thing.