Making DIY steps down the side of the forest garden

It’s pretty amazing what a bunch of logs, a lot of gumption, some wheelbarrows and a couple of days digging can do. What was once a slippery slope becomes a lovely place to be – what a huge difference a home-made set of steps can make!

The core edible forest garden of Milkwood Farm is on sloping ground, and ends up against the chicken’s strawyard. And dividing the two, up until recently, has been a steep and slippery dirt track. But Trevor decided to change that, so he called our available on-farm crew together, and they set about transforming the space.

Michael gets into it with the crowbar. Photo by Berber van Beek

Sophie lays a log-stair. Photo by Berber van Beek

Free-draining gravel in between the steps. Photo by Berber van Beek

Sharn digs a trough for the french drain. The french drain will direct any stormwater flow that collects at the top of the stairway off on contour into the forest garden. Photo by Sharn Lucas (or on her camera, anyway)

Yay stairway crew! Sophie, Berber, Trev, Sharn and Rachel take a break. Photo by Sharn Lucas

Sheet-mulching the sides of the stairs before overplanting with compost and cover crops, in readiness for berry planting next spring

Trev, Michael, Harris + Sharn manoeuvre a really big rock into position as the stairway landing seating…

Seating rock in place. A great place to take a break from forest garden work…

Seating rock also provides prime chicken viewing (It’s become Ashar’s favorite spot on the farm on a cold but sunny day)

Upper half of stairs, with small roughly terraced beds down the side awaiting sheet mulching, compost and cover crops

Steps in use, a few weeks later at our Autumn Field Day. They work!

As I mentioned in our post about making contour compost paths for the forest garden, the access of a place does far more that just take you through it. It’s in the planning of these projects that resting spaces get created, as well as effective use of edges, water flows,  nutrient cycling and so much more than just a transit zone.

This sort of project can become place-making, and create the spots where your happiest memories are made. In 10 years time, people will use this path and sit on the rock beneath the mulberry tree, thinking of that season’s chores, taking this space as a natural part of the surrounding forest. But some of us will remember!

Big thanks to Trev Bamford, who drove and designed this project, utilising his various people and path-making skills to create a truly functional space that will be used + loved for decades to come!

Thanks also to the Milkwood on-farm allstars crew of this project: Michael Hewins, Dan Harris Pascal, Sophie Pierce, Berber Van Beek, Rachel Stubbs, Sharn Lucas & Stephen Couling.

**Energy inputs note: the build for the steps was a rolling crew of 6 and a total of 180 person hours over 3.5 days

If you too would like to wield a crowbar in pursuit of place making, forest gardening and other physically demanding, righteous small-farm skills, we’re now calling for wwoofers from Sept-May.

>> more posts about the edible forest garden design and implementation at Milkwood Farm


  1. Sharn
    Posted July 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The node was a great idea, perfect spot to stop and eat the stash of berries plucked on your way up or down half the stairs :)

  2. Posted July 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    That’s inspiring. We also have a slippery, sloping side path and a heap of blue metal gravel to move.

  3. Posted July 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Nice steps!

  4. Posted July 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Forgot to add, we built a similar design down a section of our slope. and surprisingly the steps became covered in weeds. I thought the gravel would prevent the weeds from growing, but it merely gave them better drainage, LOL.

    I’d like to see an update with any maintenance (if any) needed in future.

    We still have to religiously pluck weeds from ours.

  5. Posted July 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Nice work guys! Good access cuts chores in half!!

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