Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

Sponsored Links

Sunset on the cactus plantation

Sunset photo
Sunset photo

Sunset on the cactus plantation

February Flowers


Some photos I took along the roadway last month…
just as the wildflowers started blooming.



Wild Native Peonies






Alyssum (a native plant) and Gazanias, naturalized along the roadway by a neighbor.



More gazanias…





Most places have their beauty especially illustrated with rampant color at one time or another.

Laurel Canyon

Laurel Canyon Terraces

Laurel Canyon Terraces


Laurel Canyon is a very picturesque area of homes just outside of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood area.

   It is also very steep in many areas. Driving through it I noticed that one homeowner many decades ago had built a series of terraces made from broken concrete on the steep canyon walls below his house.
   The terraces seem to have held well through all of these years and now support an abundance of trees, such so that the terraces are now almost hidden.
   I am impressed with the engineering of the terraces, they are some five feet high or more, and built on a very steep slope. I’d recommend against this type of shoring for this particular project. I’d worry the slope might be too unstable to support the added weight of the many tons of concrete.
   But I’d say the terraces have been in that spot for a good forty years. So, so far it has weathered time and the elements well.

Rivenrock Terraces

looking down from our Western Terraces

looking down from our Western Terraces

Rivenrock terraces from across the way

Rivenrock terraces from across the way

This is the view of some of our terraces from across the way

New Photo Gallery

  We just put up a new photo album. It is arranged into twelve albums and has over 1,300 photos.


The photos cover some of  the beaches, hills, deserts and cities of California.






The sun sets over the Grassy Knoll

Bob Jones Bike Path…. near SLO-town


City-to-the-Sea….. the Bob Jones Bike Path


   Bob Jones was an early naturalist of the area… he pushed and after some time, the Southern Pacific Railroad ‘right-of-way’ was used to make this trail. It runs from the 101 Freeway, to San Luis Bay….

   This is really a great place for locals and visiting vacationers to walk… it follows the creek… so you are in the canopy of the willows and other water-loving trees.  You are likely to see waterfowl… and if very early in the morning, before the joggers and roller-bladers come out, you will likely see much local wildlife.


   The Bob Jones Bike Trail is a very safe place for a family or lone females to roam, I’ve even seen uniformed Sheriff’s Officers on bicycles patrolling this path! Yay, go cops!   It passes alongside the properties of several resorts and private homes, so there are many vacationers as well as locals who will use this paved trail for recreation.  You are not likely to be alone on this trail, it can actually carry a large number of people on weekends and holidays.   The scenery is nice and the trail is a very beautiful example of California river-stream habitat… and on hot days, being under the cooling canopy of the trees and near the cool water… very nice.  Yes, this is a good place to be on a warm day.

Cactus of Rivenrock-a video


I came upon a video we made about 30 months ago.
It is the cactus of Rivenrock.

Some people are surprised to see that some of our cactus is so very tall.


New terraces, hand-built to order





   This is a terrace I’ve been working for a few years. Year by year I have tilled the soil here, working the grasses back into the soil, gradually improving the soil for the plants…. the rocks will break up and become reduced in number.  The flats of this terrace have just now been tilled.

     Notice how I always allowed the grasses on the down-slopeto live. This is so that the plant roots will twine themselves around the soil, holding it in place, keeping erosion away.  Last year I planted Opuntia robusta on the down-slope….. their roots will eventually reach into the flat portions of both terraces pulling the nutrients and moisture they need from all areas within ten feet or so of the plant. The robusta plants grow a bit slow…. it will be four years before they appear to be filling the area in.




   Now we see the terrace with its final grading performed and the Nopalea grande cactus planted…. and our watchdog Whitey who watched every aspect of this operation.


   When you build a terrace, you should make sure the outer lip is higher than the inner portion of the terrace.  This is designed so that any rain will be held in the inner portion, keeping the water from running downhill. In fact, with our terraces we get absolutely no run-off of storm water at all. All water that falls here is captured within the ‘well’ portion of the terrace.  I have placed the cactus onto a ridge that runs along the outer lip of the terrace, this will give me plenty of room to navigate along the inner terrace while picking… the cactus has been placed onto the terrace in such a way that it is raised higher than the ‘sump or well’ portion of the terrace… their roots wil not be in constant water. The soil from the ‘sump or well’ area has been moved to the outer lip of the terrace… this in effect doubles the depth of the worked soil that the cactus has been planted into. All in all, this makes for some really good soil, really good growing conditions.

   The conditions for uor cactus on this hill is so prime…. it is hard to picture better conditions for the plants. The hill is facing due south…. each terrace being raised above the terrace below ensures that each line of cactus will be in full sun from sunup to sundown. The rich well-draining soil has the texture and tilth that cactus likes. Our cactus plants grow very well here, and they are happy plants indeed.





   This is a ground-level view of the new terrace. To the left is the hill continuing upward for hundreds more feet. To the right is the berm that I constructed to plant the cactus into. Over the next few years eroding sediments from uphill will be captured into the ‘well’, and one day I will till all the cactus into the ground, leaving it even richer than ever.



     This design is similar to a terrace design the Maya used to use called cajetes.   Perhaps it is fitting that I use terrace technology developed by the Maya, after all, the Nopalea grande cactus we are using is also from the Maya!


   Sadly, hand built terraces are not very well accepted by modern agricultural standards. The necessity of hand work and the lowered profit potential makes for an ag system that is considered non-viable from an economic standpoint.  Yet these hand-built terraces hold more water, lose less soil, and improve tilth and growing conditions for plants better than could be done by machine only.

   I have put together a webpage with links to terracing studies… concentrating on ancient terraces.  The page is many years old and many links are inoperative, but there is still much info to be gleaned from the remaining pages.


   Some of our best soil is in the little arroyo where we grow many of our plants.  The nutrient-rich clay particles tend to unravel from the rock strata, and work their way into the arroyo where the rich gravelly soil provides the perfect blend of nutrients and moisture conditions.

   But life doesn’t always lay everything you want at your feet, sometimes you need to go up that hill and work.

   So, I build terraces on the hillside. The native soil on the hill is still very good for cactus. I just need to make it a bit better, and get water to it. there is a danger however in working hilly land.  Newly disturbed soil is very prone to washing or blowing away… and this risk is increased exponentially with the degree of slope involved. For this reason, it is good to make a series of flat areas on the hillside, these are referred to as terraces.

   Each terrace will provide a level and firm area that I will be able to get equipment onto to maintain the ground, add amendments, run irrigation and harvest from comfortably and safely.

   The terrace will also help reduce soil and moisture loss. Ideally, when it rains the terraces will hold the water allowing it to infiltrate into the soil, adding to the groundwater, and making up for some of what I pull from the ground with the well pump.  Under the best conditions, this hillside should have no water run off.

   There are many ways to build terraces, and I have used several of them. We’ve built terraces using chicken wire and re-bar to hold the soil, we’ve also used galvanized metal as backing, and we’ve  made terraces using tens of tons of waste concrete pieces from demo projects. But now as I work my way higher up the hill, carting tons of concrete uphill by hand is seeming like less a viable option. So now I am building the terraces with themselves. Yes, the ground alone will provide the backing for these structures.

   Building in such a way is slower than using concrete or other backing material. You must allow the soil to heal after disturbance and placement… you should allow the local grasses to dig their roots into the terrace to help stabilize it. It is best done a bit at a time, over the course of a few years. This will give you the time to till the soil yearly, letting the grasses grow thick and strong locking the soil into place, then you come and till along the growing spots, leaving the structural areas of the terrace undisturbed. Year by year, this tiling can be done, allowing the soil to become more suitable to plant growth, until the time comes that you wish to plant. I think five years is a good time to consider proper from initial building, to the final planting of the crops. If necessary of course, a person could plant sooner, but that would be best done with many inputs to improve the soil. Since I am working so high up the hill, away from inputs, I prefer to work slow, with one tilling yearly as the soil slowly grows healthier, and one day, when I need the growing ground, we can easily plant and increase our harvest.


   This is one terrace we cut into the hill some four years ago.  We let the native grasses grow thick on this soil, and we till a strip down the center every spring. This will improve the soil where we will plant a row of cactus (someday). The grasses getting tilled in will slowly rot and release humic acid. The acids will etch the native shale rock, helping to break them down.  I will then weed-whack the grasses on both sides in such a way that the grasses lay down over the exposed and vulnerable soil, acting as a protective mulch to prevent the wind from ripping along the hillside carrying away the soil I work so hard to build up. Year by year this soil becomes more amenable to planting…. I could plant cactus into this soil at any time I need the extra space.


terrace building

      This is the same terrace with the weeds cut down to lay a protective blanket over the open soil. This soil will now sit through the summer, the weeds slowly rotting into the ground and some laying over the top. When the rains come again in the winter, the weeds will quickly grow in this improved soil, and we will repeat the process.


terrace building

   This is the next terrace up the hill.

It is important that the native plants, and later introduced plants be allowed to fully colonize the soil with their roots. the plants are a large part of what keeps such a soil  together.

  Terraces much be maintained…. there are many places in the world where the young people have walked from their remote villages to make their fortunes in the cities, and now the world of terraces is full of old folks who cannot properly maintain the terraces that in some cases might be thousands of years  old.

My thinking is that in this age of rising population, and scarcer resources, small hand-built terraces will again be seen as a viable agricultural alternative.