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so we are considering making an offer on this place. 13 acres but only 3 of that is flat and the rest is up the side of a pretty good hill so I am a little hung up on the idea that there is not that much usable land. but we are still considering it. my first order of business would be the erosion issue behind the house, but I can't quite figure out where I would want to start. of course a retaining wall would work but would be an exceptional expense. Do you think I could get enough vegetation on there to halt the loss off the hill? or would it be a losing battle at this point and require a more invasive solution ?



 
Leah Sattler
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well the simplest solution is usually the best right? I suppose the first thing I could try is grading and planting sod. grrrrr. bermuda. I hate bermuda but it is already there from when the house was sodded before so I won't be introducing it I will only be speeding it along. come to think of it, even the bermuda that was  already there was sparse. yikes. somewhere that bermuda won't grow? maybe we should just pass on this place. too bad. if livestock and farming weren't in my plans it would be a really cool place, but I'm sure I would regret it when I was trying to eek a vegetable garden out of the ground and was having to feed sacked feed to all my critters year round. shucks.
 
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what about alfalfa instead?  it looks like pines in the back, so fairly arid....?

alfalfa has nice deep roots to hold the soil. plus it fixes nitrogen to improve the soil. After it's been established for awhile you can think about planting more shrubs, etc. into it.
 
Leah Sattler
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that is a good idea kelda. it isn't  really arid but because of the soil or lack there of and the steep hills the pines and scrub oaks cover everything out there.  here is better shot revealing the ground at the home site where lots of sand was left, I figured it would be my best bet for a garden area since the sand at least gives some drainage and depth to the soil. this is still stirred up from when the house was built 2 years ago. in the area I live now there is no way there would be ground showing after two years.



a pic standing on top of the eroded slope. you can see the bottom of the slope in the foreground is more gravel than anything. I wonder if alfalfa would even grow on it?


 
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Sorry I didn't reply sooner.

The slope would be my favorite place for planting and for trees and for all sorts of stuff.

If you want to just maintain the slope, there are all sorts of things  you can plant.  Crown vetch or ....  during WW2 didn't they use a lot of hemp to prevent erosion?

I would want to terrace the land and plant lots of trees and bushes between the terraces. 

 
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Leah, I may be dead wrong, but those pictures you posted raise all kinds of warning signals for me.

There is an awful lot of bare sand, more than just what they would clear for the house, and that was two years ago.  That erosion on the slope isn't good.  You would have to peg tree limbs and logs across it every eight feet or less, I would guess, the whole length.  And what's further up the hill, all the way to the top?  The rain is going to fall and flow all the way down, not just on the lower bare part.

Pine trees usually have acidic soil, don't they?  Alfalfa doesn't like acidic soil, which is why not much is grown around here, it's trucked over the mountains from the dry side.

I would take the address of that place and go to Google Maps and type it in.  Get a close-in view and then to to the topo map.  Or go to Terraserver.com and do it.  If you don't know how to read a topo map, show it to someone who can.

Does the place have neighbors?  Ask them what they think of the place. Ask them about the geological/flooding history, if any.  You might even call these folks:  http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/planning/maybranch.html

Personally, I wouldn't buy the place until I stood on the porch during a long-term heavy rain, and saw for myself where the water goes.

Why are they selling a new house?

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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there is a c shaped drainage pattern that has been carve out around the house and a diagnol drainage shot on the face of the hill. the hill is entirely covered in oaks and pines and there are a few neigbors. the only signs that show anyone even lived there are shelf paper and cutesy kids fans in the rooms. I think someone got in over their head financially but we can't squeeze any details out of the realtors. it really really bothers me that vegetation has not managed to take over the bare spots left from construction and we have decided to pass on the place.

sigh we are talking to a builder and we are going to explore that option. there just aren't that many places for sale with acreage down there. the to 30+ acre places we looked at last weekend both had terrible issues with the home. and one had mountains of trash. dh starts monday and will be commuting 2 hours and will just stay down there during the week until we find a place. I know its temporary but this job is supposed to keep him home! his other had him on the road all week.  wah wah wah. 
 
Susan Monroe
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Well, you know what they say about marriage:  Marry in haste, repent at leisure.

I guess the same can be said for finding a home.

"Scoured" was the descriptive word that I was looking for regarding those photos.  The only thing I can think of that might produce that effect is moving water.

Maybe the right place for you hasn't been put on the market yet.  Fingers and toes (and eyes) crossed for you.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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thanks for the hopeful thoughts. I'm really really trying to not be in a hurry. this home could be the last one we have and I want it to be or be capable of becoming a real homestead.

I have been encouraged by speaking with a builder that specializes in going out to rural areas and building custom homes. One of those places where they have a few demo homes on site in town. They offer financing to get into the house and then most people get a traditional mortgage. They seem to be filling a good niche that happens to be exactly what we need. Key is we have to own the building site free and clear. So I am hoping that we can find some land where someone would be willing to legally release an acre to build on after a substantial down payment and then roll the whole kit and kaboodle into a standard mortgage once it is built.  But there are lots of ifs. the land has to be improved to get an initial loan. or someone has to carry it for us while we get the improvements done. that could get a bit dicey. 
 
                                      
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That hill doesn't look to present much of a challenge to control erosion with some vegetation, alfalfa requires a bit too much in the way of tending and soil conditions for success so that option I would stay away from, but grasses would obviously be the easiest.
 
Susan Monroe
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My main question is why nothing has grown there in two years.  Nothing.  No wild grasses, no weeds, nada.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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If you find bare land - or land with crappy shelter - please consider PSP!  Construction is three times faster and it sounds like generally 5 to 20 times cheaper.  Plus, I would like to hear more from people that actually do it!
 
Leah Sattler
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I have long been interested in pole buildings and it wouldn't be a stretch for me to build one partially underground and I have considered that but.... I have to have windows. I dislike being inside already and the idea of not being able gaze out a window in at least most rooms really irks me. I'm the type of person that walks into a building and makes a point to find the nearest exit and the fastest route to it that will be unlikely to be impeded by people or objects in an emergency. I think I would have panic attacks in a house that only had a few windows to peek out near the top. I get very irritated in my home now because it feels liek it is closing in on me sometimes and its a normal house! I can see living in a house built into a hill that is two stories with the top being mostly above ground, my grandfathers house was like that.
 
Susan Monroe
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Okay, I just went to Acronym Finder and waded through six pages of definitions of PSP.  The closest I came was Pierced Steel Planking.  Is that it?

Sue
 
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While I fully acknowledge that you don't want to buy something that is beyond your ability to deal with I would like to make a plug for this site. As a design system Permaculture is geared toward working with degraded landscapes. If someone buys pristine woodland with a well functioning ecosystem then hacks into it to do Permaculture, they are missing the point. Same could be said if someone was dealing with a "no-hoper" superfund site.

That said, the devegetated area seems like just the kind of site that could use a little help to get back to productivity. I wouldn't worry about the eroding slope, either. However, if you buy this place fixing that would be a priority. I would probably start by buying a wide variety of wildflower seeds and scattering them. See which ones do well. Soil tests may help you to select promising species.

The hilly nature of the land would also not be a concern for me. That is where perennials would be right at home. Three flat acres can grow quite a bit of food for a one family homestead. Building soil is a long-term process, but ultimately a doable one. J. Russell Smith has some great advice for treatments of our hilly lands in his book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.

The biggest thing that gives me pause is that you want livestock. If you want to have enough room to graze animals responsibly it sounds like you'd have to use your 3 flat acres for that, giving you some serious limitations on annual production. Of course this assumes you're talking about raising goats, pigs, llamas, cattle, etc. Chickens, rabbits, turkies, ducks, guinea pigs, maybe alpacas, etc. would all be doable.

If you do pick this place up, be careful with the oaks. Often times people will put in a landscape and irrigate it. Providing this much water around the oaks could kill them.

Happy hunting!

Dave
 
paul wheaton
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PSP:  post/shore/polyethelene.  The idea is a very specific form of underground structure with a lot of light.  But where most underground structures have the glass facing downhill, PSP has the glass facing uphill.  PSP is about three times faster to build and 5 to 20 times cheaper (provided that you have trees on your land).

 
Leah Sattler
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thanks for the input dave. livestock is a biggy for me. I already have 15  goats and 2 pony mare pets (that I would like to teach to pull a cart so they can help pay their way aside from simple entertainment) the 3 acres of flattish area looks grassy from a distance but looks more like tundra when you are walking on it, with tufts of grasses and veg pock marking it. for many years I would be looking at full purchased feed for them all and I just can't do it. although goats are at home in sparse areas they need to have many more acres of forage available to make a living in that kind of situation. the ponies would destroy it in a heartbeat. they are eating machines! I have had horses for years and never had them eat with the same kind voraciousness that theses ponies have. no wonder those little ponies can make it on assatigue (sp?) island.

sue - its basically a pole building built partially underground using plastic sheeting to protect the building material as well as some other techniques. although the lighting is ingeniusly thought out its still a house in the ground. I would rather do straw bale.

I would really like a round straw bale house. insert dreamy smiley thing here.
 
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