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I want to permaculture my farm.  RSS feed

 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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Please advise me.

My uncle invited me out to his farm in central Illinois and suggested I grow strawberries and live out of his barn. Fresh out of college with a BA in English Lit I accepted the adventure and planted the first seeds I can ever recall planting in a 1/4 acre vegetable patch next to 5000 strawberries in matted row system with drip line irrigation. In another field I planted 50 blackberry and 200 raspberry plants. From almost all perspectives things didn't go very well. But I learned a little about everything and had a much more satisfying go of it this year.

But I'm tired of fighting the weeds and with planting in rows. One thing I did well my first year was keeping my rows of green beans clean from weeds, but this made all my beans have a blight on them. This year I weeded once 2 weeks after the rows sprouted, then let the grasses and weeds grow up. My green beans turned out fantastic with the weeds providing shade.

I've known about permaculture for about a year now and at first only through reddit, but I'm now current on the podcasts and asked for only permaculture books for christmas. Half way through one straw revolution! My point: I'm consuming permaculture actively daily.

My idea is to turn my farm into a food forest, but my goal is to design a better farm and implement it immediately.
 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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My main field is about 3 acres, it slopes down to the east into a creek with tall trees and it has a wet spot in the northeast corner. Cut the field in half on a north-south line and I planted on the uphill western half. The southern acre is june bearing strawberries: 4 varieties, sparse on the northeast corner and like an ocean in the middle of the field. The field is covered in grasses and a dozen other pioneer plants. I have a drip line going down each row. The top half acre is a garden where I've had the most success with popcorn, green beans, potatoes, snap and snow peas, and lettuce. I've tried trellising tomatoes but both years I stopped training them to it at about 3 feet so they just drooped back to the ground. Most of my success was with produce that I could take to market before late July. It hasn't rained much going through summer in the last two years, and I think my crops have suffered for it, so a priority is water retention.

My other field is 8 rows in a trapezoidal arrangement with 50 blackberries in 4 rows and 200 rapsberries in the other 4. These are trellised and really grew a bunch this year, but I planted it into a weedy field that was cut for baling the years before I claimed it. It's bordered by 5 apple trees and my aunt and uncle's drive way. It's more their front yard than a field really. I feel bad about how it looks with all the weeds growing up in the rows where I can't mow, and both times I mulched I only did 3" and the weeds grew back after 6 weeks. I think I heard of a farmer planting hazelnuts between his raspberry rows with some success, but that's my only idea/lead with this patch.

I keep bees and collected my first honey this year. Everyone who tasted it said it was the best they'd ever had. I also made some great mead out of it. (now you're distracted from my weedy fields)

Two months ago my plan was to plant guilds under the 5 apple trees next to the field of brambles. That thought was me dipping my toe in the pool. But I guess this is me yelling cannonball and jumping in.
 
Saybian Morgan
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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find a local practicing permaculture designer, it's pretty much like hiring a mentor. You've got design idea's but you may not have the experience of strategy or implementation, it's not a bad thing it's a I don't want an acre of bean blights because I did to much work or work at the wrong time. The forum's are great, but nobody is responsible there's no seeing you succeed or fail. Sometimes it's allot of people shouting you should do what I do, and yes when your lucky a tidbit of advice can turn your world around but you can't make them come online later and answer follow up questions. You can even use another practicing designer to figure out where your idea's stand on comparison to what else is being implemented for real people who only have this as their source of income. It's allot different when you really trying to farm vs garden, life's just not hinging on things in the same way. Gardening is more exciting especially if your the permaculture experimentalist type, homesteading is the great middle road, you run your farm like a garden.

 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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I don't have much in the way of concrete plans yet but I plan on vetting them here when I do.

I guess what I really want right now is two fold: 1) can you help me brainstorm? 2) how would you modify my study-plan

I have read gaia's garden. I have copies of Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability and Mollison's Design Manual, and I'm going to get a copy of his Introduction to Permaculture soon. What else will help me specifically in Central Illinois?

I have access to water and can water my fields with a dump-truck-turned-water-truck though I don't want to continue having to do this. I also do tree removal and trimming jobs with my cousin and have a supply of wood because of it, though I don't know if any given tree has been sprayed or whatnot with whatever.

I only planted brambles and strawberries when I got to the farm because I planned to leave after 2 years. I was planning on moving to california and starting an urban farm and aquaponics operation. But plans change and I'm looking at, at least, a few more years in illinois. and i want to plant some trees with a passion.
 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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Saybian Morgan wrote:The forum's are great, but nobody is responsible there's no seeing you succeed or fail. Sometimes it's allot of people shouting you should do what I do, and yes when your lucky a tidbit of advice can turn your world around but you can't make them come online later and answer follow up questions...

....you run your farm like a garden.



Yes this: I want you guys to yell things at me about what you think I should do.

And I do run my farm like a garden. However I no longer am using my farm to make a living, so my primary goal is to implement a better design and practice some permaculturally sound techniques.
 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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And thank you to everyone in advance for reading and responding. I really to appreciate it. Thank you for loaning me some processing power.
 
Lolly Knowles
Posts: 159
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Why not take some of that excess wood you can get your hands on and create a few hugelkulture beds? It would put you ahead on the water issue, especially if you lined it up on contour part way down that slope to the east where the stream is located. Scatter your seed in random patterns, trying different combinations of plantings.

Of course, I say all this because that is MY plan for the spring. You have to start somewhere!
 
Saybian Morgan
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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Well it sounds like your trying to attract the right questions so that you can give a brief to yourself of your idea's and what's implementable or realistic compared to what's not.
I guess you kind of have to start back at the basics of water, access, structure before really getting buzzing on plant's, techniques, and capacity.

You being on a pre existic farm I would presume you have access to implements others wouldn't. What are your earth working equipment capacities like. Do you have leeway when it comes to the cultural condition of your family. Something as simple as what constitutes a pleasing to see raised bed varies greatly.
 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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Lolly K wrote:Why not take some of that excess wood you can get your hands on and create a few hugelkulture beds? It would put you ahead on the water issue, especially if you lined it up on contour part way down that slope to the east where the stream is located. Scatter your seed in random patterns, trying different combinations of plantings.

Of course, I say all this because that is MY plan for the spring. You have to start somewhere!


You just described the plan in my head completely.

But where do fruit trees fit into this? Or what trees in general?

I'm really in the need for an in-depth how-to on making berms. I get the whole A frame device for mapping the contour. I have a backhoe to dig the berm. But I'm also afraid of creating a dam, or a long earthen gutter leading into the road's drainage ditch.
 
Lolly Knowles
Posts: 159
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Bryce, I spend a lot of time watching DIY videos on YouTube. I don't have any favorites, but there are several people who talk about swale building. My backhoe skills need some work, but the machine is "new" to my operation. My area has a high water table so hugelkulture mounds will be built up over the surrounding area anyway.

What sort of fruit trees do you have in mind? Full size or dwarf? I know there is information on creating fruit tree guilds in Gaia's Garden, but I gave the book away before I read it! Paul and Jocelyn did a podcast reviewing portions of the book and they talk about elements in an apple tree guild.

What would be pleasing to the eye? Three trees in a loose group could share pollinators. You might want to place a seating spot nearby to take advantage of the shade while you rest from gathering the harvest. A trellis of cukes (or beans, squash, berries) provides a screen to obscure the compost pile.

I'm planning a semi-circular bed that will surround a black lace elderberry tree. I don't have a clue what will be best for the space, but I'm going with a shotgun sort of approach to the standard garden veggies interspersed with native plants and grasses. Nature will let me know if I get it wrong.
 
Milton Dixon
Posts: 36
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Hi Bryce,

Plant lots of perennials! The trees can fit in any way you want them to. It really depends on what you want from them: fruit, firewood, fodder, nitrogen fixers/mulch, as a windbreak or raw materials, it's up to you to connect them to the other things going on in your property (like the earthworks, garden, etc.)

Start small with some test plots on your earth works. Once you understand how it "works" you'll be able to move on to larger projects.

Also in Illinois you've got some resources: I work with both Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project (in Carbondale) and Bill & Becky Wilson of Midwest Permaculture (further north near Kankakee). Education is expensive but it's also an investment in yourself and a great way to get jump start in permaculture. If you really want some help on a specific project I'm sure you could get one of them to consult too.

 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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Thank you for those contacts Milton.

I feel like I'm putting the cart before the horse, but I really want to take action in the spring.

It's hard in my mind to make the jump from annual to perennial crops because I haven't encountered a good concrete example of which perennials might be used and sold at farmers markets, or to a CSA.

My difficulty with trees is: I've never planted one before. Because I have no experience I just have too many questions to type. How have others introduced new trees to their land and who was their seed source? Did they scatter seeds like I plan to for perennials, and if so, how did thinning the trees work and what rule of thumb spacing was used?

I know most answers are "it depends" so I'd like to be pointed to others experiences.
 
Lolly Knowles
Posts: 159
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Bryce, that is where the forums come in handy.

You think of a question and look for a thread that might have some information that will come in handy. The longer threads might have been carried over for quite a while, taking a project from start to finish. You get to benefit from conversation that happened ... whenever it was.

Then you can reply to that thread, which brings it to the top of the list. People who were involved earlier may get a notice telling them that someone commented. In most cases I think you will get feedback.

Or you can create a new thread, like you did here.

Why not start in the spring? You have all winter to learn, dream and make plans.
 
Wyche Robinson
Posts: 8
Location: South Central Virginia
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If you want to do Hugelkulture beds you should do it now. Mollison says " Keep it small and keep it varied". Have fun. I planted about a hundred black locust seeds, that I got from a neighbor.
 
Wayne Weiseman
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Bryce, you can get in touch with me at www.permacultureproject.com. I am in Southern Illinois at the Permaculture Project. Wayne Weiseman
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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if you just planted those brambles this year don't be too dissappointed if they didn't do much, sometimes they take a year or two to establish and they might surprise you..I had blackberries and raspberries that just took forever to grow well, but when they did..my gosh they were wonderful.

keep it up..

I've had to start over twice with my permie gardens here, lost an entire food forest after a housefire in 2002 and have had to replant it twice since then, trying to move some trees only one lived.

I'm in the 4th year on most of my trees..some not that old as I plant more and more every year..but you can't always do it all at once..esp $ wise.

expensive

but time will get you there if you are determined
 
Jay Ritchie
Posts: 9
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I am not a permaculture designer, but I may be able to assist you in your project. I live in Central Illinois and could come out to see your land and chat permaculture with you if you’re up for it. I have a small lot in town that I have been working on, but I would really like opportunity to look at a larger piece of land and consider the possibilities.
 
Bryce Rawers
Posts: 8
Location: Springfield, IL
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Brenda: house fire o no!! the brambles were planted in '10 and some of them surprised me this year. I expect this year will be a boom year for them. Do permaculturalists still prune their brambles every year?


Jay: Thank you for offering to come out! I'm not sure there'd be much to see in the spring, but I'd be happy to have you on the farm. I'm the only pair of eyes aware of permaculture so it'd be nice to know what you see as potential too!
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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I have excellent blackberries in my big back yard, and I have never weeded them. Instead I use the riding mower to keep the rows where they need to be. And, I liked to have a pair of nippers in my pocket, as sooner or later a cane would flop over into the spot that I intended to mow at. I would mow up to the too-long cane, stop, nip it, and then continue mowing.

My parents have a variety without thorns, and they have to pull any cane with thorns on it, which I do not have to do as all of my canes have thorns.

The only real problem that I had was one year there was 3 inches of standing water where the blackberries were, and I could not mow for a couple of months. I never DID get those berries tidied into 3 rows, ever again!

I sold blackberry jam in the farmers market for a while, but life happens and I no longer spend the hours picking. I just pick what we want to eat, now.
 
branimir marold
Posts: 32
bee forest garden hugelkultur
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general advice, give nature chance to "show" the best .. meaning try to destroy less as you can, cause in long term it is cheaper.. (I involve money cause it power in peoples perception is so strong that I try to use it imho, in a good way)

sorry my english :s
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I am not a farmer and my 0.5 acre backyard food forest is a mix of old apple trees and new plants. I just learned about permaculture a few years ago. But I do a lot of work at a nearby wildlife refuge (about 2000 acres total) where we plant thousands of native trees and shrubs every winter. I have read Gaia's Garden and have attended one of toby hemenway's intro to permaculture courses. I am reading other permaculture books, and have been hanging out in these forums for a while. By day I am a software engineer.

You asked for brainstorm ideas, here are some:

- If your "day job" is to grow and sell food - who are your customers? Or who would you like to have for customers? Do you feel like you know them really well? Maybe even better than your competitors? I would start by 1) deciding whom you want for customers, and 2) studying them intensely for a while - think Jane Goodall studying chimpanzees. Then do some brainstorming to understand and anticipate their upcoming needs, and how you might be able to meet those needs better than anyone else.
- Would it be possible to combine your formal training (BA in English Lit) with your permaculture passion somehow? e.g. could you write or film about your permaculture experiences?
- Are there any undeveloped wild places nearby? What is growing there? Perhaps you could model your guilds after the guilds growing in the wild places, substituting similar food plants for the wild plants (assuming the wild plants are mostly not producing food for humans). Or maybe the wild plants are in fact edible?
- Build a bat house and place it on the south wall of the barn, as high as possible. If there are purple martins in the area, build some purple martin houses. If you attract bats and martins you will have a small army of pest controllers working for you 24/7. In addition to artificial housing, provide some standing dead trees if possible. Here is a good page on creating snags for wildlife: http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/snags/
- Regarding trees, I have planted a lot of trees and you should understand what tree predators you have (deer, voles, rabbits, beavers, etc.), and provide 1) appropriate protection (e.g. plant tubes) and 2) predators -- e.g. roosts and nesting sites for raptors and coyotes; or human hunters. You can also overplant your trees to account for losses from creatures, but that may be more expensive than tubes. I have also experimented with using bamboo branches as a deterrent for deer & rabbits (vs. using tubes) and it has worked surprisingly well. You might want to think about planting some bamboo to use for stakes & branches.
- Regarding planting trees from seeds, many fruit trees will not grow true to the fruit that they came from (e.g. apples). There are discussions about that in other forums here. However I must admit that I have grown apples from seed and I like the fruit.

Well that is probably enough to think about for a while.
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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... I have also experimented with using bamboo branches as a deterrent for deer & rabbits (vs. using tubes) and it has worked surprisingly well....

Dave, can you elaborate on how you use the bamboo? Heavy deer mobs where I am.
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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gani et se wrote:
... I have also experimented with using bamboo branches as a deterrent for deer & rabbits (vs. using tubes) and it has worked surprisingly well....

Dave, can you elaborate on how you use the bamboo? Heavy deer mobs where I am.


Here is what I do:

1. Go to your bamboo patch, and cut your bamboo poles. Save the branches.
2. Stick 3-4 branches in the ground 2" from the trunk of the plant you are trying to protect, effectively surrounding it with a protective halo of branches sticking out.

This seems to work well against rabbits and deer for newly planted plants. The branches make it tricky for the rabbit/deer to get their mouth in to the tender parts of the plant without a branch pushing against their face or eyes. I am sure if they were really hungry they would just push the branches away, but usually they just move on to something that is easier to eat.

I don't have a good picture, but this one gives the general idea. I have a lot of branches here because this was the last plant I was protecting, and that is how many branches I had with me so I used all the rest on this one plant. I took one of them out for the photo so you can see the plant (a small fern, which had previously been browsed). I'll see if I can get some pictures of a normal example.



The main thing I like about using the branches is I don't have to come back and remove a plant tube later - the branches just rot away after a few years, which is also when the plant is probably big enough to survive browsing. This is no big deal in my yard, but at the refuge that is a huge savings in effort because we plant thousands of plants every year.

The only down side is the fact that the branches are kind of bulky to transport & store. And I imagine that if you used really fresh branches, there is a chance that they would sprout. But I have always let them dry out a bit before I used them.
 
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