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getting started... on rented land.. with lots of ambition

 
Steve Pelletier
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hi everyone, great to be here.
novice gardener here, at a new rent with lots of land, and not sure what to do with myself. i've spent a lot of time with gaia's garden, have a ton of seeds, but don't really know where to start.

i've attached some photos of the property. the landlord owns over 20 acres, with a huge amount of field that's currently used for hay. there's already a decent sized garden set up, with 8 or 9 raised beds in rows. i'm not sure how recently it's been tended to, though.



(this second photo is taken from about the middle of the field)

i started a sheet mulch of two of the rows, using compost from my store (i work at an independent natural and organic food store), cardboard, some straw that i bought, and later some leaves that i moved over from a far field

my landlord already complained about the compost pile being visible while she was showing the upstairs apartment, and also is nervous about it attracting rats, and would rather have me keep it in a container (which just seems silly). she does shop at our store though and supports organic produce, and has said to me that she'd love for the land to be able to be put to use growing food for the store.

i barely know what to do with a 40ft garden, nevermind acres.

my initial plan was to start some berries, maybe a few fruit trees, and basic annual vegetables. fairly frustrated with the setup because the land has so much potential, but there is basically a lookout tower above me that she is trying to rent out, that needs to have an attractive view for prospective renters. and also the fact that i don't know how long i'll be here to watch things mature.

so i could really use some advice
first off, for starting my seeds: should i buy a seed starting mix, make my own, if i use my own soil do i sterilize it or not?

secondly, what would your plan of attack be for transforming this massive amount of land into a thriving, ecologically integrated food production system without upsetting the (prospective) upstairs tenants?

i realize i'm fairly all over the place, but i feel like i just need an experienced set of eyes to look at my situation and say "this is what's important" "this is where you should get started" etc

thank you, thank you
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Cripes, that's a lot of space! How exciting BUT If it was me, I'd pretty much ignore everything except the garden area for now, or I'd get completely intimidated. And I'd ignore any talk from the landlord about 'growing food for the shop'. Selling produce in a shop, let alone as organic, requires a lot of capital and paperwork and that's not even going into the complexities of commercial horticulture.
Are the beds orientated N-S? It really helps with getting the most even sun on the plants. If not in that general direction, I'd think about swinging them round and widening the paths so you can reach the middle of the beds without standing on them. Find organic matter and mulch. Lay it on thickly.
Maybe if the landlord's being weird about composting, you could trench-compost directly in the garden.
Is that a handy shed? Do you have access?
Since it's a rental, I'd be wary of spending lots of time/money on something you maybe won't get to enjoy (like fruit trees). That sounds really cynical and selfish, but hey If you can access free or really cheap fruit/nut trees, that's another story.
Raspberries and strawberries fruit really young. Raspberries like semi-shade and really need a trellis as they can get very tall.
I make my own seed-starting mix with perlite, coconut coir and compost. But that could be more fiddling about than you need right now! Maybe start with good commercial stuff. One thing I've found is that actual soil in seed starting mix or growing-on seedlings is a bad move, compacting down and seriously constricting root growth.

 
                                  
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I agree with the no fruit tree's comment, maybe I'd even avoid doing perennials (depending on how fluid your situation there is). I was going to suggest vermicomposting as an alternative, which (if you do it in containers) would be something you could bring with you if you left. Might not be all that great of a suggestion =D
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Reading between the lines, it sounds like the landlord is 'all-about-the-money'. Improving the land with fruit/nut trees and brambles should make any landlord happy. However, once she sees it turning into a Mecca, she may decide that she can rent it out for much more $$$.

With 8-9 garden beds, you have plenty to work with. In a rental situation, I would probably concentrate on annual crops for most of the beds. For the first year or two, I would grow out the fruit trees in large pots or grow bags. That way, if she decides to boot you out, you can then take your trees with you when you go.


Good luck. It looks like you have plenty of space to work with.
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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keep it low key for a year. doesn't mean you can't plant perennials, especially started from seed or divisions, but maybe hold off on buying expensive trees and bushes. if you still like the place after a year, get more serious.

20 acres is a lot of space. far more, in fact, than is needed to run a profitable farm. so if that seems like something you would like to do (after waiting a year), have a conversation with the landlord about it. see if you can work out a longer term lease so that you don't get thrown out or have your rent dramatically increased just when you're picking up steam. five years seems like a reasonable term, though you could easily go longer or shorter than that.

there's a pamphlet put out by the New England Small Farm Institute (I think) that describes a number of alternative lease options that you might look into. your local library can probably get a copy for you.

from my point of view, you're in a pretty great situation. you don't have a mortgage hanging over your head to add stress to your gardening endeavors. you've got a paying job, so you're free to start small and build on your successes. and you've got access to land. basically, you've got most of the benefits of ownership with very few of the drawbacks.
 
Steve Pelletier
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Yeah I'm really lucky to be in this situation, and hope to make the best of it. I think I just need to pace myself a little bit and it's helpful to hear your input that starting just with the garden is a good idea. So i'll start with some annuals, some flowers and maybe a tree or two in buckets. Can I do blueberry bushes in buckets as well? I know raspberries spread fast, so I wouldn't mind starting a patch and I could transplant some if/when I move.

Right now I can't imagine signing a longer lease since we're only renting the downstairs part of the house, and although we enjoy a great deal of privacy for a couple our age (23 + 21), I don't want to get too locked in here. I ultimately want to work towards hopefully owning a more secluded homestead. But we'll see how things go and who ends up moving in upstairs.

I really appreciate everyone's input. I feel much better about starting at a reasonable pace with what's already set up. If I owned the land, I would be doing major renovations as soon as possible, but I'll have to save that energy for a further day.

So my additions to the garden may be:
- a few fruit trees in bucket (maybe dwarfs)
- blueberries in buckets
- small raspberry or blackberry patch
- one or two boxed raised beds closer to the house
- herb spiral near the house
- a few flowering plants here and there

oh and the beds are oriented in the general north-south direction (closer to NE-SW)
 
Scott Jackson
Posts: 37
Location: Córdoba, Argentina
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Interesting post and nice feedback from everyone here.

I would also suggest some potent aromatics, plus lavender in buckets or pots as well. These will attract a lot of beneficial insects and add a lot of vibrancy and depth of experience even to a small set up. Recently I found out in my own small garden that basil has a ton of useful permacultural functions (edible, fast growing, its flowers attract tons of good bugs) and I would recommend it anyone.

As others have pointed out, I would avoid making any kind of grand designs on the land in terms of planting perennials or doing any kind of landscaping. If your landlady is nervous by the site of compost pile, that tells you a lot about her ecological outlook in life. Go nuts with containers and think portable for now.
 
George Lee
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Location: Athens, GA/Sunset, SC
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I would start slow and learn. You will confront problems, and make mistakes. Try some effective space using designs, no straight rows. Circular, zig-zag... Space maximization with high output..Nice piece of land, have fun out there.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Yes, your bramble berries could/should go into the ground...give them their best chance to grow/spread.
If/when you move, you can easily take cuttings, hence saving your investment.

 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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I agree that for now you should work with the existing beds and not get carried away with planting trees/shrubs.

That said, I'm curious. When you moved in, did you and your landlady talk about you using more of the land? And if she is concerned about aesthetics, have you talked with her about what she thinks the garden should look like? I think I'd be inclined to treat her as if she is a client for your consulting/garden-building business! Even if you're not in business. That's a lot of land, and if you nurture her trust in you, who knows what the future could hold.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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