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New Property Project

 
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I purchased a piece of property in the Pacific Northwest about three years ago. It is on a natural lake along the coast (about 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean). Temps typically range from low 80’s in summer to mid 20’s in winter. Lots of rain and wind, thick cloud cover and dense fog. I love it. Typically the temps are around 45-50 in winter and 60s-70s throughout the summer.

My property is a hillside, more specifically it sits within a bowl that faces north, so when facing south and looking at the property from the lake, I have the main ridge to the south, a small ridge on the west and a small ridge on the east.  

The land is extremely steep near the top of the ridge and gradually lessens in severity as it gets closer to the water. It is currently completely overgrown by deciduous trees (I believe Birch or Ash).  

The land naturally forms a cove, and from the highwater mark (there is natural flooding each year of about 20 feet in height as the lake fills up ) there is a large grass area that gently slopes to the water (approximately 50 x 75 ft).


(pic from kayak while paddling over to property)

Plans & Goals:

1. I would like to replace the deciduous trees with evergreen (Douglas Fir, Spruce, and Ceder - Pine if it will grow) and develop a wood lot for firewood harvest.  

2. I would like to grow vegetables year around if possible. I would like to grow as much food as possible in as little space as possible in as little time as possible (hey, I’m lazy, greedy, and privileged).  Or, better yet, grow just enough food at just the right time all year long.

My thought is to maximize my growing season in the summer with cool plants to warm plants on the flat and along the shoreline. Good, rich soil, self watering, and is available for probably 4-6 months out of the year. It gets about 4-6 hours of direct sunlight every day in the summer.  

I also plan to use one of my docks (8x16ft) put a 3ft beds on each side, then cover it with a permanent cold frame. It will basically be a floating green house. This will be tied to the pilings 20 ft off shore where my wave breaker logs are, and it could also be floated out into the bigger cove and anchored each day if needed for direct sunlight in winter (but I would prefer to keep it behind my logs if possible).  

This will be used for cool crops in the winter (salad greens, etc) and hot crops in the summer (peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc).  

3. I will also be supplementing my diet with fish caught from my dock.


(frequent visitors down by the shoreline - often there to greet me when I arrive)

Challenges:

1. One major challenge is the orientation of the property. Because it is in the bowl with a 200ft ridge on the south side and two 100 ft ridges on east and west side, the property is in perpetual darkness for 6 months out of the year. Once the sun dips into the southern sky it rarely breaches the southern ridgeline at all, and if it does, the sunlight is filtered by the 100+ ft evergreen trees on the ridge line (not my property, cannot cut them down).


(view of the property near the top of the southern ridge - dense undergrowth, ferns often 6ft tall in places - I love this kind of forest but it’s not really well suited for gardening)

Progress:  

1. I planted several evergreen trees on the property when I first bought it. A Douglas Fir, A Spruce, and a Cedar Tree on the flat area within the flood zone. This is their fourth year and they are doing exceptionally well. They seem to double in size nearly every year. The cedar is now as tall as I am. The flooding does not seem to bother them at all.  I also planted the same assortment up inside the treeline. They are robust, with new growth yearly, but not doing nearly as well as their counterparts out on the flat (I would imagine because they are fighting with the undergrowth).  So, I do believe I will be able to systematically replace all deciduous trees with the evergreen trees I prefer.  

2. I’ve experimented with various sleeping arrangements in hopes of finding a long-term solution that provides the comfort level I’m looking for. I tried a dugout, but it was too small. I tried sleeping on the covered deck, which works fine for 6-9 months out of the year, but during those 6 months of winter it is too cold. Sleeping is actually fine all year around in a hammock on the deck, it’s the daylight hours of 30-60 degree weather that gets to me over a long stretch of time.  

I have a small camp stove on the deck which works well for immediate heat and cooking.


(visitor while I was away down by the shoreline - I get rather frequent visits from bears, cougar, bobcat, and coyote. My property seems to be a natural highway from the valley to the east and in the summer time the shoreline is prime hunting ground for the cats - laying down at night in my shelter, I've heard them kill small animals down by the water just 20 or 30 yards away. It's a little unnerving but altogether fascinating.)

Future Updates:

I'm very interested to see what I can do with this north facing property in the future. I do not plan to use power tools. Only hand saws for cutting firewood. I will cheat with an electric drill/screw driver. I would like to get 100% of my caloric intake off the property, but I don't know how realistic that is. It's fun at any rate to just try.

I plan to update this thread as the project progresses.


(current shelter to be used this summer while dismantling dugout and building new shelter)
 
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Welcome to Permies, Isaac!

It does look as if you've got your work cut out for you in the short term! I love the idea of floating gardens  - the self-watering concept on steroids.

It also looks as if you've got lots of competition for whatever you decide to grow - please keep yourself safe! Even a couple of raccoon can be dangerous if they want what you've got.

Have you considered researching the benefits of deciduous trees in a mixed forest with respect to wild-fire safety? One of the reasons (apart from a shortage of beavers) that some of the BC interior fires have been so bad in the last couple of decades was the shift in forests to only evergreen. That doesn't mean you can't shift the deciduous trees to ones you find helpful such as chestnut, hazelnut, fruit trees etc, or that there shouldn't be conifers in the mix and particularly where you tend to see them since they're a particular favorite of yours.

As to housing, permies has done lots of research regarding "wofati" building which you'll find under the natural building forum. You might get lots of good ideas from browsing through there.
 
Isaac Hunter
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Hey Jay,

I will look into those and will check the other forum as well.  

Thanks

Isaac
 
Isaac Hunter
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Jay Angler wrote:Have you considered researching the benefits of deciduous trees in a mixed forest with respect to wild-fire safety? One of the reasons (apart from a shortage of beavers) that some of the BC interior fires have been so bad in the last couple of decades was the shift in forests to only evergreen.


Now that I've thought about your response, let me clarify. I will most likely not be "removing" the deciduous trees altogether. I just want to make their footprint much smaller. Currently the trees in question are 40-50 ft high, some look to be over 100ft (just guessing). They are all in various stages of rotting from the inside out, so are quite dangerous. Since I'll be using a handsaw to cut them down (most fall on their own) I'll be cutting them at about mid-chest level and so they don't die or if they do die, shoots sprout up right next to them. Whatever these trees are they grow like weeds here. I know they are not the typical maples we have around here. These trees are very "spongy." When they dry out they are very light and the flesh of the tree is real flaky. But get them anywhere near water and they suck it up like a sponge almost immediately. It does burn quite well, though.  

I primarily like evergreen for the privacy they afford (and I think they look much better), whereas deciduous work great in the summer but leave you exposed in winter. In the end, there will certainly be a mixture of young evergreen and deciduous. Just more of the former due to preference and privacy.

Fire danger is certainly growing in my area, though the last few years have been mild. Last season we never even had a fire season. Everything stays green throughout the year in my immediate area, and the risk of wildfire is slim here. Doesn't mean it can't happen, but....

Jay Angler wrote:As to housing, permies has done lots of research regarding "wofati" building.


This is actually what I currently have only very small (4x6). I plan to rebuild with a footprint of 8x10, which will be big enough to hang my hammock and put in a small wood stove. Right now I'm thinking it will be pushed back into the bank, 6ft at the back wall, 5ft at the front wall, though it might have a couple of levels, following the natural contour of the rock surface under the topsoil, so I might have 6ft height throughout. I plan to use a tarp for the roof at first, and I may add a more permanent roof in the future, but I'm not sure what the benefit would be. If insulation is needed, it might be more cost effective to buy thin, rolled insulation and add it to the tarp roof. My hope is the wood stove will take care of any condensation, but that will have to wait for testing in the future.

Unfortunately, I will most likely not be ready to build until spring (there's a lot of excavation to do and it's all by hand), which means the new shelter will be finished by the beginning of summer, so any winter testing will have to wait for next year. But, I suspect this summer will be a glorious one, all things being equal.  

Isaac
 
Jay Angler
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Isaac Hunter wrote:

Currently the trees in question are 40-50 ft high, some look to be over 100ft (just guessing). They are all in various stages of rotting from the inside out, so are quite dangerous.

In my area - further north than you - we have something locally called "Cottonwood", although I think that common name refers to more than one species across North America, and my neighbor would agree with your approach. They're a short-lived tree that prepares the land for more longer-lived successors, and they rot so easily that my neighbor's learned that they should be felled as soon as showing signs of rot just for safety's sake. This is very different from the cedar trees which can stand dead easily for decades and not be near the threat. But as you also noted, once dried, they make fine firewood.

If you're looking for evergreen for privacy, are there some pine that would grow well there whose seeds are large enough to be worth harvesting? I'd love to plant some suitable pine here, but by the time they'd produce I'll likely be pushing up the daisies as they say. For some reason, my land has lots of cedar and Doug Fir, some Grand Fir and Big Leaf Maples, lots of miscellaneous small stuff, but I haven't spotted a single pine tree! A useful low evergreen shrub with edible berries is Salal, and I've been trying to encourage the plants here. I've not found a good way to propagate them yet, but it's on my list.  

Isaac Hunter wrote:

Unfortunately, I will most likely not be ready to build until spring (there's a lot of excavation to do and it's all by hand), which means the new shelter will be finished by the beginning of summer, so any winter testing will have to wait for next year.

There are lots of resources that will say that spending time on the land before making big decisions like building type and location is a good thing, so long as you stay sufficiently warm this winter. Hopefully you'll get a feel for where the big storms hit, where the water flows, which areas flood and how to keep you and your food dry. Many people look at the temperatures in the Pacific North West and think that hypothermia isn't a risk, but if one gets wet, can't get dry, and there's a breeze as well, the risk is quite real. The nice thing about building small is that it won't take a lot of wood to get it warm. Have you looked at the Rocket Mass heater forum? There are some that are designed as a bed platform, which would be good for keeping bedding dry. I'm living in a stick built house with lousy thermal mass and I notice a big difference when I visit my sister whose much older home was built with concrete block walls, but no insulation. In many ways, her house is the more comfortable house to relax in, as the temperature is more steady.

Please keep us updated as your plans progress - and I always love seeing pictures of nature and animals!
 
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Welcome aboard, Isaac!  Beautiful spot, and love your idea of a floating garden. No sun?  Anchors aweigh!  Better still, no need for fencing out the critters. Although, might be interesting to find out if anything would swim out to it - raccoon? Bear?
 
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I love the floating garden/modified chinampas idea myself.

I would be cautious about getting rid of the cottonwood. They are known to act as atmospheric water pumps, taking water out of the soil through their roots and transpiring it through their leaves. Removing them, rather than replanting in a different location, might make your microclimate more arid. They are probably one of the causes of any hyper-local uptick in biodiversity.

I would probably replant in cottonwood so as to take advantage of their love of wet feet. A good idea might be growing those where other perennials won't live and then harvesting the biomass of the trees for woodchip mulch, or tethered half-log planters that will float, at least until they become waterlogged and start to turn into soil themselves. Or perhaps the solution is a cottonwood raft planter...

I would also consider whether there are any local types of willow that would be advantageous to you. Those also like wet feet.

I have often thought that it would be good to have a list of soil-building and retaining perennial riparian species chosen specifically for an ability to grow together on a variable flood plain. Two of the activities that are most needed with regards to riparian care are increased nutrient uptake, to avoid eutrophying waterways, and the shading of shallows that are quick to heat up in the sun, increasing the heat of all the water in the system and decreasing its oxygen-carrying capacity. Willows perform both of these tasks.

I know of species of cypress and cedar that will grow at the water's edge, leaning out over it for years as they grow too tall for their roots in poor soil conditions, and then finally begin to die, half-drowning in the water. This sounds dramatic and sad, but what it actually does is not only shade out the shallows, but provide habitat for feeder fish and all the tiny denizens of the aquatic realm.

I would look into the functions that each species performs before you start making changes to the mix of species. You have said there are a number of things about your property that you already enjoy. It would be a shame to lose any, especially unintentionally.

-CK
 
Isaac Hunter
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Chris Kott wrote: I would be cautious about getting rid of the cottonwood....or tethered half-log planters that will float....I would also consider whether there are any local types of willow that would be advantageous to you....I know of species of cypress and cedar that will grow at the water's edge, leaning out over it for years as they grow....



Hey CK,

Thanks for the response. As I said in another followup post, I won't be getting rid of them per se, just cutting them back and maybe lessening their dominance in the bowl overall. The biggest issue (besides the lack of privacy they afford) is the tree fall risk. Most are zombie trees, just standing there waiting to fall. Not quite dead. Leaf out each year with crazy new growth, getting taller and taller, but rotting from the inside out. I looked at cypress but passed due to their deciduous natures. half-log planters are a great idea, but I have otters and beaver in abundance and they like to crawl over everything, so whatever is floating has to be contained to keep them out. My hope is to pack as much into the floating greenhouse dock as I can to maximize its production.  

I have two cedar started already and one of them down on the flat (in the flood area) seems to love the season bath it gets when the water comes up for a few months. I assume it will one day die from drowning but right now it seems to be thriving. There is also, at the corner of my property near the shore line an evergreen that has done exactly what you described. it is a massive tree, and grew out over the water, then turned and went up. Now it towers over everything and has two tops in it. I imagine that tree is much, much older than I am, and one day it will come crashing down into the water with all kinds of calamity. It will be too big at the base to cut with hand saws and will probably be underwater and inaccessible, so it will become a new fish housing development to help with my dinner table needs when I'm old and grey.  

And willows are very much a native here. They grow up as giant bushes, but, unfortunately, they too lose their leaves in winter. When looking for property four years ago, there was a 5 acre lot I tried to buy (no dice - guy wouldn't carry) that was completely in the flood plane save for a small section near the base of the ridge. The entire acreage was covered in ten-twenty feet tall willow thickets. Completely flat property. If I would have gotten that property, I would have build a floating hut that would have gone up and down with the flooding. Floating in the winter. On dry ground in the summer. I would have moved it around to different spots on the property, all within the willow thicket. Completely privacy. But, it was not to be. Which is okay, it was a little too close to town for my taste anyway.  

The previous owner of the property I did buy cut down all the native willows along the shoreline, which is typical here for vacationers who come here, clear the land, build McMonsters and then never come back but for a few random summer weekends. The shoreline is all grass and was cut with a weed eater religiously for their camping activities over the years. But, since I've had it I have not cut it and just let nature take back over. I noticed last summer the willows shoots are coming back. I imagine within ten years they will take over and displace the tall grass and will provide more diversity. By then I hope to have all construction elements back up into the tree line and very few items out for public display.  

Unless I sculpt a giant Easter Island Head standing out above the trees. That would be interesting focal piece.  

Isaac
 
Isaac Hunter
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Artie Scott wrote:Welcome aboard, Isaac!  Beautiful spot, and love your idea of a floating garden. No sun?  Anchors aweigh!  Better still, no need for fencing out the critters. Although, might be interesting to find out if anything would swim out to it - raccoon? Bear?



I've also wondered both of these things. I have only black bears here and they are well fed by nature and kept running by hunters, but I wonder if they would be interested in my vegetables growing in the float? Where it will be anchored, it would definitely be a swim for them. Bears have been known to (or, at least, I've heard stories of) breaking into cabins on the lake. Never had one come close so far on my property. They've been all over it though. Caught them at the shoreline, on the flat, up in the trees near my shelter. But they haven't touched or even looked at my covered deck or the shed. I've had hotdogs sit out in a grocery bag overnight on the deck and still nothing.  

I don't think they really care to hang around when I'm here. Even when I'm gone, they don't seem to bother my buildings....yet.  

I've had racoon, bear, bobcat, cougar right up to the edge of my deck on the camera, but nothing seems to want to come up the steps and go under the cover. Well, except for trespassers. I've caught at least one of them on my trail camera snooping around. They have no fear and no common sense. What do they say, hell is other people?

Isaac
 
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