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Advice re plot of land

 
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Hello—

In the process of looking at a piece of land in mid/northern New England. This land covers about 13 acres and includes the wooded 'summit' of a small mountain— about 1900 ft, and seems to be more a large plateau than a marked summit (and some of this plateau is on the adjacent property to the south). The land on this plot slopes away to the north, west, and east from the 'summit.' Some of the land is cleared—a large space right at the crest of the hill that encompasses the summit, and then subsequent patches to the east and northeast of the tallest part of the property. Most of the property is heavily wooded. There's a lot of spruce, striped maple, dogwood (I think), some brush and brambles and plenty of stuff I can't identify.

In some ways this is an un-ideal piece of land: it is not especially level though there are level spots, it is likely relatively rocky, and exposure is not directly to the south. Personally I like the elevation and like working with an atypical piece of land. Not sure how much advice can be gleaned remotely, but appreciate any thoughts on the following questions:

Without doing extensive digging, what can I glean by observation about the rockiness of the property and what hindrances that'll bring?
Will lack of southern-facing exposure be a problem?There are level-ish spots to the east and north of the 'summit'—these get a good amount of southern sun and could get more with some clearing, but they ultimately slope to the north.  As I said, it is a fairly elevated mountainous property that ultimately slopes down the northern and eastern sides of the mountain.

As I said, any thoughts appreciated! If anyone feels they have more experience with this sort of thing and wants to reach out directly, I have a number of videos / pictures that can help lend a visual to what I'm asking.

Many thanks—

Will
 
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I recommend looking at the work of Ben Falk in Vermont - amazing transformation of a sloping, rocky piece of land.  http://www.wholesystemsdesign.com/

 
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Will,

What are your plans for your land?  If you want to garden, raised beds could be a good solution.  Are you wanting animals, timber, just plain wild land?

Personally, I think that 15 acres on a mountain top sounds idyllic.  If it were me I would build my home and build 3-4 raised garden beds and enjoy mountain scenery.

Seriously though, I am really curious about your plans for your land.  Let’s hear them!

Eric
 
Will Solol
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Thanks for your replies!

Tyler—thanks for the tip, Ben Falk's project is indeed super interesting. I've actually spent some time with his book published by Chelsea Green, I can't recall the title. But it's been a while, I'll definitely revisit his work.

Eric—as far as cultivation, gardening, and a small orchard. Animals are less likely (I think this plot could be good for animals and probably was used for that way in the past). And of course wild land. There is currently a cabin on the lower part of the land that is *livable* but requires significant infrastructural work to be legally habitable. To build a small house elsewhere on the property would ultimately be ideal but that would be a longer-term project.

 
Eric Hanson
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Will,

So a cabin for living, gardening and an orchard.  For my part, I am a big advocate of raised garden beds.  Is there any brush/trees that need cleaning?  If so, you could chip them and decompose them with wine cap mushrooms and have amazing fertile garden bedding.

Orchards might be different.  Definitely not saying that you can’t do it, but maybe you could find a place with some soil depth and stake them until they root themselves into the bedrock beneath.

Once again I would recommend a combination of a comfrey guild and mushroom infused woodchips.  The mushrooms really add an amazing amount of fertility.  I grow them not so much for the mushrooms (though that’s nice too) as for the amazing compost they leave behind.  In the brief amount of time that I have been planting into live mushroom bedding, my plants there have been incredibly dark green, rich and healthy looking.  I am a true mushroom compost convert and I strongly advocate for their use because I have seen with my own eyes just how incredibly fertile that can become.  In a difficult region like you are describing, this has the potential to make a huge difference.

If you are interested and want more information, I will gladly help as I am able.  If you are not interested, then I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

Good Luck and please keep us updated,

Eric
 
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NRCS Web Soil Survey can tell you a lot about how rocky the land is, whether you have soil, what type of soil, and what the soil will bear in terms of farming and engineering.
 
Will Solol
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Thanks for your replies.

Eric— there are definitely trees and brush that will need clearing. The mushroom compost tip is interesting. I'm barely familiar but will certainly look into it, please feel free to recommend any good resources.

Denise— I'll absolutely check out the NRCS survey, thank you for the suggestion!
 
Eric Hanson
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Will,

If you are interested, I would love to help out as I can.

I have a thread that chronicles my progress from a complete, total fungal neophyte up to today.  I deliberately keep it updated just to help out anyone who might be similarly interested.  You can find it here:

https://permies.com/t/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter

My plans for the near future is to convert all my garden beds into raised beds filled with mushroom compost and add nothing other than what I can provide by my own land.  Basically, the fungi scavenge everything I need, but I do occasionally add some nitrogen in the form of comfrey I grow directly adjacent to my garden beds.

You can grow a LOT from a fairly small space using mushroom beds.  They do take a bit of time to set up, but after that, they require relatively little maintenance and high yields.  Given your challenging situation, this could be just what you need.

Good luck and let me know if you need any additional information.

Eric
 
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If you are on the North and East facing side of the hilltop, then you will have the most soil possible, but that is a misnomer because almost all of New England has less than 10 feet to bedrock. At the top of the hill it will be pretty thin otherwise the top of the hill would have been ground down had it not been bedrock.

But on the northeast side of a hill is where you find gravel. The thinnest soil is always on the Southwest side because that is the direction the glaciers slid. When it went, it only left the bedrock behind. All that is left is the forest debris that has rotted into soil over the last 9000 years or so, so soil would be less than a foot deep. The Northeast side is a little deeper, so think of it like this. When you get a sheep turd stuck to the bottom of your boot, you scrape it off by looking for a sharp edge; say a board on the edge of the porch. As you slide your boot forward, that sharp edge is the same thing as the bedrock on a hill. The sheep manure stays on the backside of the sharp edge, yet nothing is on the forward edge because it has all been scrapped off. That is what happened to your hill, and all hills in New England. Since the glacier/boot is moving in a southwest direction, the thicker soil/manure is on the northeast part of the hill.

Incidentally, this is why cemeteries are always on the Northeast side of a hill. They needed some depth to bedrock to bury the caskets. They also wanted easy digging, so they located them in gravel. If you have any old cemeteries near by, that is where the deepest soil is, and gravel.

But if you are looking to have an orchard, you may be in luck. Apple trees at least, have roots that are very shallow. If you have any depth of soil, and it is a distinct possibility being on the Northeast side of the hill, you could get away with having apple trees (and maybe other fruit trees). I live on a hill too, and the top of my hill has only 4 inches of soil, and yet it is where my natural crab apple trees are. We had an orchard in the 1900's-2008 on pretty thin soil, and they did well.

If you are looking at a piece of land in Maine, Bedrock, Surficial and other maps are all online to see, and for free. Of these, Surficial maps are the ones you want to see because it will tell you where the soil migrated from, and to where, and how deep, and generally what it is.
 
Will Solol
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Eric—thanks again, I'll spend some time looking through that.

Travis—really interesting tip, I had never heard that.
 
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