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Any Suggestions for this 60 Acre Homestead/Small Farm?

 
Posts: 41
Location: Ontario zone 4b/5a
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I am entering my third spring on this property and still feel so unsure about getting the perennials in the ground! Probably because I'm afraid to spend the money and get it "wrong".

My goals for the property are to increase our food production (the more self-sufficient the better) and biodiversty. I would like to be able to generate an income to pay for these improvements at a minimum if possible (I have sold eggs and will be selling a little bit of produce at a market this summer).  

I live in a zone 4b...maybe 5a with a frost free season approximately between April and September. The soil is clay and I'm not sure how deep. The fields are currently hay which another farmer harvests (and we get an ag tax break). The house and barn are 100+ years old, the shop is newer. The barn may not be usable, as the walls are buckling and we're not sure yet if we can save it.

Please note that this will be a slow and steady transformation as we invest what we can in time and money each year. I live here with my husband who works full time in the city and my two young boys (1yr and 4yrs).

Anyway, I am open to first impressions on this piece of land. Below are very rough illustrations, I will make more detailed and permaculture-esk ones in the future, but at least these give a nice visual of what I have to work with.

The overview:


Current use:


A couple of ideas for future use:

 
pollinator
Posts: 3110
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Right by the House/Barn/Shop. I would carve out 3 acres.

This 3 acres would be for the 1.5 acres food forest, 0.5 acres vegetable garden, 0.3 to 0.5 acre fish pond, chicken area, honey bee area, and your greenhouse, shop, barn and house.

Edit: It might make sense to make the big pond by the wetland area, and make a smaller pond by the house. The small pond by the house could be view like a storage pond, where you only keep ready to eat fish for a week or two after you have grown and harvested them from the big pond. Or you could just skip the pond by the house and go to the wetland weekly/biweekly to harvest fish directly for your freezer.


 
author & gardener
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Location: Southeastern U.S.
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Nicky, your place shows a lot of potential. That's exciting.

I know what you mean about being hesitant to plant many perennials. I'm almost ashamed to say that I've lost roughly half of the perennials I planted. It's discouraging. That said, I'm going to encourage you to learn as much about soil building as you can. That is truly key to success. There are excellent resources here. Dr. Redhawk's Epic Soil Series is a good place to start. Jon Stika's A Soil Owner's Manual was recently featured on Permies and is an excellent resource. If I had understood soil as a living ecosystem rather than just dirt, we'd be a whole lot further in our homesteading than we are now!
 
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looks like you have lots of nice flat ground to work with. when I did the farmers markets, I'll never forget this much older man who would tell me if you want to be real successful in farming and making it pay off, you need to have vegetables, fruits, flowers and dancing girls. well did ok with fruit from 250 peach trees my uncle had planted, and all sorts of row crops, beans, peas, squash, tomatoes, peppers eggplant, corn and a wide variety of herbs. one of my specialties was selling huge bunches of basil, for what other sellers sold just a few sprigs for, and I had some miniature sunflowers that did real well.
that old man had a beautiful orchard with apples, peaches, pears and several acres of wine grapes that paid off in spades every year late in the fall when home brew wine enthusiasts would come to his place and pick their own. this was in addition to at least a dozen acres of regular row crops.
 
pollinator
Posts: 224
Location: Italian Alps, Zone 8
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Hi Nicky,
The place looks very promising!

I second the suggestion of Leigh to try and learn as much as you can about your soil, to avoid planting stuff on a place they are doomed to fail anyway. That will avoid a lot of disappointment on your end as well.
If you don't have time/ budget to improve all of your soil, try starting with improving the localized areas where you want to plant trees/ larger shrubs, which are usually the most costly to lose.
I'm no expert (so permies, do criticize me if what I'm saying is a bad idea), but I've done some similar things on my terrain as well. Patches of my terrain have a lot of rocks in them (like so many rocks that there is very little organic material to speak of). Because rebuilding soil takes years I've tried the following approach just to get my first hardy trees in:
Dig your holes for your trees/ shrubs, but make them at least twice as big/deep as they need to be. Fill the bottom with some larger pieces of fresh wood, then some easily compostable material (leaves, clippings, kitchen scraps), then top it off with earth (or imported organic compost if you don't have much soil, like I do) and then put your topsoil back in place. Basically you're planting your trees/shrubs on a burried tiny hugelkultur. You could add some straw with duck/chicken manure on top to protect the soil and give some extra fertilizer. Ofcourse only do this for perennials that want rich soil.

Edit: I had overlooked the fact that your chicken coop is already in current use. I initially thought you were still planning where to put it. But I'm going to leave my comment below anyway for anyone else who might be looking to plan a coop:
Personally I would not place the coop that close to my house (I'm guessing the red roofed building is your house). Chickens/poultry can be both noisy and stinky, and if you have a fixed coop it can become a muddy mess to look at, seen from your windows. Perhaps not the best view, but that's a personal preference! Now it is useful to put the coop somewhere where you have easy acces (for example when it has snowed you can still reach them without having to wade through fields of snow). Have you considered putting it a bit further away (for example I marked a red X on your plan). At that spot, to me it seems still accessible via the road, but doesn't bother your house so much.
Better still: seeing as it appears you have rather flat and ample land: why not consider a portable coop and fencing and let your chickens graze in a rotating pasture system. Chickens are originally forest roaming birds, so I'm sure they'd love to roam your food forest as well to eat the bugs and clear the weeds (just fence of the strawberries and lettuce!). You'l have healthier chickens, they'll auto fertilize your lands, and you won't have to deal with a muddy/poopy coop.

Best of luck with your project!
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Nicky McGrath
Posts: 41
Location: Ontario zone 4b/5a
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S Bengi wrote:Right by the House/Barn/Shop. I would carve out 3 acres.
This 3 acres would be for the 1.5 acres food forest, 0.5 acres vegetable garden, 0.3 to 0.5 acre fish pond, chicken area, honey bee area, and your greenhouse, shop, barn and house.
Edit: It might make sense to make the big pond by the wetland area, and make a smaller pond by the house. The small pond by the house could be view like a storage pond, where you only keep ready to eat fish for a week or two after you have grown and harvested them from the big pond. Or you could just skip the pond by the house and go to the wetland weekly/biweekly to harvest fish directly for your freezer.



Oh I'm glad 3 acres was the area you suggested, as that is exactly the size I'm working with! Unfortunately due to the layout of the property, the house is on the edge instead of the middle, but we're working with what we've got.

Fish ponds is not something I have explored yet, but it will be now :)


Leigh Tate wrote:Nicky, your place shows a lot of potential. That's exciting.

I know what you mean about being hesitant to plant many perennials. I'm almost ashamed to say that I've lost roughly half of the perennials I planted. It's discouraging. That said, I'm going to encourage you to learn as much about soil building as you can. That is truly key to success. There are excellent resources here. Dr. Redhawk's Epic Soil Series is a good place to start. Jon Stika's A Soil Owner's Manual was recently featured on Permies and is an excellent resource. If I had understood soil as a living ecosystem rather than just dirt, we'd be a whole lot further in our homesteading than we are now!



Thank you Leigh for the resource suggestions! I honestly cried when our apple trees died. I sort of knew they were doomed when they got planted because of the circumstances, but two leafed out and then didn't make it.  I do love soil building and read a book last year, but I'm guilty of approaching it so far a little haphazardly. I've got a simple soil testing kit that I still haven't used (this is the year!). I also used to work at a lab that did soil testing (not my area), so you'd think I'd be a little more mindful, but I do find the science doesn't stick in my brain well without some hands on experience. Thank you for the reminder :)  

bruce Fine wrote:looks like you have lots of nice flat ground to work with. when I did the farmers markets, I'll never forget this much older man who would tell me if you want to be real successful in farming and making it pay off, you need to have vegetables, fruits, flowers and dancing girls. well did ok with fruit from 250 peach trees my uncle had planted, and all sorts of row crops, beans, peas, squash, tomatoes, peppers eggplant, corn and a wide variety of herbs. one of my specialties was selling huge bunches of basil, for what other sellers sold just a few sprigs for, and I had some miniature sunflowers that did real well.
that old man had a beautiful orchard with apples, peaches, pears and several acres of wine grapes that paid off in spades every year late in the fall when home brew wine enthusiasts would come to his place and pick their own. this was in addition to at least a dozen acres of regular row crops.



Yes it is fairly flat, with just local minor variances that I have to take into account for water drainage. I would love to have a large orchard, but I think it would be a pretty big upwards battle to ever pay off the initial costs that would be needed. But I definitely want fruit trees! Thank you for sharing your experiences :)

S. Bard wrote:Hi Nicky,
The place looks very promising!

Edit: I had overlooked the fact that your chicken coop is already in current use. I initially thought you were still planning where to put it.



I don't know why I didn't bother putting labels on the buildings! The red roof is actually the shop, so the coop it's a nice distance away from the house. I've been wanting a chicken tractor but it just didn't make it on the priority list and we still wanted to have a permanent coop. Right now we get our meat from culling extra roos and old hens, but if I ever buy meat chickens specifically I'm definitely going to use a chicken tractor. I had wanted to use chicken power to open the new ground for the garden, but we're using tractor power for now. I'm also not apposed to having two flocks going one day, especially if I wanted to get into selling birds.
 
S. Bard
pollinator
Posts: 224
Location: Italian Alps, Zone 8
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Nicky McGrath wrote:
I don't know why I didn't bother putting labels on the buildings! The red roof is actually the shop, so the coop it's a nice distance away from the house. I've been wanting a chicken tractor but it just didn't make it on the priority list and we still wanted to have a permanent coop. Right now we get our meat from culling extra roos and old hens, but if I ever buy meat chickens specifically I'm definitely going to use a chicken tractor. I had wanted to use chicken power to open the new ground for the garden, but we're using tractor power for now. I'm also not apposed to having two flocks going one day, especially if I wanted to get into selling birds.



Ah the red roof being the shop makes a lot more sense now!
I'm happy to hear you're considering a chicken tractor. I just wanted to clear up the fact that what I meant with rotating pastures and portable coop is not a chicken tractor, in case I didn't explain myself properly. :-) You can find some great pictures of a portable chicken coop built by TJ Jefferson Here The difference is that with a chicken tractor you give the chickens a limited amount of space where they can graze and you move the tractor every few days or so depending on the size. When using a portable coop and rotating pastures, you basically move your chickens like you would sheep, but instead of herding them from one pasture to another you roll them over there in their coop-on-wheels. If you use portable fencing you can put them on whatever spot you want them and leave them there for a few weeks/ months depending on the size of the terrain and the flock.
 
Nicky McGrath
Posts: 41
Location: Ontario zone 4b/5a
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S. Bard wrote:
Ah the red roof being the shop makes a lot more sense now!
I'm happy to hear you're considering a chicken tractor. I just wanted to clear up the fact that what I meant with rotating pastures and portable coop is not a chicken tractor, in case I didn't explain myself properly. :-) You can find some great pictures of a portable chicken coop built by TJ Jefferson Here The difference is that with a chicken tractor you give the chickens a limited amount of space where they can graze and you move the tractor every few days or so depending on the size. When using a portable coop and rotating pastures, you basically move your chickens like you would sheep, but instead of herding them from one pasture to another you roll them over there in their coop-on-wheels. If you use portable fencing you can put them on whatever spot you want them and leave them there for a few weeks/ months depending on the size of the terrain and the flock.



Right! I guess what I would use depends on the flock I was using. Meat birds would be temporary and summer only, so I would use something simple for housing but still use portable fencing. If the flock was long term then I'd use a portable coop. I worked on an small organic farm years ago that had a lovely portable coop; I remember they said they kind of got made fun of by other local farmers for building a coop on wheels.
 
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