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So I want to start a farm right now

 
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I've been wanting to start a farm for the last 10 years but have been trapped in the rat race and never got around to it. I have thousands of seeds for everything imaginable and acreage to plant them on. No soil preparation has taken place. I also have no storage supplies, tools, fertilizers, anything really. What do I need to start farming right now? I am tired of waiting and have the funds to invest, but I'd like to do so wisely. I've followed this forum for a long time and am interested in sustainable/permaculture techniques. Perhaps this thread has already occurred and resources are already available!

I thank you warmly for anything you may have to offer.
 
pollinator
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I'm not sure what zone you're in or what your land looks like.  I definitely wouldn't jump into full-scale farming that is a quick way to waste money, do a lot of stuff over and get burnt out.

A big tenant of permaculture is observation.  Watching your land to see how it moves through the seasons, how watersheds, winds, sunlight and etc.

I'd suggest starting small, well it seems small on paper anyway.  Purchasing a wheelbarrow, some good shovels, and basic hand garden tools.

Pic a spot with some sun and plot out a 10x10 or 20x20 area.  Fence it in.  Use this space to start planting seeds, seedlings and propagating.  Experiment with hugel-mounds , raised beds, composting, hoop-houses, seed collecting, you name it.  

What should you plant?  I'd start with what you like to eat.   Maybe plant some vegetables you preserve to learn those skills.  

Learn, observe and practice.  You can create a full-time job running a 20x20 permaculture garden.

If possible keep it close to the house.
 
gardener
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I agree with Scott - start small, make mistakes, learn a lot and slowly expand from there. Definitely invest in some fencing to protect from the nibblers - very frustrating to lose the crop you worked so hard creating just when you are ready to eat it!

True story - I had a bumper crop of cantaloupe ripening on some first year hugels. At the time, was here only on weekends, camping in a leaky, smelly old camper. Sampled one, and while it was tasty, I thought “one more weeek and these will be perfect!”

Alas, when I returned the next weekend, every single one was gone!  I suspect a bear, as there were some big bite marks where something sampled the much harder butternut squash and then left them alone l.

Anyway, do start with something, even if not full time. And have fun!
 
Posts: 82
Location: Beavercreek, OR
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Katy Fell wrote: I also have no storage supplies, tools, fertilizers, anything really.



As Scott suggests, dive in - but carefully!

Getting started might take as little as a spade and a rake to prepare your beds.  Then you might add tools as needed.

No need to worry about storage yet - plenty of time to address that once the growies are in the ground.

Other than "Yes" its really hard to advise - soil and climate conditions vary widely, and the specifics of whatever spot you've got can differ significantly from area averages as well.  Some basic things to determine are soil pH and the presence of persistent herbicides.  Lab testing of soil pH is pretty straight forward and can probably be done even now - although some people learn to just taste the soil!  Persistent herbicides can be a real bummer - a way to test that is just with seedlings.  Put some soil into seed trays and get them going... see what the seedlings look like before you plant the whole packet!

Generally speaking, adding organic material to the soil won't hurt.  So find leaves, twigs, etc and start working them in.
 
Posts: 71
Location: North Idaho
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Like everyone else is saying you can start small.  

The first thing that you can do is take a shovel around and dig up a shovel full of soil and take a look at it.  Then dig a shovel full deeper and take a look at that, maybe take a picture that could be posted or used to compare to other soil samples that you look at.  Does the soil break apart when you dig it up a clump and drop it or does it stick together and simply thud to the ground in a large chunk? The first means you have some loam or organic material to your soil (topsoil) the latter is basically a clay soil.

Where do things seem to grow the best already?  Do you have any areas that could have potentially been a garden in the past for a previous owner?  Pick your place and then do what you can.  If you rural you may be able to look around for some old messed up hay that did not winter well, great time of year for that.  You could also look for some manure this time of year, many people are cleaning out stalls and barns right now.  You can also call the landfills around the area and see if they have any of the free mulch there, or if not free maybe you can buy some.

You can grow a lot of plants quite well in even poor soil, mustard is grown in some of the worst conditions on the planet in fact it is so crazy tough it is used to mitigate heavy metals, toxic wastes and even radiation in soils that have been contaminated.

You should be able to pretty easily have a simple garden this year.  Thinking about next and thereafter you might consider planting some cover crops maybe to get plenty of organic material for next year.  You might also consider some cropping like peas, garbanzos, lentils, clover etc to not only create excess organic material in future gardens but to also add some nitrogen to the soil for next years growing.

If you have acreage and you do not mow it, you could start mowing and build a large quantity of grass clippings, this would really help with this years garden if nitrogen is needed and next years garden if you need organic material.

You can also call local excavation/ construction companies and see if they have any topsoil to get rid of.  We used to have up to hundreds of dump truck loads a week that we often had to pay so much per load to dump, the boss would often dump good topsoil or clay fill for people for free just because it was handy for him.  If you have poor soil you never know you could get lucky with that and find someone needing to dump good topsoil.  Another potential source of future soil is wood chips or branches from local tree trimming companies, they also often have to pay for dumping, not too mention gas, if you happen to be closer than another dump site the savings in gas and time can work to your advantage.

Get in contact with your local community and see what you can come up with.

Good luck on your gardening, just remember...  We humans have been planting and harvesting plants for tens of thousands of years, it isn't exactly rocket science...  Good luck and have fun...
 
Posts: 416
Location: Southern Illinois
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Several posts here have mentioned some basic tools.  If you need to buy, explore the new price, and then explore the junk stores.  Simply because a tool in in a junk store does not automatically make it good or cheap.
 
Roy Long
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Location: North Idaho
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John F Dean wrote:Several posts here have mentioned some basic tools.  If you need to buy, explore the new price, and then explore the junk stores.  Simply because a tool in in a junk store does not automatically make it good or cheap.



In fact in this day and age it is pretty common to pay more for used tools than you would for a brand new one at junk shops...  I can't count how many times I have run across Dollar General tools in a pawn shop being sold for $3 to $5...   I make sure to question them on why someone would pay that price for a used tape measure from the Dollar General store when one can go buy brand new for $1.00 at the dollar general.  Even the Salvation Army commonly charges more for used tools than you can buy them for new.  

The Goodwill is best just to stay away from, pretty much everything there is far overpriced.  I was buying the cheapo simple little bookshelves from Walmart when we moved into this house, they were cheap $11 or $12 each but quick and easy for dealing with cloths, books and movies when we moved in here.  I bought out Walmart and still needed more so I went across the street to the Goodwill and found the same one Walmart was selling there, just old and very used with some small chunks missing and whatnot.  It would have suited our needs just fine, except that they wanted $17.00 for it...  I made sure to let them know that I had just bought 14 of those brand new for $11 or $12 dollars each at Walmart.  Crazy how big a ripoff those places are, even used pants for our six kids were more expensive used with holes and stains at the Goodwill than they were brand new at Walmart...

I go to a local Seventh Day Adventist community center where they take donations of old used stuff and resell it for a pretty reasonable price.  I find a lot of things like old rakes, shovels, handles, electric hedge trimmers etc.  Garage sales are also a great way to go, especially rural garage sales, you tend to find more things related to gardening there.  Rural estate sales and farm auctions are also great places to look as well.
 
master steward
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Everyone has given you some great advice!  I just want to add that the first thing that I did was to start plants indoors and to build my garden beds.  Getting ready while waiting for the outdoor temps and the soil to warm up!
 
Katy Fell
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Hi all,

Thank you for some great advice! I'm currently in Zone 9a. As Scott mentioned, I'm looking forward to experimenting as I learn more, perhaps starting with composting and seed saving and expanding as I go. Unfortunately, fencing might not be an option until I have a place of my own, but I will ask about it. I would like to send a soil sample to a nearby university for analysis as Eliot suggested as well. I will follow the advice that many of you have given to carefully observe the land and soil...that piece resonates well. I also appreciate Roy's recommendation to get in touch with the local community to make use of things that could otherwise go to waste. Grateful for the guidance thus far...

One area that remains somewhat unclear is in the realm of tools. Many of you have mentioned a thing or two about tools, and I've done a bit of reading, but I still have quite a few questions. Please feel free to respond to just parts of this, as my questions are many!

So many hoes...is there a certain type that you prefer above others? Mainly looking at stirrup hoe, oscillating hoe, collinear hoe, and Russian/Fokin hoe. Also looking into a low-wheel hoe. I would like to find one multi-purpose type that is sufficient for most needs, but if multiple types would be really useful I am fine with investing in that. Up until now, I have only worked with a few small beds and didn't have a problem dealing with weeds by hand, but I have a feeling a hoe will come in great handy for cultivation as I begin to grow more in larger beds. Does anyone have suggestions about the best way to sharpen a hoe (waterstone, diamond file, etc...)?

I'm thinking of getting a spading fork for loosening and turning over soil. Would anyone vouch for having a broadfork for manual tilling, or could a spading fork work just as well (while taking more time no doubt)? I have much more reading to do regarding till vs no-till methods...What are your views on the necessity of tilling at all?

Do you prefer to direct seed or transplant? I'm thinking about a few options for transplants: making wooden flats; making seed starter pots from citrus rinds, eggshells, egg cartons, newspaper, toilet paper rolls, or whatever else I can find; or finding a hand-operated soil block maker. Any reason to acquire the blocker instead of fashioning my own vessels? I understand that it might be too late to start seeds for transplant at this time and that I may need to direct seed this season (but can't do so until I move around mid-April). Would a dibber, garden stamp, dagger-style trowel, or post-hole digger help quite a bit for transplanting seedlings in the future? If direct seeding, is a manual precision seeder necessary or desirable as opposed to hand-seeding?

To give a sort of summary on what tools I have and am planning to acquire: I plan on purchasing or finding a wheel barrow. I have bypass loppers, bypass pruners, and hedge shears, but no pruning saw or folding saw (not sure of the difference). I also have a shovel and rake (but it's a leaf rake, not a garden/bow rake). I plan to get a few hand tools (trowel, hand fork, dibber) as well as a hoe or two, some gloves, and some buckets. I might get a fork of some sort, preferably only one between a spading fork, broadfork, or pitchfork. Perhaps a seeder of some sort if it seems worth it. Anything on this list that I probably don't need? Am I missing anything? What are your "must-have" tools in general?

Thanks again for all the responses!
 
gardener
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Katy,

There has been an awful lot of very good input, but I first have to ask about your land.  How much acreage, what is the soil type, climate zone, do you plan on having animals, etc.

Regarding tools, there are a lot of different tools I like to acquire.  The best one I have is a grub hoe.  It is a long, 6” wide, heavy forged hoe that is not only very useful, but flexible in use and incredibly sturdy.  I got mine at easydigging.com.  Two other, related sites to visit are rougehoe.com and prohoe.com.

Some heretical advice:  many people here have encouraged observation.  While this is of course a good thing to do, my personal suggestion is to just do something.  Gardening is pretty forgiving so instead of delaying action, just do something you think prudent.  Of course start small, but incorporate those lessons you learn into future projects,

And of course, please let us know how things work out.

Eric
 
Katy Fell
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Hi Eric,

Thanks for your guidance...I'll check out the grub hoe. As much as I would love to do something right now, my current circumstances don't really allow it. I can't get started planting just yet because I'm in an apartment and am waiting to move. Until I do, space is very limited, and although I have seeds, I have no good soil/compost at the moment and might've waited too long to begin seeding indoors. I have a few options on where to go next (will be staying with family or friends), each of which would allow me to do some gardening. These housing options are in the deep south, zones 7b-9a. I won't be moving until mid-April at the earliest and haven't had the opportunity to get to know the land/soil at these homes yet. In all honesty, I'm not sure how much acreage I'll be working with either. As of now, I will not have animals but would like to get a chicken coop going soon enough.

I understand that it may be tough to give advice when my conditions are so uncertain, so I guess right now I'm asking about things more generally (tools, techniques, etc). I have the ability to invest in some tools, resources, and the like right now and the time to experiment. I have a few books that have been nice for building a better understanding but am itching to actually get to work, even if that just means preparing beds and getting a feel for what I'm working with.
 
Eric Hanson
gardener
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Katy,

Do you think that you see yourself having an acre?  That’s a LOT of room for a garden.  Personally, I cannot imagine having anything more than a 1/4 acre garden (an orchard would be different).  Whatever you end up doing, I suggest building soil.  There are a number of ways to do this:  you can plant soil building cover crops, you can build a hugel mound, my personal favorite is to make a raised bed garden, fill with woodchips and as the woodchips rot (I like to use wine cap mushrooms for this) the resulting compost is amazing bedding.  You could do any, all or none of these options.  But I have to say though, rotting wood is amazing garden bedding.

Regarding tools,  of course you will want things like a round point shovel and a rake.  In addition, I love the grub hoe and I use an 8” heavy forged rake that I use for digging as opposed to gathering things.  Check out the sites I mentioned earlier.  EasyDigging.com, prohoe.com and rougehoe.com all have a wide variety of solid, rugged tools completely unlike what you will find at the box store.  I especially like to make sure that the handle is quality.  I will pay extra to have a fiberglass handle if I can find it.  Shovels are especially prone to breaking from use when equipped with a poor handle.

Anything else you want to chat about, just mention and either I or someone else will likely have something to say.

Eric
 
pollinator
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Eric Hanson wrote:Katy,

Do you think that you see yourself having an acre?  That’s a LOT of room for a garden.  Personally, I cannot imagine having anything more than a 1/4 acre garden (an orchard would be different).  Whatever you end up doing, I suggest building soil.  



I've found about 1/4 acre to be a good size for me (a single person who's primarily growing for his own consumption & that of his livestock). I've found if I go too much larger than that, it starts getting a little wild around the edges, and I get exhausted trying to keep up with it all. I generally like to use 1/4-1/2 acre for annual crops, but also utilizing random space in/beside the forest garden, or in other "nooks" around the farm where I can plant a few hardy things that can hold their own against bermuda & crab grasses. I still get more than I can eat to share with family (who don't put in any work), plus supplement the pigs, poultry, birds, & rabbits feed.

It's definitely a good idea to start small & build up growing space, because it's so disheartening to put a ton of time & energy into a space and not be able to maintain it enough to keep the weeds from taking it over.
Still, it's going to be fun, whatever you choose and, once you find the tools & techniques that work best for you & your methods, you'll just see it keep getting better!
 
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