Finally found some land to buy and get started realizing our market gardening and permaculture plans/dreams and … work is taking me to the other side of the country for most of a year.
So now I wonder what to do.
The land is in zone 4, a total of 18 acres, of which about 10 are usable. (Most of the rest is wetlands and swampy riparian area -- better left alone as a dedicated mosquito ranch; we also need to leave space for the future domicile etc.)
The soil is sandy and long ago was farmed. The place has been left alone for the last thirty years or so, according to the neighbor, and is overgrown with long grass, brush, and brambles, with quite a few small trees (birch, Norway pine, some willow). This is not a place that would be amenable to cutting sod.
Our long term plans are still to set up large gardens, and of course to plant fruit and nut trees. But I don’t know what to do this year. We only just bought the property and it’s too late to get and plant trees, and plus we’ll be leaving in late June and not around to irrigate all summer anyway.
Planting crops etc. happens in May around here, so that’s still possible.
Do folks think we should do some clearing of the brush now and plant some cover crops? Maybe even do some serious tilling to help them get started? Or would it be better to just wait and leave it be until we’re going to be around to take care of things?
If we put anything in, it’s going to have some tough competition from the brushy plants. I was thinking maybe buckwheat, sunchokes, and clover. And maybe some patches of cosmos (for my wife) and black-eyed susan (for me), as both will re-seed themselves around here.
if it's been left alone for thirty years already, another year isn't going to make any huge differences. can't blame you for wanting to get going, though.
throw out some seeds if you want. even plant some fruit and nut trees with a whole lot of mulch. no reason not to try some low-maintenance plants, except that they might not survive, but that's pretty much always the case.
supposing they aren't really invasive where you're at, you might think about some goumis or autumn olives. should start to improve the dirt a bit in your absence, and they're pretty tough plants. sunchokes could work, but be sure that's something you want around. I'm not particularly fond of them, and they won't leave your place without a fight.
regarding tilling: avoid it if you can. thirty years of neglect has likely allowed that dirt to accumulate a fair amount of organic matter and some nice structure. one trip through with a roto-tiller and that organic matter will evaporate, and you'll have nice soft dirt that will settle into not-so-nice hard dirt over the season.
It is so not too late in zone 4 to be planting trees, I've been planting them all month and have more to plant..both potted and bare rooted.
You can plant trees right up until you leave..in June. Best to go to local tree nurseries, and buy your trees, check the roots really well when buying to make sure the roots are good..soak them really well before planting and leaving a couple inches around the trunk mulch them really well to keep soil moisture in and set a couple large rocks around each tree to sweat dew down onto the roots..
If you have time to dig deeper ..bury some wood under the tree of some kind, branches, etc..(see hugelkulture)..that will also help hold in moisture so you don't need to be concerned about irrigating..if the wood is p artially rotten that will help prevent a lot of nitrogen from being drawn from the soil..and make a great sponge..water well when planting
Bloom where you are planted.
From my own experience I advise not doing anything for a year, but just observing how the water moves across the land, and any other challenges the land might present as often as you're able to visit it.
If the land has been left to itself for 30 years, you should have a lot of biomass and fertility to work with. Wish I had that. Sounds like you don't have to worry much about stuff drying out on you while you're gone, being up there in zone 4. If that's the case, what I would do is plant as many fruit and nut trees as you can get in the ground and mulch heavily to fend off the competition until you can be there on a consistent basis. Then later, you can begin filling in with mulch plants and all the other guild members. "The most important thing to have in the garden is your shadow." Somebody said that.
Certifiable food forest gardener, free gardening advice offered and accepted. Permaculture is the intersection of environmentalsim and agriculture.
Tyler Ludens wrote:From my own experience I advise not doing anything for a year, but just observing how the water moves across the land, and any other challenges the land might present as often as you're able to visit it.
I would also look carefully and talk with neighbors about the animals that use the land, and start thinking about which animals you'll want to encourage and which you'll want to discourage. If possible you should spend some nights there to see if there are owls, bats and other night creatures.
Then you can start thinking about bat houses, raptor roosts/houses/nesting platforms, wildlife snags, brush piles, rock piles, ponds, etc.
I would also find nearby pristine (or undeveloped) areas, if there are any, and start to learn what plants and animals live there. If you can mimic what is going on there (substituting plants & animals that are useful to you), you won't have to fight so hard to keep it going.
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)