Does anybody have thoughts on rough estimates of
1) man-machine-hours, 2) diesel fuel, 3) board feet, 4) heavy equipment
needed for hugulkulture beds, swales, other?
A table would be nice, by: 1) height (depth) 2) linear feet. 3) % solid wood, % soil
Other parameters and inputs might be involved that I haven't thought of.
Also, assuming some finite working life, say 10 years, for huglkulture beds what will it cost to rebuild them at the end?
With such huge undertakings, heavy machinery seems the only practical way to implement the project in a short time.
Most of us (I presume) are/will be working on much smaller projects, and not have wealthy backers to fund the projects.
A lot can be done with a minimal of equipment if we are working on a smaller scale.
We don't need to complete the project in a single summer.
Two people, a Mantis rototiller (or DitchWitch), and some shovels can build a lot of swale/berm in a single day.
If one needs large swales every 50 feet on a large tract of land, a backhoe would be a better option.
The wood involved in huglekultur is usually free...whatever half rotten limbs & stumps you can scrounge up.
Organic matter is best if it is 'waste' from the land, but if one is in a big hurry, it would need to be bought.
Don't let the cost of equipment scare you away unless you are planning an epic project.
I think it all depends on how large your land and how much you do..here we have combined about 16 acres, a farily large pond and small hugel beds..
A single person working for a full day can get a very large swale/hugelkulture/whatever built. I tend to spread projects like those out over a week or more because I don't have time to do it all in one day and I'm also not in the shape I would need to be in to do that. I purposefully design my projects around what tools I have available to me. I think that's part of permaculture too--if you know you don't have the money to hire large machinery simply make designs that won't require them.
A few days of BIG machine for 10-15 years of productivity is pretty good compared to year-over-year work.
It appears to me that most of those posting here have done this or have committed to it and basically either already have a feeling or don't really care about the actual costs in time/money for one reason or another. When you live on site and have the needed equipment sitting around and operate it yourself it certainly doesn't matter much whether it takes you 1 or 3 days to rough in the job. When you don't have equipment and might be looking at daily or weekly hire, maybe arranging for a few big trees to get dumped on your land, it starts to be something you'd like to get some handle on. It sounds like fuel may not be a big issue, although since I'm not familiar with heavy equipment I don't know what the hourly fuel usage would be for, say a light tractor or a large backhoe or a medium dozer. But if it's say 2gal/hr, that looks like about $50/day and if you own the equipment, I guess that's not too much concern.
The board-feet figure is again a rough planning issue so that you can try to ensure what's needed to get the job completed (as planned) w/out interruption and postponement. I'm sure that when one "tills" land there will be costs no matter what methods are used, so it's not so much whether permaculture cost more or less (w/in reason), but what ball park we're talking about and what we need to make sure we have available to work smart and do the best job we can.
I get the idea that for 1 acre or less it would might be reasonable to do, say, 200yds of 4' hugulkulture by hand w/a small garden tractor to push and haul - maybe figuring 40 hours over a week/10days and assuming the needed amount of heavy slash was available. Say level ground, plain soil (not packed hard), few rocks, slash available loose on surface w/in 1/4 mile. Does this sound right? See where I'm coming from? This would tell the newbie that that I could have a good chance to complete this as a 2-week project, including some planting and miller time. This helps give some ideas and perspective to the ignorant, maybe allowing me to see that yes, I _am_ in the ball park and this is something I can realistically consider.
It's not like I can't cobble up some ideas on this, but it seems like the requisit knowledge and experience might be sitting around here...
Rufus Laggren wrote:Thanks for your comments. The [smaller is not so hard] point is well taken. But still and all even on a small scale it helps to have an idea of the costs/effort needed in a format that can be applied on paper - especially for those of us looking in from the "outside" who haven't done this before.
The other thing is that this stuff is very site specific and everything depends on what resources you have available to you, how much time you have, the lay of the land and what needs to be done. It's really difficult to standardize this information. The best way to figure it out is to do it yourself.
That said, if you are going whole hog, i would be tempted to drop the money for a walk behind tractor., and a trailer for it too. say 2 grand for a chinese one, or 3.5 for a euro one.
Trencher and/or post holer attachments are better than a tiller. you should only till once, and most folks here will say not to do it at all.
That way, you don't have the soil compaction issues as with big eqpt, the travel time for rentals, and the freedom to do the projects on your own time.
You don't have a location in your signature, but most of us are actually burying wood, and digging swales.
Digging holes and trenches gets old fast, faster even than i am getting old.
if you have to dig french tile trenches, water pipe trenches, swale trenches for straw or wood, you are going to get tired or poor quick.
onsite a walk-behind, and you can teach school kids to operate it, all the way up to felling and dragging wood.
Darn. Sorry. I try to set that when I join a forum cuz it's sensible and courteous and it looks like I forgot or screwed up. I'm split between Chicago and San Francisco at the moment but neither one is where I'd likely try to develop anything. Which is part of the problem. I'm out looking and at the moment large areas of the country are still in the in-box. I'm trying to get a general picture of what type of time and investment gets what kind of results. Just broadly, more to get find which ball park I'm in rather than to pin down details.
Clearly I don't have any grasp on what's involved yet. I'm the kind of person who likes to get an overview of what's possible, what's likely in the long view and some idea of the choices that influence each; then I try to relate that to my own situation and resources. Hopefully this saves me a heap of wasted time by culling the directions that I'm unfit for by an order of magnitude or more. It also can help me recognize (hopefully) and rate situations that might be possibilities to look at closer. By understanding (somewhat) the costs associated with different methods and geo features and then taking a look at possible benefits accrued (and in what amount of time) I try to eliminate in broad sweeps some of the billion choices and better my odds as much as I can ahead of time.
The thing is, I'm not rich and I'm not experienced with land use. There are lots of experienced motivated people out there already working land and while I don't mind following in worthy footsteps, I do believe that it's important to discover an appropriate niche where you sort of might fit and add something and go one better if you're going to make good - maybe even if you're going to survive. So I try to find and use knowledge tools to cut out dead ends, find un(der) utilized resources avoid pitfalls, discover situations to which I can bring value, etc. Much advantage can be gained or lost very early on when seemingly simple decisions, directions, etc are laid down. It's those early choices that I'm trying to understand now because I think they offer the best bang for the thought-buck. (So to speak). Once commitments are made directions taken, then of course some questions are no longer important and others will come to the fore.
Thank you for all the comments. I do know it's sort of a length of string <g> Q at this point, but I believe that approximations can help a lot if handled carefully. Definitely this work by its nature is site specific and it sounds like the local contractor may be the critical source for real world info. But I now have some slightly better idea of the type of things to think about. Morgan, thank you for that link and your comments on small machinery. I'm not familiar with that stuff at all and it definitely looks like it might be a better fit on land less than 10(?) acres. The Q is how much work can one of the baby machines get done and at what point land area or type or project make full size machinery necessary. To be investigated, but I bet the babies might be well be the tool to plan around at my level. I for sure can't get much done by hand (although maybe others can).
I'm thinking more about the "site specific" like Isaac pointed out. Maybe permaculture methods offer more comparative advantage when applied to less than perfect land. Good to excellent land is likely taken already (priced high) and worked by experienced people producing a lot just the way it is; might be hard to improve the real world value of good land under existing conditions. OTOH, unimproved, worn out, or marginal land might be coaxed into producing moderately well with smart and diversified permaculture - which would be a big improvement. Hmm. Maybe the best place to apply better farming/gardening is on problem land.
Thinking out loud a bit. Thanks for your inspiration. <g>
Sounds like you have some big dreams- which is great. Since you've been so open about how you do like to go about things, may I offer a word of caution?
While yes, wanting to have an extensive budget fleshed out before jumping into permaculture on the scale you are talking is commendable, have you considered doing something smaller before you transition from city life to acreage? I don't want to assume too much, but when I see or hear people talking about a master plan before they've even been practicing permaculture for a while, I cringe a little. Not because it is a bad idea, but because an instant succession or having your entire future planned out ahead of you before you even begin is a quick way, IMHO, towards a let down.
Personally, I wouldn't dream of planning out more than an acre- if that- until I've not only taken a PDC, but have been practicing permaculture on that site for at least three-five years (bearing time for new fruit trees, I see them as a metaphor for my own development). May I advise you to take it slowly, get engaged in either of your two localities, find out what you really enjoy doing versus what you want to do, and then make the leap?
I'm not trying to throw cold water onto your plans. Please don't take any of this that way. It would be interesting to see some more general budgets for digging swales, making large hugel beds, etc. But as others have said, this is a question that just cannot be answered until all the details of your site are known. And that is something almost impossible to convey over the internet. So I would just like to say, keep getting your hands dirty on a small scale with others and continue to refine your dreams. Don't be turned away by what you might think it costs. If permaculture is something you really want to do, you'll find a way.
But to the hugel thing, everyone else is right it depends on so many factors. For me, mine was totally free, $$$ wise. I made a hugel bed big enough to plant 11lbs of seed potatoes using grow biointensive spacing (half the spacing of traditional gardening). It's in a keyhole shape, but it's probably about 4 x 20. I used no machinery, just myself, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. BUT I was starting on soil we (my husband and I) had just pulled a ton of grapevines out of, which basically tilled the soil, and our soil is very loose and sandy. The property we live on is very wooded so I have plenty of prunings and deadfall to use in the beds. I did the bed in two sections (although connected). The first, which probably took about 3 hours, I just mounded the wood and then the compost and soil, but that took bringing more soil in from another site (another site being my old compost pile...), and I didn't have enough to do that for the rest. So for the second I dug a pit about 6 inches deep, filled it with wood, and covered it back up. It probably took me about 6 hours total to do the second half. I'm terrible at estimating time, though, I just know the second took longer. This is the only hugel bed I'm doing this year, and I'll add a bed or two each year. I have also just this spring- built a fence for my garden (which is not permaculture at all- it's no till raised bed- as I mention, I'm new to this too!), built a second chicken pen and a summer coop, added 50 chickens to my flock (previously had 22), planted 22 new fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs, built a huge (5x20 ish, but it's curvy so that's not exact) zone 1 bed right next to my porch, fenced the aforementioned side of my property, and of course planted and worked all the beds (well, I'm still working on it technically) in my 50x60 veg garden. But I do have to say it's money more than time that limits my endeavors, although because of that I have more time to spend actually sitting and enjoying my property. If money were no issue I would probably literally spend every spare moment mulching and planting (and I'd have 5 foot fence around my ENTIRE property and just let my chickens run all day every day, but that's a whole other thing...).
So far as equipment goes... If I had the money, but only enough to buy one thing, I would get a front loader. Which is a lot like the walk behind the person before mentioned, so that's a good option and a bit cheaper. I feel like they are pretty versatile pieces of machinery- they can scoop/dig (don't know if the walk behinds can), dig ditches, dig post holes, move/lift heavy items, and (I don't know how safe it is, I just know this is pretty common use for farmers who have them...) use them to access high places. But as it is, all we have is a riding mower (I mentioned I'm new- getting down to a lot less grass is a priority, but my husband won't let me get rid of all if it), which I use a little bit. When I have to move a lot of stuff or move something heavy a long distance it's nice- we have a trailer for it (that was free!). I use it to move the chicken tractor, although only when empty since it freaks out the chickens. And, since we can't get rid of the grass, I treat the grass like a crop- we let it get tall, mow it, and sweep it. Then I use that as mulch in my gardens and around the perimeter of my garden fence or as green matter in my compost bins.
Sorry, I'm straying off topic. The point I am trying to make is that there is no way to learn how this works or how much it will take of X material until you do it yourself. The more you do the more you will learn. And I strongly advise you to ASAP develop a "where can I get that free" mentality, or a "what can I use that I already have" mentality. Lately I find myself frequently thinking "if I were a farmer 100 years ago (and didn't have the option to just run to the store whenever I need something) how would I deal with this?" Also, be creative, and check things like craigslist. One thing you can never have too much of is wood, esp. if you're trying to be self sustained. We only have a wood stove in the garage (regular central heat in the house), but we've talked about switching to full wood burning before, and about putting an add on craigslist to remove trees under a certain diameter and height for a small fee (lower than what local professionals would charge) plus all the wood. A chainsaw doesn't cost that much, and you can get a lot of return... of course, don't do this until you've felled some trees yourself, so you know what you're doing But you could get a lot of wood this way AND make a little extra cash AND provide a service to people at a lower rate than they would pay otherwise. But even if you don't do that, unless you live in like AZ or Southern Cal, you should be able to find people who are more than happy to have you take away their brush pile. Most people don't know the value of what they have!
I don't know about other places, but there is good land available here in MN (South central). My husband has been looking for a friend who is moving here and found 10 acres with a house for like 170,000. I have no idea what type of land it was, he didn't show the listing to me, but most land here is like ours- loose, rich, and slightly sandy, although most does have some rocks (ours doesn't, somehow we got lucky). Of course, there are the winters...
In permaculture, it is most common to start in your Zone 1 (or zone 0 as some may say). This is your home - where you eat and sleep, and its immediate surroundings. This is where your herb and kitchen gardens should go. This is the area where you will have everyday chores to do (including feeding/watering chickens, and collecting their eggs). As this area progresses to "almost done", you expand outward to Zone 2.
This procedure continues through the zones until you get to Zone 5. Zone 5 is where you do little or nothing. It is where Mother Nature has complete control. It is a place for you to relax and study the flora/fauna in its natural setting, to totally understand what works best, and why.
If you proceed in a manner like this, it will help distribute the labor and expenses over a longer period of time. It is also a good morale booster. You will have functional systems completed vs hundreds of "work-in-progress" projects that can make you feel as if you have bitten off more than you can chew.
I would like to point out that while you working on any particular zone, you should be planning the next zone. This way, if you rent a piece of equipment for the weekend, and have finished your chore, and still have x many hours of daylight left, you can move outward to the next zone, and at least begin any projects there that will use that piece of equipment. No sense having expensive rentals just sitting there. If you plan ahead, you can maximize rental equipment time. Same goes for hired contractors with equipment. If you have more projects lined up than they can do in the allotted time, you can move them there and get your full 8 hour day utilized. This is even more important if they charge for travel tine.
Regardless where you decide to settle, each area has busy times and idle times for both contractors, and rental yards. If you can avoid the busy times, you often can save a lot of money (and frustrations). People may work cheaper when 'there is no work'.
Joshua, > master plan... That's a thoughtful warning. I should say I'm trying to define some tools and broad options and things to look for at this point. Eg. it sounds like dealing with heavy clay takes significantly more energy (cost) than other soils. So I know (so to speak) that in that situation if I want encouraging results in 2yrs or less on more than a tiny scale, I need a lot of more resource input (time, $$$) than in some other soil conditions. So maybe if I can't stand the up-front costs, I need to consider less challenging land. I think "R" likened large site work early on to buying a car w/cash vs. extended payment. While I don't want or expect to do everything at once, I _would_ like to "front-load" my costs for a sustainable (and developing/growing) situation for 1-4 people over 5-8 years; ie. I'd like to pay the piper up front to position myself so later options were available and scalable at relatively low cost. You're right (BTDT) first directions can be short lived. But hopefully I can develop a list or table of favorable factors with corresponding notes on what it takes to make that happen for particular situations. IOW, I hope to use knowledge to find/develop land where there are numerous possible good options - which can be exercised when appropriate. Sounds plausible, anyway! <g>
Brandis, thanks for sharing your adventures and thoughts! I'm going refer back several times for inspiration. <g> > get that free... My father was one of those "run what you brung" guys and while I'm not quite of the same bent, I try to always do a quick "what would Dad do here?" scan on any plan I'm getting hot about. But now I'm mostly trying to learn to see options and cost _has_ to be part and parcel of the option. My time is not infinite or even particularly long. I'm over 60 and while I'm capable and hope to continue that way (mostly) nothing is certain and I don't like leaving too much unfinished business lying about. I'm not talking large scale and my reference to 10 acres was probably misleading - I think that much land is a good size, but I doubt it would make sense for my personally to try to extensively develop more than an acre and maybe considerably less than that. However, there might well initial work done on certain parts which would make a lot of difference to other locations without ever themselves being touched again (Zone 5 type thing, I gather). Particularly in line of water management.
John Polk, you have described my general inclinations to a tee. And thanks for reminders of off/on seasons. But I do hope to be able to see some of the potential on a tract as a whole and be able to consider any major work which would affect the whole early on in order to make the later progression from zone 1 easier in terms of both $$$, time and energy.
Water is central. Morgan I have noted that point about govt water grabs; and maybe it also applies to private conveyances (rt usage?) on land. I suspect this will become more important and maybe a common issue in coming years. Water appears to be what most of the various farming techniques are aimed at. Timing of water is critical and part of the hugulkulture method is water management; and swales are all about water of course. I guess that the basic minimum would be water for the house garden and residents; followed immediately by water for stock and then water for crops. Crops to mean fodder and then food and/or tradable products beyond the needs of the residents. Grass might be a crop if animals were part of the mix.
Thinking about this land/water matrix, I recall grade school geo texts on the terraced farms in the orient - I'm guessing China, Viet Nam(?), Japan probably others. As I recall these land formations were created over hundreds of years (and maintained) through generations of farmers. This would appear to be the essence of permaculture! And it also gives me a clue about how to think about this stuff: Real permaculture needs to feed into a very large picture over a long period of time. Individual parts would hopefully hang together and contribute to a hugely greater whole. So I need to think about how/where I want to fit into that kind of thing. Perhaps land near others of similar practice would help to form a whole of some critical mass to survive and shape a region?
Thanks to all for this great thread. It has got thoughts working on many levels.
Morgan Morrigan wrote:make sure you can actually USE your rainwater, a lot of states are now claiming the water that falls on your land. Utah and Colorado come to mind
They've been doing this for a long time. It's a big no-no to store and use it as in a pond or dam unless you've got the requisite water rights. If you don't use them or pay for upkeep, you will lose them. Be careful.
Rufus Laggren wrote:Reading about Sep Holzer's work, it's struck me that most of the site techniques that go into permaculture require extensive use of heavy machinery, easily extending into hundreds of hours of machine time and thousands of gallons of fuel. This looks like a major requirement and cost to permaculture, at least to form the site initially.
I think what is often forgotten is that Permaculture is a set of *design tools* or *planning tools* and not any particular way of managing or altering a piece of land.
What you do with any particular site depends on its location, overall climate, micro-climate, soils, slope, exposure, existing vegetation, water, surroundings etc. and on the needs, wants, time and financial resources of the owner/manager, desired outputs and so forth.
Swales, ponds, hugelkultur etc. are mere tools in the toolbox that may or may not be suited to a particular piece of land.
My advice would be to look at/fill out the Permaculture Design Questionnaire http://files.meetup.com/215138/Permaculture%20Design%20Questionnaire.pdf , spend as much time as you can on the land, observe, think, read, plan (not as a linear process, but more like in an iterative fashion). After that you will have a much better idea about what you need to do (or not to do).
Ah, that's a point I need to keep to the fore. You're right, I was equating particular methods with Permatculture even though I know that's not valid. Thank you. And for the link. That's a great tool which I will forthwith get to work with.
I posted this as an experiment on my blog with a break down of prices and a lot of pictures... I'm still polishing the blog but you'll get the idea. I'll have updates as soon as I can get them to send me some pictures as I'm in NV and won't get to see it grow.
My NO-AD blog: http://thelostgeoduck.com
This is a link to my youtube channel with a time lapse of me building the first bed with a bobcat... this is all on my blog as well.... http://youtu.be/iZG4btEDpik
Thanks for letting me share, good luck and just go with it, anything is better than nothing!
Zach Jones (aka The Lost Geoduck)
I have been documenting it on my blog. I have been working on it for a week, a few hours each day. I am hesitant to make too many more this year until I see how they work out but I think I could make a lot of these without heavy equiptment and get some pretty impressive muscles too! The cost so far is zerpo for materials besides gas for the chain saw. I could have used a bow saw and just used smaller peieces of rotting wood on the ground of the wood lot or just used stuff already laying around in brush piles.
Thanks for your info. Theodore, where did you get the earth to cover the logs? You put on compost but was that enough along with the tailings from what looks on your blog to be a fairly shallow (8" ?) bed? Or did you transfer earth from somewhere else? You make 5x5x20 with a shovel and wheel barrow sound like a health club deal. <g>
I used the dirt that was under two different compost piles, plus I did some edging along a different bed and ened up with some turf type stuff and put that on upside down. Its all done now and I have at least 3" of topsoil in most places. Oh, and alpaca manure.
We invited friends and had about a dozen folks here to help. We started at 9am. The excavator dug the first trench about 3' deep and 4' wide. We kept the precious topsoil in a separate row so it could go on top when we filled back in. Soon as he got out of the way of one section a distance, we started filling the trench in with logs (carried by the front end loader), branches, upside down sod, manured straw from the cow barn. After we filled that in, the excavator came by behind us and filled the rest of the trench in with the topsoil. The timing worked out really well. There was always an area to work on by both people and the excavator. When we got a bit behind humanly, the excavator guy offered to carry the branch pile down the hill to the site with the excavator. THAT saved us a LOT of time and once he dumped the branches in, he tamped them down, too, so they fit into the hole.
We had a break for lunch (homemade chili, cornbread, huge garden salad) and lively conversation, then went back to work. Once we finished filling everything in (we were TIRED!) late in the afternoon, most of the volunteers went home and we started planting fruit trees in the beds. We planted semi-dwarf apples 12' apart, also peaches, an apricot, pineapple guava and a fig at the western end of the bed. Along the sides and in between the fruit trees I planted sunflowers, cane berries, root vegetables, squash and clover, phacelia, buckwheat for bee forage.
Lots is already coming up, looks good. Cost was $500 for the excavator. The rest was all labor and thank goodness we have good friends around.
Many prep hours went into collecting logs and branches this year and the week before, moving a few small trees that were in the way. The only thing problem we had was the layout of the beds. We had them curved along the terrain, like two parallel smiles, but the excavator guy couldn't quite get that they were curved by intention so he kept straightening out our line. So they came out straighter than we'd like. We have plans to do one more bed each fall and spring over the next few years until the whole south pasture is hugeled. I took photos and will see if I can post them here soon.
I have also done them by hand, but here in our clay, it takes forever to dig by hand. So, I prefer an animal.
We also let our pigs into areas, and they dig things up and make big terraces, especially around trees. They are pretty efficient with digging, but they don't tend to dig in a line, like for a swale. I guess you could make a moveable pen and they could move along digging up some every day.
I tried an experiment last summer where where I moved them to a small pasture. Before moving them, I trimmed the trees and layed the branches along the contours, kind like the start of a hugel bed. Sure enough, they went under the trees and push the dirt downhill against the branches, and made some decent terraces. That took almost no $$$ and very little effort on my part.
If I were to do it again, I'd confine them to smaller spaces, right where I wanted them to dig.
Costs are between $200-$1500/km or $0.05-$0.15m2 of swale (4-10m width respectively from top to toe)
from a pdf posted by neil bertrando on this here thread on permies: http://www.permies.com/t/16470/permaculture/Keyline-questions