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Help to choose between 3 lots (woodland, pasture-farmland, clearcut)

 
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I'm facing urgent choice between 3 types of land lots available...
I'm a 100% newbie to anything that has to do with converting woodland to pasture and need help with understanding this.

My goal is to have about 10-15 acres land with some (few acres) of: garden, goat/sheep pasture. The rest would be woods and privacy around the cabin I put on it. Can't wait years for pasture, need soon. Ideally the more pasture the better but I only plan to keep a couple of goats and may be a couple of more sheep, nothing major. Locations in Kentucky.

Lot 1 available: flat farmland, now mostly weeds, low elevation. Offers little privacy for the dwelling but I guess can grow shrubs and trees for that and ready pasture once it's mowed.  I don't like the location nearly as much as other 2 lots, but it's ready usable land.


Lot 2 available: wooded (hardwoods), some trees are mature, a foot or more in diameter, but a lot of very thin trees too (most trees are quite young), underneath them are just dry leaves, rolling terrain with a small area of grassy flat land near the road.
I would need to clear at least a couple of acres for pasture. How long would it take to convert the woods into pasture?
Would I need to pull out stamps, really?
I don't want to clear cut all and want to keep few bigger trees that look nice, but logging company would probably require clear cut if I want it done for free - ?
Realtor mentioned something about mulching.
Does bulldozing destroy the soil? I read about logging companies stripping topsoil.
And basically how long would it take to get pasture grass growing there and what's the fastest way?

Lot 3
available: clearcut, mountainous terrain with some flat/rolling areas.  I like this lot the best because of the great views for cabin site and privacy due to terrain. Concern: things don't seem to be growing on it!
This lot has a patch of forest, but the rest was clear cut 2 years ago. Some areas were cleared of wood debris and bulldozed for building and garden, but the rest have wood debris, I have pictures.
I don't really see grasses or shrubs taking on despite it being cut 2 years ago. Even the logging roads and bulldozed areas don't have things growing.
This concerns me.
I know in Kentucky vegetation usually springs up like a wild jungle, at least in palces I stayed at before, and this lot doesn't get overgrown for 2 years.
Some parts have dead trees laying but I don't see things springing up there.
The owner supposedly seeded grass in bulldozed areas but seeds were "washed off by heavy rains"
What would be the reason for nothing really growing?  - should it be a concern with this lot?
Chemicals applied by the logging company?
Bad soils/removal of top soil? (I do have pictures of that)
Does it just take a long time in Appalachia for things to grow (it's 1500 elevation)?

Please help me make a decision.
Avoiding to pay big bucks for land conversion is a factor, I could be willing be pay the max of 5K but not 10K or more.

 
master gardener
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ann kat wrote:
Lot 2 available: wooded (hardwoods), some trees are mature, a foot or more in diameter, but a lot of very thin trees too (most trees are quite young), underneath them are just dry leaves, rolling terrain with a small area of grassy flat land near the road.
I would need to clear at least a couple of acres for pasture. How long would it take to convert the woods into pasture?
Would I need to pull out stamps, really?
I don't want to clear cut all and want to keep few bigger trees that look nice, but logging company would probably require clear cut if I want it done for free - ?
Realtor mentioned something about mulching.
Does bulldozing destroy the soil? I read about logging companies stripping topsoil.
And basically how long would it take to get pasture grass growing there and what's the fastest way?
[b]



Welcome to Permies!!

I would suggest choosing lot 2.
My reasons would be;
-Clearing areas for pasture would not be terribly hard. You can always do a section at a time, and than fence it as you go.
-Having growing forest around you is a great value, various materials to be had. Potential protection from wind. The trees will keep growing and become more usable over time. Whether for house heat or lumber making or hugulekulture , among other uses.
-In my opinion there would not need to be a need for a logging company to come in. Everything can happen slow and steady
- Leave the stumps in my opinion. They will just do there thing, trees/shrubs will grow out of them. Maybe removing stumps around your house perhaps.?

i am not 100% sure on the turn around time for the pasture. I imagine the goats would love eating in shrubby small tree land. Unless your goats are afraid of eating shrubs? and only want to eat grass? My goats love eating shrubs which are at head height. Completely stepping over any grass.


I would be hesitant to pursue the logging company route. From your description, the trees are small. It sounds like a small cordless electric chainsaw would do most of what you require.


I would love to be in your situation. My goats would love it how it is. The goats can clear the underbrush, than be moved and than you can come in and open up the area to allow more shrubs to grow.

anyways i need to go milk my goat.

Good luck.
 
ann kat
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Thanks for the reply. I have to say that my timeframe is small as I have no certainty about the future. I might expect to sell the place in 2-3 years or so and relocate.
I'd say it's almost 100% that I will move in 5 years. So I wouldn't undertake long-term projects that wouldn't provide good return upon resale of the place.
Immediate benefits I think are more important to me.

I heard some opinions that woods take 40-60 years to be converted into pasture...others said it's 3 years...it's very confusing.
Goats, though - yes, they supposedly should be able to enjoy the brush around the cut and not need the nice grass pasture.

It's a good point about trees providing for various uses and wind protection (and privacy).
I have to say there's not much under brush in the woods in Lot 2 (just like in all woods around that mountainous part of Kentucky). It's pretty clear underneath the trees.
I reviewed Lot 2 photos and you're right I think it'd be hard to get lumber company interested unless they'd want to take exactly the few mature trees I want to keep, I'd mostly want the small ones gone.

I'm puzzled by things seemingly not growing in Lot 3 (that was clearcut 2 years ago). I heard clearcut areas start overgrowing next year.
There's one area where brush grows wildly and probably had been there for a long time but other areas don't have much stuff growing. Which made me think initially that it was clearcut just recently and was shocked to find out it was 2 years ago. Even the dirt roads cut into hillside for logging look like they're brand new... how is this possible?
Any idea why this likely be happening?
I attach one of the photos of Lot 3, nothing grown in 2 years in some places that got bulldozed. Normally, things grow wildly in KY. 2nd photo shows bulldozed area where grass seeds were supposedly washed off by rains. I'm not sure I can believe the seller. Also attach the road picture from Lot 3, with nothing growing on it.
 
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I vote with Jordan for #2 - but the short time frame is hard for us on permies to cope with!  The 2-3 year, even 5 year window  makes it really hard to rationalize making long term plans and investments in earthworks, soil improvement, etc.

My experience is that standing pasture has been "mined" and is probably marginal soil.  On the clear cut site , there is a possibility that local practice is to just nuke the site with herbicides to prevent new growth from interfering with replanted trees.  Or the soil is just really bad.  or both.  My best soil is in the orchard and anywhere with trees - its amazing how quickly falling leaves and needles build soil - former pasture on the south side of the driveway has about 6" of soil and then clay while the other side, an apple orchard, has two to three feet of dark soil.

On #2, converting to "pasture" is ver different from converting to "field".  A pasture needs to be clear enough that you can broadcast some seed - so you can cut and haul, leave stumps - and those stumps might sprout and produce a lot of browse for goats.  Converting to a field  that you can use industrial tractor-style practices is an entirely different affair!  Looking around this site you'll also see that there is a LOT that you can do with small, thinned trees.

But the time frame ... I'd ask how quickly you can build your cabin on the sites, availability of water, power, etc.



 
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When choosing land many factors need considered such as price, price per acre, amount of relatively flat (usable) land, location from a major road, distance to work, neighbors, existing infrastructure, etcetera. I personally would not base a buying decision solely off wooded/cleared unless the lots were very similar otherwise.

That said, having large stumps dug from a densely wooded forest is expensive per acre. Trees can be planted relatively inexpensively, as long as you aren't in a rush for mature trees. Having an excavator make flat spots out of slopes can be expensive.
 
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My vote is for Lot 3.

From an ethics perspective, a permaculturist would probably advise to "leave the forests be" and focus on rehabilitation of marginalized land rather than subduing a mostly stable system.  So that pushes away Lot 2, just a little bit.

Although Lot 1 is probably quickest for converting to pasture and therefore achieving your goals, you say you don't like the location of it as much as the others.  

Lot 3 has diversity of terrain, and you sound like you're drawn to its character and soul, with the exception of "why aren't things growing?"  While I suspect it will be harder to establish pasture quickly compared with Lot 1 due to Lot 3's dead soil food web, I think you would likely enjoy being there more, due to privacy and views, and the land's character.  And if you like it more you'll be there more, and if you're there more, you will achieve more.

The Permaculture "Life Intervention Principle" states:

"In chaos lies unparalleled opportunity for imposing creative order."

The amount of good that you can do on that property is exciting to me.
 
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I would take lot 2 without question. It appears to have the most available options.  It also has options for wood heat ..it is not clear if the others enjoy this.  In terms of available pasture. It sounds as if the goats will be able to deal with this in a few years.  To me, land that does not grow anything is a serious concern
 
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Assuming all the properties are of equal size and price, I'd prefer #1.  It may have less privacy now, but it's pretty easy to get fast-growing N-fixing trees/shrubs (Black Locust, autumn olive) or tall grasses (bamboo, elephant grass) for privacy (and of course there are slower-growing, more easily-managed options too).  The flat land may mean you have less erosion and better soil, as opposed to land with steep hills. And the flatness may also make it easier to move machinery and build ponds.

You will not have the timber/firewood from #2, but it may be easier to establish annual crops, pasture animals, and set up infrastructure.  My own land is sort of like your #2, and while the firewood is nice, its hilly and taking forever to seed and transition over to savanah from forest ecosystem.  

It sounds like #3 may have all its soil eroded from the hilly terrain and clearcut; hence no new growth.
 
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If you think there is a chance you might want to move in a few years, i think #2 is your best choice. Goats certainly would browse quite happily among the trees. Just make a little clearing for your house and outbuildings and whatever garden space you need, and put up fences and let the livestock clear the rest of the land for you. You may want to do a little selective clearing and plant some grass and legumes for grazing animals if you have critters other than goats. But you don't need to plow for that. Depending on the size of the property you could probably just plant with seed balls.

It sounds like you don't like #1 all that much. This is going to be a big project no matter which property you choose, and I think your best chance of success is to pick a site that you really care about. The things that annoy you about site 1 are probably just going to annoy you more over time and you may start wondering why you are bothering to go to all this trouble in a place that bugs you. At least I know that's how my mind works. Again, if you think you might need to move soon, you won't have time for the trees you planted to grow up. The lot will look unfinished and probably not be as valuable when it comes time to sell as lot #2.

The #3 property is probably the biggest time commitment. We recently bought property that sounds like your #3, but that was a personal choice because we were specifically looking for a place that needed a regenerative project and had a long time frame in mind. I don't think you would have time to improve #3 enough to see the results in a few years, so that is a problem in terms of getting results for yourself as well as potential resale value if you had to move soon. We are in the coastal Pacific Northwest (where normally the trees grow fast and big like nowhere else I've ever lived) and after approximately 4-5 years since the clearcut, there is only a limited regeneration of the original forest at our new place. And the soil, which was reported some years ago by the provincial soil survey as sandy loam, has become loamy sand on the slope as much of the smaller loam particles got carried downhill due to erosion after the soil disturbance. So I would say yes, most likely the same thing happened at your #3. We plan to improve the soil but it will likely be a long term project. We weren't too concerned about that since this is going to be a multigenerational farm and my daughter who is my co-farmer is 21 and intends to make this her long term home. Our plan for the site involves installation of swales, planting a lot of trees and perennial polycultures, and mob grazing of livestock to restore the soil. I'm not sure how many acres you are considering (sorry, maybe that was in your post but if so I have forgotten) but for anything more than a fairly small place this is probably more than you want to get into unless you have a tractor or excavator and can do a lot of the work yourself. So far, at our place, my daughter and her partner have put 200 hours on my tractor so that's 400 hours of work (since the second person is working the same hours as the one on the tractor) plus a lot of hours with both of them running chainsaws in the past 3 months, and have just started to make a dent in the cleanup of logging debris; haven't gotten to any swales or planting yet, no fences, built 2 gates, a small storage shed and an outhouse, and rebuilt some eroded driveway. Call it 600 person-hours but I think it's probably more. I suspect that many hours at your #2 property would probably accomplish a lot of what you want to do there and have it pretty well set up, other than your house and buildings.
 
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Didn't read all the posts but goats are browsers not grazers and are better off "pastured" in wooded areas as long as there is green biomass within their reach. They will clear and open up the woods. Feed them hay in the woods and throw grass seed down for them to trample into the soil. Then you will have a shaded pasture.
 
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For the length of time you are considering, I would just buy whichever one I liked best.  If you like #3, I'd say go for it.  A few years isn't really enough time to get anything established honestly.  You can spend a lot of time and money trying to make #1 wooded, and you'll never see it anywhere near wooded.  #2, which would be my choice, would take a few years to clear of trees and decent pasture going.  #3 sounds like it would be a really nice place to live, but plan on years to get some good soil built.

None of my comments are meant to be negative, but realistically, permie things happen more slowly than the amount of time you have allotted, in my opinion.  For that time frame, I would buy the one I liked and wanted to live on, and just enjoy it while you are there.  You can make a garden pretty much anywhere, so you can do that on any of them.
 
Andrea Locke
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Yes, I agree with Trace. Go with your heart.

And I just wanted to add a note to my comments on regeneration/restoration of our site similar to your #3. It's 4-5 years post logging, with soil having eroded and transitioned from sandy loam to loamy sand, no soil amendments yet,  and in a climate that historically has grown big trees, fast : my daughter is salvaging douglas firs out of the area where we will plant nut trees and they are of a size that easily fits into gallon pots.
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