I’m a city girl that bought a 10 acre plot in southeast Idaho USDA zone 5 that has the river at the back, a spring fed pond at the front and an acre of marsh that goes across the property close ish to the river. I have no idea how to tell topography or grades of slopes or get how to do swales or any of that - but I am seriously attempting to build a food forest homestead. I am new to the Idaho zone 5 and the short growing season and harsh winters. I’d love to hear from you seasoned pros! Would you grow on both sides of the acre marsh land? It lies north to south. Tips on figuring out my grades? I’m down in a valley from the highway, have a hill and some slopes (the property seems to all slope from the highway[west side] to the river on the east. I tried row gardening the last two years and between ignorance on my part as to seed starting and hardening off , no green house or windows, and my prior failures at keeping the livestock fenced in properly (finally got that figured out!! ) all my fruit and veg amd everything I planted was eaten, trampled, killed or died. Most of the property was an alfalfa field- I have some old plum trees that line a tiny creek, one Russian olive that is in a spot that doesn’t help anything ( behind a culvert at the bottom of one of the driveway slopes where only weeds have ever been growing ) - there is one ornamental crabapple, amd a few tall Juniper trees I think- that are too close to the house for my taste, but are for windbreaks/ anyway I’d love your thoughts and input!! I have some trees, shrubs herbs and vines ordered for spring- but every time I think I have a plan, I second guess myself.
Wow -- that's a lot of information and a lot of variables, so forgive me if my response is pretty general.
1. I would start by mapping the property. Walk it daily, and get a sense for the topography, the slope, the soil, hydrology, moisture, etc. 10 acres is a lot of land, and you will most likely be using only an acre or two (at least initially) to grow your food. Once you've mapped your property, pick the best spot to start your garden and expand outward from there.
2. You describe your property as sloping from west to east, so it will get decent morning sun. Look for a south facing hill with minimal slope for your primary garden and orchard. Being all the way up in Idaho, you will want to maximize your sun exposure and frost-free days. A south-facing slope will warm up sooner in spring and stay warmer later into the fall. But too much slope will make it difficult to work.
3. Start small and just look to have a couple of wins the first year. Better to be successful with something small than to try to bite off more than you can chew. You mention that previous efforts have all been eaten or stomped. Fencing and other forms of protection are probably your first order of business. If you can safely contain (for example) a quarter of an acre, (about 100 feet by 100 feet) that would grow a lot of food.
4. Don't start planting trees until you've got a good sense for how you want the entire property to be laid-out. The permaculture principle here is that you work in order of greatest permanence. That means swales and water-features, roads and other hardscaping, and fencing all go in before you establish trees and non-permanent plants. I wish I had taken a few years to have a better sense of my property before I started dropping trees in the ground.
5. It's never too soon to start building soil. Simple strategies like mulching (wood chips, if you can get them), cover-cropping, building compost piles, and raised beds (so you can focus your soil enhancement in a very tightly focused space) are all ways to jump-start your soil.
Best of luck.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Walk it daily, and get a sense for the topography, the slope, the soil, hydrology, moisture, etc.
That is what we did with our 40 acres on top of a mountain.
I also wanted to learn about all my edible vegetation. That how I found permies while looking to ID plants.
I recommend looking at native plants for Idaho. What native plants are edible? Which ones grow in the shade and which ones grow in the sun? Which ones will grow once established without you having to water them?
Invasive plants are Earth's way of insisting we notice her medicines. Stephen Herrod Buhner
Everyone learns what works by learning what doesn't work. Stephen Herrod Buhner
First step in any battle is to reccognize the terrain features. If I were in your place, I'd start by getting the facts.
1. Climate. Learn about your rainfall, temperatures, sun hours, humidity, et cetera, along the year.
2. Know your slopes. Less than 5% is flat, between 5 and 15 % is workable, more than that it's orchard or wilderness type.
3. Earth composition. Pick a few jars and look at the contents of your dirt in several places. Mix your dirt with water and let it decant for 24 hours, then measure layers. Too sandy it will not hold water. Too clayey it will risk flooding.
4. Local species. The local weeds will tell you a lot about your soil, but you have to watch it for a whole year. Which wild animals may be an issue.
5. Water. Watch for streams, potential erosion and good places for water retention. Your land is so big that you could benefit from a pond (or several ones).
6. Winds. Learn about the dominant winds, their risks, and how to prevent them.
7. Fire hazard. Imagine yourself a flame that wants to spread and destroy everything around. Flames love dry organic matter and air, and hate open spaces and water.
8. Interesting features in place. Are there some big rocks? Fences? A well? Pathways? Find them all, and check their current state.
9. Might sound weird, but also try to learn about your surrounding community, where they sell useful stuff, who are skilled people around in case you need to hire someone and who can assist you with the local practices. No one knows the terrain better than the local farmers. You don't have to do things like they do, but their knowledge is golden.
10. Do some 'market reseach', see what you can provide to your community better than what it currently has. Maybe you want to raise pigs, but ducks would sell better. Find out your options for selling your produce.
Once you know what you are really into, then identify what actions are required in order of importance. As Banks says, working first with the more permanent features is wise, but it depends on your budget. Permaculture is about designing in a way that mother Nature makes the biggest part of your work. Think of a plant that thrives in flat land, but you plant it in a sloped terrain, then you have to work a lot to make that plant perform. But if instead of fighting against the nature of your plant, you form terraces out of your slope, then you are providing the conditions that your plant needs to thrive itself. You can select growing species that adapt best to your terrain or you might work on changing your terrain so it can support other species, or both. Constant watering, constant pest control and constant weed removal is fighting against Nature, so if you think you end up doing only that, then you are doing it wrong.
You have received some good advice. I lived in nothern MN for a number of years. I think zone 3. Anyway, get a high tunnel. It will extend your growing season by 2 months minimum. I have a 12 x 24 or so in southern illinois and love it. I use raised beds 2 ft tall. Compostingstraw helps to raise the temp a little as does about 200 gallons of water. In the end. It can handle temps down to about 22 degrees. I am still having fresh salads.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. Mark Twain
Food for thought ... in the Cleveland area I encountered someone growing fruit trees in a high tunnel of their own design. What caught my attention was how tall it was. I did not have the opportunity to discuss how they kept it from over heating in the summer or pollination issues.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. Mark Twain
The best advice I can give you is to use the permaculture zones. Start at the house (zone 1) and move outward. I didn't, and it came back to haunt me and made me start over in a lot of ways. If you start small and start at the house, you avoid the problem of biting off more then you can chew, jumping around, and by the time you get back to the first thing, it's been overrun by weeds or some other issue. I have redone the same area several times due to not starting small and working outward. If you start close to your house, you're much more likely to stay on top of those things as you work outward, simply because you pass them constantly. You'll also get to enjoy what you did more, for the same reason. You see those areas every time you leave, and every time you come home. If you start a guild, for instance, somewhere far from your house and then move onto another project, there is a very good chance you'll end up with a tree that has weeds around it, and little else. Ten acres is a lot to maintain once it's done. You may find that you can do everything you want, and are able, to do on an acre or two, and the rest can be minimally maintained, or just left alone and enjoyed. If that is the case, you'll probably appreciate the acre you "create" being the acre you have the most contact with.
So much to think about that I hadn’t known to thick about! Predators, I have a lot of deer, magpies, skunks and voles, lots of other birds. I do have some ducks and a goose and one pond. The pig farming isn’t for me- I tried that but they got so big I couldn’t keep them in. One of my neighbors said when I went to work the hogs would leave my place amd go wandering onto other properties rooting up their places so they ended up in the freezer lol. I ok do the soil I jars test that would be helpful! I’m really not sure how to make the acre marshland into a harmonious feature! So far I’ve seen mullein and poison sumac, lots of cattails, some wild roses, Canadian thistle, dyers wode, and I have yet to identify most other natural plant life. Surrounding areas have lots of sagebrush. I love getting to know the locals, who are all about cattle ranching. I’ve put out feelers for wood chips, saw dust and compost and will be starting my own compost but in the mean time found a place I can get a ton at a time to get that part going. Thank you for reigning me in too- on starting on a smaller scale- I did order quite a bit that I’ll have to plant in spring so I’m sure I did already bite off more than I chew which is sadly kind of my nature- I always jump in with both feet! I was so excited when a light bulb went off when I was trying to figure out what to do about the shady areas under all those junipers surrounding the house and I stumbled across guilds. I absolutely love working with nature rather than fighting the whole way! I’ll get to walking the property more, I’m not sure how to map but I know where the gently slopes are in general, and it always floods in the marsh acre. So much to consider!! Thank you all again!!
Although this (and much I will mention) has been covered, in my opinion it is THE most critical first step so I am reinforcing "Learn (map) your Land".
Google earth, find a local pilot or drone flyer, walk the land, search for topography maps....
Set up camera traps to learn who shares the land with you, learn the game trails (avoid gardening in the deer meadow, for example). Learn the land in all FOUR seasons. Wet in winter could be dry in summer; wind can really shorten your growing season, as can the cast of shadow from nearby trees... Speak to local conservation/Fish and Game type officials to learn which predators/critters are most abundant/likely to cause issues. Ask at your local Feed store who has mastered your lifestyle best, and seek mentor ship on WHAT and HOW stuff grows best in your corner of the world. Try modern applications like FaceBook to see if there are any local permies/hobby/garden farms in close proximity. Sometimes offering free labor in exchange for learning from a local expert is worth it's weight in gold.
Think about infrastructure such as water and accessibility. Remember you are likely the fittest you will ever be, plan for when age catches up with you and carrying on like. Mountain goat becomes a safety issue.
Make sure your basics are good; clean water and soil, no toxic manufacturing nearby that will drift. Is the home sound? Mold free, snug, structurally sound? Without a safe, solid, comfortable "home base" your challenges are greater. Make sure you incorporate a plan for natural disaster such as fire, flood, tornado.
Making a massive list sounds daunting, but in the end it will allow you to prioritize what is most critical, and help create a cohesive game plan. This may feel like going backwards in some ways, but think of it more as a course correction, and a way forward that will be the most efficient use of your time and money. I am a huge fan of working smarter, not harder. Best of luck!
Lorinne Anderson: Specializing in sick, injured, orphaned and problem wildlife for over 20 years.