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New Property - Getting Started

 
Posts: 14
Location: NE Washington, Zone 6a
6
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Hi folks!

I just bought on a handful of acres in NE WA. My plan is to turn it into a homestead/food forest/permaculture experiment lab, and I'm going to try to chronicle that here for those who may be interested. I may have more inspiration than caution though, so this could turn out to be a hilarious (or embarrassing) comedy of errors (or pain). :D Here we go...

Most of the land is treed, sloped, and south-facing. I developed some big plans for it initially (swales and terraces for the open areas, the locations of lots of structures), but they all kind of fell away the more I was out there. I need to spend a lot more time on the land before finalizing plans for any big changes to the topography. That said, I still went ahead and ordered hops and fruit trees and bushes and have been waiting gleefully for the local nursery to open. Fruit is happening no matter what. I'm also getting seedlings from a local conservation district because I love larch and cedar and there's precious little of it on the property at present. I put together a bamboo order too, but am wavering on whether to go ahead at this time. I love the picture I have in my head of a bamboo grove in the snow next winter... Wow, I just convinced myself! Looks like I'm going ahead with it now. Hahaha!  

There's a very sunny acre or so of what used to be farmed land. Right now, it's mostly growing spotted knapweed. If knapweed is your thing, you'd love this field! I want to plant some of my larch seedlings and other things in there, but I'll need to address the monocrop first to give the larch a fighting chance. I prefer hand tools so I ordered a scythe with a bush blade today, as the standing knapweed is last year's dead, woody growth. I'm expecting a step learning curve, a sore back, and a great deal of satisfaction when that knapweed is mowed down for the first time. :D Then I imagine I'll need to get another blade for this year's new, tender growth. Since it's been seeding itself unchecked for years, I'm not willing to spray, and there's no cheap and easy access to enough chemical-free mulch to smother it, I'll probably be mowing knapweed in this field for a good 8-10 years, or until I have enough other plants growing in there to out-compete it.  

Another early project is fencing an annual garden and getting in the early varieties. It may be a year or two before I can live on the property full time, but I'm desperate for a garden so that's going in asap. We have deer and elk in the area so it's going to take some experimentation to see what works. Apparently, Fish & Wildlife told a local farmer he'd need to build a 12' fence to keep the elk out, but there are about 100 things I'd try before resorting to that. What an eyesore and expense a 12' fence would be!

I live a few miles away and my biggest early challenges are likely to be 1) not neglecting my day job, and 2) storing my tools. A storage container may be the answer to the latter. In the meantime, there's a shovel, hatchet, and misc gardening tools in my living room. And soon, there'll be a scythe, and about 80 conifer seedlings that I'll need to get in the ground asap.

In talking with the county, I understood that building a permitted dwelling that meets the WA energy codes was likely to be my biggest hurdle when it comes to the legal bits. Apparently, the WA energy codes are ridiculously strict, so much so that by following them, you can end up with a structure so airtight that it's really unhealthy for the inhabitants. If anyone is WA has encountered issues or solutions related to this, I'd love to hear about your experience.

As for other structures, as long as you're not living in it, this county will let you build something up to 600ft2 (including any decks) without a permit. They just require site analysis (the location plotted on a sketch of the property) for these non-dwelling structures, which is great because I expect to build a lot of these for different uses: weaving studio, chapel/meditation space, root cellar, etc. The guy at the county was really laid back and even gave me a heads up about inviting folks on to my property. He said there are some neighbors who check out what you're doing and then go straight home, pick up the phone, and complain to the county. I imagine I could build whatever I like and live in it without issue, but as soon as someone complains to the county, they have to enforce the rules and I'd be in hot water. So, I'll probably err on the side of keeping it legal. But that's fine. I can build a very small (small = less expensive), permitted house as my dwelling, but then have a bunch of accessory buildings that aren't required to meet those strict codes. It also sounds like the minimum size for a dwelling is essentially being eliminated soon. Apparently there are tiny house provisions in the soon-to-be-adopted building codes. This is great news for folks like me who prefer smaller homes and their smaller cost.

I'll likely still be on the hook for a septic system and well unless I want a big fight with the health department. I think there are loopholes if you can demonstrate the hardship of establishing these systems is too great, but that battle may not be worth it to me to fight. If anyone in Ferry, Stevens, or Pend Oreille County, WA has any experience with this and the NE Tri County Health District, please do share.

Happy growing, folks!

Heather
 
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Posts: 585
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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Congratulations! You appear to be very clear headed, despite your dreams, kudo's.

You are right to hold off until you really familiarize yourself with the property in all seasons, waiting is "painful" but saves a ton in time and effort when you don't have to rip out and redo stuff later. If possible, an RV or some such basic living accommodations so you can learn the land would be the first step.

Any chance you can use goats or some such creatures to deal with the knotweed (not sure about toxicity concerns) rather than scythe? Would be MUCH less labor intensive.

When you build (as a Canadian west coaster) overbuild for that once or twice a year nasty, wet snowfall - within 5 yrs you WILL experience a 2 foot building crushing dump.

Good luck!
 
Heather Davies
Posts: 14
Location: NE Washington, Zone 6a
6
2
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Thanks for the good wishes, Lorinne! I've thought about living there in an RV, but the cost of one could be about the same as building an "office", so I'll probably go with the office. I need a more permanent structure I can put electricity and internet in so I can work out there. That'll be what enables me to live on the property, though not necessarily legally. I've even thought about putting the office on skids so I can move it if I don't like the original location. I'll have to look into that more seriously, and for a way to disguise that it's skiddable. But I figured if I'm already building this office, I might was well build it to code, permit it as a dwelling, and live there legally. It's a tough nut to crack. We'll see how it shakes out.  

I'd love to have some goats but there's no infrastructure for them yet and even if there was, with the big cats in the area, I wouldn't want domestic animals out there unless I was also out there to keep an eye on them. So to paraphrase Sepp Holzer, I have to do the goats' work. And I did read that spotted knapweed is toxic to livestock in large quantities, if they'll even eat it.  

You're right about the snow! This county gets more snow than most in E WA and it's heavy. I'm definitely building for it, and getting myself a roof rake.  
 
Posts: 85
Location: Franklinton, NC
4
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You can find free mulch, my stepfather does. The tree cutting services love having places to dump all of their excess mulch, and he now has more than he knows what to do with. You've got more ... and vinegar than I do, and I'm younger than you! I tried push mowing and eventually threw in the towel and got a gas mower, tried hand sawing, eventually got a chainsaw (and haven't looked back!). Ive been eyeing the echo brushcutters for all the vines infesting the front of my lot; one of these would make mince pie of all those weeds you got. Somebody else said it and I'll repeat it: your body is the finest and most expensive tool you have, so don't abuse it! I prefer hand tools as well, and even tried to push mow my home lot for several years, but it takes its toll.
Ditto on the insanity of the uber energy-efficient homes. Great places to suffocate as all the new stuff off gasses, or wreck your health when the toxic mold develops! I once had my 90 degree pipe connector come loose from the straight pipe (this winter, in fact). Were my home as energy efficient as these insane codes demand, I wouldn't even be writing this because I would be dead!
Vivian Poore wrote a very sensible book on what a healthy home is and isn't in his (very) old book "Rural Hygiene". It still holds true today.
Consider a fig bush if your climate can handle it. They are hardy, giving, and absolutely beautiful in the summer. And here's a forum for your small cabin dreams: https://www.small-cabin.com/forum/
 
Heather Davies
Posts: 14
Location: NE Washington, Zone 6a
6
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forest garden fiber arts homestead
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Thanks for the resources, Joe. I'll check them out.

I've thought about getting mulch from tree companies, but a) my place is way out in the sticks where folks just burn giant slash piles instead of having trimmings hauled away, and b) I don't want to import any persistent chemicals. I've heard some bad stories about years of dead gardens from accidentally doing that. I'm more likely to buy rolls of organic hay or straw, but I'd still want to chop down the knapweed first. And don't get me wrong, I'm definitely getting a chainsaw for my woods if my back can handle it. But for that field, it's got to be the scythe. I don't have the means to store a mower, nor any interest in using one. They're too loud for too long, and they kick up so much dust. I also imagine one would do a great job of spreading knapweed seed. A scythe is just so cool! I can use it in areas a piece of machinery won't work well (like a large, waterlogged and overgrown swampy area with grasses taller than me in the summer) and, as a bonus, I'll be all set for Halloween and terrifying any ne'er-do-wells. If all else fails, I'll try to hire a sturdy younger person at a fair wage to wield it for me.

I'm likely going to have to build a sickeningly efficient little house that I air out daily for safety, regardless of the weather. My (amorphous) plan has me building some earthbag structures that may turn out to be my real dwelling. I'm thinking earthen floor and plaster and no off-gassing VOCs. Insulating them in this climate will be a challenge though.

I tried growing a fig up here years ago and it didn't make it. I do love them though so I'll look into better varieties for this area. Thanks for the recommendation!
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Posts: 585
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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IF goats could be used I was thinking more of renting, borrowing or trading pasture clearing.

COLLECTION OF RANDOM THOUGHTS:

Perhaps put the "office" on wheels? Use a flat deck trailer? Along the lines of portable tiny homes but very basic.

Put some $$$ out for a solid "driveway" or road, it's one of those things that you use daily, but don't think about.

Watch and carefully note water paths/collection spots come fall/winter. This will show where NOT to put gardens or structures, and where to divert or collect it. Harnessing water is always better than fighting it.

On the flip side, think about forest fires and fire safety. Consider a rainwater cistern and to feed an exterior sprinkler system or for fire fighters to draw from. Clear dead fall and brush. Ensure buildings are in clearings and sided/roofed in metal, cement or other non flammable materials.

As you will not likely have power, look into the Mr. Beams collection of battery operated motion lights. The even have a linked system that when one is triggered, all on that link light up. Great for coming home in the dark or as a wildlife alert system. I've used them for ages, we replace the three D-cells about twice a year.  They can be pricey, but often go on sale on Amazon.ca - $25 each (could be a two, three or six pack) Canadian. They stand up well in the pouring rain! They throw a ton of light and shut off after no movement for 60 seconds (conserving battery life.

I also use solar "fairy or string lights" for pathways, driveways etc.

IF you cook with propane, camping style, you can get an inexpensive "pole" that attaches to the top of the bottle! It splits the propane to three nipples. Pop a light on top and hook up a camp stove and BBQ. Instant kitchen, albeit outdoors.

I suspect you may find a host of uses for tarps, don't get the blue or green ones; there are clear/translucent ones that filter but don't cut out all the light. White ones are also brighter. There are also heavy duty grey/silver ones that will last WAY longer and be sturdier - worth the investment.

Winches, pulleys and come-alongs are your best friends.

REALLY GOOD RUBBER BOOTS!



 
pollinator
Posts: 1783
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Adding to the tips;

- I use white stones on walking paths so I can see then at night with just a little moon light.
- If you do lay out a drive, use big rock, 1 1/2 inch as the first layer and let your traffic push it down.
- There is nothing wrong with airtight buildings, just make sure you have an air transfer system that captures heat.
- If your mower is throwing up dust, you are not cutting grass.

 
Heather Davies
Posts: 14
Location: NE Washington, Zone 6a
6
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forest garden fiber arts homestead
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:IF goats could be used I was thinking more of renting, borrowing or trading pasture clearing.

COLLECTION OF RANDOM THOUGHTS:

...



There are some interesting ideas in there and thanks for your input. To clarify, I'm not new to homesteading, just this property, so I have experience getting things up and running.

The property has a well established driveway that I'll likely continue to use. If so, one project will be to get it graded and graveled.

I plan to collect rainwater from roofs, but I haven't decided how to store it. I may bury a cistern but it will probably be IBC totes initially.

I'm on the fence about the lighting. On one hand, I love the dark in an area with little light pollution, but a well-lit path is so nice! So, I'll probably go with lighting that I can turn on when I want it, but off when I don't.
 
Heather Davies
Posts: 14
Location: NE Washington, Zone 6a
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forest garden fiber arts homestead
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John C Daley wrote:Adding to the tips;

- I use white stones on walking paths so I can see then at night with just a little moon light.
- If you do lay out a drive, use big rock, 1 1/2 inch as the first layer and let your traffic push it down.
- There is nothing wrong with airtight buildings, just make sure you have an air transfer system that captures heat.
- If your mower is throwing up dust, you are not cutting grass.



Hi John,

White stones are a good idea for seeing at night, but I'm not a fan of their appearance. Where I've seen them used in this area, they stick out like a sore thumb, which may be the point. :D

Heather
 
John C Daley
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Posts: 1783
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Fair point about appearance, just change the way they are used.
My paths are about 12 inches wide with a single or thin layer of stones.
They dont roll under your feet and really stand out at night.
 
Joe Banks
Posts: 85
Location: Franklinton, NC
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For a drive lit by the moon I've never found anything better than oyster shells, for the prettiness of them as well as what they add to the soil, as well as the pleasing crunching sound they make as you drive over them. Unfortunately, my oyster shucking days are over.
 
Everyone is a villain in someone else's story. Especially this devious tiny ad:
Building Your Permaculture Property | Free Permaculture Summit | April 23-25
https://permies.com/t/159045/Building-Permaculture-Property-Free-Permaculture
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