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Just for Fun, Permaculture Brainteaser. Part 1.  RSS feed

 
Collin Vickers
Posts: 104
Location: Rutledge, MO
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Hi Permies,

I thought it might be a fun exercise if I threw out a hypothetical scenario for everyone to bounce ideas off of. The concept is to review a set of parameters outlined in the original post, decide what you would do if it was your reality, then respond with your thoughts on the techniques that you think could best be used to permaculturize fantasy land. I'll make an effort to provide as much useful information as possible, and throw in a curve ball or two. Hopefully, this will give experienced permies a place to share their wisdom, and newer folks a chance to exercise their brain muscles and apply some of the book knowledge they have learned. If there is decent response to this initial post, I'll post additional scenarious periodically in the future.

For the sake of discussion, we'll be working with our new friend here on the forums: Perma Kulcher. She's ambitious and enthusiastic, and can't wait to dive headlong into her latest project.

So, pretend you're Perma, and tell us what you would do if you were in her shoes, how you would do it, and why.

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Scenario: Perma Kulcher has made an agreement with landowners, John and Jane, near Navasota, Texas, (about forty miles from Houston, and twenty miles from College Station,) to rent twenty acres for her latest permie project - the owners are an elderly couple who used to board horses, but now that their children have grown up and moved on, they don't have much interest in managing their land anymore. The real estate market is poor in their area and they can't bear to sell it current prices, so when Perma knocked on their door and asked if she could rent some of their property, they jumped on the opportunity. She is allowed to do anything she wants on the land, as long as she doesn't pollute it, upset the neighbors, break the law or force the owners to get involved directly. Perma agreed to pay $200/month to rent the parcel.

Perma's Lifestyle: Currently, Perma is living in an apartment in College Station, about a half an hour drive from the parcel she is renting. She works part-time at a restaurant, four days a week from 5-10 p.m. She owns a 2002 honda civic and a spiffy bicycle.

Perma's Budget: $15,000 in savings and $3000 in credit with 0% APR for another six months. Perma's expenses are running close to her income, since reducing her hours at work to begin the project, so she will have to pay the price of land rent from her savings.

Land Description: Perma's 20 acres are arranged in a neat rectangle at the south edge of a large parcel. It measures 660' by 1320', with three strings of barbed wire fence on three sides and a gate that allows access to the highway.

Land History: Once upon a time the owners of the land harvested hay from the area and used it to graze horses, but it has been mostly untouched for the last twenty years.

Land Zoning and Use Restrictions: The plot is zoned for rural use, but locals are not allowed to raise swine.

Miscellaneous Resources: Near the house is an old junk pile full of rusting scrap metal, stacks of weathered lumber and other odds and ends, including an old, rotting wooden Langstroth beehive - Perma can use anything she wants. The owner's have an 8'x20' greenhouse that has fallen into disrepair, as well as an 8000 sq/ft stable, which is only used to house the owners' three horses. Perma is allowed to use the household utilities, including garbage disposal, as long as she pays for any difference in water and electricity. On property are a 20-ton Bobcat front end loader and an old Chevy pickup with a two-stall horse trailer that Perma is allowed to use, as long as she agrees to keep them fueled and in good repair, along with an assortment of common garden tools, a rotary bush hog and a 17.5 hp rider lawnmower. John has a woodshop as well, replete with various tools: a table saw, circular saw and chordless drill, nail gun and air compressor and an acetylene torch along with the customary menagerie of hand tools, all free for Perma to make use of.

Local Resources: Up the road is a small dairy farm. Most of the surrounding region is an aging ranching community, although some cotton, soy, peanuts and hay are grown conventionally nearby - in fact, one of the largest producers of certified organic grass hay in the USA is located about fifty miles away.

Weather Conditions:
- http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate.php?location=USTX0617
- Average last date of frost: March 10th
- Precipitation: ~ 40" annually
- Wind: generally from the southwest, off the gulf coast

Soil:
- PH: 7.8
- Topsoil: 6" deep, rich and full of organic material
- Subsoil: sandy

Water: The land is connected to a rural water supply - the distance from the house to Perma's plot is about a quarter mile.

People: John and Jane live by themselves on the property, but they have five grandchildren who visit occasionally, who would no doubt be keen to do some light work for Perma. One of the neighbors is notorious for calling in complaints over even the slightest code infraction, one peep out of a dog, or any other convenient excuse. Another neighbor has two teenagers, who have done odd jobs for John and Jane in the past.

Flora: The parcel is thick with a variety of grasses and herbaceous plants - sticker grass is rampant. A few tree saplings have sprung up along the boundary fences, mostly mesquites no taller than 10'. Arrowleaf clover grows in a few places.

Fauna: The landowners have three horses, which are kept close to the house and rarely venture into Perma's field. Otherwise, the owners have a dog and one guineacock, both of which also stay near the house as well. There is a large deer population in the area, along with raccoons, skunks, opossums, hawks, foxes, several species of venomous snake, and the occasional stray cat. Not surprisingly, John and Jane's nasty neighbor has two male blue heeler dogs that love to run wild in the area - they are poorly trained, and the are known to have attacked chickens in the neighborhood repeatedly.

Timescale: Perma paid her first month of rent in February and is eager to get started.

----------------------------------

There you have it, permies. I'm excited to see all the great ideas you come up with.


 
Tyler Ludens
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Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Collin Vickers wrote: She's ambitious and enthusiastic, and can't wait to dive headlong into her latest project.


Can Perma tell us what she would like to accomplish with the land? Is she interested in establishing food forests? Raising poultry? Raising dairy animals? Meat animals? Market vegetable garden? Wildlife habitat? Building a cob house? "I want it all!"? I think it is important for Perma to identify what her specific goals are, whether she as a lone person can accomplish them or if she will need help (Are the neighbor kids going to be enough help? How will she obtain additional help?), and make a design for her permaculture system with a timeline for when she wants to accomplish each goal. I think it's important for Perma to spend a good amount of time observing the land before she starts any work and to make a plan which takes the entire land into account as well as any resources entering the land from outside (such as run off). These are my initial questions and suggestions inspired by my own experience.
 
Michael James
Posts: 50
Location: Zone 5B: Grand Rapids, MI
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Collin Vickers wrote: She's ambitious and enthusiastic, and can't wait to dive headlong into her latest project.


Can Perma tell us what she would like to accomplish with the land? Is she interested in establishing food forests? Raising poultry? Raising dairy animals? Meat animals? Market vegetable garden? Wildlife habitat? Building a cob house? "I want it all!"? I think it is important for Perma to identify what her specific goals are, whether she as a lone person can accomplish them or if she will need help (Are the neighbor kids going to be enough help? How will she obtain additional help?), and make a design for her permaculture system with a timeline for when she wants to accomplish each goal. I think it's important for Perma to spend a good amount of time observing the land before she starts any work and to make a plan which takes the entire land into account as well as any resources entering the land from outside (such as run off). These are my initial questions and suggestions inspired by my own experience.


I think the point is to pretend that you are Perma. What would you do in that scenario?
 
Collin Vickers
Posts: 104
Location: Rutledge, MO
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Right, the idea is to pretend you are Perma and describe what you would do, how and why.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Ok. I have enough of that to deal with in real life, so I'll have to let someone else be Perma.

If anyone is interested in helping with improving a real world design, I'd love some help. I have a project thread linked below.
 
George Hayduke
Posts: 46
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It makes no financial sense to make capital improvements to someone else's land under a relatively short-term lease.

Here's my advice: Negotiate a lease/purchase arrangement, then worry about your permaculture design.

First thing you do after you have the right to eventually own the land: Create a water supply that relies on solar energy.
 
Nicola Marchi
Posts: 79
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If Perma has to rent the land, I'd say to run beef cattle on it to slaughter and sell.

If it's a mostly grass lot, a little money can be spent to get some GOOD movable electric fencing, and Perma might be able to rotational graze around twenty cows depending on the quality of the forage and land.

She'd have to work to make sure water's available and to move the fencing every day.

If the heat of summer is extreme around those parts it might be necessary to supplement the areas the cows will soon be moving to with a bit of water in the late afternoon.

Perma wouldn't be making crazy profit, probably almost none the first year with the costs to buy the herd (assuming she didn't want to stock, raise, and slaughter all of them), but is it worth the time to improve the land?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Will the land support twenty cows?

Here a couple hundred miles to the west of Perma's place, 20 acres might support one cow. But it rains more over there, as long as there isn't a drought......last year Navasota was in one of the worst drought-stricken areas of Texas. This year they're doing ok, I think....

 
Nicole Castle
Posts: 151
Location: Madison, AL
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I say this with all seriousness: what Perma should do is get out of her lease.

First, you don't start your new, sustainable lifestyle by getting in a car and driving for an hour several times a week.
Two, any improvements she does to the land are not hers. They belong to the owners.
Three, there's a lot of equipment to borrow, but does she know how to use it and maintain it, or is that another expense?
Four, counting on someone's kids to want to earn money is a sure bet -- expecting them to be willing to work hard at farm chores while on vacation at grandma's is a sucker bet. Heck, my neighbor's kid wants $60 to mow my lawn ONCE.
Five, she is starting off in a deficit situation with no plan. Plans fails, but her available cash resources are very slim and shrinking monthly, and she has little to no opportunity to increase her non-farm income to make up the gap.
Six, she has a known neighbor problem that directly conflicts with the lifestyle she wants to lead.

... and so on. $200 a month is not a bargain in this circumstance. Perma has $15k in the bank. She doesn't need to get wrapped up in a situation that drains that nest egg without a viable plan to turn a profit very soon.

Here's what Perma should do instead:
1) get the elderly couple to pay her a stipend to manage and work the land for them, with bonuses for generating income for the couple
or
2) buy a vacant lot near where she already has access to work and work on improving that as an urban farm
or
3) develop a secondary income stream that doesn't require showing up at work -- making art or birdhouses or something -- and when that is mature and provides enough for the essentials like medical care, property taxes and food, buy a piece of land without cumbersome zoning restrictions and find some way to live on it, whether it be via old mobile home, camper, etc. Then she can use her secondary income stream to pay the bills, her time to improve her own land and her farm income and food output is gravy.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Super response Nicole!

 
Collin Vickers
Posts: 104
Location: Rutledge, MO
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Great responses so far, folks.

In case you were wondering, this hypothetical scenario is closely based on a situation described to me by a permie friend, who asked if I was interested in participating with her because I also happen to live in Texas.

My reponse would be somewhere between Nicole's and Nicola's.

$200 a month is $2400 annually, and she's probably spending at least $30 weekly in gas, if she goes out there at least five days a week. She's not going to make that back, plus enough to make it worth her while beyond the experience, without working it full time with a lot of intensity.

For the sake of argument, an alternative financial arangement I would look at is profit-sharing with the landowners - if there is no profit, then Perma isn't liable for anything, and if there is, giving them a portion would be fair. John and Jane aren't using the land anyway, so as long as Perma doesn't cause them any grief, chances are they'd agree to even the smallest WIIFM. Salatin said it best: farmers tend to value their time and land quite cheaply. I wouldn't be surprised if the landowners let her do it for nothing just to be kind, meanwhile assuming she would fail and give up in short order anyway. If they got a few eggs or tomatoes out of the deal, they'd be tickled to death.

Personally, I wouldn't object to making small investments to improve someone elses land - if I can manage a profit on it in a reasonable amount of time. The trade-off is for a convenient exit strategy if it doesn't work out. Buying land, quitting a job, and turning everything upside down to accomodate living on the farm is not easy to reverse.

Rather than raising pastured animals on the property, which would almost certainly require daily involvement, I would encourage her to limit herself to one acre out of the twenty, plant it with a range of species suitable to the climate and natural rainfall, and let it grow. It wont all die if she doesn't come daily like clockwork, and she can use the other 19 acres to harvest mulching/composting material, which can be done easily with the rider mower, a rake and wheelbarrow, all done in a few hours a month. Harvesting comes piecemeal, and help can be gotten one way or another for far less than $60 an hour.

Raising livestock, in paddock shift or portable pens, would be too difficult given her situation, so I rule that out altogether - even if only because of the neighbor and his nuisance dogs.

The investment to grow a decent garden wouldn't be much more than a couple hundred dollars - she can sew seed or revitalize the landowners old greenhouse. She would still be committed to driving a fair distance regularly, but having her own wholesome vegetables might be worth it to her.

Another option might be to put a few beehives on the property - the insects largely take care of themselves, and honey is a high value comodity.

Overall, anyway, I would give Perma the same advice I gave my friend: don't get involved at all - someone in her position doesn't need twenty acres for anything but livestock, and she can't give them the attention they need with a part-time job and other commitments twenty miles away. If I were her, I would try to find a friendly someone in College Station with a large backyard and grow some veggies there. I don't think it would be impossible to find a willing host, in exchange for paying the difference in their water bill and letting them have some of the crop.
 
George Hayduke
Posts: 46
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If you can make a profit farming in a small amount of time with a modest investment, you're kicking the crap out of my track record.
 
Collin Vickers
Posts: 104
Location: Rutledge, MO
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Mine too, George, but I don't have adequate water here naturally, or permission to install a catchment system.
 
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