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Permaculture Overwhelm

 
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Ben Falk, Edible Forest Gardens, Gaia's Garden. I'm skimming these books, excited, but when I walk around my 1.5 acres of fruit trees, berries, and lots of weeds, I have no idea where to start. It seems like there's too much to learn
 
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I've been there are probably am still a bit.  Use those books as inspirations and not recipe-books.

May be look at Gaia's Garden idea of guilds and organize your guilds i.e. a Nitrogen fixing shrub/tree with fruit/nut trees along with some fruit/nut trees, some herbaceous perennials, may be some valerian, or whatever does well in your area and blooms.

 
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Daniel Arsenault wrote: excited, but when I walk around my 1.5 acres of fruit trees, berries, and lots of weeds, I have no idea where to start. It seems like there's too much to learn



Welcome to the forum, Daniel!

Fruit trees, berries, and lots of weeds! Sounds like you are off to a great start.

Maybe explaining your goals might help. What do you want to accomplish?

If I were at a place with lots of weeds, I would start by learning what all those weeds are. Are they edible, medicinal, or a great chop and drop plant?

That is what I have been doing to learn permaculture.

And ask lots of questions here on the forum.

Maybe even post some pictures to help ID those weeds and other plants.

I am looking forwards to learning more about where you are in your journey.

 
Daniel Arsenault
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Ok. Some more details. Moved to this property about 2.5 years ago.

I will post some pictures in the next day or so. There are some sort of "areas."

1) Abandoned chicken coop and fenced in area.
2) Abandoned garden. Amazing dark soil. Covered with some sort of weed now.
3) Orchard area. Eight or nine apple trees with grass growing around and under them.
4) Lots of different trees around the edges. A few shagbark hickories (I think), beech, oak.
5) Two rows of blueberry bushes. Did nothing to them but got amazing yields the first two years. I think the birds may have found them.
6) Area where water hangs out. Lots of trees there, old growth and young pine growing in the shade. Lots of poison ivy around there.
7) Small "lawn"
Shady side yard with three decaying raised beds.

I did grow some zucchini and squash but a woodchuck got all the squash and some of the zucchini.

I might like to set off a small area for a traditional sort of fenced in garden to grow some winter squash and beans and potatoes and actually get to eat them. Unless I can hire a bobcat to keep the woodchuck in woodcheck.

My goal is to have a sort Garden of Eden which provides everything I need! More realistically, I think my goal should be to have food growing all over the place and to get to eat some of it.

Of course I would like to spin up a self-sufficient homestead with all the fixin's, but given the time I have to spend on this pursuit, just getting biodiversity on my side would be a rewarding and fun first step, I think


 
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yup it can be overwhelming, but dont let it be. with my capacity limited I realize the best I can do is to do no harm,
my biggest goal to strive for is chemical treatments for stuff dont come onto my property. for me this is first and foremost. but I had a dangerous situation with red wasps so I had to use some wasp control. other than that I won't even entertain use of pesticides fungicides or weed killers, id much rather just let the stuff grow and do its thing.
I invested a bunch of effort in planting a whole bunch of fruit and nut trees and for now they just do their thing and grow. I haven't even cut the grass that should probably be groomed since may. but that's ok. its just doing its thing. winter will come and knock it back down.
dont get overwhelmed just do what you can, one thing at a time.
 
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Location: Western Colorado, Zone 5b-ish
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We felt the same kind of overwhelm after moving into our 3-acre place this spring. We coped by following advice in Gaia's Garden and simply observed this year (with very limited ad hoc vegetable gardening), listing all plants and animals we see, looking at the soils, wet and dry spots, irrigation patterns (we live in a desert), etc. Between us are highly trained in botany, soils, insects, and vertebrates, so the inventory is relatively easy. We also are thinking in terms of Zones. We are building plans for 2022 dealing only with Zone 1 (right near the house) and for large trees, especially nut trees that will take some time to get established and productive and will be central to guilds we'll build in the coming couple years. Vegetable garden will probably be ad hoc again next year as we build out more 'permanent' structures and such. My spouse is especially struggling with the overwhelm you mention, so we are developing a way to assign her discrete areas and tasks to help with focus and stave off the feelings of overwhelm.
 
Daniel Arsenault
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Here are some pictures of the weedstead. Some responders have mentioned learning about the weeds and some might be good for "chop and drop." Where does one learn more about weeds and their wonders? I have a little Golden Guide to weeds and some Peterson's guides to flowers, edible plants, etc., but it seems there are more things to learn and do with "weeds" than these kinds of books address.

As for the overwhelm, I think part of it is because permaculture and ecology are about these amazing systems, where everything is connected to everything else, so it's hard to imagine that whole thing in place. I'm starting to think I need to try things and adjust as I go, because ultimately nothing is going to work as I planned, because nature is more clever than I am, and so I'm going to have to to a lot of adjusting anyway!
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Apple trees and cherry tree came with the house. I planted five pear trees.
Apple trees and cherry tree came with the house. I planted five pear trees.
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Blueberries
Blueberries
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Where all that tall stuff is used to be a garden
Where all that tall stuff is used to be a garden
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The "lawn" I'm thinking of planting sunflowers in with the mulleins for the birds
The "lawn" I'm thinking of planting sunflowers in with the mulleins for the birds
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Chickens used to live here.
Chickens used to live here.
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I think the garden is now covered with smartweed, a kind of buckwheat
I think the garden is now covered with smartweed, a kind of buckwheat
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Lots of wild strawberry looking plants, More than one kind. Saw a few berries once.
Lots of wild strawberry looking plants, More than one kind. Saw a few berries once.
 
gardener
Posts: 675
Location: Eilean a' Cheo
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Welcome to Permies!
You have a beautiful place there Daniel. So lucky to have all those established trees already.

 nature is more clever than I am,



You got it in one. And more clever than the rest of us too. You can’t contain nature without constant hard work, you can only steer in the direction you want things to go.

One of my rules of gardening is to start small. Don’t try and do everything at once, mind you I rarely obey this either, I get overexcited! I like to draw plans, you can design several themes on paper (or there are various garden planners you could use on computer) without spending any money or sweat.
 
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I might suggest that the word "weed" is counter-productive. Unidentified plants is a more accurate phrase and doesn't include the condemnation that is inherent in "weed". Examples of why we might want to withhold judgment are plants like lamb's quarters, purslane, dandelion and plantain and many of the dock family. All "weeds" and all perfectly good, even excellent, edible, or in the case of plantain, medicinal, plants.
The first step is to identify your goals, and not just in terms of "I want to grow vegetables" but in much broader terms of your life. Why, when you're just looking at planning your edible landscape? Well, because permaculture isn't gardening ;) Permaculture is designing for a better life. Permaculture is assuming responsibility for our lives. So, not just "I want to grow vegetables" but "I want to grow a portion of my own food to increase the resilience of my region and reduce dependence upon fossil fuels and the current exploitative systems of food production and distribution" - for example ;)

Getting a solid grasp on your goals will help tremendously with the overwhelm, because you'll have a target to design toward. One of the best places to start in developing a design is with water. How much, where does it come from and where does it go to? Is it abundant or scarce, does it move with erosive force or barely seem to move at all? Are there opportunities to capture and hold it high on the site, making later distribution in time of need easy to accomplish? Knowing about your water situation helps inform plant choices and landscape design decisions.
What's your USDA Zone? Again, highly informative for choosing plants. I'm in SW MI and no matter how much I might want to grow pineapples, it's just not a thing here ;)
Solar aspect is another primary area of observation and again, informs plant choices and landscape design. I'm on twenty acres of woods - except for the cleared strip the utility company made for their power lines, the only openings of any size are openings I make. Much of my planning around plant choices and overall design for the site is built with the idea that I'm trying to insinuate "productive" (in human terms) plants into an existing forest system. I've got limited areas for growing sun loving plants, but I'm growing more and more familiar with the range of perennial edible plants that are quite happy growing in a forest, or at the edges of a clearing. The more we know the constraints of our location, the fewer the choices we have to make, because the conditions have removed so many things from the Possible List.
Overwhelm is certainly real. Most permies experience it at least in the beginning. I think a majority of us still have moments, even years into our journey, where we let our perspective zoom outward and we're momentarily stunned by the enormity of what we're trying to do. And then you take a breath and zoom back in to the manageable tasks at hand and get back to work ;)
 
pollinator
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iNaturalist has been invaluable for me in identifying what I have on the property. I took a Land Steward training from my local extension office that also helped tremendously both in identifying what I have on the property and what type of resources were available to me to improve my land. The extension office information is hyper-local which is helpful.

I really wouldn't be able to have annual conventional crops without protection from wildlife. I was fortunate that the raised garden area that came with the property was surrounded by a chain link fence (ugly but functional). I added hardware cloth ground cover to protect from ground squirrels, works well for moles and gophers as well. And we are adding fencing for food forests and livestock areas but we are quite remote and next to deer and elf calving areas.

We've been here 2 1/2 years and I finally feel like I'm beginning to get ahold of things and have more flushed out plans. It takes time. Thankfully I'm planning on never leaving so I have a few more years, lol.

Your property looks beautiful. Enjoy the journey.
 
Anne Miller
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Like others have said, that is a beautiful property.

If you know someone with goats that you can borrow or rent the goats can really help you get some of your areas under control.

I see you have already ID'd smartweed and wild strawberries.  The strawberries make an excellent ground cover while providing something edible.

Your book looks like it is a very informative resource.
 
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Hi, Daniel.
Read Gaia's Garden to the last page. There you find and precious resource: plants for a future (pfaf.org), it's an internet database with the species that you might use in your terrain, sorted by their systemic functions, edibility, and many other attributes.

Then, make a list of ecosystemic functions that are a must in a food forest: nitrogen fixer, carbon production, wildlife habitat, pollinators, perennial cover, etc. Then another list with the levels: coppice, fruit trees, undercover, shrub, herb, root, vines, funghi. Finally another list of the value you want to obtain from your system. Now, select among the species that can be grown in your terrain some that you love, that you absolutely must have. For example, I must have a plum tree, red small variety, I just love it. This plum tree is in the 2nd level, and it fulfills only the ecosystemic function of providing habitat for birds, and it produces a little bit of wood (carbon matter). So, place one mark on fruit tree level, another mark on wildlife habitat (birds), another mark on provides food (automn). Got it? Then pick another plant you absolutely love, and repeat.
As you fill the list with plants you will notice that there is some overlapping, that's fine. In fact, there should be some overlapping. Also, plants in the lower levels can have more diversity.

Once you are done with the plants you love, there comes the plants you just like, but that fills the lists that are still empty. Say you didn't pick any nitrogen fixer yet. Well, use the database, find nitrogen fixer plants for your climate, and pick one that you like. Beans? Fine, then mark all the functions of beans in your lists. Take another nitrogen fixer plant as backup, just in case, maybe elaeagnus multiflora. This is a pretty good bush for fences.

You should have filled all the items in your three lists, but just in case you didn't find anything that you like for some of the items, then pick whatever plant works there. Know that you are growing it as a support species, it's your system who needs it.

Then, try to find the species you selected. If you can't find some, then go back to the selection process and start again. Chances are that now you have a list from your local nursery with a lot of plants that aren't even in the database, but that may perform the same functions.

(Oh, I forgot, if you already have established trees, then account for them).

Then it comes the design phase, which plants go where. You draw some pathways, draw the big trees you can walk under, the shrubs. Then you mark their place on the terrain and when the season is right, you actually plant them.
If you have trouble with the design, just plant big things in rows, smaller things in adjacent rows. It's not as pretty, but it's more efficient for management.
 
pollinator
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With limited time and money it can be hard to prioritize, the 100 projects. I would say start with your zone 1, that could be your intensive vegetable garden or chicken tractor. I think you are going a good job current of noticing the slope, wet spots, soil condition via the type of plants growing.

I would say that the next step would be to put in some swales. Then nitrogen fixing plants every 7ft or so.
 
gardener
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Peter Ellis wrote:I might suggest that the word "weed" is counter-productive.



I agree with you, Peter. I find the topic of "weeds" is one of the toughest fallacies to overcome. The term is so ubiquitous, and I haven't found a practical alternative, so whenever I have to discuss "the plants that are growing where I want something else to thrive", I grudgingly accept "weeds" as an easier term.

 
Daniel Arsenault
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Thank you for all of the thoughtful and helpful replies. I am grateful for your recommendations and advice!
 
pollinator
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I can only suggest -

Start small. Don't bite off more than you can chew. You can always scale up after you've gained some experience points in your gardening skills.

I regret not starting even smaller than I did... I ended up scaling back a bit.
 
Daniel Arsenault
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I like the word, but I get how the commonly held definition is problematic.
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pollinator
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It has been already said, but it is so important, that I will say it again - start at your doorsteps, literally. You can, but you do not have to, build a herb spiral there, Then, one step further think of, let's say, kitchen garden, and until the area closest to the house is not properly used, do not move further. It is way better to implement one small element perfectly than many larger slapdash.
Since permaculture is a design science, I would start with a proper design, before digging the first shovel anyway. The easy introduction to permaculture design can be found in Aranya's book.
 
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