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Nicole Merrill
Posts: 16
Location: Helena, MT
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Hello all,

I just recently stumbled upon this forum, and I’m very excited that I get a chance to learn so much from all of you wonderful people! I have been wanting to turn our little 4 acres of land in Montana into a hobby farm that could support our family, but I feel we’ve got our work cut out for us. I’m hoping some of you seasoned folks could help me organize my ideas a bit and put things in perspective, so that I can more steadily move toward our goal. Right now we’ve got 30 or so laying hens and one rooster. We’ve tried vegetable gardening, and the first year we did great, but then the soil got depleted, the winds blew hard, killing our little plants, and the grasshoppers ate what was left over This spring, we’re going to try vegetable gardening again, though.

Here’s a list of the projects I’d like to tackle:
(1) I’m hoping to improve our soil conditions by mulching, composting and setting up worm bins
(2) I want to see about building hugelkultures to garden in, but also to act as a wind break (will this work?)
(3) get a few goats for milking, and some piggies for meat.
(4) (this ties in with #3) In the pasture area of our lot, we were thinking about having 6 equal-sized paddocks that we’d rotate the animals through
(5) Bee hives

The following lists my concerns:
(1) our soil is really bad (rocky, lots of clay, doesn’t hold water)
(2) we get really strong gusts of wind
(3) our growing season is pretty short
(4) we don’t have much precipitation in the area, and really quick evaporation
(5) we’ve got really hungry prairie dogs (gophers, whatever you call them) and sometimes deer
(6) every other year or so, we get swarms of grasshoppers who love to eat up any green thing [one year I watched them eat my spinach and lettuce as it was coming up, and another year, they ate the leaves off a young tree we had planted, who, sadly, did not survive].
(7) Fencing We don’t have hardly any disposable income that we can use to put up fencing on our property. Does anyone have suggestions for that?
( We also would like ideas on building adequate shelters for the goats and pigs. I’m more inclined to having one shelter per paddock, so it stays in the paddock. That way, each shelter also gets time to “rest.”

I am fairly new at this stuff, and I’m open to any suggestions. I’ve read a bunch of Joel Salatin’s books, and now that I’ve found this site, I’m learning a bunch more. I don’t want to spend time reinventing the wheel when I know there’s a whole bunch of really smart people out there who love this stuff as much as I do, and who know much more than me ::
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Welcome to permies.com Nicole.

As to your concerns,

(1) our soil is really bad (rocky, lots of clay, doesn’t hold water)
Adding compost greatly improves the soil, and its water holding capacity. When your annual veggies are finished for the season, rather than pulling them, just chop them at the ground. Their roots worked hard to get deep, and that is the best place to let them decompose.

(2) we get really strong gusts of wind
Yes, your hugelkulturs can help deflect these winds if they are oriented properly for that purpose. You may need to compromise between maximum water capture, and wind angle.

(3) our growing season is pretty short
Your neighbors and/or County Extension agent can help select varieties that do well in your region. For things like tomatoes, you should look for 'Early', or 'Mid-season', but NOT 'Late' varieties. For corn, there is a local one that should do well there Painted Mountain Corn.

(4) we don’t have much precipitation in the area, and really quick evaporation
Your huglekulturs can be oriented to capture a lot of what would otherwise be 'run-off'. Keep a good layer of mulch on top. This helps protect from both sun and wind evaporation.

(5) we’ve got really hungry prairie dogs (gophers, whatever you call them) and sometimes deer
Perhaps some deer plot seed scattered around the edges of your property would keep them happily too busy to venture into your garden. Most deer pressure comes when food is scarce, not the height of your growing season (when other food is readily available). Get a big freezer, just in case. Gophers are a whole other problem...they used to decimate my sister's garden.

(6) every other year or so, we get swarms of grasshoppers
Ouch! Nothing can stop them when they come. The best defense is a vast polyculture...many, many varieties of plants. They seem to vector on large fields of monoculture crops. Having 100 varieties in the same area might confuse them. Or else, 65 million chickens. LOL

(7) Fencing
Portable, electric netting seems to work well. You can make any size/shape paddock you want, and just move the fencing when it is time to move the animals. Rather than building 6 shelters, consider having the shelters at the junctions of the paddocks. One gate leads to North paddock, another the South paddock, etc.

Good luck with your venture.











 
Nicole Merrill
Posts: 16
Location: Helena, MT
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Thank you! Lots of good information here! I'm excited about getting started and planning our next steps
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1357
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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To keep your soil from getting depleted you could plant "fertilizers" in the fall/winter.
Winterrye will grow in he cold winter and you could then kill it and use that as compost/humus/mulch, while growing your regular spring/summer vegetable
You could do the same with a few Nitrogen fixers, legumes\beans. they make and release nitrogen from their roots even while alive and also when composted.
You can use plants with deeper taproot that mine minerals and then chop and drop the mineral rich leaves for the other plants to decompose and use.
You can also maintain the water level in your soil by using straw mulch, or by planing densely(no rows) so that the edible leaves cover the soil.
To help with the pest you can plant a few "useless" plants that the pest do not like, or ones that confuse them, or that attract the natural enemies if the pest.
 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
pollinator
Posts: 308
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Hi Nicole.. I'm north of you in Alberta. I'm also trying to learn how to work with the short growing season and the winds.

I think we've really got to focus on creating favourable microclimates for the areas we're gardening intensively. I think you're on to something with using hugelkultur as windbreak. I'd like to try it. I wonder about making them crescent shaped as little sun traps, with their backs to the prevailing winds and to the cold north? We also need to think about snow, and how they would function as snow traps...ie where are drifts created, do they melt quickly in a suntrap or can you form them in the shade for a slow soaking melt? Will they delay the spring in part of the bed? or provide moisture later on? I wonder what sort of ground cover could be used on the northfacing and windward slopes...something tough to cover the soil but take away the minimal amount of water?

I am just getting into the idea of using portable snowfence to move drifts around.

I am lucky to have some established shelterbelt plantings and am planting lots more....they make a huge climate difference for the garden areas. Long term project, but if your land will grow trees or a tough hedge it's worth getting started. Small sections of wind fence with rough cut slabs like the ranchers use for livestock would be quicker and give similar benefits.

If you can construct them so they survive the wind and hail, hoop covers or floating row covers seem to make a huge difference at getting things to grow in the cold and wind. Also starting plants in seed blocks in cold frames and then transplanting out. I've found author Elliot Coleman to be really helpful, he has books on extending the seasons.

I'm also hoping to try making an oehler style earth sheltered greenhouse...a search would bring it up, it looks like a useful structure.

I like the idea of goats, but goats and poor fence sounds like real trouble to me.

Prairie dogs are rare here, but gophers (richardson's ground squirrels) certainly aren't...I take the low road, 22. long rifle...you can find steel bullets and avoid spreading lead across your land...early hunting in the spring when snow is on the ground when they are first out takes out the adult males and is most effective in controlling population booms. If you're keeping predators away because of the chickens and small ruminants you might have to take on that ecological role yourself.

good luck

 
Tyrr Vangeel
Posts: 39
Location: Mol, Belgium
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chicken dog forest garden
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I don't know for your area (we don't have praire dogs etc), but we use a fence with very stingy plants to keep bi footed predetors (homo sapiens) out off some places.

You plant a hedge with this bush and after 1 or 2 year, you cut the stems halfway true just abouf the ground. You then fold them to 45° and graft them together (change every plant left-right-left-right...). This way, you get a really closed fence which in almost impossible to get true if you are not a very small bird.
Put in a big gate at one place and it should be cheap and beautifull
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1357
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Tyrr Vangeel wrote:I don't know for your area (we don't have praire dogs etc), but we use a fence with very stingy plants to keep bi footed predetors (homo sapiens) out off some places.

You plant a hedge with this bush and after 1 or 2 year, you cut the stems halfway true just abouf the ground. You then fold them to 45° and graft them together (change every plant left-right-left-right...). This way, you get a really closed fence which in almost impossible to get true if you are not a very small bird.
Put in a big gate at one place and it should be cheap and beautifull


I would love to see a picture of that work of art.
Please post a pic
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Belgian Fence.


plan on digging a pit, lining it with chickenwire, and filling with old, dead wood. Then build a Hegel, or a swale downslope of it. Since you want to trap water, you are better off with a pit, than a hill.

just plant a sturdy shrub on top of the swale to get some wind block.

you might want to build the pits long and narrow, so you can cover with shadecloth when the hoppers come. Can use masonry block wire (rectangle welded wire) to hold covers up.
 
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