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Planning permaculture with a northern aspect

 
Barrett Johanneson
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Hi Mark -- I had actually heard of you about four years ago around the time I found this site, permaculture, and my interest for farming. I knew I wanted to settle in western Wisconsin, and so I researched what other permies were doing out there, and that's how I found out about your outfit there in Viola. I'm really interested in learning more about your permaculture experiences here in Wisconsin. Great to have you here on Permies tonight.

Fortunately, I just found my land and I'm starting out on a farm about the size of yours (with virtually no improvements), and the biggest question I have right now is: What do I need to know about getting the most out of land that has a mostly northern aspect (generally north-facing)? My long-term goal is to develop a diversified and somewhat nut-and-fruit tree based permaculture operation over my lifetime. Background about the land includes that it is sandy loam, zone 4, rolling hills (one high point 150ft. and other rises measuring around 75ft.), with a mostly north-south rectangular orientation. It is now and will be operated as a grass-fed beef and hay operation for the next few years. Any pitfalls, tips, or encouragements you'd like to share as I plan and hopefully earn a PDC this spring, I'd appreciate it.
 
Mark Shepard
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biggest question I have right now is: What do I need to know about getting the most out of land that has a mostly northern aspect (generally north-facing)? My long-term goal is to develop a diversified and somewhat nut-and-fruit tree based permaculture operation over my lifetime. Background about the land includes that it is sandy loam, zone 4, rolling hills (one high point 150ft. and other rises measuring around 75ft.), with a mostly north-south rectangular orientation. It is now and will be operated as a grass-fed beef and hay operation for the next few years.

Mark: Think about this for a minute... There are plants growing on every slope with every aspect to the sun on every continent in every climate on this planet... From what I gathered, it seems to me that you're somewhere in Wisconsin USA, so you've got lots of choices... If it's currently in hay and is grazed, do a Silvopasture system: http://nac.unl.edu/silvopasture.htm

IN WI you can do the "classic" oak savanna Restoration Agriculture model as described in the book (Chestnuts, apples, hazelnuts, raspberries, grapes, currants and livestock). The aspect to the sun will have a factor, in fact it might be a better place to put cherries, apricots, plums or kiwis because they will probably emerge later in the spring and not be as likely to bloom early and get nailed by frost.

 
Dillon Stanger
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Is it at all possible to grow tropical plants in the north in the USDA 4-2 zones, or do you need a green house?
Thanks!
 
Mark Shepard
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Dillon... Why do you need tropical plants in the temperate zones? Temperate zone plants are perfectly nutritious and will require a lot less effort to keep alive. One of the main Permaculture Principles is to Observe and imitate nature. If you live in USDA Zone 4, you will have more success for less effort growing those plants. My focus is to always grow our own staple foods first, THEN start playing with out-of-zone plants.
I have actually seen bananas, cocoa and coffee grown outdoors unprotected as ornamentals in Washington DC and Maryland, so it can be done... The way to REALLY do it (and plan ahead for the possibility that the planet actually MIGHT be warming!) would be to begin a Luther Burbank-style, "Mass Selection" breeding program... Plant a zillion seedling cashew plants, then treat them with STUN... Sheer total utter neglect. Propagate the ones that 1) survive your site conditions. 2) produce seed at an early age and 3) are pest and disease resistant with no inputs.

This process is described more completely in the book Restoration Agriculture. Available here: http://www.forestag.com/book.html
 
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