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Long Distance Homesteading

Posts: 41
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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Hi! First off – I love your website and am so looking forward to reading your book! Wish I had discovered you earlier…

We are looking for economical and efficient ways of keeping large plantings watered and protected on a homestead site that doesn’t have any infrastructure yet and is a couple of hours away from where we currently live. Right now because of animals, kid schedule, work schedule, etc… we can only get down there a couple of times a month.

We have about 24 acres in the PNW (zone 7) with a very long wet season and very short, dry summers (last summer we went 82 days without any measurable precipitation). We plan to raise veg (perennial and annual), fruits, nuts, chickens (meat and eggs), goats (meat and dairy), hogs and whatever else we can muster and/or the local market can bear. Over half of the property is wooded and the rest is pasture.

We plan to build a home and move there permanently in the next two years (fingers crossed that our current home sells). In the meantime we are trying to get as much done as we reasonably can before we can be there full time. And you might as well factor in that we are no spring chickens. Although I know everything in permaculture is about taking it slow and being mindful, there are a few things we are hoping we can get a head start on so we can enjoy some of it before we are too old! ; D

The current issue - we are getting ready to put in our first wave of fruit and nut trees. There is A LOT of water that runs down our property but unfortunately, it’s pretty dry during the summer and we are concerned about being able to get out to the property often enough to keep the fruit and nut trees adequately watered. We have a clay loam soil (actually designated prime farmland) and soil tests indicate 7% organic matter. We did take steps to help keep more of the water in the soil instead of running downhill by keyline plowing all of the open pasture areas and digging in a swale near the top of the property (about 280’ long, 6’ wide, 3’ deep) last fall. We plan to dig in one or two more swales as you head down the hill, as well as build several ponds to help with water management/retention. There are also three seasonal springs on the property that we can develop but they all dry up in the summer.

About 14 fruit trees (and their supporting cast ala fruit guilds) will be planted in the berm below the swale, which was covered cropped with winter peas, annual rye and crimson clover last fall ( we also overseeded the pastures after the keyline plowing). The swale was filled with fallen alders from a huge storm last winter (trunks, limbs and chippings). About 30 nut trees (chestnut, English Walnut, hazelnut and butternuts) will be planted in other areas along the forest edge. Next year more fruit trees will be planted below the additional swales we plan to dig on contour.

Since we cannot be there as often as we like at this point, any suggestions as to good ways to keep the trees watered and protected from deer, etc…? I ask because I think the swale and the keyline plowing will take a while before we see any water retention benefits (but maybe I’m wrong). The springs are all downhill from the fruit tree planting area, but I suppose we could hook up some sort of solar powered pump to soaker hoses. It’s quite a bit of distance to cover and a lot of hose. We have also been looking at those water bags for trees, which run about $20 each. As to deer and critter protection, we have some tree trunk protectors and we are thinking about encircling each tree with hardware cloth (held up by t-stakes). That’s a lot of t-stakes, hardware cloth, hose and/or water bags.

We are ok spending the money on the hoses, fencing, etc… if that really is the best way, but I just want to see if there are better ways to manage this that we may be missing.

Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Newly planted trees do require frequent watering the first year if you want them to develop a good, deep root system.

St. Lawrence nursery recommends 5-10 gallons per tree per day for the first few months.
Then, the same quantity a couple times per week until they go into dormancy.
This help assure that they grow strong and healthy the first season. 'Bond' with your soil.
The following seasons, they can adapt to your climate.

Posts: 4715
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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laurie, sounds like you are doing all of the right permaculture stuff. Everything I read about keyline, swales, and hugal says that there should be plenty of water held for your plants. You will have to let us know how it works.

On my place I have to worry more about deer than water. I was going to start collecting free pallets that I see posted at craigslist all of the time , to build "fences"around the trees I am planting.
Posts: 529
Location: Eastern Kansas
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My land is only 20 minutes away but I have no convenient water source.

One Fall I planted daffodils, because they would grow in the spring, using the water from the winter snows. They are perfectly happy to go dormant when the summer gets dry! They are doing well.

I also planted asparagus and American Plum trees in the very early spring. I kept a sharp eye on the weather reports, and if it did not rain I carried water in jugs. Fortunately I think I only had to do that twice.

It got too hot in the late summer to carry water, but by then the plants were halfway established and they ended up doing well.

I do not know what does well in your area, but perhaps you can also plant things that will only need a little bit of care?
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