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Starting permaculture systems on schist in eastern Quebec

Posts: 127
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Hi everyone,

I'm new to permaculture and to this site, but learning about all of this and converting our yard have become an all-consuming passion in the last few months.
I'm looking for input from you experienced folks as I try to make plans for our very challenging site in eastern Quebec.

Here are the basics:
Zone 3b, although there has been a documented lengthening of the season over the last few decades.
About one acre around a 100-year-old house that originally belonged to a blacksmith.
Land on three sides cultivated by neighbor (dairy farmer), usually in oats, corn or hay.
Very, very little soil (about 2 to 4 inches) covering slaty shist underlying rock that requires a pick to dig into.
A few areas of the yard have a bit more soil: immediately behind the house; an area where soil was brought in; sandy soil at the northern edge of yard, furthest from the house, where the schist stops in an outcrop and the land drops away about eight feet.
Some mature white spruce, choke-cherries, yellow birch around the edges. One elderberry hanging on.
Serviceberry and red osier here and there. A few old lilacs with lots of suckers.
A couple of ancient black currant bushes near the house that still produce reliably.
Some wild raspberry (not productive) that crops up wherever it can.

Problems to turn into advantages:
Lack of soil
Very, very, very windy site
Land slopes down fron SE to NW, which includes from road to the house. We get water in the cellar (fieldstone walls and foundation, tamped earth floor) whenever there is a thaw (every spring and right now with a freak January thaw).
A couple of old foundations left from outbuildings, now covered with a bit of gravelly soil.

We have planted over the last few years:
A crabapple, planted in a 5' x 5' hole dug in the schist 12 years ago. It is struggling.
Several apple trees, 2 plum trees, a pear tree and a cherry tree, planted at the northern edge where there is sandy soil. The plums do fine, the apples have continuously lost branches to the heavy snow drifts, the pear has never yielded anything more than a thumb-size fruit or two, the cherry is dead.
A row of caragana at the northern edge of the "orchard", defining the property line.
Various spruce, pine, maple, oak, linden trees around the edges, not forming a windbreak but heading in that direction. The survivors are all still small.
Assorted improvised raised beds which have fallen into complete neglect and will be ripped out.
A couple of gooseberry and currant bushes

Create a real windbreak so other plantings will have a ghost of a chance.
Build SOIL!
Create a forest garden in the long run, covering most of the yard.
Produce enough fruit, veggies and nuts to keep us out of the grocery store.
Initially, use sheet mulching to take advantage of what soil we do have near the house. (and plant what? I'm worried about plantings near our fieldstone foundation)
Raised beds in front of the house (boxed in with wood) in which to plant both flowers and some veggies. (suggestions for most decorative veggies?)
Eventually (in about 5 years) bring in chickens for eggs and for meat.
Eventually have a greenhouse/chicken coop that can withstand our winters without costing a fortune to build or to heat.
Keep the water out of the cellar (hugelkultur bed in front of the house to catch/retain road runoff and snowmelt? Planted with berries and ornamentals?).
Fence in an area around the "orchard" and create a pond for ducks in a wet area down there, so they can do pest and weed control, and produce eggs and meat.

Any advice about how you would tackle some of our site's problems and challenges would be very, very welcome.
Plant suggestions for these conditions?
Any hope of building soil on top of solid (though highly fractured) rock?
Suggestions for forest garden layers to start building under the spruce trees?

Thanks in advance, everyone!


Posts: 8
Location: Ste Felicite, L'Islet County, Quebec, Canada
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ok so i read your other posts, and you are already doing everything I suggested so that's awesome. I would love to come take a look this spring/summer. And if you are ever in my area let me know!
Heidi Hoff
Posts: 127
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Hi Kurt,

The Bas-Saint-Laurent presents plenty of challenges, but as you pointed out, the more research we do, the more species/varieties we find that will do well here.

Unlike you, we're not currently looking at producing beyond our own needs, with surplus going to friends and neighbors. We had some successes last year with our first efforts. Our strawberries on a low hugelkultur bed did really well for first-year plants. We were still harvesting some berries even after the first frost, late in October. We planted small sheet-mulched "dinosaur eggs" (about 3 feet in diameter) with yellow salad tomatoes, greens and herbs. The tomatoes started yielding early and never stopped. We dried many pounds of them, simply split in half for the dehydrator.

I put in some long raised beds using a sheet-mulch approach. Between a cold start to the season and an interfering skunk digging things up, I did not get the yields I would have wished for. At the end of the season I brought in about 200 pounds of green and semi-ripe tomatoes. I canned a lot as they gradually ripened indoors, dried some, but also lost a lot when I ran out of time, energy and interest. We had good yields from peas and herbs, lettuces and carrots, but all our brassicas were unhappy and didn't do much.

We put in a couple of aronias and four sea buckthorns. I will be taking cuttings of them and all our other berry bushes in the next month. I would like to have dozens of each to begin planting "fedges" (fence/hedges) that will also bear fruit. We did get a few aronia berries last year, but no seaberries.

In terms of sources, I have been using Incredible Seeds, Gardens North, Richters and Pépinière Gaucher in Brigham. This year, I will also be ordering some trees and bushes from the Green Barn and Hardy Fruit Trees in Sainte-Juilienne. I'm also planning to get a few plants from La Société des plantes in Kamouraska and Croque Paysage.

Other projects for this year are more beds, more trees, more herbs and more season-extension!! I think this is essential for any kind of decent yield. I'll try to follow some of what Eliot Coleman describes in Four Season Harvest. We'll also be spreading soil-builders wherever we are not already planting and don't plan on having paths. It will be a mixture of clovers, daikon, turnip, buckwheat, and probably some deep-rooted flowers and herbs. And we'd like to get some wine cap and oyster mushrooms going, as we've got lots of woodchips and deadfall we can put to good use.

I've started some lettuce and mesclun inside to get a few early greens. It is just beginning to look promising. I'll be starting a lot of seeds in the next few weeks, to be set out in cold frames in April or May (whenever I get them set up on existing beds).

Chickens or ducks are off in the future for us. We currently get chickens, ducks and rabbits from Les Jardins d'Édith in St-Modeste, wapiti from a local producer here in L'Isle-Verte and beef/veal from Ferme Luron in Trois-Pistoles. Part of permaculture is supporting the good projects other people undertake, and we've found these people to adhere more closely than most to permaculture principles. We've yet to find a producer of free-range/pastured pork in our area (other than Viandes duBreton, which is marginal), so we don't eat much pork at all.

You're welcome to stop by if you're on your way somewhere this summer, although there really isn't much to see. We're just getting started on all this.

Kurt Rodrigue
Posts: 8
Location: Ste Felicite, L'Islet County, Quebec, Canada
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that all sounds great, season extension is going to be big focus here too this year. The CSA is kinda just a dream for now, i need to see how much veg i can actually produce before I try that out.
I will definitely swing by this summer some time

Heidi Hoff
Posts: 127
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I forgot to mention our other success: squash! We had zucchini, acorn squash and spaghetti squash planted on our "dinosaur eggs" in an effort to start suppressing the grass in the lawn. The zucchini went gang-busters, of course, the spaghetti squash yielded enough to keep us supplied through Christmas, and the acorn squash gave us delicious mini-squash, just enough for one person. We will be repeating similar plantings this year. I want butternut squash and pumpkins as well as last year's varieties.

I'm definitely taking the long view on all this. We both work a lot of hours, and we have other interests and obligations as well. But the idea is to build a more resilient landscape year by year, weaning ourselves off store-bought produce and building our infrastructure gradually. We dream of acquiring some of the surrounding land and trying out hands at larger-scale projects, but we should get the most out of our own bit of turf first.

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