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Challenge: Starting permaculture systems on schist in eastern Quebec (3b)

 
Heidi Hoff
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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 1.25 acre around a 100-year-old house that originally belonged to a blacksmith.
Surrounding land on three sides is 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

Goals:
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.
Install water management systems: rain barrels, berms, small ponds (how to waterproof on rock that forms shards that can cut plastic?)
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/input 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!

Heidi
 
Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas
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Location: Quebec
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Hey! Where are you in eastern Québec? It would help a great deal to know. I'm from Quebec too, maybe we can help each other out.

I'm no forest garden expert, but I've read Dave Jacke's "Edible Forest Gardens" volumes 1 and 2, and I think you'd find many annswers in there. Also, check out Mark Shepard's book, and videos available on youtube. He says a lot about building soil... Basically that he can grow anything from a rock?

We're hoping to start something up in Lac St-Jean.

Also, do you know of the blog "permaculture en climat froid"? Maybe there'd be good advice to get from them... They are only starting, but who knows?
 
matt davey
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>>"Assorted improvised raised beds which have fallen into complete neglect and will be ripped out."

i'd make sure that they can't be used still, even for a different purpose, before ripping them out.


>>"Very, very, very windy site "

Do you reckon you could get a bamboo fence going? Also, find out what sort of local natives grow quickly as a windbreak.

>>"A couple of old foundations left from outbuildings, now covered with a bit of gravelly soil. "

yes, lots of potential to use those foundations still. Future site for a coldframe / greenhouse, perhaps? Good place to build a chicken coop?

 
Heidi Hoff
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Hi Maryse,

We're in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, straight across the St. Lawrence from the Saguenay fjord. That is where our wind comes from -- a straight shot from Le Gran Nord! We are up on a ridge, with the land sloping northward to the surrounding farm fields and, a kilometer or so away, the St. Lawrence. The ridge is made of what people here call "tuf", which is actually slaty shale (not tuff or tufa at all, different class of rock entirely).

During the seigneury period, the farmers were obliged to clear the land granted to them. They took it very seriously and cleared the forests completely. Even today, there are no windbreaks between the fields. The fields are very sandy (sand left behind by the Champlain Sea when the land rebounded after the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago). The farmers have built drainage ditches every 50 to 100 meters, which run parallel to their long narrow fields. In these ditches, red osier, black alder, serviceberry and other pioneers try to take hold and are cut back every few years by our neighbor. Our prevailing winds are W, NW and N, coming straight across the St. Lawrence and then across these naked fields.

I have watched Wen Rolland's videos (of his talks at the Montreal Botanical Gardens) and looked at his blog, and indeed they are quite useful. He does not address sites on rock, to my knowledge, nor have I found anything on creating windbreaks. I am trying to figure out if I have time to go to his course in May...

In June, I'll be in Wisconsin visiting my mom. I'm thinking of going to see Mark Shepard's place, if he has an open house or a tour that week. His farm is only an hour away from my mom's farm (now THAT would be the place to start some permaculture projects -- my dad spent the last 25 years of his life planting trees on it...). I'm about to place another order for permaculture books, so your two recommendations (Shepard's book and Jacke's book) are now on the list.

Hi Matt,

The raised beds will contribute materials to a new bed that will be built near the house. They are all overrun with couch grass and the sides are falling apart (they were made with cedar fence posts). Whatever is still growing in them will be planted out elsewhere: some lilacs and spruce from the nursery bed will go into the windbreaks; daylilies, irises and other ornamentals will go onto a hugelkultur bed (that will probably be installed in front of the house in the fall to catch the road run-off before it leaks into our basement).

I've thought about bamboo, particularly over the septic drainage field. I have a friend who has some bamboo in a protected site between her house and the street, which she is continually cutting back because it threatens to cut her off from the outside world. So I may try some. I would prefer to stick with native species for windbreaks, though. In the last couple of days, my husband and I have been thinking of trying a mix of conifers (spruce, cedar and fir), caragana (pea shrub, not native, but we have lots of it planted and it does a good job), alder and hardwoods (yellow birch, maples, hickory (not native, but I love the nuts and can bring some back from Wisconsin) and "buart" (a cross of butternut and heartnut)).

Thanks to both of you for the input!! It is really appreciated!






 
Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas
Posts: 19
Location: Quebec
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You'll be so lucky if you ever get the chance to visit Mark Sheppard's place!

You may want to look up the argousier tree

http://www.argousier.qc.ca/fra/la-culture-de-largousier/largousier.asp

They are from Siberia, and Russia, so they are not local, BUT, they are nitrogen fixers, produce delicious fruits (growing demand for this fruit on different markets, from cosmetics to restaurants), provide food for birds (especially during winter) and are EXCELLENT and fast growing windbreaks. I know I'll have some on my land. You can mix them with Rosa canina (wild roses) which produce good fruits too, as well as amelanchier and so on...

Cheers,

Maryse

PS I'm impressedat your knowledge of your place!
 
Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas
Posts: 19
Location: Quebec
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Heidi Hoff wrote:Hi Maryse,

We're in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, straight across the St. Lawrence from the Saguenay fjord. That is where our wind comes from -- a straight shot from Le Gran Nord! We are up on a ridge, with the land sloping northward to the surrounding farm fields and, a kilometer or so away, the St. Lawrence. The ridge is made of what people here call "tuf", which is actually slaty shale (not tuff or tufa at all, different class of rock entirely).

During the seigneury period, the farmers were obliged to clear the land granted to them. They took it very seriously and cleared the forests completely. Even today, there are no windbreaks between the fields. The fields are very sandy (sand left behind by the Champlain Sea when the land rebounded after the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago). The farmers have built drainage ditches every 50 to 100 meters, which run parallel to their long narrow fields. In these ditches, red osier, black alder, serviceberry and other pioneers try to take hold and are cut back every few years by our neighbor. Our prevailing winds are W, NW and N, coming straight across the St. Lawrence and then across these naked fields.




The "nordet" is indeed a most energetic wind!

I'm thinking you need to plant stuff on your entire land area, stuff that have strong roots, amongst maybe some creeping thyme, and consider species that will help you build soil, decompose fast during winter and spring. The Green Manure logic. As you said, beans and the kind. Can't wait to see if people with actual knowledge (not me that is) will add more! If I keep writing, maybe it will attract them...
 
Heidi Hoff
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Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas wrote:You may want to look up the argouisier tree.


Funny that you mention the argouisier (sea buckthorn). I was just looking up info on it this afternoon! Looks like a good choice for us.

Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas wrote:PS I'm impressed at your knowledge of your place!


Thanks! I am a translator, and I work on all kinds of documents, from geology to tourism, so I get to absorb all kinds of useful (and useless) information along the way!

I have been watching the way the snow accumulates on the land this winter, when we have had incredibly high winds. Surprisingly (for me), the shrubs and small trees are much better as snow-accumulating wind breaks than are the mature spruce. It seems there is some kind of Venturi effect downwind of the spruce. The wind scours the snow all the way down to the grass! Downwind of the shrubs, we have 4- to 5-foot drifts in some places.
 
Maryse Cloutier-Gelinas
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Location: Quebec
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Indeed! I guess it shows that a mix of many different types and sizes are going to be necessary! You'll also have to be strategic as to where you plant everything!

 
Elizabeth Kokkonen
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So sorry.. My ipad got stuck and I could not stop it. I can't figure out how to edit the post.

I meant to write.. In the edges of the forest is where most of the activity is. It's a great idea to plant the hazelnuts around the spruce. Maybe you can build different guilds depending on what the area needs. I have great memories from picking hazelnuts. But for some reason I am following the blood type diet and trying to plant mostly beneficials for my type. We all have different reasons for planting what we plant.

Elizabeth
 
Heidi Hoff
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Aah, technology! I depend on it every day -- and curse it twice a day!

It might not be too late to edit. See if the "Edit" button is still in the upper right-hand corner of your post.

Siberian pear... now that sounds interesting! We planted a hardy pear (whose name I cannot recall) some years ago that has yielded less than 10 pears, each of which was about as big as the average 10-year-old's thumb.

Permaculturists love the edge effect, which is very "validating" as it is something I have understood for well over 30 years. My training is in biochemistry, veterinary medicine, microbiology, etc. When I was a journal-keeping young thing, finishing my B.S., I wrote an extensive entry in a journal about edges being where the action is: membranes, interfaces, contact surfaces, and so on, all highly scientific and poetic. What a case I was.

But I love that permaculture has incorporated this ecological and biological principle (I tend to think it is also a cultural principle, which is one of the reasons there is an odd American woman living here in the Bas-Saint-Laurent). My bedtime reading lately has been Toby Hemenway's bible, gaia's garden. He is a specialist in biomimecry and patterns, which is a great way to take lessons from nature and apply them in what we design and build. I have been sketching all kinds of garden layouts for weeks now, trying to find something that will be integrated into the existing structures and plantings, rendering all of it more "organic", with a natural flow that works in terms of zones and energy flows. I still have so much to learn.... (sigh)

I was lucky enough to win a free copy of Darrell Frey's book, so now my next Chapter's order will be for Mark Sheppard's Restoration Agriculture and for David Jacke's book. I already have Eric Toensmeier's book on perennial vegetables, the classic Forest Gardening by Robert Hart and sepp holzer's Permaculture, so the permaculture shelf in my library is expanding! Good thing that I can't start working outside until April, because I've got too much reading to plow through before picking up a pitchfork!

 
Kota Dubois
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Heidi, I can't believe that I didn't see your post here before. Anyway I would have told you what I said to Elizabeth in her thread. It seems that our libraries are pretty much identical.
I would also recommend paul stamets Mycelium Running.

I've found that since my land gets reliable snow cover early in the season I'm capable of keeping herbaceous perennials that are 2 or 3 zones warmer alive, so I was thinking, if you use shrubs as a snow fence along side your terraces to
guarantee that the snowdoesn't blow away and buries tender things all winter long you can enlarge the number of plants you use. It's been hard these last couple of days as we're all getting amped for spring, and the snow never seems to
want to stop; but never curse the snow, it is our friend.

And I must say wow, a real scientist, BS and all. lol I've a BFA (Bac. of Fuck All) actually fine arts.

Edited for typesetting.
 
Heidi Hoff
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My dad, another scientist, but also a Norwegian woodsman at heart, taught me plenty of things. One of which was the importance of snow cover. His retirement project was a 100-acre farm in Wisconsin, where he planted trees by the thousand on lands that were in the Conservation Reserve Program due to erosion. His worst fear in winter was not the cold, but the lack of snow. It could wipe out a year's work. I wish he had learned about permaculture methods way back when, as it would have saved him so much heartache. Maybe his grandkids will hire Mark Sheppard to show them how to do things a little more sustainably.

Being northern European, my dad was also a mushroom nut. When I visit my mom in June I will see if she is willing to part with a few books from the mushroom library. If not, Stamets' book would be next on the list. I already have the fungi perfecti website bookmarked.

Kota, you are reading my mind. I am hoping to eventually create a microclimate over most of the yard so that I can grow a wider range of plants. You are surely familiar with Les Jardins de Métis. Have you ever gotten up here to visit them? They are 1.5 hours north and east from us, and surely were once almost as exposed as our site is, but Elsie Reford (and a brigade of workers) completely transformed that site. There are so many Zone 5 plants there, it always amazes me. And the soil! Oh man.

And she started all this when she was my age, so there is hope for me. Now I just have to find that brigade of workers...
 
Kota Dubois
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I'm glad you have a good appreciation for snow, most people don't. I couldn't imagine trying to garden in a cold climate without it.

I've found three good sources of mycelium right here in Quebec, you might like to check them out.

http://www.mycoflor.ca/
http://www.violonetchampignon.com/especes.html
http://www.mycoboutique.ca/en/

Wasn't Elsie Reford amazing? If only everyone with staggering wealth were as sensitive and visionary. She's inspired me since the first time I saw Metis. I really had to learn how to grow the blue poppies and I did!
DSC05574.jpg
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meconopsis betonicifolia
 
Heidi Hoff
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Great sources! This is wonderful. I knew about fungi perfecti from ancient history, so I hadn't really looked around at all.

Now you've rekindled my dreams of finding a way to have blue poppies in my life! Congrats on being able to grow them. If the time ever comes when I think it could happen here, I will be seeking your counsel.
 
Kota Dubois
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Heidi, I was just rereading your first post to think about design ideas and there were two things that caught my attention. I thought it would be best to keep them here in public view for others to see.

1. You mention foundations of old out buildings. If you have access to stone piles that farmers make when clearing their fields, you can build drywall walls on the north and west sides of them for wind protection.
With the gardens built in the southern footprint you will get the benefit of a warmer garden plot.
A stone drywall is one built without any mortar, which withstands freeze/thaw cycles better and small tremors too. They're the kind we use for terrance retaining walls.

2. You also mention that the place was built by a blacksmith. If any of these buildings was his forge, and if he used coal to fuel it, there may be a problem with soil contamination. A little digging might turn
something up. Or maybe your beau can take some samples into the school's chemistry department for an assay.

Just a few thoughts.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Hmmm. Hadn't thought about nasty residues in the soil, though we have certainly found a fair amount of hardware around the place when digging planting holes. (I have a small horseshoe collection without having any horses.) I will definitely do some poking around before going ahead with plantings.

One of the foundations is halfway in the shade of an L-shaped row of spruce trees. I am planning on putting in hazelberts in front of the spruce to increase their effectiveness as a windbreak and next year (or the year after) we will add in some gooseberries and black currants that we will be starting from cuttings this summer. On top of the foundation itself, I was thinking of building a substantial hugelkultur bed for a dwarf fruit tree or two with supporting guild. I'm hoping the half-day of direct light is enough to get some fruit eventually. Plums do very well for us in general, but I'm also wondering about hardy cherry or apricot. Maybe amélanchier, as they seem to grow on our sheer rock land with no problem. Or buckthorn. More research is clearly needed. We know that trees can grow through the foundation because we have a chokecherry and a lilac growing there now. (The chokecherry is getting old and miserable though -- they are short-lived. The lilac is a transplanted shoot from another lilac and will be removed so it will not invade the entire bed with new shoots.)

The other foundation is northeast of the main house, and was at one time the summer kitchen, according to a lady who was born in this house in 1903 and who stopped by with her daughter when she was 99. Had my French been better at the time, I would have pumped her for more details about the house and its origins, like where her dad had his forge! I doubt that the summer kitchen area was ever used as a forge, but it may have served as a garage, as it is really hard packed rock and gravel. I was thinking of putting more formal raised beds there as kitchen gardens, and had thought of planting a hedge around it as windbreak. I like your idea of using dry stone walls, but that might be a multi-year project.

I am intending to use stone all over the place to hold the raised gardens (lasagna beds and hugelkultur) in place and provide a heat-sink effect.

We've got some massive boulders in various places, some of which were already here, some of which we had put in by the neighbors when we saw them digging them out of the field. I've used them more as retaining walls, not thinking of them as heat sinks at the time. We will be adding windbreaks to the north of them and planting fruit trees to the south, hoping to provide shelter and heat.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Just to give folks a visual impression of how exposed this site is, here are two photos from a couple of winters ago. The horizon is mostly formed by an island in the St. Lawrence, and you can vaguely see the northern shore beyond that.



Photo 102.jpg
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Looking northwest from the solarium window
 
Heidi Hoff
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One more
Photo 103.jpg
[Thumbnail for Photo 103.jpg]
Looking north from solarium window
 
Heidi Hoff
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And here is one from the road in front of the house, looking north.

Photo 085.jpg
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Featuring Emmy the extraterrestrial dog
 
Dave Hanson
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Heidi,

You have an interesting and challenging site. If I was in your shoes I would buy a day from a consultant on site, that is if you can find one. Sometimes an expert can save us from big mistakes and save us from wasted time, energy and money. If they are really good they can see things we don't think of. Of course we want to educate ourselves as much as possible as we go along but some solid, experienced, expert opinion can jump start things in the right direction. Beware of those who will offer long distance advice without seeing your site.

I'm a retired builder with experience in agriculture, alternative buildings and forestry. I believe that fundamental design is the hardest part of any project. With inadequate planning or mistakes in design the long term problems multiply and projects become a series of band-aids, never completed and never quite right. The ways this plays out in reality are sometimes painful to witness. Well-meaning people expending years of hard work and finally being exhausted by an ugly, unfinished product. Permaculture, a mixture of art and science, is supposedly finely tuned to and integrated into the ecology of any given place. Every place is a bit different than every other place. Watch out for general rules.

The problem of course is finding the consultant. Can't help you there. If you do, you'll save the fee many times over.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Like all of you in the Northern Hemisphere, I've been out getting my hands dirty lately. In my case, it is the first time I have had a chance to start putting into practice all the permie-methods I've been studying for the past six months.

Since our major challenges here are lack of soil and too much wind, we are tackling those issues right off. First, we accumulated resources over the last few months, including:

  • the soil and vegetation from two completely neglected raised beds,
  • four giant square bales of spoiled hay,
  • a dozen bags of leaves,
  • about five huge bags of shredded paper,
  • all the goodies from our neglected compost piles,
  • a winter's worth of uncomposted kitchen scraps in our compostables recycling bin,
  • lots and lots of big cardboard boxes,
  • lots and lots of wood and branches from downed trees from around the surrounding farm fields (plus a little of our own),
  • two loads of woodchips (and two more ordered),
  • a trailer load of wonderful soil, and
  • a trailer load of wonderful compost.


  • Next weekend we will finally be able to go get a load or two of mixed horse, chicken and goat manure with bedding and spoiled hay from a friend. And we should also have a load of topsoil delivered.

    These resources are rapidly being absorbed by our first attempt at hugelkultur and extensive sheet-mulched gardens. The trailer-full of soil was sucked up by the hugelkultur bed, but as we intend to keep building more hugelkultur beds all summer, we went ahead and ordered a full truckload. Given the challenges of the site and my unwillingness to wait for organic matter to decay enough to start planting, bringing in soil and compost this spring does not seem too sinful.

    The first sheet-mulched gardens are two 24'-by-4' beds, connected at one end with a 2' bed. I'll be laying down a double thickness of cardboard covered with woodchips all around as paths, but particularly to make sure the quack grass doesn't get a chance to invade the beds from the edges (same goes for the hugelkultur beds). We're planning on continuing that pattern around the Zone 1 area, navigating around a few trees that we are keeping for ornamental and windbreak value.

    In exchange for helping family plant a couple hundred trees in a couple of weeks, we will come home with about 60 trees to plant as mixed windbreaks here.

    Fruit and nut trees will be planted in the fall, or next spring.

    I've also got a bunch of heirloom, open-pollinated seeds started, from asparagus to jalapenos to dill, with lots of others just waiting for the garden to be ready to sow directly. Included are a couple dozen perennial flowers that will go in with the veggies and in various beds in front of the house that we will be recuperating from quack grass invasion and neglect through sheet mulching. I've salvaged some Iris versicolor (Northern Blue Flag) from the raised beds, and it will go into the wet edge (uphill) of the first hugelkultur bed. More irises, daylilies, jonquils and crocuses will be salvaged from other beds and distributed among the new beds. If I can get the perennial plants out without bringing along quack grass roots, I will salvage them too; if not, we'll start fresh.

    We will be starting cuttings from our existing berry bushes (black currant, gooseberries, white currants and service berries), to be planted into various hugelkultur beds next year or the year after. I will be sowing alpine strawberries and bringing in various other strawberries once the beds are plantable. Raspberries and blackberries will also go in by early summer, or at the worst, in the fall.

    The gutter guy comes tomorrow morning, by chance, so my planned rainbarrel system is on the verge of becoming a reality. It will be a distributed system, with two barrels installed at each of four downspouts. Each set of barrels is perfectly sited to gravity-feed water to another planting area. I will now have to get organized and go get the barrels and figure out exactly how I want to plumb them. Help on this point would be very welcome, but I'll look around the site too. All thoughts of ponds and wetlands are being pushed off to somewhere in the future.

    That's it for my update. I so enjoy reading what others have been up to -- always inspiring and encouraging!


     
    dj niels
    Posts: 181
    Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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    Sounds like you have a goodly collection to use. Isn't it great to finally start putting the ideas to work? Hope it all works out for you (I spent several years living in Northern Maine and have an idea what kind of challenges your climate gives.

    I almost wish I still had the dependable snow cover. Here, it is kindof iffy. This year the snow was gone by mid-March. Some of the plants that had survived under the snow and were still green in March, have since died in the intense sun alternating with freezing nights.
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Hi dj,

    Love being able to put theory into practice -- finally!! Can't wait to see what kind of feedback the plants are going to give us and to continue learning as we go along.

    One of our goals is to trap as much snow in our yard as possible, using hugelkultur, trees and bushes. Blowing snow is a terrible problem throughout our region because the original French colonists were obliged to clear the land they rented from the seigneurs (lords with land grants from the French king). All the generations since have pretty much kept within that pattern. Areas of Quebec colonized by the British tend to be much more wooded, with homesteads conforming to the lay of the land in a more reasonable, Geoff-Lawtonish way (considering aspect, water, wind, etc.). If you look at eastern Quebec using Google Earth, you can see how the land is laid out in long strips, each one having access to a straight road, where all the houses are right up against the road. It has taken me years to get used to, but I still think it was the single biggest mistake the French made here. The topsoil has been either blowing away or draining into the St. Lawrence for over 400 years! Looking at the fields around us, I dream of reconfiguring them using permaculture principles.
     
    Kota Dubois
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    WOW! Your motto should be "If you want to get something done, Hire Heidi!"

    If only I could concentrate my efforts in such an organized way, but my personality demands otherwise.

    I hope you are documenting your efforts with photographs. It would be great if you posted pics of your beds before you plant them and then when things are at their height.

    As for your problems with grass roots amongst the roots of your perennials, at this time of year you can wash all the soil off the roots and then wheedle the grass roots out. Don't let the plants stay unplanted for too long, but keeping them in a bucket of water with a flavouring of aspirin is also a good idea.

    And yes it's GREAT to get dirt under ones fingernails again. I don't know if it's due to the dry summer we had last year but the black flies aren't annoying us as we dig this year --- yet. Fingers crossed.
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Hey, Kota, that's good to know about separating perennial roots from grass roots! I'll be able to salvage many more plants that way. Even though they are "just" plants, I hate to see the accumulated energy of years of growth go to waste in the compost.

    Actually, all these projects are just my way of keeping up with the Joneses. Folks around here set a high standard, you first among them, despite your disclaimers!

    My better half has been a major contributor to all this. In many ways, he is much more organized than I am. He doesn't really want to know the details of why we do things a certain way (forget about C and N ratios in the sheet mulch!), but he's more than willing to get things done. He was doing major overtime all weekend (the semester is wrapping up), so going out with the pick and attacking the old raised beds and the overgrown compost piles was therapeutic for him. That is the kind of thing it would take me days to do, wimp that I am, and he gets it done in a couple of hours.

    I took some pictures yesterday, mostly for our own documentation purposes. If we have good results, we'll want to know how to replicate them. If not, we'll want to see where we went wrong. I'll post some when I have a good series showing progress.

    I heard a mosquito buzz by when out for a walk this weekend, and a few flies have bugged me when working with the compost, but all in all a pretty bug-free spring so far. We're short on rain here, which is a problem in lots of ways, but it sure keeps the black fly population down. Our gutter downspouts were all installed at rain-barrel height this morning, so now I have to run and get a bunch of barrels from the salvage yard before Thursday's predicted rain. Can't waste a drop around here!

    Hope the rooftop gardens and the Anomaly are progressing well -- in your lyrical way.

     
    dj niels
    Posts: 181
    Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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    I remember about the long, skinny property divisions. We lived on the Maine side of the St John river, but the whole valley was mostly French Acadian descent. The piece we bought was 40 acres, about 30 yards wide by 1 1/4 mile long, up and over a hill, with a narrow road frontage. The whole front face of the hillside had been cleared for farming years before, but alot of brushy growth had come in with lots of wild raspberries, red osier dogwood, and other things.

    I well remember the black flies, and the deer flies, and the no-see-ums. It was quite an experience. And snowshoeing over the deep drifted snow to cut a christmas tree. Lots of memories--some good, some not so good.
     
    Kota Dubois
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    Ya, it's nice to have a little muscle power around, and there's nothing like striking out hard to burn off all matter of frustration. My new tool this spring is a mattlock which is head and shoulders above working with just a pick and a shovel, especially in my rocky soil.

    Last week at the Anomaly was great, yet the heat and sunshine after a long winter weren't very conducive to the will to work. We need rain too since we've had none since the snow melted. On the other hand, the normally hard spring rains beat my poofy daffodils and magnolia to the ground. They've never looked better than this year.

    This week I'm working on the roof and am just getting the house plants out there now. I hope I don't fry them. Today the car's getting its winter boots changed for running shoes.
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    poofy daffs and pondsie
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    Maggy
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Gorgeous, Kota! You're way ahead of us (and magnolia would bloom here only in my dreams).

    Good tools, I am relearning for the hundredth time in my life, are essential to good work. The pickaxe has been a good choice for most ground-busting tasks around here, but it has been pretty useless when dealing with substantial roots of the stumps we have been trying to grub out. I see a mattock in Paul's future! We've also realized that there is intense competition for the good loppers when laying down wood for hugelkultur, for the good shovels when building raised beds, and for the big wheelbarrow when moving stuff around. For the moment, we're trying to share nicely. When more free time becomes available (if that ever happens), I'll have a good excuse for going to some auctions to hunt for some good old time-tested tools. Too many of the tools we buy new end up useless within a year or two.

    dj, I hadn't realized that this system of land allocation had extended so far south. Back when rivers were the only reliable transportation route, those narrow frontages kind of made some sense, giving every landholder direct access to the thoroughfare while keeping the neighbors close together. Same thing when road-building was such an arduous process: long narrow farms meant the shortest possible roads from the village to the end of the settled area. It's the absolute obligation to clear all the trees that I can't get my head around. More wood, and then more grain, to send back to the king, I suppose.



     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Earlier this week I finished one of the 4' x 24' sheet-mulch beds, which topped out at over 18 inches. The top few inches are the luxurious compost we brought in a trailer-load of, with enough wood chips over that to keep weed seeds out and water in. We had over two inches of deep soaking rain on Saturday, which loaded the whole thing with water, so today I decided to plant my cold-tolerant heirloom seeds. I planted in rows working crosswise (so, 4-foot rows), spacing about 6 inches between rows. I want a good polyculture, but it has been enough years since I've done a lot of veggie gardening that I want to take a season or two to train my eyes to ID seedlings before attempting to scatter seeds. So, I put in two rows of sugar-snap peas, one row of cabbage, one of rutabaga and one of broccoli. In between these five space-occupying crops, I put in multiple rows of radishes, arugula, mesclun, carrots, mizuna mustard greens, sorrel and perennial green onions -- the goal of course being to progressively harvest all or most of these interplantings before the big stuff gets in the way. With all that in, the bed is not even half full, so I plan to repeat the same sequence in a week or two, with some variations.

    I will finish the other 4' x 24' bed this week, and find some way of installing a good long cloche, or at the very least a row cover, over at least part of it. I'm hoping to be able to actually set out my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants before leaving for two weeks in mid-June, counting on the moisture in the bed to see them through until I get back. Do you think this is too optimistic? Our last average frost date is May 15, but this spring has been slow getting started. The hay I've been using to build the beds is really rotten and the inner part of the bales is quite hot when the outer few flakes are removed, so I'm hoping that will generate a few weeks of good composting heat in the beds to keep things warm enough if it is chilly. I can get my cat-sitter (and excellent gardener) to water, if things really heat up.

    My better half has been working a bit on the hugelkultur bed as time permits. One half (25 to 30 feet) is almost ready to plant -- it is missing only a layer of compost or topsoil and a topping of wood chips. I've got lots of asparagus started from seed, strawberry plants and seeds on their way and bunches of other goodies waiting to be put in, along with trees on the northwest (downhill) edge and fruit bushes on the northwest side.

    I am finding this whole process deliriously happy-making. Hope you're all enjoying the season, whether you're planting or harvesting at this time of year.
     
    Miles Flansburg
    steward
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    Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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    bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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    This is a great thread everyone, very interesting! Keep up the good work.
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    In response to someone's message, I posted a sort of update on last season here. Lots of reasons to be encouraged, lots of plans for this year, lots of lessons learned.

     
    Alder Burns
    pollinator
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    Location: northern California
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    Thinking on a broader scale, and away from the importation of organic matter (although that is great for startup of small gardens, especially if the resources are otherwise going to waste), one goal is to accelerate the formation of soil on site. Have you thought of trying to bring in something like a keyline plow, subsoiler, or some other kind of deep ripping implement? This would loosen the rock and allow better root penetration. It also seems like you could use nitrogen-fixers in quantity, and those that are truly hardy for you are uncommon....and it sounds like you've already got them...caragana, sea buckthorn, and alder. You might check out larger alders, such as the European black alder, which can provide useful wood, coppices readily, and will reach a size enough to produce a vigorous root system and serve as somewhat of a windbreak.
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Thanks, Alder. Our site is so small that I don't think any tractor-pulled implement could maneuver without running over something. I have noted that Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates really wished they had done something to lessen compaction earlier on, so I will be using a digging fork to do as much as I can. This really is pretty solid rock: although it is somewhat fractured and friable, it is really hard on farm equipment.

    I am concentrating on soil-building this year, even in areas where I don't have definitive plans for specific plantings. We'll spread daikon, turnip, clover and buckwheat into forked ground and let it go. We may do chop and drop once or twice a season, but that may be unnecessary use of labor. Depending on how well organized I am, there may be some swale-building going on prior to seeding.

    Many of the materials we brought in last year would have gone to the landfill had we not taken them. They are one-time inputs, not something we intend to continue doing as our systems get established. I agree entirely that putting in the right plants (and water/nutrient retention systems) should accomplish a lot, given enough time. The more we get growing here, the easier it will be to get more things growing. I do intend to put in a lot more caragana and sea buckthorn. Thanks for the tip on black alder. I may go for black locust too, despite misgivings about its invasive behavior. As far as I know, it is not yet illegal to plant in Quebec.

    If ever we acquire the surrounding land (see photos of snow-covered fields around our little plot of ground), the first order of business would be keyline and contour systems, swales and ponds. This land is very boggy in the spring, but it is so abused that simply converting to perennial systems would go a long way. It pains me to see how it is currently being managed, but it is out of our hands.

     
    Heidi Hoff
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    A few photos on last year's progress.

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    Lasagna raised beds under construction
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    Raised beds with tomatoes, peppers and onions on right, skunk-damaged asparagus plantings on left
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    Last year's hugelkultur bed:
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    Some of the starting material, scavenged from surrounding farmland with permission
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    Hugelkultur bed under construction
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    Strawberries and onions happy on hugelkultur bed with woodchip mulch
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    "Dinosaur eggs" are small mounds of mixed materials (rotted hay, leaves, compost, topsoil), covered with wood chip mulch. Each "egg" is 3 or 4 feet in diameter, and they are scattered over an area of lawn we intend to convert to food forest and windbreak. There are a variety of windbreak trees already planted here and there. The productive trees will eventually be planted where the mounds are, when the windbreak trees have already gotten a head start.

    The "eggs" are surrounded with a few inches of hay mulch. Each mound was planted with squash or tomatoes, with some herbs and greens scattered in. The squash were intended to sprawl over the grass to help smother it. Yields were great, but could have been better. This year the squash mounds will be various versions of the three sisters, probably with Jerusalem artichoke and sunflowers, as we're not big corn eaters. I have a bunch of heirloom beans that would be happy to contribute some nitrogen to the other plants.

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    There are about a dozen eggs (of course). You can see a young maple to the right, and some daikon shooting up in various places where it was seeded around young trees.
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    Happy zucchini. Note that the hay keeps some of the grass down, lets the dandelion through. Also, the wood chips keep most grass from invading the "eggs".
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    The daikon dwarfs the young trees, but we left most of them in place to rot over winter and feed the trees this spring.
     
    Heidi Hoff
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    A few overview shots.

    The first shot is looking northwest. The "dinosaur eggs" are in the middle, behind an ancient lilac in a neglected bed with bird feeder. There are some piles of materials to be used in constructing beds over the gravel terrace (where my better half used to have his dog runs).

    The second shot is looking northeast. The hugelkultur bed with strawberries is in the middle, with the staging area with piles of wood chips, soil and compost in the foreground. This area is an old stone, concrete and gravel foundation for an outbuilding. There are some sea buckthorn and aronia planted on the sloping sides of this platform. This area will eventually have raised beds and herb gardens.

    The third shot is looking slightly more toward the east, showing the raised beds behind the spruce tree and more of the staging area. This
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    Looking northwest.
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    Looking northeast.
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    Looking east-northeast.
     
    Isabelle Gendron
    Posts: 173
    Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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    Hey!!! Heidi. Nice to meet a close ¨perma partner¨:p

    I live near you in Montmagny...problem is almost the same except that I am fortunate enough to have more trees around and to be a bit further from the Fleuve than you..

    I have fields that I have to plan and like you said, with the rectangular shape of the land and the entry from the road to the house that is about 1200 pieds, not easy to plan windbeakers without ¨holes¨in it...see what I mean.

    Has for the trees to plant, you can also see ¨Les fermes miracles¨. In the vidéo, he his talking abot a lot of species he planted...other wise, I try to plant same family plants.

    Glad to have found a ¨patriote¨...

    Isabelle
     
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