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Looking to transform 11 + 4 acres of rocky south facing hillside land. Am I totally nuts?

 
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I have 11 acres of very rocky scrub land just outside Nashville in Tennessee. I did not pay much for this property during the recent real estate downturn. I want to develop this property over the next few years to provide food for me and my family. I have been reading tons about gardening, farming, permaculture, and land restoration. I am reading about Salatin and Holzer both. I have tons to learn yet.

Construction is booming 6-10 miles down the road and I have a earth-moving company wanting to come in and clear the scrub brush off my land, blast the rock, remove several feet of rock, level about 4 acres of the 11, blast a few ponds, terrace the edges, and bring in about 4 inches of top soil. After that I was thinking about sheet mulching the area by putting down layers of cardboard and covering with about a foot of green tree mulch from area tree trimming companies and then waiting for the mulch to compost into humus. Does any of this make sense? The property is so rocky and without soil that to get a permit for my septic system from the county, I had to get a neighbor give me an easement onto their property. Basically I need lots and lots of soil to cover the existing rocks or let the earth-moving company clear the land, remove some of the rock and build the soil up from there. Ideas? Am I nuts?
 
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
441
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Howdy Brad, welcome to permies. I guess it would depend on how much it will cost you to get all of that work done. You might be able to buy a "better" piece of land by the time you pay for all of the improvements on this piece?
 
Brad Howard
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Thank you for your response Miles.

Please keep in mind that the earth-moving company will remove all that rock and put down 4 inches of top soil just for me giving them the rock/gravel/material they pull off the land. They will install a portable rock crusher and use the crushed limestone for construction projects in the area. No money will exchange hands. The more they blast the more rock they get and the less I have to pay to level my land and dig ponds. I watched them do this last summer on a 4 acre parcel about 4 miles from my land.

As far a sheet mulching is concerned, my understanding is that tree trimming companies have to pay to dump their mulch and would prefer to dump it on my land for free and let me spread it out. This sort of sounds like the "Back to Eden" garden from the guy in California.

Does that make this crazy idea any clearer?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
441
hugelkultur forest garden fungi books bee greening the desert
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Sounds pretty good to me. Are there contracts involved to make sure they actually get it done like you want?
 
Brad Howard
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That is a good point and yes I plan to get it all in writing. I think they are legitimate it just will not happen fast. That is the trade-off. They have asked for 1 year to complete the project once they start the project.

The area they will excavate runs about 685 feet east to west and 300 feet south to north and slopes down towards the south. I may purchase an additional 4 acres on the backside to increase my total acreage to 15 acres so I can get the "greenbelt" tax breaks.

Do any of you guys have smart ideas on how you would want the property to be terraced? How many ponds? Layout? When you think about it I kind of have a blank canvas to start from here. I may end up growing blueberries in one section, vegetables in another section, and fence other areas for rotational pasture grazing by 3 or 4 cows and some free range chickens mostly for laying and a few for cooking. In a lower area that will not be excavated, I may fence off an area for a few pasture pigs. I will start out just raising for my wife and I and maybe my sons. If I get good at it I may try selling some of my food.

I feel like I get one shot at telling these earth-moving guys what I want. I want to get it right. Any ideas and guidance you folks have is sure appreciated.
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
441
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Any way you could post a picture or google map?
 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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Sounds like a great deal you have going there with the construction company. So your trade is the rock & clay, for 4 inches of topsoil...provided they do the heavy mining work. I would be interested in that 'topsoil' they expect to provide, and what is it really... is it man made soil, or some stage of composted debris, possibly municipal sewage sludge, or feedlot sludge, and various mixtures there of? Is it best to have this topsoil spread by the contractor, or perhaps just dumped in several areas, for use where & when you need it...instead of just spreading it over everything, it is easier to count loads of material dumped, than it is to qualify 'about 4" deep-spread'. It might be good to qualify your contractor as to how many truck loads will be topsoil, clay gravel, silty overburden, sand, and since he is crushing stone, I would definitely want plenty of crushed stone, and several grades of it, building stone, or perhaps some huge boulders. That stuff won't ever get any cheaper for you while the miner is operating.

Isn't it typical when some rock mining is operated, that 'the topsoil' is: whatever originally covered the rock, sometimes called 'overburden', and that is considered topsoil & replaced after the mining operation. Since your expecting some deep holes mining out of the rock, to create ponds, I'm guessing you will have roadways or at least pathways for your future use, which probably won't need topsoil wasted upon them, rock mining tailings mixed with clay would be better for roadways, figure out where those additional roads should be and have your contractor build those, and run some heavy loads over the new roads, they will then last forever. Also some loads of clay, would the clay be sifted clean of rock, or just a pile of bankside 'clay gravel' and if sand should be fairly clean or crushed ideally...those materials dumped in specified areas might be helpful in the future, for use where topsoil might not be so useful, (you wouldn't want to back fill a fence post hole, or make a building foundation, or a drainage ditch with topsoil, unless that was all you had). I would try to keep all the overburden on your property, if you think it is useful & you will might need it later, but I wouldn't lose 'the deal' trying to keep it.

Also make a note of existing trees, those that shall remain, those rock miners are really good at hitting and scarring every decent tree standing nearby, if you mark the boundaries, mark em so bright that they can be seen without a doubt. Some big trees removed for the mining should be stored for throwing back in the pond as fish structure.

As for making your own dirt or whatever, since your attempting to farm something, you will need dirt for plants...it can easily take 3 or more years and lots of loads & lots of work to make dirt from composted, chipped, or other debris to finally become dirt...so find out what the contractor means by topsoil & how many loads. If the contractor was specifying topsoil that still yet needs a lot of improvement (by you), you might want to get half that topsoil delivered up front, so you can be working/improving it, while the mining is on going. (remember your new rock buddy has the big machines to move heavy stuff) Then as you have added whatever improvements to a large volume of topsoil over the year, then as the remaining half is delivered a year later... have the contractor stir & mix all of it. By mixing it at the last stage, the topsoil will be easily workable for you when all the dust has settled, and by looking at the mixture, you will be reminded what exactly is in there.

I guess what I'm saying is the topsoil and possibly other materials are the most valuable initial things to consider and stockpile, as well as cutting grades, mixing/moving materials, and going hunting of course.

James Beam;)
 
Brad Howard
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James thank you so much for your thoughts! Keep in mind this is not a done deal yet. I know soil takes a long time to create. The earth-moving contractor wants a year to remove the rock. It will probably take me another year to sheet mulch the property and then it will take a minimum of 3 years for the mulch to break down. Seriously this is probably a 10 year project for me. Do you agree?

You have brought up many great points and I need to read this several times and think through each one. I do like your suggestion about counting truck loads of soil rather than measuring depth of soil after the soil has been dumped and spread. I have a lot to learn yet. How many cubic yards does a dump truck hold? If I know that I can figure out how many loads I need. I am going to have many questions and may keep this post open as this project progresses...assuming it progresses ). Thanks again for your input. Brad
 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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Hey Brad, something else you might keep in mind about your 10 year project, how fun would it be to have the contractor clear and doze your current boundary line, (the 11 acres also) as "a fence line" were to be installed at some point in the future, the thing about surveyed boundary lines is that they sometimes fade with time, as little time as 10 years, but a dozed trail along that surveyed "fence line" clearly marks your boundary for a long time, noticeable even under heavy snow, never infringe upon your neighbors property or cause direct run off onto others property...if at all possible. If properly marked and managed, you will only need one survey that will not only serve you, your neighbors, but new owners as they move thru...how crazy would that be if a single survey expense stood the test of time, due to your attention to it. Marked trees/ pink ribbons/ will eventually fade, steel markers are much better than 'a painted pile of stones' ...somewhere down there..., all those items can even sometimes be moved, or lost, but a dozer cut line is permanent & fairly obvious to all even a fence builder 20 years from now, the cut is useful for access to those remote corners of the place.

I look at property as something that may be improved upon, to add value to the property in various ways, so that when the property is sold the added value is cashed in at the point of sale. Roads, trails, and fence lines all add value only if they were practical facilities in the first place, using proper building techniques and materials, always thoughtful of the natural surroundings, these improvements should add value immediately for you... even if you never sell. A few thoughtful & well built roads will give you easy access to the ponds, buildings, garden areas...this is part of your job as the tenant, to leave a place that is functional, perhaps even fenced, not just to mark the boundary, but useful to someone that intends to raise livestock, like cattle perhaps. Building fence is very hard work, especially in a rock/ mountain side situation, but maybe you enjoy that kind of work, there again a sound fence could also function to benefit your neighbors. A fence line could eventually support accessible fruit trees and berry bushes for example, or how fun would it be if some catalpa trees went along the fence lines, I would want catalpa worms for fishing those ponds! I guess it is kind of like comparing a totally unimproved property 'in the woods, or whatever' ~~most people don't want to do the work & expense of improvements, when they can buy it already installed~~ a property with city water, electric, telephone, fenced, ponds, gardens...I'm sure you already figured that out.

So then, about your contractor, what are you going to do for him? Isn't the reason you welcomed the rock mining, is to gain some benefits from the mining. But what of your contractor?, did he not use the previous example a few miles down the road...to prove what type of job he leaves behind. With that in mind, you might try looking at this from the contractor's point of view and ask...what can I do as the tenant, to help reclaim the area? You and your ability, might be just what the contractor is seeking, someone that can responsibly & even aggressively reclaim the area! From the other mining site down the road, was the tenant there content to just 'let it be what it is'?, or have they been out there steadily trying to capture the advantages of the mining operations. Do they have some materials to sell to the locals for example, mounds & mounds of chat, SB2, clay gravel, sand, whatever...stored income producers for the tenant, even after the mining operation completed. Where they quick to plant and sow, and transplant/nurture necessary vegetation to properly reclaim the area?...did they have to do it all by themselves?...isn't that why the mining contractor chose that location/tenant? Mining reclaim is not cheap, so don't forget that your services are required, and extensive, of which you should have no problems asking the contractor to move the heavy stuff, expecting it to get done, not disrupting his mining operation, but...as part of the reclaiming strategy. Lots of Before & After pictures is part of your job as reclaimer perhaps, proof so that you can share your photo progress with the contractor and others, remember the contractor wants to continue operations somewhere else down the road...wouldn't it be cool if you made a brief photo journal of the operation, notes, and just as important ...the reclaiming effort that you & the contractor made along the way. You might mention this reclamation to the contractor, and if he somehow wants to be part of the reclamation or not, because if the answer is: not, then he expects YOU to be responsible for it, kinda sounds unfair if your only getting paid a few loads of topsoil, check out the link I added to this post below. Also as the contractor just begins, it should be known that any and all salvageable plants must be sorted thru and sustained for use in reclamation, granted most trees don't transplant well, but I would want the ability to jump right in there and save as many viable plants as possible. Plants cost money to buy them, but if you can save an existing plants, grasses, wild flower seed, shrubs, little trees hazelnut, spicebush, coralberry, or even a dogwood, paw paw, little saplings, red elms, or wild geraniums, violets, ginseng, grapevines, whatever!...this is what you need that topsoil upfront for, to save/store/nurture existing plants...there is no point to saving these plants if you & the contractor haven't already provided a place out of harms way, for these plants to live temporarily, 'a nursery of sorts'.

http://www.marble-institute.com/pdfs/bp_site-maintenance-closure.pdf ~~from the internet, I searched 'rock quarry reclamation, TN' you should see what others have to say about a quarry project, including your neighbors.

james beam;)
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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You want 10% or moreof your land to be water/pond.
About 50,000 sqft or five 10,00sqft(1/4acre) ponds.
How are you going to line the ponds, esp seeing as how you seem to have porous limestone for soil. Are you going to import clay, or use plastic pond liners, or use the holtz soil compression technique.

Have them do your 2 acre homesite 1st so that you can start adding mulch, manure and worms to start building the intensively soil now. Then once that is finish you can work on the pasture area and then the firewood/natural area. Just remember that you can only intensively manage 2 acre without HUGE farm equipment.
 
                    
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Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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Hey Brad, so it has been a while... would you care to say if you made a deal, and how it is progressing? ~~just curious~~

James Beam;)
 
Brad Howard
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Hi James et al. Thanks for checking on me. I am sorry to say I have made very little real progress so far. My scheduled followup with the earth moving company is around the middle of September to see if we are going to move this thing forward or not. I have made a few calls to tree trimming companies and I think I can get lots of mulch and maybe full logs for build huglekulture beds. If I can get enough mulch and food scraps and then get microbes from http://www.biozome.com/, I should be able to create decent soil.

Even if the earth moving company chooses not to participate I may try and terrace the land by hiring a dozier or I may just get fed up with it all and sell it and go buy better land. The real estate market is getting better around here these days. There is a lot of work to do and I have a demanding job that does not allow me to piddle much. I sure can see having lots of hugleculture beds on it and free range pigs and chickens on it. Maybe things will fall in place. Brad
 
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