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HOW do you start?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 6
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I've been interested in permaculture for a while, even though we rent a place in the city. We've been actively looking for a place for months. I've been container gardening (so we can take it with us) but not done any infrastructure where I live (because we are tenants with an HOA.)

Now we are close to moving to a property and suddenly I'm overwhelmed. WHERE to start?

I know PIECES of what I want. I have a list of trees and varieties that will do well in my area and what we want to grow (though I don't know every species for every guild yet). I know what herbs and medicines I want (I'm into herbal medicine). I know what kind of livestock (poultry) we want, what varieties, how we will keep them. I know we want to create a pond, how big we want it, what plants to put around it, what to stock it with, and have watched a ton of videos and read a ton of articles about how to create it. I know how I want to try water management and I know what kind of rain catchment we're going to try out first. I've lived in this geographical area for a few years, I know the weather patterns, I know what natural disasters I should plan for, I know what a normal summer and a brutal summer and an unusually cold summer all look like. I know all these detailed pieces.

But now I'm looking at 5 acres of wooded land (some of which will need to be cleared) and- HOW to I pull all of these pieces into a grand plan? How do I know which trees to cut down? How do I plan this integrated codependent food forest from scratch? How do I go about deciding that the pond goes HERE and we'll leave this area for a future dairy cow THERE and the orchard will be HERE?

I love looking at the plans people post of their permaculture gardens, I just don't know how to make one when faced with a blank piece of paper. Our land does have a home on it (doublewide) and I do know we will be adding structures to it (an office/schoolroom/guesthouse building, a shed at first.) Especially knowing that soil amendment, and waiting for fruit/nut trees to mature can take years... which means I have to get it right from the start so we can begin right away.
 
Posts: 66
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I belive your supposed to observe the land, and that observation will lead you toward projects.

you don't really have a blank sheet of paper, you have a map filled with topography, hydrology, etc. you use that to decide where things go.
 
Mother Tree
Posts: 10519
Location: Portugal
1221
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If it's the design aspect you're interested in, try to get hold of a copy of Permaculture Design: a step=by-step guide by Aranya. If you click the link it will take you to a review.
 
Lisa Stauber
Posts: 6
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Thank you. I have read books on permaculture but suspected I hadn't read the RIGHT books on permaculture re: starting from scratch.

Any suggestions of resources, websites, YouTubes, etc. are much appreciated.

Our topo map is almost a blank piece of paper, lol. No creeks on the property, mostly flat and wooded with pine and cypress. Road on the south and NW borders.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 10519
Location: Portugal
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Also, geoff lawton has a series of free videos which might help. You need to sign up to see them - here's the link Property Purchase Checklist videos
 
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Lisa

Congrats on your new home!

In your deed packet should be a plot plan. Go to a copy store and get a large blow up done with several copies; buy technical drawing pencils and big eraser, ruler and template while waiting. Fill in your map with what is... the good the bad the ugly. Note water flow, low areas, wind direction, frost pockets, etc. Take next copy and begin penciling in the structures you plan. Then begin drawing your layout. Keep working on your plan as your information increases. Prior to clearing trees; ID what you have...trees take a long time to grow and chopping down a producing tree (sugar maple, wild fruit, nut) would be a bad choice. Of the ones to chop; are they good smoke wood? Are they good for hugels? Get your plan going first (it is late in the season to be planting). Then break it down into phases in an order that works with what you are doing; set time frames for each phase...hint: this is going to take years! Set a pace that works for you; make it a joy not a burden.
 
Posts: 61
Location: Maine
11
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We just bought our place in February and moved in April so maybe our experience can help you. I second the tip to observe. We've made a few small garden beds, cleared a few trees and put in a few trees. Mostly this year has been about clean-up (the last owners were hoarders or something) and enjoying nature now that we're out of the city. I've drawn plans for the land dozens of times and have a huge lists of projects I want to do. My first set of plans make no sense knowing what I know now. Some of my projects just won't fit with our property without a lot of external resources. I'm glad that this year we've mostly done things that can easily be undone if need be.

For resources, I recommend getting a book on wild edibles in your area. This will let you know what you don't want to clear, at least until you've tasted the wild food to see if you like it.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Emily

Good points! Our plot plan today, looks nothing like our first rendition. Through learning our land, we adjusted accordingly. Our land was a foreclosure that was completely overgrown with nothing done in over 7 years; and, the prior people like in your case left garbage, wire, tires, bottles, etc everywhere. The doing part was only minor clean up and mowing to begin with. The first project priority was as much fencing as we could afford and a small barn. We then began collecting our plants and keeping them temporarily behind our new fence in our zones 1 - 3.
 
Posts: 67
Location: Merville, BC
7
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Lisa (et al.):

I'm in a similar situation as you seem to be (and Emily as well). We've just acquired 5 acres of long neglected land and home and are starting our journey down the road of resilience and restoration. Beyond geographic differences, our land is mostly old horse pasture (it's had animals on it recently, but it's been neglected while being grazed). Nonetheless, I'm a city boy who now has 5 acres of country to steward, all the while feeling somewhat overwhelmed where to begin. Unfortunately, while we have inherited 3 apple trees, 2 plum trees and a pear tree, no money tree was planted by the previous occupants.

Beyond taking time to observe and reading a wide range of books, watching plenty of videos, devouring a multitude of podcasts (as others and you have mentioned) I've decided to take an online PDC. It's a bit pricey, but from what I can tell it's a brilliant way to develop a site plan in a workshop format. In this particular course, students are expected to post their weekly analysis and design work to a blog, and comment on each others plans. The instructors also give feedback along the way. I see it as a way to develop my own skills, get feedback on my design and become certified (future side job?) as a Permaculturist.

If you're interested the course is offered through Oregon State Uni here: https://pne.oregonstate.edu/catalog/permaculture-design-certificate-online

The instructor's page is here: http://www.beaverstatepermaculture.com/profile/AndrewMillison

Here's a podcast interview with the instructor: http://www.thepermaculturepodcast.com/2013/andrew-millison/

For me, the chance to site plan my land, in a communal setting (albeit 'cyber') and tap into the hive mind for a few months during the analysis/design/learning phase is worth the money. I can only imagine how much trial and error mistakes I might avoid. My background is not rooted in any form of design, so I'm keen to have the guided learning.

Best of luck to you in your integration with your place however your path winds! Keep us posted!

 
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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There is no ONE right way to do things - it all depends on your particular interests and food preferences, and even then there are many, many different good ways to do it. Relax! Enjoy it! You'll be tinkering with the land and plants for the rest of your life!

What I did first is get some of the more important trees in place because I know they'll take many years to mature enough to bear nuts and fruit for me and I wanted the shade in those spots ASAP. And started my herbs because I missed having them and want them to get big and start seeding all over the place so I can have the abundance I'm used to. I also rushed to get started with animals because once you have fresh eggs there's no going back, LOL! And I wanted the manure to use for fertilizer for my projects.

All the advice about where to put what isn't set in stone - so many variables come into play - they say put the highest maintenance stuff closest to where you always will be - but you may put in a chicken coop or barn or pond somewhere that will change where that is. You can always move things or put in a second garden. Maybe starting out with the idea that some things are temporary is a good thing - a good perimeter fence can't hurt but for paddocks or something maybe stick with movable fencing for now. (chickens, pigs, goats, and turkeys do well in forests, which are their native habitat)

Your area might have a conservation guy who can come out for free and tell you which trees are what to help you decide which to cut down. Some may be valuable as wood (that you can sell), some may be junk/invasive trees that should be cut, some may have some disease or something, and some may be real keepers.
 
Posts: 76
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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If you have google earth and can get print out of an aerial of your place, (check with your state "cadastral" or mapping services, usually connected with the property tax system so folks can see property boundaries) it will help you tremendously. And hopefully you know the dimensions of something sitting on the ground so you have the right aspect when sketching in a building or pen etc.

Then just make copies of the aerial, and start sketching up ideas, keeping in mind that you want an efficient set-up with gardens, buildings, water source etc, perhaps leaving some of the outer spaces for things you don't have to tend to as much, like dry crops or an orchard. It would get real tiring to walk an acre or two to go get eggs or milk a goat twice a day!

So think of what you will be spending most of your time on, and make that convenient and by all means, pleasant - flowers, sitting bench to take rest etc. And I suggest start closest to the house and work your way out, like with a "kitchen garden" then move out to a building a green house and chicken coop or whatever, then further out could be a bee yard or goats. Your abilities will grow with your place.

My daughter was laughing at me and said "Gads mom, just how many sitting areas are you gonna have on this place", and after pondering that a minute I said "so I don't have to walk too far between areas without having a nice place to sit!' She shook her head, but when I get older, I think I will appreciate those resting places!

Just my 2cents.
 
Posts: 505
Location: Eastern Kansas
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The pond will need to be where drainage from the hillsides can fill it.
 
steward
Posts: 2723
Location: Maine (zone 5)
553
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Some things to keep in mind.

Do things seasonally, but plan ahead of time as well as you can. Winter is for resting and planning your moves once spring comes. Be ready with seeds, trees, tools, materials and plans. Time goes by fast when you're having fun... or panicking. Don't stack firewood in the middle of July. Don't wait til November to do the tune-up on the plow. Timing saves a lot of headache and sweat.

Keep a notebook with three kinds of paper. Blank paper for sketches or doodles, Lined paper for notes and observational data and Grid paper for doing more detailed planning and designing. A property map and a topographical map would help too. Make 50 copies of your maps and put them in the back of the notebook to draw plans on. Keep old drafts of things because in 3 years when you have an "AH HA" moment, you'll have a bunch of sketches to look at for reference.
I look back at mine once in a while and think of how those plans would have failed or what made them good but not great. Some of them were good ideas that just don't fit Yet.

Every project will take longer than you think and you'll change your mind a lot once you've started. Make a "dream list" of projects to complete each year. Expect to complete a few of those projects because issues will arise and you'll have "do-over's". Life happens and things get put off from time to time. That's ok, don't let it discourage you. I started digging a swale to divert water from my house to the pond last October. It should have taken a few days but bad weather and bad timing on my part made it take much longer. The ground froze before it was done and I had to wait til May this year to finish it.

Expect failures: Especially on "new" land, there will be things you simply don't understand about the terrain. Be sure to observe everything for a full year before making drastic changes if possible. You may not see a creek now, but one could pop up in a awkward place if you're not careful. Spring thaw and occasional heavy downpours of rain may surprise you with a pond in a place you don't want one. Usually the basement.

Start small-ish: It's better to have a small garden you can manage, than a huge one you can't. It will take time to learn your soil and make the needed changes. Until then, only take on a reasonable work load as you'll likely have to pay closer attention to things until they establish themselves and you establish yourself. If you attempt a huge garden, animals, canning, knitting and a solar array in one year, you may pull it off, but likely you will struggle and something will suffer (usually you). I think this is where most people lose their enthusiasm for permaculture. Weeds, bugs, rain, heat-waves, chicken fights, sour milk... all easy to fix on their own, but no fun when it all happens in one week. Slow and steady wins the race. You'll get there, don't rush.

Smile: Despite all the trouble and headache, when the first year is over, you'll be able to look back and recount your accomplishments and failures. They are all valuable teaching tools. Learn what you can then plan for the next year.

If you're going to make investments in tools, BUY GOOD TOOLS! I bought a rake for ten bucks, used it for about 20 seconds, then hung it up. It sucked! Now I have a good rake that's a joy to work with. It was much more expensive... a whopping forty bucks. Incidentally, I cut the handle off of the crappy rake and replaced it with a tree branch I cut last year. Works much better now but still not great.

On tools: Don't buy anything that you can rent for cheaper. I wanted to buy a tiller when I first moved here 5 years ago. My wife convinced me to rent one first to see how it handled the terrain. I rented one from the local hardware store for sixty dollars and used it for two days. I haven't had to till anything since. Good thing I didn't blow five hundred dollars to buy my own.

So I hope this doesn't come off and being a "downer". Permaculture IS GREAT and when you get going, it's hard to stop. I hope the things I mentioned above, help you to avoid some common first errors and make your transition to permaculture an enjoyable one.

Best of luck
Craig








 
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