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Posts: 45
Location: Southern Ohio (zone 6a)
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My family (mom) is currently in contract to buy 91 acres in Southeast (Vinton county), Ohio. Assuming the purchase is completed I plan to move out there in approximately 2 months to begin work on the land. I will also also try to find work (at least part-time) locally to supplement my current money. I'd like to get some ideas and also organize my own thoughts. First I will describe the land.

This is a terrain map with an outline of the property. The white line is the road, the light-blue is a year-round creek and the dark blue is an old pond which currently is only around 2 feet deep (due to leaking). The light green is a border with a state forest which is approximately 16,000 acres in size. The bottom land around the creek and somewhat up the slope (~10-15 acres) has been cleared and currently consist of clay with some grass growing on it. The rest of the land consist of around 40 year old forest. There is a nice path that leads to the top of the hill and the back of the land. The road is under a mile from a major road (U.S. 50) which is generally fairly heavy in traffic.


I have around $15,000 dollars, all of which I am willing to invest into the property (though I'd like to keep $3000-5000 aside to pay for other expenses (property tax, food, gas etc...). So say $10,000+- to invest immediately, with more hopefully coming if I find work in the area (or I could also leave the land to get work during part of the year).

A - Bridge the creek (this is pretty much essential), the creek is not very wide but is fairly deep. It can be driven through as long as it hasn't rained much recently. But in Ohio that means that during the spring the land would be pretty inaccessible by vehicle. Initially this could be something thrown together (maybe using cut trees) - if it's cheap enough then it won't much matter if it washes out in the spring. Eventually I'd like to build something more permanent.

B - Build some type of building. I'm thinking of building a cheap "house" near the road (there are electric and water available at the road) and eventually turning that into an honors system farm store, there should be room between the road and the creek, though then flooding may be an issue. It could also be a pole barn of some sort (or perhaps a smaller pole-structure). The permanent house would probably be on the slope or on top of the hill. Would like to spend under $2000 on the initial building, but that might be optimistic. Though with a tractor and a chainsaw I could make use of the forest for a lot of wood.

C - I'd really like to get a trackhoe. But I don't think I could afford it initially. I could perhaps afford a tractor with a backhoe attachment, though that would be most of my money (might be able to get one for $6000-$7000 of craigslist if I'm quite lucky). This would be useful because I'd like to fix the pond and I would also like to build hugelkultur on the cleared area. The person who cleared it took pretty much all the top-soil and left what is pretty close to pure clay. Hulgulkultur would be much better than pure clay. I might be able to get by with renting a trackhoe instead. Or perhaps I could convince my mom to split the cost so she can also use the backhoe on her land (have a family friend from whom I can borrow a trailer large enough to move a tractor on).

D - Get a high quality chainsaw (~700).

E - Fencing and animal structures. This would probably be delayed (especially since I will be arriving at the land in October). Assuming I can find a winter job I would start fencing the land in the spring. Initially I would like to fence across the front of the land and fence the initial building (and hopefully the eventual honors system farm store) out of the main farm area. This would prevent contact between visitors/customers and the animals which I think is pretty essential. The rest would probably be fenced piece-meal. I am also going to test some alternative fencing methods. My idea is to cut down say 20 feet of trees on the border of the property. Then let those trees lay where they fell. By my estimation that should create a fairly impenetrable hedge for at least 4-5 years. Especially with regrowth coming up. I would probably also plant (or cause to accidentally and magically appear) some things to encourage the hedge to be even stronger. Two of my favorite plants for the idea are multiflora rose and kudzu. Kudzu would provide a think layer of vines athat would provide structure to the fence. Multiflora rose would provide some spinyness. Both are good edibles (I would also rely on honeysuckles to introduce themselves). Though I would probably also plant/encourage some non "invasive" plants as well (grapevine, hardy kiwi, blackberries, locust etc...) The idea being that even if the animals do escape from the internal fencing, they wouldn't completely leave the land. I think this would work, even if the hedge itself doesn't stop them, the number of yummies would most likely do so. With a backhoe I could potentially build animal structures into the hillside similar to sepp holzer. I would (of course) do pasture rotation. I do not like temporary fencing, while it may be cheaper initially, I think in the long run it requires spending so much time moving and maintaining it that it turns out to be more expensive - though given my likely funding I may at least initially use temporary fencing.

F - Plants and seeds. A lot of things I could plant from seed and some things I could get from my mom's house (I've been working on things there for a while so there are many different species of perennial plants - but it's only 5 acres which isn't large enough for me, though initially I may spend time at her house at sell produce from there). But I still think it is safe to estimate spending around $250-$500 on plants and seed.

I anticipate the first year or two being building up the system on the cleared land (I'd add animals as soon as possible - but I may leave the land for summer work for the first year or two). Future years would involve clearing out (not cutting down all the trees, but cutting down less desireable trees and opening up space for light to get through) and permaculturifying the more forested land. I do hope to make enough money to make a living (and then some) off the land. I don't really intend to have a true zone 5 (the land borders a state forest anyway), though there will be areas which are fairly untouched.

If you've read this far thanks! I'd appreciate any thoughts on my plan or any things you think I've left out (or shouldn't do). I'm going to try to post regular updates on how things are going.
 
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Philip

You have done a great job of identifying your objectives and are off to a good start! I do see some immediate concerns. The obvious...you are woefully under capitalized to tackle 91 acres and you are very optimistic on your expenses. That being said, if you add some years to you your basic plan a lot is doable. My advise (for what its worth) is:

1. Do nothing with 95% of the land the first 12 months...observe ONLY. You will save a ton of money, time, and effort if you do so. Your hugel plan needs to be done with full knowledge of the land and the weather patterns. Keep in mind, trees are planted at hugel edges, not on top.

2. Looking at your plot plan, regardless of the percentage you do decide to tackle, I would leave the area that is basically a box alone; focus on a workable area near the stream and road. I would not waste time on the pond now...it could be totally in the wrong place! Wait until you are certain what really works with this land, then dig out a pond where it should be and do it correctly.

3. Do not waste time, money, and effort on a structure you are unsure of a safe location for. If it was me, I would find the cheapest 3 or 4 season RV/trailer/5th wheel/single wide I could find. My plan would be it would become scrap; or, if lucky, converted to a mobile market.

4. Fence in the area near the stream (water source) for safety of seedlings from nibblers and livestock. Goats could them be loose (with goat house) in the 85 plus acres working on clearing...they are amazing!

5. I am not sure how to explain your plant / seed investment. On the 12 acres I am working on, when "done" we will have bought over 6,000 trees! Even as seedlings from the forestry department, the cost would be several times your budget.

6. Buy seedlings that do not have tap roots; plant out of flood zone of stream, irrigated by stream. Use as temporary nursery until you know where you want them.

7. Consider financing the correct tractor with ALL needed attachments with a large down payment. We are struggling without a tractor; VERY high priority to get ASAP for us...I do not see you making it without it.

 
Philip Green
Posts: 45
Location: Southern Ohio (zone 6a)
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Cortland Satsuma wrote:@Philip

You have done a great job of identifying your objectives and are off to a good start! I do see some immediate concerns. The obvious...you are woefully under capitalized to tackle 91 acres and you are very optimistic on your expenses. That being said, if you add some years to you your basic plan a lot is doable. My advise (for what its worth) is:

1. Do nothing with 95% of the land the first 12 months...observe ONLY. You will save a ton of money, time, and effort if you do so. Your hugel plan needs to be done with full knowledge of the land and the weather patterns. Keep in mind, trees are planted at hugel edges, not on top.

2. Looking at your plot plan, regardless of the percentage you do decide to tackle, I would leave the area that is basically a box alone; focus on a workable area near the stream and road. I would not waste time on the pond now...it could be totally in the wrong place! Wait until you are certain what really works with this land, then dig out a pond where it should be and do it correctly.

3. Do not waste time, money, and effort on a structure you are unsure of a safe location for. If it was me, I would find the cheapest 3 or 4 season RV/trailer/5th wheel/single wide I could find. My plan would be it would become scrap; or, if lucky, converted to a mobile market.

4. Fence in the area near the stream (water source) for safety of seedlings from nibblers and livestock. Goats could them be loose (with goat house) in the 85 plus acres working on clearing...they are amazing!

5. I am not sure how to explain your plant / seed investment. On the 12 acres I am working on, when "done" we will have bought over 6,000 trees! Even as seedlings from the forestry department, the cost would be several times your budget.

6. Buy seedlings that do not have tap roots; plant out of flood zone of stream, irrigated by stream. Use as temporary nursery until you know where you want them.

7. Consider financing the correct tractor with ALL needed attachments with a large down payment. We are struggling without a tractor; VERY high priority to get ASAP for us...I do not see you making it without it.



Hi Cortland, thank you for the information. Very useful things for me to think about. I am being optimistic for a reason. I essentially have 3 possible plans. One is move to the area, improve it over the fall/winter and be able to make enough of an income from it - and wildcrafting - in the spring to support myself (pretty unlikely), the second is to do the same but get a job in a nearby town/city and improve it over the next year or two (or three or four) with that income until I make enough to quit the job - probably the most likely. The third is to do the same for the first six months, than leave the land for the summer to take a 6 month internship/temporary job in plant biology (a field I have a fair amount of experience in and which I can almost certainly get a 5-6 month position and save around $7000-8000 to then invest into the land). I am being optimistic as I would prefer one of the first two options.

My list is not a detailed plan, but more of a list of things I would like to do (if I had more money) in the first 6 months. I plan to plant a lot of trees from seed and get a lot from sources (family/friends) that are basically free. I will probably spend far over $500 on plants in the first 5-10 years, but I think it is a reasonable amount to spend in the first year. Hugelkutur would not be for trees, but for beginning a annuals/perrenials garden of forbs. Trees are not a good initial source of income, so I would be starting them, but also using hugelkultur to grow veggies/perennials etc...

I understand the concept of waiting a year before really doing much to the land. But I don't intend to follow it. I think I am familiar enough with the area (I've lived in Southern Ohio for about 23 of my 26 years and have a degree in plant biology and am fairly experienced with wildcrafting) that I can skip the step for at least a portion of the land (realistically/optimistically the most I will deal with in the first year is probably only 5-10 acres anyhow - unless I get outside help) - that's not to say I know everything or even most of what there is too know about the land, but I do have a large step-up on someone who knows nothing. I have been watching craigslist and in the area around $7000 is not unrealistic for a tractor with a backhoe attachment (in fact there is currently listed a 1977 tractor with backhoe for $4000) - though craigslist does involve a bit of luck and prayer in getting a good quality item. Granted it would be an old tractor, but if it runs I think it would be a worthwhile first year investment. I'm of the opinion that the savings are worth the risk in buying a used tractor (and if it died in 3-4 years hopefully I'd be making enough money by then to replace it with something better).

You do have a good point on building a structure between the creek and the road. I'd have to wait until spring to see how bad the flooding is and see if I can find a way to mitigate it before I'd put a structure there.

 
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Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I agree completely with Cortland on points 1-6. Especially the point that your 'budget' needs a few more zeros on most parts. Definitely get a good chainsaw, I love my Stihl MS310. You will blow through $10k before you blink on a project as large as you have. There is no point in doing anything 'cheaply' up front. It will just waste money in the long run. I would get several good local opinions about your bridge, that seems like the first thing to do, and I am guessing will take up your entire aspirational budget. The reason raw land is cheap is that developing it is incredibly expensive.

On point 7, I dont think a heavy machine should be a first priority. It is a huge expense, and a massive financial liability to keep it maintained and running. A tractor with backhoe attachment is no replacement for a track hoe if that is the tool you need. Hiring a skilled professional, that hopefully isnt a 'yes man', and as such will vet your ideas based on their professional experience, is money well spent. Or rent a tool to do a specific job.

Really work up a business plan, with numbers. Earning a living is hard enough, earning enough to develop raw land is pretty much impossible. Before you start spending your savings, get some clear ideas of what things are really going to cost you. Fencing alone, for a property that size, will cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Your creative idea about living fences is a good one, but I dont think it is an adequate replacement for permanent perimeter fencing. What will you earn income from? Do the math, be honest and thorough.

I would reccomend trying to work off-farm in the Winter, rather than the Summer. Getting any significant work done on the farm in winter will be much slower, more difficult, and more expensive. Having summers free to farm, and winters to earn money, is a much better balance.

Go slow, mistakes and mis-steps are expensive. Have a good, realistic plan before you start. As you draft up your plans more clearly, feel free to share. I have 'finally' finished the initial development of my 12 acre farm. 8 years ago it was raw land, with perimeter fencing. My wife and I have worked non-stop for 8 years, no off farm jobs, and 12 acres has been a lot to handle. Ambitious and humble are compatible, you need both. Go slow, be thorough, and good luck!
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Adam

Thank you. Your input is very wise and I for one appreciate it.

On number 7; my thought behind that was he should not throw good money after bad money on questionable equipment off of CL. I am a huge fan of CL; but, I know its limits. We did look into that route and found that to be the case for us. I do not believe a 1977 unit would have a PTO; and, many of the older models do not have the needed attachment nor are they available. Currently, we are in the rent or hire as needed category. As our long term plans require a tractor and attachments for so many things, I just could not fathom managing the acres Philip is going to be dealing with so dreadfully under tooled.

I very much agree with the access bridge issue. I did not mention it since it would be all he can afford and I feared he would reject the sound advice. If he lives there for a season with his log bridge in an RV; he may rethink the seriousness of the access issue. Personally, I passed on a similar property with a bridge in (it clearly flooded over the bridge during the wet season). But, each to his own.

Our property is a similar size to yours and was purchased as a foreclosure with a decent home on it. We had to prioritize investing in the home as there were issues that would become huge money pits if left unattended. We work for other income as well and there is just not enough time to get every project done with the two of us; on our little property. It has taught us a lot of humility! And, if we had waited a year we would have saved so much; topography varies greatly from parcel to parcel our general area knowledge was totally inadequate and cost us dearly. And, we did start slow to avoid those losses...and, failed. We have changed what is going to be done when based on the realities of this specific property. Nature and soil vary greatly from ink and paper.

As to the living fence idea it does sound so wonderful; we were so happy that this property we bought is completely surrounded in exactly such a manner! Yeah! No need for a perimeter fence, right?! WRONG, oh so WRONG. The first week I moved in the heard of deer, who happily race through all the thorns and tangle and dense trees, were peering in our downstairs windows, wandering on the deck, etc. Then there are the bunnies, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, skunks, weasels, birds, turkeys, geese, and bears. And we live in a township area...not backed up to a national forest. I immediately ditched all plans to continue increasing our living fence and began planning ones that would actually protect our investments. Having bought goats for clearing taught us how to build a fence...if it keeps the goats out, we did good!

I agree with your encouragement on developing a plan. Good objectives and lofty goals are only achieved with a fluid yet firm plan. One that has cost factors properly accounted for. The first year of observing can be well spent drafting and fine tuning a realistic business plan.
 
Philip Green
Posts: 45
Location: Southern Ohio (zone 6a)
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Cortland Satsuma wrote:@Adam

Thank you. Your input is very wise and I for one appreciate it.

On number 7; my thought behind that was he should not throw good money after bad money on questionable equipment off of CL. I am a huge fan of CL; but, I know its limits. We did look into that route and found that to be the case for us. I do not believe a 1977 unit would have a PTO; and, many of the older models do not have the needed attachment nor are they available. Currently, we are in the rent or hire as needed category. As our long term plans require a tractor and attachments for so many things, I just could not fathom managing the acres Philip is going to be dealing with so dreadfully under tooled.

I very much agree with the access bridge issue. I did not mention it since it would be all he can afford and I feared he would reject the sound advice. If he lives there for a season with his log bridge in an RV; he may rethink the seriousness of the access issue. Personally, I passed on a similar property with a bridge in (it clearly flooded over the bridge during the wet season). But, each to his own.

Our property is a similar size to yours and was purchased as a foreclosure with a decent home on it. We had to prioritize investing in the home as there were issues that would become huge money pits if left unattended. We work for other income as well and there is just not enough time to get every project done with the two of us; on our little property. It has taught us a lot of humility! And, if we had waited a year we would have saved so much; topography varies greatly from parcel to parcel our general area knowledge was totally inadequate and cost us dearly. And, we did start slow to avoid those losses...and, failed. We have changed what is going to be done when based on the realities of this specific property. Nature and soil vary greatly from ink and paper.

As to the living fence idea it does sound so wonderful; we were so happy that this property we bought is completely surrounded in exactly such a manner! Yeah! No need for a perimeter fence, right?! WRONG, oh so WRONG. The first week I moved in the heard of deer, who happily race through all the thorns and tangle and dense trees, were peering in our downstairs windows, wandering on the deck, etc. Then there are the bunnies, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, skunks, weasels, birds, turkeys, geese, and bears. And we live in a township area...not backed up to a national forest. I immediately ditched all plans to continue increasing our living fence and began planning ones that would actually protect our investments. Having bought goats for clearing taught us how to build a fence...if it keeps the goats out, we did good!

I agree with your encouragement on developing a plan. Good objectives and lofty goals are only achieved with a fluid yet firm plan. One that has cost factors properly accounted for. The first year of observing can be well spent drafting and fine tuning a realistic business plan.



I understand the cost of many of these things... I've fenced 5 acres, I might be able to fence 91 for under $8,000 if I did it myself and bought cheap material and used trees instead of fence post... That's why I'm trying to come up with alternatives. I think dropping trees in a 20-25 foot swath and leaving them lie would stop most domesticated animals. In my experience fencing is as much about being a good deterrent as it is about actually keeping a animal in. I've had fencing where the animal could get out without too much effort, but as long as they are happy inside (good food, around people, at home - whatever their reason) they won't leave. It would also be more of a last line of defense (for if they escape the internal fencing). I don't think it would keep wild animals out, but I think it could serve as a last barrier of defense to keep domesticated animals in (and it might also keep dogs and humans out). I plan to have a LGD (or 3) so I'm not worried about wild animals. I also imagine that bordering a state forest will actually (in many cases) mean fewer animals not more. Nature (or humans with hunting licenses and guns in the case of deer) will have kept them in a better balance and they will have a lot more food sources.

Same with the bridge, that would cost a lot to build well (out of concrete or such). But I think laying down a few long locust poles and using posts to hold them in the ground (then laying plywood or perhaps planks across it) would hold up to cars... It might not hold up to a major flood (though I think I could build it so it would - might take a few years of experimentation to get it perfect though), but it would be cheap to replace.

I've had success on craigslist getting used vehicles. I think a used tractor would be fine. True it might not have everything that I wanted. But as a temporary measure it could work. The good thing about a tractor is that they hold their value reasonably well (unless they break down and are unfixable - or prohibatively expensive to fix). So if I bought a cheap $5000-6000 tractor I could resell it for $4000-5000 in a few years than upgrade. I think in the long run that would still be cheaper than renting one out every time I needed one. Especially since there are so many little things - hauling items or logs or carrying heavy/moving heavy objects - that it's not really worth renting a tractor for, but that would be incredibly useful.

I think if I spent $15,000 on this project and came out with nothing, I would still be happier knowing I had tried than be sitting in an office somewhere wishing I had tried (I'm also a believer that our economy is going to collapse soon anyway, so might as well spend my money while it has value). I also think that as long as I do things intelligently, the majority of possible investments (with the possible exception of a craigslist tractor - or a poorly built/placed house) would still be valuable even if my initial plan fails. Worst case scenario the land will still be there in 4/5 years and if I've planted a bunch of trees and maybe added in some hugelkultur already, than if I have to leave and get a real job, the land will just be improving itself while I am gone.

Also @Cortland... I do agree completely with your advise no to take on 91 acres all at once. At most I will be starting with 5-10 acres. And if that is a success I will take my chainsaw out a clear patches in other area and plant some seeds. But no major managing.

I do appreciate both of your advice. I might be being too optimistic about what I can do in a short time. But I think as long as I keep a fairly flexible plan than I can adjust based on my initial experiences. I'm also hopefull that my wildcrafting experience (and the nearby State forest - which it is legal to harvest most plants from) will provide at least a small initial source of income (and I know it would provide at the very least a reduced food bill - because I've done that before).

@Adam, unfortunately (or fortunately) the vast majority of my experience is in plant biology/botany and especially in plant identification. This is extremely useful for wildcrafting and was what got me into permaculture, but is not so useful for getting a job in the winter. Most of the internships/short term jobs I can get are during the growing season... It's hard to ID plants when they are all dead. I may have more success finding an unrelated local part-time (or full time) job at a nearby town. I'm a huge follower of the set it up and leave it method though (I've had quite a bit of success with that on my moms 5 acres), so it would be the extreme version of leaving it. There are also some things easier in winter (southern Ohio doesn't get extreme winters, generally 3-4 inches of snow on the ground is considered a major storm and it will melt in a week or two), fewer plants in the way and the cool weather make things like putting in fencing and chainsaw work easier a lot of the time.
 
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