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First steps with a new commercial venture, the permaculture way?  RSS feed

 
Zj Frank
Posts: 5
Location: Des Moines, IA, Zone 5a
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I'm thinking about buying a smallish urban lot (about an acre and a quarter or so), and have tons of ideas on how to use the space commercially while following permaculture principals. My question is, what would be the first thing I need to start with? Build swales? Do soil tests? Plant fruit trees? I'm pretty low on capital but would like to get moving on it as soon as possible, and am working out a business plan. Any other suggestions?
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1318
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
26
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Sorry, this is confusing... Do you have a commercial business + you want to cultivate the land?
Or is your commercial project about cultivating?

With what sort of personal knowledge do you start with?

The 1st thing to start with is not with the word "do" but "look".
- What is existent: existing plants, existing buildings and paths (nature + manmade).
- Differences in the parts: soil, good or stoney parts etc..., exposures to sun and wind, water possibilities and sources on the land. (the 4 elements! )
- You can also gather information: plants you wish, their necessities for living well, techniques you need to learn or find help for...

Then I would tend what exists and better the soil. Sow green manure etc.
If you are not from the place, you also need to know it: who are the providers, other permies around, who you can buy products from, horse manure and so on...

About doing, I would always start with:
- Dealing with accesses, paths etc
- Fix what will give you more work if you wait it falls down.

+ I would not build anything where plant can grow, and I would build where plant cannot thrive.
(that might be specific, I have a rocky underground where it is safer and easier to build, and I would not spoil good soil)
 
Andrew Millison
Instructor
Posts: 112
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
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Zj,
I like to express the Permaculture design process as beginning with

PATTERN OBSERVATION: where's the wind blowing, water flowing, pollution drifting, neighbors walking, plants are growing.......and the list goes on
SITE ANALYSIS: organizing your observations where you identify the strongest influences that you need to design for
DESIGN: Coming up with a plan, typically designing first for water, then access, then vegetation, then structures, fencing, soil treatment. Each element layers upon the last, but water is the starting point, the bones you might say
IMPLEMENTATION: Put it into place
FEEDBACK: Go back to the beginning and observe the patterns, but this time it's the patterns of how nature responds to what you've done. It's a never-ending evolution of the site, and you evolve your own skills, understanding and wisdom as you go.

So the long story short of it, start by making a map and jotting down what you know about the site. Look at the water flow: is water draining on the property from elsewhere? Where is it leaving? How does it move? Where does it pool or collect? How are the existing plants showing you the water patterns?
How does the site sit within the greater landscape in terms of it's place in the watershed, and it's relation to the movement of the sun? Is there a tall building or evergreen tree due south blocking your light? Is it next to a parking lot and baking from the radiant heat?

The idea is that if you really do a thorough analysis of the site and take the time to truly understand the forces at work, the the design should unfold effortlessly as a response to the existing conditions.
 
Brent Rogers
Posts: 40
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I would recommend finishing your business plan before you begin observing land. If you design your business plan with Permaculture and holistic management principles in mind then you will know more of what you are looking for in land. I think it will also help you to figure out your implementation action plan...what comes first? With minimal capital the obvious choice would be that which can be implemented inexpensively, but have the greatest return of investment.
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1318
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Oops, so obvious that I forgot to put water first...
Andrew Millison wrote:SITE ANALYSIS: organizing your observations where you identify the strongest influences that you need to design for.
DESIGN: Coming up with a plan, typically designing first for water, then access, then vegetation, then structures, fencing, soil treatment. Each element layers upon the last, but water is the starting point, the bones you might say.

Andrew, 2 questions please...
1) What I underlined: can you explain a little more your order choice?
(especially vegetation before structure)
And do you implement them in the same order?

2) Influences: are they the sectors Bill M. talks about in a video, the energies coming in your design from different directions? He puts them into relation with the domestic energy (represented by the zones).
So, between the "site analysis" and the "design", don't you put a "desire/necessities analysis"?
That would even be more than the sectors, as not everyone want animals for example.

Thanks!
 
Andrew Millison
Instructor
Posts: 112
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
17
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Xisca,
Each element is multifunctional. So if you have a water harvesting swale for example, then you would want to integrate that feature with a roadway. We don't want a swale and a road as separate elements, we want them integrated for both efficiency of cost of construction and because a roadway is naturally conducive to collecting and moving water. This is really evident when a roadway is poorly placed and ends up causing erosion and chaotic movement of water, as many many roads do!

So if we figure out what we want to do with the water, and then place the roadways or access paths based on the water patterns, then we introduce the next layer, which is the vegetation. It's placement follows the water design, which creates wet and dry areas conducive for different plant species, and then the road or pathway provides access to the plants for maintenance/harvest etc. So each new layer of the design introduced is logically built upon the last.

As far as vegetation before structures, I don't have a strong feeling about that. There are circumstances where the structure is suited to a particular location for other reasons, and that's just where it needs to go. But I've seen lots of times (just last week in fact) where the owners started by placing the structure because that's where they liked the view, and the whole system of roads, drainage, and plantings will need to adjust to their decision in a way that will create a lot of work to avoid erosion and will involve excessive earth moving. It all would have been avoided if they would have gone water, then roads, then structure. In that case, vegetation would follow structure. PA Yeomans, Mollison, and Dave Jacke all put vegetation after structures in their varied "Scales of Landscape Permanence", and I believe the reason is because vegetation needs to be married to roads and water to maintain the soil and water integrity of a site.

I think of a "desire/necessities analysis" as part of the site analysis. It's basically the human part of it. So when I design, I do the client interview and questionnaire, which details out the human desires for the site, right there at the end of the physical site analysis and the design, like you said. The reality is, you begin to get the desires and whims of a client the moment you start talking with them, so it all melds together in the "site analysis" phase.

I think the point is to make sure the number one client, which is Mother Earth, is interviewed first. Conventional design puts human needs first. Permaculture puts care of Earth and Care of People on equal footing.
 
Andrew Millison
Instructor
Posts: 112
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
17
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I would recommend finishing your business plan before you begin observing land. If you design your business plan with Permaculture and holistic management principles in mind then you will know more of what you are looking for in land. I think it will also help you to figure out your implementation action plan...what comes first? With minimal capital the obvious choice would be that which can be implemented inexpensively, but have the greatest return of investment.


The question is, do you already own the land? Then Brent's comment is very relevant. If you want to grow sun loving vegetables and that's part of your plan, then make sure you find a sunny spot!

If you already own or have access to the land, then you'd better do your analysis first to determine what the potential of the land is. Maybe you'll be growing mushrooms instead of squash based on your solar access.
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1318
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
26
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Great, that is how I did it!
Multifuncional is indeed a key word.
My paths are in cement because they collect water. Their 3rd function is to get a dry home!
Then, about little paths in the gardens, they are linked to the water pipes.
I am bothered by some water taps that are not all near the paths...
... because I 1st chose to put them in the shadiest places near walls.

I also have to put structure before vegetation in most places, because I have some walls to repair for example.
and structure before hens too!

I still hesitate about walls: I cannot at the same time use them for walking AND use them for pumkins etc to cover them and hang down.

I love your phrase: "I think the point is to make sure the number one client, which is Mother Earth, is interviewed first."
I had a hard time (well, the harder was not for me...) to ask mother nature where I had more earth (and more stored water), because I decided to limit orange trees water, and they suffered somehow...
 
Brent Rogers
Posts: 40
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from my understanding the land is not owned
Zj Frank wrote:I'm thinking about buying a smallish urban lot (about an acre and a quarter or so)


...but yes, if the land is owned then always do site survey and analysis first. Then grow what is appropriate for the site.
 
Zj Frank
Posts: 5
Location: Des Moines, IA, Zone 5a
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Sorry about the confusion- no I don't own the site yet, but it is available and gets full sun(!) all day while sloping to the south. There is also a creek bed that runs along the bottom. It is dry now but according to the owner it generally is full in the spring. I'm still working out how exactly I would utilize this property, so the business plan that's in progress is a little on the vague side, and I'm definitely going to be working on it! I'm toying with a nonprofit, but I have no experience in it, and think it would be a little risky considering I'm just starting with permaculture as well. Thanks everyone for the advice! It's definitely clarified a few things.
 
Zj Frank
Posts: 5
Location: Des Moines, IA, Zone 5a
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And actually I have a couple questions, specifically about water use (not sure if this is the right forum for it): The site I'm looking at is in the city, but does not have direct access to city water- is this a problem when trying to establish plants? How is it done without supplemental irrigation/how is it done in places without municipal water source (city boy here)? I've read about water saving techniques, but not sure how that applies when planting out vegetation. Second, I'm a little confused about building swales and berms- a lot of things say to to build on contour to the slope and then use an A-frame to find...what exactly? To keep the berm (after digging out the swale) level with the uphill side? So the swale won't overflow? Just having some trouble with the concept.
 
Andrew Millison
Instructor
Posts: 112
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
17
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Zj,
Thanks for clarifying things. First off, is the land you are looking at in Des Moines? Where you are specifically and what the rainfall patterns are, and what plants you choose and how you plant them in relation to water harvesting structures will determine whether or not you can get away without irrigation.

So as not to write an entire book answering your questions, I'd like to point you to an entire book that does! Brad Lancaster's "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Vols. 1 & 2" are very complete in their diagram rich explanations of water harvesting principles and strategies. I can't recommend them enough. Brad was one of my PDC teachers 17 years ago, and he was pretty brilliant back then. Those texts will give you the answers about swales, berms, contour, but also give you the wider perspective to start with in planning an integrated water harvesting system.

Best of luck!

Andrew
 
Zj Frank
Posts: 5
Location: Des Moines, IA, Zone 5a
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Thanks! Already put in a request for library.
 
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