I have been lurking for a bit, but now that I have finally closed on the little patch of farmland that will become our home, I figured that I would jump right in with a question. We purchased a 13.5 acre plot in Ohio, which was previously part of a larger farm. I am still out here working in Southern California (Navy) and we will not be able to move to Ohio for a few years. What is the best way to allow the soil to build up its fertility in the meantime? The last owner had been bush-hogging the field, but would it be better to just let it sit and rest? Or should I plan for something more active?
Doing nothing really builds up the fertility. Remember, before Ohio got cleared for farmland, it was forested from one end to the other. Left alone, trees grow back and soil fertility builds up.
But what grows is another matter. Nature is equally happy with a pignut hickory as it is with a walnut tree. If you want to be able to collect up nuts in the fall so that you can eat them, it would behoove you to plant some walnut trees and clip the hickories. Call it survival of the tastiest.
I would suggest planning out where you would like to have nice big trees, and what kinds, and making an early spring trip to plant some 2-3 year old seedlings. If he has been bush-hogging it, it should be nice and clear for the seedlings to get a good start. As long as they are significantly taller than the surrounding vegetation, they should be able to establish and outcompete whatever else is there. Then when you are ready to move there full time, you will already have your orchard established.
I own land that i'm not going to be able to move onto for another year or two. In the meantime, i'm plotting out some locations for a food forest and am starting to plant my fruit and nut trees and shrubs so that when i finally do get there, everything is old enough to harvest.
Check with the Ohio department of natural resorces or similar. Many states have nursuries from which you can purchase trees and bushes at significantly reduced prices than commercial nursuries. In my state they sell bear-root seedlings for as little as $1.00 each and deliver them to your door when you schedule them to be delivered. As John suggests, get your trees going now.
Observe carefully. Even study the Google Earth or other topo maps to get a picture of water surface flow. I also would carefully examine the land to know how water flows through the soil and see if you can benefit from swales/burms and ponds to hold water on your property longer. Getting your earthworks done early will also be a benefit when you eventually live there. Be sure you plan your earthworks taking into account how you'll handle septic.
There are many young farmers who are ready to go now, but they lack land. Most renters find that It's not worth doing major improvement to property that they don't own. It's also difficult to convert landlords to changing everything.
Look for someone or a family that are willing to complete improvements in lieu of rent. Specific benchmarks should be set, so that it is clear to all what is expected. There needs to be a timeline. I would only seek those who already own an RV and who will be able to generate income from a steady job. You don't want to install dirt poor layabouts who end up living in squalid conditions, without the means to meet their end of the bargain.
Location: Currently, SoCal....soon to be in Ohio
posted 7 years ago
Wow, thanks so much for the replies. I do plan to get some fruit trees in ther but had not considered nut trees. I will have to do some research on what will thrive in that region.
I'm no expert, though I am an enthusiastic student... so take what I say as you will. Not being sure of the site, your resources or your time availability, I'll throw out some generic advice.
At this early stage, developing a solid design is key, whether you do it yourself, or hire it out to a designer. And the first step in design is site analysis, the better you know the site the better you can plan and design. It's better to start slow and methodically then to realize some years and many dollars down the road that you've put things in all the wrong places.
As for remediation steps while you aren't on the land full time... You could plant trees for a future food forest, but again this should be done after a solid site design is completed. What you can do to improve the land, and it won't create permanent plantings, is some keyline plowing followed by seeding tillage and soil building cover crops. Add to this regime some yearly or twice yearly mowing, and I think after a few years, your soil would be markedly improved.
Here's some elaboration of my ideas. Keyline plowing is a technique that opens up subsoil channels, just off contour, allowing increased water infiltration. It also lifts the soil structure, without causing too much soil damage, unlike traditional plowing styles. Further resources on keyline can be found through Darren Doherty. There's also a fellow based in Arkansas, the Keyline Cowboy, who might be able to help (my US geography is hazy, in respect to distances between OH and AR).
Seeding the land with nitrogen fixing cover crops (clovers and the like) as well as tillage radishes (big Daikon and other similar radishes) will help improve soil. The nitrogen fixers add nitrogen, while the tillage radishes penetrate down into the soil, and if you allow the radishes to die off, they rot in the soil leaving lots of organic matter to be distributed by the soil critters. Add occasional mowing to this regime as follows...
Occasional mowing (once or twice a year) is thought to mimic roaming herds of wild herbivores. Allowing field plants to grow up, and then cutting them back, causes large levels of root die-off. These roots then break down in the soil, creating space and adding organic matter. Much like the tillage radishes, but in a more filamentous manner. This is even better for the soil if you flail mow, which mulches the cut material for faster decomposition back into the soil. You could find more on this idea from Alan Savory, Joel Salatin and other rotational paddock system proponents. Of course they recommend using grazing animals, but mowing is a possible second option as well.
I'm not sure how much work you want to do or pay others to do, nor your access to agricultural machinery, but I imagine much of the above could be contracted out, from the West Coast, if you found someone you could trust.
Anyhow, some large scale ideas for soil building. And I agree with Mike, doing nothing is a great way to end up with nothing but scrub bush in a few years, which will be a pain to clear. Check out Ben Falk's advice on 'leaving nature to take it's course" (his recent book "The Resilient Farm and Homestead" is brilliant). And contrary to popular belief, forested land usually has poorer soil, much of the nutrients are in the trees, not the soil. Grasslands are where the rich soils live. And Mike's other point, about spreading rock dust, is worth investigating, much of our soils are unbalanced, and lack a full nutrient profile. Re-mineralizing soils can be pretty important. Steve Solomon's latest book "The Intelligent Gardener" is worth a read in regards to soil balance and minerals.
When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells
Location: Currently, SoCal....soon to be in Ohio
posted 7 years ago
Kirk, thanks for taking the time to type up such a lengthy response...it seems that one thing all the replies are telling me is that I still have a lot a research to do. The sheer amount of info is overwhelming at first.....but I suppose there is no time like the present to begin getting smart. I am starting with Ben Falk's book and a course on permaculture available on iTunes.
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