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Questions about rehabilitating Mono Cropland into organic pasture

 
Lina Ackerman
Posts: 9
Location: Michigan
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My husband and I are looking to buy a home with several acres for me to turn into a permaculture homestead so we can raise our own food and perhaps have enough extra to sell. We found this beautiful old home with 15 acres (with a creek down the middle) zoned agricultural attached that looks promising. We haven't looked inside yet, and before we do, I wanted to see if anyone here could offer some advice on what I see as it's most apparent issue: 14 acres of land that was monocropped with sweet corn for an unknown number of years.

On one hand the challenge of rehabilitating the land into pasture and a food forest is a thrilling thought, but on the other, I have no clue how we would go about it. I would appriciate any thoughts on how we could do this from those with experience, since we don't have any. What will it take to bring it to a condition were it could support a small (5-10) mixed flock of goats and sheep rotationally grazed on it? Time isn't an issue, but costs could be, as we would then be saddled with a mortgage and whatever costs would go into rehabilitating the house first.

It would be nice to know what we're getting into before we look inside and possibly find it to be an excellent fit.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
Posts: 2310
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Time IS an issue, because time will rebalance what monocropping has done. If you do nothing at all, let the weed seeds that blow in grow and flourish, the land will revert to its natural, diverse state. The question then is really "what can I do to speed up the return to an organic pasture?"

Planting a diverse cover crop with a 6 or 8 or 10-way blend of seeds is a great way to speed it up. Here, let Farmer Dave explain it:



And if you put seeds into the blend that are good forage plants and reseed themselves, you pretty much have the rehabilitation done.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I think it is easier to start with monocrop land--you have nothing good to remove. I find it hard to take out trees, for example, even when they are not productive species and are in the way for bigger better plans.

You will need seed, a way to sow it, and a way to work it into the ground. You can do 14 acres by hand sowing and dragging a branch around if you have to. I did 30 acres with a riding lawnmower, pull-type spreader from a big box store, and dragging an old bed spring or cattle panel as the harrow. You might find a neighbor with a seed drill that will do it for you, or a hunter that has equipment for food plots, or rent it cheap from the state game and parks (for doing wildlife plots).

Seed it with a groundcover mix appropriate for the season ASAP. Oats, Wheat, Rye, Barley (as the quick cover and biomass). Clovers, alfalfa, forage pea (for nitrogen and forage). Turnips and Daikon in the fall for forage and tillage. Warm and cool season grasses for your area if you can find them. Look at what the hunters plant for deer plots and then find affordable sources for the same seeds.

If you know what you want for earthworks you can do that first, but if money is tight get the ground cover down ASAP and then think and plan out the ponds, swales, keyline, trees, etc. Get the plan together and then work on it as you can get the $$$.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1969
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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That sounds lovely, a creek down the middle!

I would want to know if the monocrop sweet corn involved spraying pesticides, and if so, which ones, how much, and how often. Farms are supposed to keep track of these things, so the information should be available. I believe it is possible to rehabilitate the soil even if it has been sprayed, but it will take more time and inputs.

Is this the area where you already live? One of the best things I've done is make friends and connections with local farmers. Farmers know a lot. They have relationships with each other and they share information and resources. Becoming a part of the local farming community could be a big help. Sharing generously what I have has given me more than I could count in returns.
 
Lina Ackerman
Posts: 9
Location: Michigan
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What I meant by time not being an issue is that I'm not in a hurry, there are no deadlines to meet some off-site goal. I know it's likely that they sprayed the corn, so I'm prepared to take it as slow as the land needs to recover. I don't want to put a load of animals on land that is fighting off the effects of poison as well.

But I am tickled to hear that it is feasable to seed by hand if I have to. I mean, the local mega mall dwarfs these acres, but it seems like a lot of land when you've been working with just a 1/10th of an acre up til now.

Unfortunately the place is pretty far from where we live currently (though still within a very reasonable driving distance from our work). From what I can tell from google maps, the place is likely rented out to another farmer or perhaps was formerly a portion of a larger piece, as there are no out buildings on the land, just the House, creek, drive-way, and a border of trees.

Other than the spraying habits and flooding chances, any other questions I should ask about the property?
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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What is upstream and upwind? Spray drift or runoff from big ag is a Potential Issue To Address.
 
Cal Burns
Posts: 124
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For ANY property you look at these days that has water nearby by all means check and see if it is in the dreaded 100 year flood plain on FEMA's "revised" maps. If so, you will be required to get flood insurance and premiums these days are a shocker for many. Have seen some places where it never floods see their yearly flood insurance go from $1k a year to $15k a year.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 221
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Most likely 15 acres won't let you get far enough from the creek with animals. There is a good chance that the water quality folks will shut you down if the stream load in your area of fecal form bacteria is to high. At the very least the animals will have to be fenced a good distance from the creek and all water pumped to them. You may have to modify drainages and add wetlands to meet this if you can even have the animals.

The concern of flood insurance mentioned above is another major one.

Another concern would be septic system. Could you install a new on affordably that met current codes if needed? That close to the stream those rules are incredibly tight.

How are you going to cross the water to work the other side of the property? There again you can run afoul of regulations and/or liability problems putting in bridges or culverts.

How is it fenced is another question? Putting in fence is expensive and if it was cropland only it might not be fenced at all.

Water rights may be an issue depending on where you live. You might be right next to a creek but using out of it might be illegal. In most case enough for livestock water can be achieved by sinking a shallow well to skirt this issue but irrigation is a whole different thing. Plus if you have to pump for irrigation that can get expensive.

As for getting started your best bet long term as already mentioned is to seed a mix. But in the short term if it has been in long term corn odds are it is low in nitrogen.(need soil test(probably several)) If this is the case probably to begin with you want to lean heavily to nitrogen fixers to begin with. Alfalfa has the advantage of deep tap roots for water use and because it improves soil permeability. The expense is the disadvantage here. The gain is the ability to harvest high quality forage and for ground improvement. Alfalfa is usually about a 6 year crop. The first year production is minimal. Years 2 and 3 are real crop years. From there begins the down slide. If you mixed grass into the intial seeding by year 6 you should be down to a about a 50/50 mix as the grass has slowly taken over from the alfalfa. My other choice would be yellow clover probably. Especially if I could afford to go one year without grazing the ground. Being a binneal it seeds both years but the plants die out after the second. But the seed from the first year will let it carry on sprouting several more years. In year 3 I would then begin planting the grasses. The disadvantage with both alfalfa and yellow clover is the danger of grazing most animals on them meaning some sort of haying for a cash crop. Previous chemical use here matters a lot though as both crops are expensive and being broad leaf the corn ground might be treated with chemicals still harmful to them.



 
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