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Blank canvas...what woud YOU do?

 
Ben Good
Posts: 27
Location: Central Ohio - Humid continental climate - USDA zone 6
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Hello,
I'm a long time stalker of the forums since most of my questions could be answered by searching the reams of useful info.
I am in the very fortunate (maybe) situation of having a blank canvas of a farm. 15 acres of...corn field. Sigh. We are renting out 10 of it. The house and barn sit on about 2 ares of grass. Not knowing what to do, I turned the 3 acres of field that was in perpetual corn/beans rotation into a pasture. The only other real asset is a small grove of diseased ash trees that are going to be coppiced for firewood. I'm going to attach a picture for clarity. We are in central Ohio. The soil is a clay/loam mix with more clay than loam and the soil lays pretty wet until late spring since there is almost no slope to the land. Right in the middle of the pasture is our garden. It's about a quarter acre.

Some plans for the future: black locust grove, comfrey patch, pond.

So, if you had a blank canvas what would you do? What should I focus on now? Where should I place things?

I appreciate any suggestions. Thanks in advance for lending you experience!
Ben
aa.jpg
[Thumbnail for aa.jpg]
Basic map of property
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1592
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Hi Ben, sounds like a fun project. Great to have an essentially blank slate.

I'd get hold of a copy of Mollison's Permaculture Designers Manual. There is a chapter per week book club discussion going on in the forums at the moment.I'm a bit behind but I've just finished chapter 3 and am already finding it really helpful for getting my thought processes straight.

One of the concept he has suggested is focussing on zone 0 and zone 1 to begin with - that is the area nearest your house that you visit daily. You can expand the boundaries later as time and resources become available. Expanding too quickly can put you in a situation that you can't cope with.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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How I would re-work it depends on: Where is North? What is the climate? What type of soil and ph? What is the elevations and slopes? Generally, I would plan to have an 8 layered U-shaped sun catch food forest in zone 3-4, Guilds and Hugels in zone 1-3, Livestock zone 2-3, Wind block Food Hedge following property lines, Herb Gardens zone 0-2. I recommend gaia's garden for referencing and getting a plan started.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 774
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I would start small with the vegetable garden. Without a lot of planning (you can move it later) simply close to the house.
I would have a close look at the water. Were does it puddle, do you like to invest in a tank, what to do with the roof water, is there a stream....
Start immediately planting windbreaks.
I would plant a lot of trees, they improve the soil, you can take some out later.
I would raise a lot of herbs and trees from seed, you will need the plants.
I would get a lot of organic matter maybe there are farmers who give you spent hay or muck.
I would talk a lot to the neighbours and ask about farming, even if they are not organic.
 
Ben Good
Posts: 27
Location: Central Ohio - Humid continental climate - USDA zone 6
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Up is North. The wind comes straight out of the west all winter long. We're in USDA zone 6A (formerly 5B). Water comes from a well right now. The land is almost dead flat. There is a depression that collects water and rots out the corn seeds planted there every year. I plan on turning that into a pond when the lease is up. Right now we need the land cropped for the tax break. Water puddles everywhere. Some places more than others.

I grew a lot of veggies last year and the garden is getting expanded this year. We are trying to turn the area inside and around the septic mound into a wildflower and medicinal herb area. We also planted apple and peach trees last year. We started with rabbits and chickens and will be getting a couple of pigs and lots more chickens this year.

We moved from the city where there was specific constraints and everything had to be intensively managed...and now I feel like there are no constraints and have no idea where to start. I think part of the problem is that I hate to re-do anything. But in this case I think I need to embrace experimentation - and the associated successes and failures - that come from rehabilitating this patch of dirt.

Because there is nothing in the way, my mind tends to visualize things in rectangles: blocks of this or that. I've noticed that in permaculture, there are no straight lines. Any one in Central Ohio willing to come for a tour and advice? My wife is a really good cook!
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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It is quite the prospect, isn't it?

Seems to me that I would begin looking at windbreaks, what to put in them and where to place them. Gaia's Garden has helpful discussion about what they do, how they do it, and what the area impacted by a given windbreak will be. I would recommend getting a copy of the book (2nd edition is slightly expanded over the first) for many reasons, but the discussion of windbreaks alone would make it worth your while.

Wind is probably your biggest single issue. You've got a largish piece of nearly flat land that gets a reasonable amount of water, but that is just naked to the winds. Those winds are going to dry your soil, blow your soil away, and bring onto your property any contaminants that are being used upwind of your property.

My second issue would be that ponding of water. Obviously your land is only "nearly flat", so the question of just what slopes there are and where they run is one you need to determine. Can you capture water and hold it in a pond at a high(er) point on your property and prevent the ponding in the low areas that way? Depends on your topography. Is water running onto your land from your neighbors, and if so, where are those flows running and what can you do about capturing them?

geoff lawton has a video about how he designed a 5 acre property that has some really good discussion about managing water. Even though the property he describes in the video has more texture than your parcel, the concepts are well expressed and apply to almost any situation.

I think it is never too soon to start planting cover crops for nitrogen fixing and biomass, including the accumulators that pull nutrients from deep in the soil. I would start putting those any place and every place that was not under lease or already under cultivation with another planned crop. Consider the cover crops as part of building your insectary along with your soil, as the various blossoms will start pulling in pollinators - and all the other insect life, both welcome and not, that are needed to reach balance. The cover crops are sacrificial in nature, so if you plant them over an area that later turns out to be the right spot for your herb garden, or your peach tree guild, or whatever, it's no big deal to displace them, and they have given you a headstart on getting your soil pumped up.

With such an open canvas, you are free to think broadly about things like sun traps that will help you grow things your zone normally would not support.

Now is the time to think about some other broad strokes regarding your overall focus. Are you looking to do significant pastured livestock, or is the focus of your land going to be on plants? If livestock, then you want to look at how best to organize your pasture, what processing you will need to do and where to set that, what housing will your livestock need and where are the best locations for it, fencing options, feed needs and how best to meet them (pasture year round, hay in the winter, grain supplements?). I am sure I am leaving out critical elements, but hopefully you see a direction.

If you're going to focus on the plants, are you looking for cash crops, food for your family, both? Are you thinking food forest or something less tree centric? Would you be picking and processing, or would you consider a U-Pick operation? These choices will likely impact how you design your plantings and definitely have impact on your time lines and needs for infrastructure. If it's just for feeding family then you won't need to deal with commercial kitchen licensing or setting up some sort of check-in and payment process for folks coming in to pick blueberries. If you're thinking food forest then the timeline stretches, with a short term set of plants for the near future that will give way to the longer term plants of the more established food forest.

Access is an early design element, with you needing to consider how you will get to the various parts of your design. For example, it would probably be unwise to run a major pathway through that area that consistently ponds up

Some thoughts off the top of my head, for what they are worth.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Ben...

I strongly recommend you invest in a copy of Gaia's Garden...It will help you immensely! Putting a pond where it is naturally ponding is perfect. On the west property line you need to get started on a windbreak. Could you do this now with your lease? If so, I would be buying bulk native hedge trees and shrubs from your local department of forestry. I would draw up some layouts of zone 0-2 that is what you want your "yard" to look like after reading Gaia's. Your specialty cultivars should be guilded in that area; natives and hardies can be food forested outside that area. A U-sun catch would be good in your zone 3. The backbone would provide more west wind protection and its' east facing would cause the center hugels to flourish. Visually you would have nice view behind the house. You have a great parcel to work with! Enjoy!
 
Ben Good
Posts: 27
Location: Central Ohio - Humid continental climate - USDA zone 6
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I have all the books on reserve at the library. It seems permacultre stuff is getting more popular since I have to wait! Thanks to everyone's advice, I've decided to keep things in check and that it makes the most sense to start close to the house and work out from there. I'm going to keep a conventional rowed and tilled organic garden going in tandem while I start developing permaculture gardening skills.

There is nothing stopping me from planting a hedge along line between the leased land and ours. I was thinking a thick hedge like a skinny strip of woods like 25' or so. That way small animals could start to repopulate the area. I plan on not renewing the lease on the 10 acres to the west (left of the line) in a couple of years as long as our farm starts generating sufficient income to qualify for the tax break. I think it makes sense to turn it pasture and run cattle and chickens a la Joel Salatin to start to heal the land. I like the idea of having the whole thing divided up by various hedges.

Other than planting trees and establishing a perennial Hugle bed ASAP, is there anything else that is recommended to get going now? Unfortunately the pond site is on the leased land. I want a pond sooooooo bad!

Thanks again for all the advice!
Ben
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Ben, in some ways not being able to get going on projects is a good thing, it makes you take the time to Observe. It is difficult to imagine how many things become apparent only through observation across multiple seasons. The more I read, the more the various authors pound this point home for me with their tales of discovery due to observation over time. I am currently on a suburban quarter acre, and have been for about twenty years, and these authors make me feel like I have never looked at my land

So, don't worry that you can't get it all started at once - that's a good thing on many levels. Gives you time to do the current projects right. Gives you time to see what is happening on the land so you can plan future projects well. Keeps you from burning out trying to do too much at once.

When you plan your initial windbreak, keep in mind that if it is relatively near the house, in zone 1 or 2, it's probably a good idea to make it a food hedge. Get as much as possible from the effort, stack your functions and all

And while there may be nothing stopping you from planting it along the line of the leased land - do be sure to consider whether that is a good place to put a windbreak, and not just something you can do right now.

 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Peter...great advice!

@Ben...Be careful of hedging across that mid-line; you may cause a nasty frost pocket and box up your place too much. I would put the U-suncatch food forest at that point. The property windbreak and wild life food forest would be at the very west boundary. As t your current garden; it is a great idea to keep it going as you expand. If you are not planting in a companion method, apply that technique this spring. Gaia's has a ton of charts that you will want long term; checking the book in and out would not be very time efficient; unless, of course, the local library is adjacent to yours!
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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I am going to shill for Toby here for a minute.

I'm a beginner, no PDC certificate, have not attended any courses, just loads of reading here, watching youtube, reading some books.

I have come across many references to toby hemenway's Gaiai's Garden, here at Permies, on youtube (Toby has an hour plus lecture session that someone posted on youtube, well worth watching).

I am starting to collect my own permaculture books. The first one I determined I needed to have was Gaia's Garden, because of all the positive commentary. And I am now in complete agreement with all the positive reviews.

Toby's writing is clear, engaging, amusing, informative. As mentioned, the book contains numerous reference tables that you will want at your side as you are looking through seed catalogs and tree inventories deciding what to order. It's informative, entertaining and eminently practical.

For those of us in northern temperate climates, I also recommend Eric Toensmeier. His Paradise Plot is on the desk in front of me now, and it along with his Perennial Vegetables were alongside Gaia's Garden in my first permaculture book order.

 
Ben Good
Posts: 27
Location: Central Ohio - Humid continental climate - USDA zone 6
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Observation. Yes! I seem to notice EVERYTHING any more. Puddles, wildflowers blooming, insects...

Frost pocket? Never thought of that. There is a "ridge" almost right in the middle of the lot running north-south. Can a 15' rise in the elevation be considered a ridge? I would imagine the pocket would be on the western side of a hedge since it would not allow "drainage" of the cool air as it flows downhill toward the house. Any experience with frost pockets? I haven't noticed any on the property so far. Maybe instead of a bunch areas divided, a larger (1 acre or so) woods with hedges and tree groves along the property lines make more sense.

As for water drainage, everything runs west toward the river on the far side of the ridge or east to a ditch and off the property on this side of the ridge. That low area is the only catchment area. Sounds like a job for a wind powered pump to a cistern.

About 1500' from the house (just beyond the left edge of the photo) is a river and woods that's at least 1/2 mile wide. It isn't mine but I mow the access for the guy who owns it and he lets me pull downed trees for firewood. It's a good deal for both parties. I collected a bunch of black walnuts and dug oak seedlings last fall. It's about time to plant those walnuts. I just need to figure out where. Those are trees for great-grandchildren if you know what I mean.

The U-shaped sun catch, how big is something like that?
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Ben, as Cortland said, be careful of where you place a windbreak. If your garden spot is higher than that western line, and the pond site is lower, a hedge between the garden and the lower pond area could trap frost in your garden, giving you an earlier, harder frost. Make sure to leave a way for frost to drain away from your garden if you can. But you are also correct in wanting windbreaks against that strong west wind. Have you considered something less thick, like a narrow band of perennial plants, that can slow the wind and add privacy, but not cause so much frost. For example, here in NW Colorado we also get fierce winds off the nearby desert. When we moved here 7 years ago, the yard felt like a wind tunnel at times. I planted a small food forest--a couple of young curly willows, apple trees and plum trees, with a few shrubs like Nanking Cherry, siberian pea shrub, and low ones like currants. But my best "privacy" hedge is a row of Jerusalem artichokes near the back alley. In the summer, it really makes the yard feel more private, and we noticed this year that the wind is definitely less fierce in our yard.

A sun trap could be as small as one row of trees or shrubs, or could be a band of trees with associated guild plantings, like Nanking cherry, hazels, currants, ground covers, etc, that wraps around a lawn, pasture, or garden area with beds of annual or perennial vegetables, herbs, etc. I found a good book called the Secret Garden of Survival, by Rick Austin--mine is an ebook, but might be in print form too-- that talks about how to combine guilds of plants that work together but make your garden look like an abandoned, overgrown pasture so the "zombie hordes" don't know its there and come steal your food. I don't know that we need to go that far, but he does talk a lot about guilds and how to grow a survival garden for hard times. Gaia's Garden also has a chapter about guilds, and lots of info about various plants and plant functions. I really recommend it, as have others. My copy of the first edition is falling apart, I have read it so much. I gave myself the second edition in Dec. and have already reread it twice ( it is one of the books I have checked out of the library multiple times).

The secret garden talks about laying out swales and terraces for the plantings. Then there is Mark Shepard, with his Restoration Agriculture, who created a farm of on-contour swales and trees--a permaculture savanna with grazing and crop strips between the tree rows. So there are lots of ideas to investigate. I spend most of my winters reading and watching videos and trying to find ways to adapt various ideas to my high desert landscape. Have fun!

Yes, take plenty of time to observe. Take photos of various parts of your land, different times of day, shadows, etc. Watch where the snow melts first and last, where drifts pile up, etc. Look at your zones--Zone 1, close to the house or to main paths, for the most intensively harvested or most visited crops and structures, and work out from there. Although, if windbreaks are needed, it is good to get them going as soon as possible. Geoff Lawton talked about "controlling the edges," or protecting the edges from invasion, by wind, wildlife, etc.

I recently came across another book, Backyard Winter Gardening, by Caleb Warnock (also and e-book). He does a lot with cold frames and manure-filled hotbeds, for year-round eating. Since reading this book, I have been looking at my yard in a new way, seeing where I might be able to put some frames to provide fresh food in the middle of winter. There is so much to learn that life, gardening, and permaculture, are a life-long adventure.
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Dj...Good Advice!

@Ben...The "Feng Shui Garden", Gill Hale has some good information on energy designs for natural flow, including avoiding frost pockets and balancing wind, not found in a lot of other resources. A sun catch can be any size. A U-sun catch will work best as either a U-shape or Semi-circle. Either can be guilded a few plants deep or quite deep; they need to be fairly large to be effective. Side to side you want around a quarter acre at least.
 
Carol Sohn
Posts: 7
Location: Central Arkansas Zone 7b
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Hi, I'm new to permies.com but thought I would throw this out there RE: Gaia's Garden ... there is a Kindle version (on Amazon) for less than $10 and paper back is less than $20. I plan on getting the Kindle version first and in the future possibly getting the paperback as well.
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I am enjoying reading ebooks on my Nook, but I find for ones I go to lot, like my garden and permaculture books, it is so much better and easier to have a physical copy, at least for me.

Of course, I can read more books if I can find and read at least some of them as ebooks to decide which ones will really be useful. Some, at least, of the ebooks are priced low enough I can afford to buy a few I otherwise wouldn't. But some of the ebook versions are so high I still don't feel I can spend the money for them. Especially if it is one I am not sure will be that useful but I just want to be able to read it t find out before shelling out big bucks. It would be easy to spend 100's of $ to buy all the books available.
 
Carol Sohn
Posts: 7
Location: Central Arkansas Zone 7b
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dj niels wrote: I am enjoying reading ebooks on my Nook, but I find for ones I go to lot, like my garden and permaculture books, it is so much better and easier to have a physical copy, at least for me.


I find that a rare few of the books I get on kindle, do I need in paperback, although there are some! I'm not sure if this one will be one or not. But I like having the kindle versions of books because I can't always take my books with me (truck driver sometimes) and the kindle versions give me something to read while I'm on the road!
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 774
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Reading books is good but the best teacher is doing! There is no problem when you plant something, most plants can be transplanted while they are young.
What you first must find out is weather you are more of an animal person or more of a plant person - the best thing is both of you cover different areas.
Really I am not an animal person, but other family members are. I know I would never do a really great job in raising animals. Often people who are builder persons build the most amazing stuff for the garden only to leave the garden alone after a short time.
I think there is nothing wrong with straight lines, but often beds are followed the contour to minimize runoffs, so that makes the lines crooked.
It makes too sense to visit other farms and permie sites.
 
Ben Good
Posts: 27
Location: Central Ohio - Humid continental climate - USDA zone 6
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@Angelika When you talk about minimizing run-off are you talking about capturing the water or minimizing erosion?

In the middle of our garden plot is a drainage area where it would seem the same height as the rest of the garden but turns into a wide flat stream during storms (not regular rain). I planted this in grass to minimize erosion. After the many years of corn that whole field is either a soggy mess or concrete. I dumped tons of well-rotted compost in there and just recently put down about 4-6" of leaves collected from the city in hopes that the increased humus loosens the soil and moderates the water content. Should that grassed area be left to go straight through (like it is) or is there a better way? This area ultimately drains to a ditch and off the property and not to the ponding area I described earlier.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Ben, as you describe the area with water running through it, that sounds to me like a pretty classic example of where and how to use a swale on contour. The swale, properly placed, would catch much of that water and slow it, letting it sink into the ground rather than running off.

There is something less than optimal about imposing straight lines in your garden. They produce the least amount of edge possible, and edges are highly productive areas. Plus, if you think in terms of following contours, as you would want to do with Swales and as might make sense with hugelbeds, contours are very rarely going to run straight for any distance.

There are plants that you can relocate fairly easily and plants that will not tolerate transplanting well at all, so you want to have that in mind when thinking of where to place plantings. Not to mention the amount of work involved in relocating things. Although it is possible to change your mind about where things should go, some things are easier than others to move around. You want to observe and plan such that you are able to minimize the extent of relocating those hard to change decisions. Pond placement, for example best to get that right the first time.

As to your compaction, I would think that having someone come through with a yeoman plow and run it along contour would be a good plan. It would loosen your soil and help with water absorption and thereby should reduce the issue of water ponding. The yeoman plow breaks up the subsoil but does not expose your earth to oxidation and erosion like a moldboard plow. Much less damaging than conventional tilling.
 
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