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Flood Damaged Canyon Land, CO
Howdy ya'll! I'm a long time lurker, but now I feel is time to post. I will try to make a long story short without too much ramble:

Last August (2013) my fiancé and I discovered a house on a 21 acre parcel of land in a canyon near Boulder, CO. A large part of the land is steep, rocky canyon side, with a good sized chunk of flat land near a small mountain stream. There was an alpine meadow, lush mosses, great tall trees.

Some landscaping was established and quite self sufficient as no one lived at the house. A few mysterious outbuildings were scattered down the property. It was magnificent. It was more than ideal. It was heaven.

We went under contract and were well on our way to completing the purchase. Our inspections went well, despite the house being build in the 40's with an addition from the 70's. We learned the rich history of the area, from mining town to health resort to atomic park based on the radium springs, one of which still flows inside a 60 year old spring house.

Two weeks before we closed, it began to rain. Maybe some folks remember that Colorado got a lot of rain in September. The canyon flooded worse than anything on record and the raging waters took half the house down stream and what's left is demolished.

We were crushed. We'd fallen in love with the place and now it was all destroyed. But we'd seen the land in its full glory, and we know that it will be beautiful again someday. We were under no obligation to buy the place, of course, but still…what would happen if we were to renegotiate the contract for a lower purchase price?

I will save you the details of our long, drawn out battle for the land. There were so many ups and downs and countless moments of "we are going to lose this place", but finally, thankfully, we signed January 9th. We got the land for less than 20% our original offer, really, for a song!

Even before the flood hit and before we were looking to move, I was fascinated by this permaculture thing I'd been hearing about. When we went under contract the first time, I immediately dove into the library for books. The Boulder Library has some amazingly useful books on permaculture! Shocking, I'm sure.

I am trying to formulate a plan based on what i have read from books (halfway through sepp holzer's Permactulture book right now! It's a huge inspiration), seen on videos, and read on the forums about. I've got a huge project on my hands. Not only is it a large property, it's covered in enormous debris piles of tangled wood matted with pieces of houses and people's belongings. The soil has been scoured away and I have silt and boulders left over. The creek…no one even knows where the creek will ultimately end up. It's not where it used to be. I've affectionately named one of our largest debris piles The Tanglewood.

Anyway. The ultimate goal is to have a food forest and chickens,ducks, and way down the road, pigs. I would love any and all help for getting started!

I'd like to pull apart the debris piles as much as possible and run wood through the chipper (and chop up large logs for infinite firewood) . Spread out the wood chips to begin soil remediation where the springs still flow and it's moist. Inoculate these areas with mycelium and let them go. But what will so much pine do to the soil?

I predict that the nitrogen fixing "weeds" will move in on their own starting this spring. We are surrounded by national forest so i am hoping native plants will do what they do best without much help from me. I was thinking of planting additional green manures suitable for the alpine climate. Lupines? Clovers? Cereals?

There were a few fruit trees on the land before the flood and I'd like to get more going as soon as I can. Wild blueberries are abundant, perhaps some domesticated varieties will do well?

I'd like to build some raised beds using fallen and scrounged timber, even the big hairy rootballs that came floating down stream.

Terracing might be out because of the nature of the sheer mountain granite most everywhere. It will take further exploration to scout out possible sites.

After that I'm at a bit of a loss. I understand it take time to learn the land to find all the microclimates and wind patterns and so on. What can I do over the course of this spring and summer to construct the baby food forest when the land is so damaged? Will I have to just wait until nature brings the soil back over the next few years, or can I speed it along with wise planting choices?

The downside to all this is no matter what happens, all my hard work will be washed away someday, as it will flood again. Maybe next year, maybe 5 years from now, maybe 50. Who knows! But I'm not gonna let that stop me.
Howdy Amber, welcome to permies!

Ya that was all hard to watch. So much damage. But it seems that folks are digging out and putting things back together again.

So is there any part of the property that is relatively flat, above the flood zone?

I think I would start up higher this time.

You might also think of using the wood piles as hugels?

Will you be trying to salvage any of the house or did it wash down stream?

Is that hot spring on your property?

Are you allowed to make any changes to the flow of the stream?
Thank you Miles!

There isn't much above the flood zone, just vertical rock. We still aren't even sure we can build a house, even with our proposed smarter site and building up on piers. I'd like to work with what I've got and hope that we go a long time before another 1000 year flood hits. If it gets washed away, what can you do?

I'd love to use the wood piles as hugels, but unsure what sort of house debris is inside of them. My hope it to pull them apart and separate trash from organic debris. Then have a field day making raised beds! My concern is the lack of soil, only sand, silt, and rocks.

Half the house is still there! Demo will be in about 3 to 4 weeks and we will salvage as much as we can, especially that metal roof and old timber beams, not that we are short on giant logs.

There are many springs on the property, non hot, only slightly bubbly, one of which I believe we have the rights to use. That's the odd squat building with the rounded roof. That is where I'd like to lay down wood chips and inoculate with mycelium. Someone on this forum recommended http://www.bio-organics.com in a thread. I contacted them about my situation and they were very helpful, so they have my business and I will order soon.

We cannot change the course of the stream as it effects everyone below us. There are plans in action by the town and county to perhaps alter the course of the stream.

Also, I'm wondering why this post is flagged? I hope I didn't do something wrong!
Amber , the flag is a way for us to draw a little extra attention to your post, so you might get more answers. I added another one.
I'd be in contact with the county/city to see what you can do. I'd imagine removing the debris piles would come with some sort of monitoring, to make sure it's done correctly and won't be a hazard to anyone downstream this spring. I'm sure this event will make for some new regulations on the books, in regards to what you can do on your land. Also, maybe some FEMA/county grants would be available to help defray some of the costs. I'm sure you're probably aware of this more than me.
I know some people in the area that are left with completely unusable properties.

I would chip as much of the debris wood like you mentioned and spread it around, to start soil rebuilding. Again, I'd check the regs on doing this. You have lots of free OM in those piles, but the county may not want a lot of loose debris in the canyons? Remember that soil up there takes a while to build. Pines are better than nothing, and what are naturally present. I'd consider seeding the area that is stripped bare, with beneficial perennial plants now/this spring.

Are you new to E. Colorado?
The winds can get really bad in the canyons around Boulder. As in 'hurricane strength' is fairly par for the course year-round. I would focus on wind-blocks and also ways to capture/slow snow being blown.

What elevation are you?
Remember the mountains can block sun, depending on what the site specifics are. Some places in canyons don't get sun all winter, or don't get sun until 11am, sun is blocked after 2pm etc....

You are gonna have a shortened growing season with the elevation, and depending on the site, even shorter in the canyon. Some cold-frames, or greenhouse type things are probably gonna be great for season extenders.

Amber, one resource that has appeared on your doorstep are boulders of varying size. These could be used to create microclimates that capture more heat for growing some of your plants, raised beds, etc. Can you use the areas below the springs as mini gardens? So often, these contain small areas of rich soil that you might be able to take advantage of in growing specific plants or installing garden beds there. This could mean your gardens are scattered across the property rather than in one central location. The nature of the property will dictate that. Look at the types of plants growing in your area and see what you can possibly mimic in your designed beds. Don't be afraid of the pine-it was growing there beforehand and is readily available.

Above all else, take the recovery in small steps. Just looking at your photos makes your task look overwhelming. Taking small steps will help you achieve far more than you currently think is possible. I wish you the best as you begin remaking this into your home. May it be a haven of blessing and peace for many.
(1 like)

You probably already know that building soil is going to be really important. You're going to want to have a majority of the (initial) plants as mega soil builders. So things like clover, buckwheat, comfrey, turnip, daikon radish, native flowers and herbaceous plants would be good to plant. Anything you can chop and drop to help build organic matter is good. I would suggest black locust, <puts on flame-resistant pants> to help with that. Also, any other fast-growing deciduous shrubs/trees/bushes would help. I say deciduous because you'll get more OM in the soil at leaf drop.

Also, consider native trees. The CSFS has a seedling tree program, as low as $1.04 per tree. See http://csfs.colostate.edu/pages/buying-trees.html.
Caragana (Siberian Pea Shrub), buffaloberry, and mountain mahogany are all N-fixers.
You might look at the planting list that Woodbine has for their forest garden at http://www.woodbinecenter.org/edible-forest-gardens-0. It has been very helpful for me. Go to the very bottom of the page, the two "attachment" links there. I think Eric Toensmeier helped design Woodbine, but not sure.

Hope this helps! Good luck.
Miles: Thanks for explaining the flags, and for helping with another! I like to think the represent how EXCITED I am for this whole mess.


There are a lot of great programs and grants for folks to aid with cleanup and rebuilding. Sadly, we do not qualify for any of them because we didn't own the place before the flood. That's ok, it will all go to help those
in need. In the meantime, we've found a great excavator guy with more than reasonable rates and high recommendations from folks in town. We DO qualify for roadside debriw pick up, which runs through spring, and the conty want's people to get as much debris out of the way of spring thaw as much as possible! I will, however, double check on debris removal regulations and if wood chips will be a problem.

As for seeding, I've been looking at http://www.westernnativeseed.com, specifically the Montane Mix http://www.westernnativeseed.com/Mmixes.html We are at around 6500 feet. I was told by the folks that used to live in the canyon that the growing season is two weeks shorter than down the road. Good news is that for a canyon, it gets a lot of sun! And we have experience some of that wind. Until we live there, we won't have a good idea of exactly the wind is gonna do.

I moved to the area a couple years ago to be with my fiance, who has been here for 12 years. In the winter, it was so windy! I remarked on it and he said "Yeah, it's pretty windy in the winter." In the spring, there was some wind. I said so. "Yeah Colorado gets some wind in the spring!" By fall, I'd realised that it's just plain windy when it wants to be, and I beat up my fiance.

Mike: I love those boulders! They are beautiful and I want them all inside my house. : D I hope I can use them smartly.

I don't mind scattered gardens, the whole place is rather scattered just because of the layout of the land. A county road runs through the middle of it so we have to cross the street every time just to get to the creek side. I think it might be helpful for the continuation of this thread to show the survey. It's a large file, even re-sized: http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1629405/landsurvey.jpg

So, everything in bold is ours, even that little mining strip to the south east. That little parcel in the north corner? There is an old, updated cabin leftover from the townsite. We've been talking with the folks who own it, such wonderful folks! and we are in the process of purchasing it so we can actually live on our land. Flood plain and elevations are nicely indicated, too. Also of note, we are surrounded, for the most part, by National Forest.

The spring house, Building 19.6 x 14.8 is right by where we'd like to rebuild, so I am not sure about trying to do much gardening there aside from keeping wood chips and growing plants moist. I understand, and could be wrong, that the spring is our domestic well, thus the water source we can use for out door animals. We are still trying to puzzle through our water rights. Even the help of a water lawyer didn't clear that one up!

Thank you, Mike, for your encouragement! I have a short term plan with nebulous long term ideas. Something will emerge from this inchoate mess.

Cam: Your plant list is wonderful! You know, just last night I randomly chose mountain mahogany from the Western Native Seed site to read about. What a coincidence you mention it! And your links are amazingly useful. Good to know. I just took a read about Black Locust and see why you put some pants on. ;3 Is the forum divided on that subject? Regardless, thank you for your advice and resources. I will add them to my research.

I think I have a pretty solid game plan to get started.

• Demo the house in about three weeks, maybe more.
• Salvage materials.
•Move the debris piles to the road wood chipping/firewooding as much as possible.
•Spread Wood Chips, especially near springs
•Inoculate everything in the world
•Scatter seed(balls?) for fast growing nitrogen fixers
•Build hugels, at least by the house
•Begin a simple kitchen garden for this year

Please feel free to critique or suggest otherwise! Thanks again ya'll.

how bout some update and more pic's
after a flood is when ya pan for gold and do good
I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam - the great philosopher Popeye. Tiny ad:
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