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Land Advice

 
Posts: 6
Location: SE Ohio
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I'm relatively new to permaculture ideas, but I have been exploring various gardening techniques for a number of years. I currently live on about .3 acres, and I have managed to squeeze in 10 espalier fruit trees, 3 blackberry vines, 3 raspberry vines, 3 grape vines, 2 blueberry plants, and 2 free standing fruit trees. I have a small-ish raised bed garden for the annuals and a 4'x20' garden bed for asparagus along the side of the house. Everything is 1-5 years old, and it is just now starting to produce. We added 4 chickens last year as well (zoning was fun.. I technical have an "extension" on my home ). I plan to add a small mushroom farm for shiitakes and pearl oysters under the trampoline this year as well (plug spawn otw now).

I have a few other plans for the current yard, but I've taken up about as much room as I can squeeze out of the yard leaving some room for the kids to play, keep the wife happy, and keep the neighbors from taking too much of an interest. So naturally, I've started looking for other land in my area to continue my experiments. I have a few constraints (mostly monetary and available time), but I also don't want to move too far out in the country yet for the wife and kids (schools, neighborhood children, etc).

I've recently come upon 3.6 acres a few miles from my home, and it is extremely cheap for the amount of land. Of course this is because the land is horribly hilly, filled with downed and decaying trees, and generally unusable for nearly anything. Naturally, this sounds like a fantastic challenge to me!

My main goal for the land is to practice/learn permaculture ideas. It also gives me a place for my "experiments" without deviating too much from the "norm" with my current suburban lot.

I'm assuming some type of massive terrace system with a couple of smaller pond areas in some of the natural "valleys" on the land.

I'm looking for some thoughts from this community on the feasibility of using this land. I've attached a contour map of the land, and you can see there are multiple "valleys" running north to south along with a general down hill grade (about 1' down for every 2.5' out). I think any type of heavy machinery would be extremely expensive given the slope of the land. I'm not opposed to a significant amount of work, but it needs to be at least reasonably feasible.

Should I pass on this land and wait for something flatter?
What ideas do you have for making this land more usable?

Thanks in advance for your responses.

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Contour view
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Wow. That topo image looks quite interesting, to say the least.

You are correct on several counts.
Yes, that land would be worthless to a farmer who wanted straight rows for his machinery.
And yes, it could get quite expensive hiring in heavy equipment to work it.

For conventional methods (and equipment), that would be quite undesirable to a farmer.
It looks like it rises 16-1800 feet from the roadway, with some interesting peaks and valleys.
That should give you multiple eco zones to deal with, as well as some great opportunities for managing your water.

I envision vineyard, orchard and brambles following contour.
I believe that with that much variety, you could create a very productive food forest.
You would never get bored, or run out of ideas on such a parcel.

I was looking at a property somewhat like that a while back, and came to the conclusion that a walk-behind tractor might be the best way to work it. Probably the premier dealer for BCS & Grillo tractors is pretty close to you (Owenton, KY).

I say "Go for it !" If/when TSHTF, you'll be glad you did it.

 
pollinator
Posts: 2392
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Why anything "massive" at all? The topo makes me think of a trip I took long ago along the Oregon coast, in late summer. The drop-off from the highway was as steep as what you describe. What makes it memorable was that I hit it at the peak of blackberry season, and with every step down the hillside, you were within reach of another small bucket of blackberries.

What's on the land now? Could it be a hillside full of brambles? That way, the only improvement you would need to make is some sort of path so that you can actually get to all of the fruit.
 
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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is there some buildings on the land up near the road? is that what the squarish things are? the contours look lovely. my own land has less contour, it is the side of a hill though and very lumpy with many fallen trees and I find it to be very fun to work on. my biggest challenge right now is racoons keep digging up my newly planted plants that and deer. fencing keeps the deer out and provides fun climbing and play equipment for the racoons. I wonder what wild food plants are already on that land! I keep finding out about more food plants growing on mine which is one of the funnest parts I think.
 
Posts: 529
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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I think that could be a pretty fun project. I see about a half dozen nice potential water catchment spots, maybe some interconnected swales, terraces, and hugels. Could be really cool! Add some keyline rips and you're really in business. The walk behind tractor idea sounds like a good one to me, that would be a lot of hand work otherwise. I say if it's cheap enough go for it.
 
steward
Posts: 2719
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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Seems like with some earthworks you could make that land hold quite a bit of water. Fish ponds?
 
John Adkins
Posts: 6
Location: SE Ohio
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@John Polk: That link looks great. After walking the land yesterday, i was beginning to think about how i could go about moving/transporting materials around the site. Those look like the perfect solution. Those lines are 2' contours so the actual rise is closer to 80' than 1800'.

@John Elliot: I think to get the most "food" out of the land, it would need to be changed over a considerable amount. At the very least, I will need some paths to make it more enjoyable to forage / harvest. I did not notice any brambles, but it is still early in the season for me to recognize such things. I have a friend who has recently taken to "farming" "weeds" out of forests, and I plan to have him walk the land with me to help identify other things to keep around.

@Olivia Helmer: There were some buildings up by the road, but they burned down. There is a small clearing there that will be my main access point, but I don't plan to rebuild a home on the property at this time. Keeping deer and racoons out will definitely be a challenge, but hopefully it just means I can plant more than I need to share with them rather than fencing the whole place in.

@Dave & Craig: I'm assuming the best place to catch the water would be closer to the road (the northern side) in the "valleys". I can slow down the water on the way down, but I think the area may be too steep to introduce any type of pond in the middle of the slope?

Here are a few pictures from my walk about yesterday.
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John Adkins
Posts: 6
Location: SE Ohio
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More pictures
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John Adkins
Posts: 6
Location: SE Ohio
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Last 2 pictures
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Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Here is a video that may be of some help. It's about 40 minutes, but gets into some nice detail about how to harvest water in a plot that topographically looks kind of like yours (email required, but it's Geoff Lawton, and outside of notifications for new videos I've had very little spam).

http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/33811-property-purchase-check-list
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 529
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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I would start by identifying your keypoints (usually where the contour lines start to space out a bit) and look at those areas for pond sites. The map looks like some are more towards the bottom, but a couple are higher up kinda towards the middle, hard to tell though. After that start evaluating for a sight as high up on the property as you can get, even up towards the property line. Interconnecting the ponds with swales and overflows will do a lot to keep many small ponds at capacity.

The Lawton video is excellent and so have the rest of his free videos he puts out. If you haven't seen any yet I highly recommend them.
 
steward
Posts: 4618
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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John, that looks like a fantastic place to do some permaculture!

Here is a thread that helps explain how to capture water in valleys.

https://permies.com/t/21884/earthworks/Darren-Doherty-Youtube-Keyline-beach

Looks like a lot of wood for hugelkutur and mushroom cultivation there.

Be sure to catalog all of the wild edibles and other usable plants. It would be a shame to loose some good stuff by going to fast.
 
pollinator
Posts: 685
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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If you haven't seen the videos of Sepp Holzer's farm, I would encourage you to review them carefully and then come back here and ask your questions. Just a suggestion.
 
John Adkins
Posts: 6
Location: SE Ohio
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Thanks for all of the responses. I watched most of Geoff's videos from that link last night. I had seen a few of them before, but watching them again with the piece of land in mind is definitely a whole new experience.

I have watched several guided tours of Sepp's land, and I recently read his permaculture book as well. I would love to see someone run through Sepp's land on a whiteboard like Geoff did for his 5 acres of abundance video (or the linked video above).

I've been through the Darren-Doherty-Youtube-Keyline-beach thread as well, but a rewatch would probably be a good thing now that i can put it in context better.

I guess my initial questions are:
  • This land seems significantly steeper than what is shown in several of the referenced videos and threads. Do these concepts "scale down" well for this smaller and steeper land area? For example, I would need a significant retaining wall in the steeper areas in order to catch the water, but the resulting pond area would be rather small (although deep)
  • Does anyone have some good references for building damns? The ponds forum on this site has some good information on lining/sealing a pond, but I haven't found a lot on strategies for building dams as part of that pond sealing. Or are these two things potentially separate? For example, a dam for the purpose of slowing down water vs. actually creating a pond that can sustain fish/water life.
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