I have been offered the chance to develop a property using permaculture techniques and could use some advice before I step up to bat.
The property is located in Bay St. Louis Mississippi. There looks to be a lot of sand. Also near a brackish bayou with nearby access to the Gulf of Mexico.
I was living in New Orleans for two years and northern Louisiana another three before that. I am familiar with the south and enjoy the warmth and bugs. No worries there!
A good friend if mine owns the property and wants to see it put to good use.
He will allow me to use the land - in exchange for a profit share once it is established. He is thinking animal husbandry, I am thinking fruit, nut and vegetables. Incorporate rabbits and chickens in the mix as well. Agroforestry if possible.
I am posting a google map link to the property. I have not been there. You can see there is sand and not much agriculture in the area.
I have experience raising poultry and rabbits, growing small gardens and have been diligently studying permaculture. Now is the time to get my hands dirty, but is this property simply too demanding of resources? What steps can I take? Too much sand and salt?
Thank you so much for your time.
I am currently living in Spain, as a legal resident. Starting to miss the states again and I have this opportunity.
I do not know much about growing in that area but just looking at the surrounding properties makes me think that there is all sorts of trees and shrubs that would grow there. Just have to see what the water table is, does it flood or drain well? Start adding lots of organics and plant whatever you think will grow.
I am going to cross post this in a regional forum in hopes that more folks in that area will see it.
I think fruits, nuts, and forestry would be on a collision course with any future sea level rise. I think a smarter option would be to plan for storm surges that could overtop the property. I think it would make a great crawdad farm. Just collect up all the food waste in town and the only cost in your operation will be picking up the crawdads and selling them.
P.S. Crawdads don't mind if it floods.
P.P.S. I didn't realize the property was so close to the casino. Maybe they will even pay you to haul off their food waste, then feeding the crawdads actually makes you money instead of costs you.
Turns out that this would be a great and profitable system to develop - but - I would need clay in the soil.
If you can roll a ball of soil and it holds its shape, you have enough clay content for the little burrowing critters to be happy. If there is too much sand - the burrows they hibernate in will collapse and kill them.
The property looks very short on clay. Very heavy on sand.
Can one easily and quickly build clay in the soil?
The property looks very short on clay. Very heavy on sand.
Can one easily and quickly build clay in the soil?
Do we have any other ideas?
Cypress agroforestry a profitable enterprise?
Now is when you need to get dirty. You really need to get to know what the soil is like -- by digging in it. In the South, a lot of times you see sand on the surface, but 6" below it is solid clay. Often times you have lenses of sand sitting on clay or vice versa. When will you get a chance to walk over the property with a shovel and test it in several places?
If you do add crayfish to an area, their burrowing will act to mix up the sand and the clay, and they will work out how to deal with the soil type. If you add broken pottery, that is beneficial in two ways: (1) when they are large pieces, they provide the cover that the crayfish need and they don't need to burrow as much, and (2) when it breaks down to clay, it benefits the soil.
My other suggestion is to try a crop like taro. It LOVES areas that flood, although I don't know how salt tolerant it would be. I'm expanding my taro plantings this year since it did so well last summer during the deluges of July. We had 12" of rain last July, and Pensacola got over 20" in a storm a couple weeks ago, so if you want a crop for that, taro would be ideal.
Cypress agroforestry? I'd steer you away from that. Bald cypress are not that fast growing. It can take 200 years for a tree to mature, and some trees can be over a thousand years old. But they can't do that if the sea level rises; bald cypress get killed by intrusion of saltwater, which is happening in places in Louisiana.
Looking at the photos there appears to be thick "Mississippi type" vegetation on the property. You will
no doubt find some mud along that bayou. It will take tons of work but you can grow about anything you
want to on that property. You know what people will eat in that area and it is pretty straight forward.
32 acres in Southern Mississippi = $$$ and/or Food...no problem! There is so much that a person can grow in this area, year round. Also, to fund projects, if it's fenced, it would be a mistake (in my opinion) to overlook leasing part of that acreage for Equestrian use (sand may be some issue, not sure). That could be a steady stream of income for the property that inherently improves the soil quality.
Sand wouldn't be too much of an issue because raised beds and hugelkultur are really the way to go. Also, Mississippi doesn't have regulations (that I know of) on Tilapia, and you can buy them at local fisheries, which would be ideal to use for aquaponics.
The southern US is one of the most versatile agricultural areas in the entire world. You basically have a blank canvas in your hands.
The first thing I would do is start a few compost piles...get all you can from everywhere you can, manure, straw, mulch, twigs, branches, logs...etc, start creating soil.
This post is a few months old, if you're still around...fill us in on what's up and where you are!
Where Philosophy meets the Farm: an approach to sustainable living.
Nick, If you are still interested in getting ideas, I have one for you. How about sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) as a crop? It is an incredibly valuable fruiting shrub or small tree--the berries are chock-full of nutrients, (about and both berries and leaves are used in herbal medicines and foods. Best of all it tolerates places and conditions that a lot of plants can't. It loves any soil--including sand and gravel; tolerates wind, sea and salt (grows well along shorelines) and is hardy in USDA zones 2-9. Best of all you can get a huge crop from these shrubs in as little as 3 years. This is a widely used plant in eastern Europe and Asia, but only just beginning to catch on here in the USA.
Here is what the National Gardening Association says about it...
"Seaberries are easy to grow and require little space. Because male and female flowers grow on separate plants, you need at least one of each sex to produce fruit. Flowers are pollinated mostly by wind, so space plants closely: 6 to 8 feet apart in rows, or 3 feet apart as a hedge. One male (distinguished by its larger flower buds) can pollinate five or six females.
Plant seaberries in spring in full sun. They grow in most soils, even sand or gravel, tolerate both seashore and road salt, and withstand drought well. They seem to do best in a well-drained soil (pH between 5.5 and 7.5). A thick organic mulch, renewed each spring with compost or manure, should supply all the other nutrients they need and protect the shallow roots. Seaberries grow quickly and usually bear their first fruits two to three years after planting. Some varieties produce 30 to 50 pounds of fruit per shrub annually, but it may take several years to reach maximum production.
Seaberries need little pruning, unless you want to train them into bushy shrubs or shapely small trees. From time to time, cut out damaged or unproductive branches. Prune in fall after harvesting the berries in late summer. The plants resist most diseases and insects, so spraying is seldom necessary."
Everybody - thank you again for your time and consideration. I very much appreciate your honesty and creative thinking!
The plant ideas - awesome! The casino leftovers to crawfish idea - very smart. Tilapia - another thinking point. So many great ideas, I am very satisfied to think there is indeed opportunity here.
An update on what is happening...
I am still in Europe - in Spain - and I will be heading back to the Southern U.S. this winter.
The initial plan is to secure a vehicle and a vintage airstream trailer. Getting classy!
I will finally have the opportunity to put my feet on the ground of this property and churn some dirt. See what I'm working with.
If it looks like a solid bet, and I can work out the legalities of living out there via trailer - I'm going to make a go at this.
I will keep everyone posted on my experience, but must first wait until I get there.
In the mean time I have been planting harvested almonds, cactus pats and other crops in erosion damaged areas here in Spain.
Sorry for the delay in writing you all back, and thank you again for your enthusiasm!
Glad to hear you are taking the plunge. I would just add a few thoughts from someone whom grew up along the Gulf Coast. My family comes from Galveston Island, so have a little experience with this type of land. First the 'watch out'. I think this area was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina years back, much like Ike hit Galveston a few years later. What this means is storm surge and the sea coming over the land. It brings a lot of minerals to the soil. Also brings a lot of salt. The Romans salted fields when they wanted to break a conquered people. It is hard to neutralize that effect. Do some soil testing. Otherwise, one would be surprised the bounty that can come from the land near the coast. Near the coast you have access to free and unlimited fertilizer! Composted seaweed is fantastic. Beach communities rake it and haul it at great expense. They may deliver for free if you give them a place to dump it. Also the fishermen, shrimpers, resturaunts, etc... have a lot of waste they have to dispose in the form of heads, tails, guts, etc... Tilling this waste straight into the sandy soil will provide unbelievable yields. My grandfather did this with very sandy backyard and grew a great garden for years in what most considered very marginal soil. Talk to the shrimpers about their waste. Law prohibits it from going over the side of the boat anymore. It is a real problem for them that you are helping to solve. One man's trash is another's treasure.
One of the most overlooked opportunities in my opinion along the Gulf Coast, is oyster farming. The oyster crops have been virtually wiped out in my lifetime along the coast. However, in prior generations, oysters were plentiful and a natural crop. Your property looks like it about a mile from St. Louis Bay. If you can work out the logistics of putting up some posts in the public shoreline or private docks, one can get oyster starts (seeds?, I forget the term) delivered for very little money. Other that changing the bags every few months and cleaning off any debris that might accumulate in the tidal flow, they are very low maintenance / high value cash crop marketed to local restaurants and markets. Great for improving the water quality in the bay at the same time. They take 18 to 24 months to mature, but very little is invested if you can get someone to let you hang the bags off the side of their piers. It might be an income supplement that takes very little time.
Good Luck! Keep up posted on your success. One last thing, brother. Watch for snakes. You will have rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, very likely copperheads as well. Watch where you put your hands when working that raw land. Get you a good dog, preferably a terrier. They will see them long before you do and alert you to them.
Hey Nick, so that was the piece of land you told me about. I'm really impressed, that seems like a great opportunity indeed! The comments from the other permies have been very helpful indeed.
Summing it up, the climate and conditions in the area may be quite suitable for growing stuff, and since permaculture techniques can offer a bit more versatility than the conventional-industrial ones in correcting soil imbalances, the sandiness of the land can just be a minor setback. Plus, there are some crops who are resistant to high salinity levels (link, link and link, but locals and permies surely can be a main source of ideas and experience), so both approaches could be combined - a raised beds scheme for usual veggies, and a cash crop scheme for salt resistant ones.
And as mentioned above, there's also the potential of some type of livestock or specially aquaculture scheme, so that would be a nice way to take advantage instead of fighting a potentially high salty water table.
As a negative side is the very high potential of natural disasters hitting the area, not to mention mid-to-long-term sea-level rise. Hence I think it'd be risky to raise some permanent crops like fruit trees, nuts or wood trees, specially if they are to be the main cash crops, because the loss in infrastructure and crops in case even a much less powerful hurricane than Katrina hits may be insurmountable.
Nick I : Clay is everywhere ! your local soil and water district is a search away, they will have maps with soil types all laid out on a map in their offices !
A local Excavation contractor will know all the soil types probably within a 50 mile radius of his home base ! Often all of the soil removed during excavation
needs to be hauled away , money out of his pocket, and dumped, money out of his pocket ! If you are closer, a shorter distance to haul away the soil, and
will take it for a small sum or free - You may have to beat them off with a stick ! don't give up on finding clay, good stuff you should be able to I D by color
and feel ! Big AL
Success has a Thousand Fathers , Failure is an Orphan