Since it seems like you will be the primary executor of this plan, I think Masanobu Fukuoka's techniques and ruth stout's methods will be useful in decreasing your workload.
You also mentioned that you are on a tight budget; I think some seedswaps (e.g. National Garden Association, Heirloom Seedswap, GardenWeb) and free stuff (e.g. Freecycle, Craigslist Cub Alerts, Craigslist Free Stuff) will be helpful. The Arbor Day Nursery has some lower priced plants, and they will give you ten free trees from the options provided to choose from. There is also a pretty cool WordPress Seedbank plug-in that can be used. This is kinda a stretch, though anything is worth a try; maybe a Local Arboretum will give you a few cuttings or seeds for free. If keeping track of things going on the Internet is hard, recipes can be made on If This Then That to carry out tasks for you whenever certain actions occur online. If you do not need a tool for a long period of time, NeighborGoods and NeighBorrow are pretty useful sites.
To save some money and grow what is regularly eaten or found nearby, regrowing food scraps and vegetative propagation techniques may also be useful.
As a general rule of thumb, I think smaller seeds are sown closer to the surface and larger seeds are sown deeper down; there are exceptions, so I think checking online is a good thing to do.
For a little inspiration and plant browsing, the Plants For a Future Database is very helpful.
To attract other people's interest and add some protection after site development, I think certification as a Wildlife Habitat will be useful.
I know that much has been written about the long-term use of hugelkultur, to plant them with trees and use them as water catchments to help rebuild forests. That isn't the way I use them, like you, I want to have a useable back yard that provides me with vegetables. I don't have any trees on my hugelkultur mounds, and they get replanted in the fall with cool weather vegetables. I have one hugel devoted to sweet potatoes, and when they get harvested, I will go back and replant it with various brassicas.
What climate zone are you in? If you don't have much winter fall is a great time to put in hugels of cool weather veggies.
There are a myriad of possibilities - swales and a food forest approach, for one. You could keep lawn between bands of trees on the berms below the swales, or go for alley cropping in between, or some of each. Hugelkultur can increase your growing area and let you make beneficial microclimates, as well as adding some interesting visual character to the yard.
Orientation is very important in determining many things - what to plant, what strategies for earthworks (texturing the land to create optimized microclimates). Growing season - how long, is your area prone to late frosts in the spring, or early frosts in the fall? There are strategies to minimize the impact of both of these on your plants.
You can focus on perennials over annuals, with a resultant decrease in the amount of work you need to do each year to get yield from your land.
But so much of this is dependent upon what you want and need. For example, a food forest that focused on producing bunches of fruit and nuts would be a bad idea for a family with a tree nut allergy! And the fruit and nut trees will take several years before they become productive. In the meantime you can grow faster maturing items that will let you get yields this year and next, but which ones ? Depends so much on what your family likes and where you are.
In my current situation I focus on annuals and go for things I like and where the homegrown versions are so dramatically better than store bought it just seems obvious
In the future, I will still have those annuals, but I will also be developing perennials and grouping the annuals in amongst the perennials. There will be a food forest, and we will most probably rotate alley cropping and livestock grazing through that food forest.
Gardening/farming/homesteading involves some hard work and some disappointment (my potatoes this year started off like gangbusters, we were really excited about how well they were doing! and so was something else, that came along under the mulch and chomped off every plant just above ground level. All that work and the elation of how well they were growing, smashed. But on the other hand, our compost pile has produced enormous squash vines that are completely volunteer and producing well for us. We've harvested bunches of green beans, the cowpeas are producing well and our tomatoes are (mostly) thriving - including, again, a number of volunteers.
So some failures where one hoped for success, some successes where one had no expectations at all and some things going pretty much as planned. It takes a certain determined optimism to be a gardener, on any scale
John Elliott wrote:How about hugelkultur across the side of the hill, parallel with the planter bed to the left of the deck?
I like the idea of swales or terraces parallel to the plant bed but hugelkultur could be dangerous if you get a huge rain storm and it fails and a bunch of water, dirt, and logs come rolling down the hill.
Slopes were usually always terraced. You want the soil and the moisture stay in place.
Maybe you write a list of all fruit and nut trees which grow in your area and you like eating. Were is the sun? Were do you want to place the orchard? Do some wild animals want to eat your fruit vegetable? Actually the sunflowers are great, if they still contain seeds when ripe the birds are nice in your area.
Deer and rabbits that eat small trees and all vegetables--YES!
Snowmelt from all directions--YES!
I would want to plant some trees or bushes with deep roots to hold the hillside from sliding downhill. Maybe some semi-dwarf apples? Many varieties come from Minnesota and are hardy there. I'm thinking Haralson, keepsake, honeycrisp, chestnut and centennial crab, Sweetango, and sweet sixteen. If you train them so as to let them grow to more than 7 feet tall before they branch, the deer can't get them. They don't jump or use ladders to get apples, but you probably can.
Jen Van wrote:I then used stakes behind the logs and over this spring and summer and the rains, even those hardly hold them--especially with a four year who loves to "walk the beams"!
Maybe some 4' rebar as stakes till your plantings hold the soil (perennials will work better)? Make them just a little taller than the logs in case the 4 year old falls on them.
Consider adding this to your profile.
the idea of water in the bottom is possible, as is a small pond towards the top which could be fed with roof water and then act as irrigation for crops down the slope, setting up the trenches for a self watering system so the kiddy pool or whatever you might use can feed the net and pan system passively watering everything with just the turn of a valve
Those are the largest trousers in the world! Especially when next to this ad:
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