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Which site would you choose?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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Hi Permies,

This is my first post, so please be nice!

My husband and I are thinking about moving from our half acre suburban homestead to something a bit bigger further out of town, around 10 acres or so.

We're both vegetarian, and we'd be looking to produce around 50-60% of our own food, and have enough surplus to trade with other local producers for the majority of the rest of our food. Main crops would be orchard fruit, eggs and value-added preserves. So we'd be looking to keep a small flock of poultry, waterfowl, and perhaps a few sheep to keep the grass in the orchards down, and the rest would be plantings.

We're in Australia, and I think our USDA zone would be about zone 9. The area gets about 40-50" rain annually.

We're still very much in the 'looking around' stages, but I was hoping for some input from you guys about site selection. There are two properties that I'm interested in - one is almost completely flat, on a very slight slope, and one is in s small undulating valley that runs roughly east-west with a small seasonal creek running through the middle. Pictures attached (I hope!).

But we're not necessarily going to buy either of them, as we've just started looking. If you could choose your ideal site for these circumstances, what would it be like? What features would you want from the land?
image.jpg
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
The flat block
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The hilly block
 
steward
Posts: 4400
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Marie, welcome to permies, where we try very hard to keep things "nice"!

I would go for the hilly country. The water is a bonus.
 
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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I've done the hills.
Everything slopes all the time. On a good day, I'm clumsy and awkward on flat surfaces.
Personal preferences aside, the hills offer a more diverse environment. High on the hills will tend to be dryer. Down in the valleys will see more moisture, great for berries. Some areas will have wind, some are protected. If an orchard is in your future, the slope puts more fruit within reach, on one side anyway. Besides being flood proof, there is the simple fact that you can't build into the side of a hill on flat land. Sure is pretty.
On the other hand, that flat piece would be awesome for solar energy-no shade when you need the sun. Sure is nice to be able to walk around the place without the workout of climbing hills all the time. If stuff blows over, it doesn't roll downhill. If vegetable production is your objective, flat land is easier to work on.

If I had to choose based on these 2 photos alone, I'd take the hills even if I wobble and fall down. I think I'd like to wake up to that view every day.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1129
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Flat land--
...easier to use equipment on
...easier for laying out fields and building garden structures & fences
...easier for drip irrigation
...appeals to my OCD hubby who prefers straight rows, orderly and well laid out gardens
...boring to me because it lacks diversity.
...lacks a "soul". It's just flat.

Hilly--
...allows my artistic heart to design a farm, contouring the growing beds and livestock areas to take advantage of the variations
...is much easier on the eye. Better pleasant views.
...seasonal creek gives options of establishing ponds.
...far more difficult to use equipment on. And more challenging to install fencing.
...more complicated water system would be needed for irrigation

If I had to choose, I'd take the hilly property. I'd just be happier there. But it would be more difficult to work on. Definitely not as efficient as flat land.
 
Posts: 118
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I like the hills too! Land that you feel a connection to is important, too, even if it's hard to quantify.

hills *are* kind of a pain for using machinery on. Would you be doing much that would NEED a lot of machinry work? Is it relatively inexpensive locally to hire someone for the day with an earthmover to come and flatten something if you need it? (Terracing or building or whatever?) Are you going to need a lot of fencing that would be difficult to do on a hill? Are there enough flat spots for building on already? And how much drip irrigation would you NEED?

That said, if you've just started looking, it probably wouldn't hurt to KEEP looking until you find a place you are both sold on?
 
Marie van Houtte
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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I like the hills too

We live in the hills currently, and perhaps I'm just used to it, but to me it seems easier to manage water flow on hills. Do you guys find that's the case? I mean, you have to use the special dropper nozzles on your irrigation and design it for the slope and all that jazz, but I have no idea how to manage water on almost flat land.

Equipment is definitely a consideration though. On our half acre, the only equipment we have is a lawn mower and a spade. I have always read that for traditional monoculture-type orchards you don't want a slope >10% because a) the soil at the too of the slope is more eroded and deficient, and b) it's difficult to get your machinery up and down the rows. But since we wouldn't be using sprayers or harvesters or anything, and would be able to manage erosion with swales and guilds, I wondered if that would matter to us? What sorts of equipment do you guys use on your farms?

I like that with hilly country you get built-in microclimates. It gives me something to work around. I don't know what I would do with all the freedom to design a sunny flat block, hahahah. Where would I even start?!

Also, I was wondering if you actually get more plantable surface on 10 acres of hills than 10 acres of flat land? Like, when the council/queen/whoever came along to mark out the property boundaries, do they just draw a square on a birds-eye view map and say "I dub thee lot number 10" and then the area is calculated from the dimensions of your little square? Or does a surveyor actually come along and map the land in 3D and figure out how much surface area exists within your square?

Lots to ponder!
 
gardener
Posts: 7501
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Your photos are very green. Is this typical throughout the year, or do you have long dry spells ? If there is a need to trap and store water, slopes might be better.

Then there's the price. Flat land sometimes sells for much more.

What about salt? Many areas of Australia have problems with too much salt in the soil. It's tough to fix it on flat land.
 
Marie van Houtte
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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There's definitely more rain in winter and spring than in autumn and summer. So we would need to trap water for sure. It doesn't look that green in February!

Salinity is an issue on grazed land. This is dairy country, so it's been grazed by cattle for many years.

Price is a funny old thing. It has to do more with the zoning than the lay of the land for these smaller blocks. We have this weird rule where if your land is in the Farming Zone you can't build a house unless you're on less 10 acres because they think housing is taking away valuable farming land. But you also can't build a house unless you have more than 40 acres because it's a major water catchment area and they're worried about the population growing there and using up all the water for themselves. So you see steep 6.5 acre lots going for more that beautiful 37 acre lots, because no-one can build a house on those ones.
 
Marie van Houtte
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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PS. I've been over to the Tiny House forum for a little bit of investigation on how this might be circumvented... Just in case.
 
Posts: 1947
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Like the others I would be drawn towards the hilly land, but there are downsides already mentioned.

You say you want to grow most of your own food then mention fruit eggs and preserves. Working on a scale of 10 acres you will probably need some mechanical assistance to get started - planting 10 acres of food forest/berry bushes etc... by hand doesn't sound easy. Can you get tractor/digger access on the steeper land? Can you dig swales for tree planting?

Are you planning on any carbohydrate crops - living on fruit and eggs doesn't sound great to me, and is quite seasonal. Trading/selling will get you part way - what about an acre of flat land for annual gardening/veggies?
 
Marie van Houtte
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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Thanks Michael Yes! We'd be growing veg, of course! But probably just for us (although you never know, plans often need to evolve and be 'tweaked'). I'd prefer to keep the veg plot in zone 1 though, close to the house, so anything we'd consider would need to have a flat(ish) area for a home site and zone 1 gardening. I know we'd most likely need to get some machinery in there to make the home site perfectly flat, but would I really need to make a veg plot 100% level?

I had been planning/hoping for something on a gentle north-facing slope below the house for the ideal, rather than completely flat, in order to maximise sun and and use gravity to my advantage when irrigating with rainwater collected from the house... This seems fine and dandy in my head, but have I missed something really obvious/practical that needs to be thought through when transferring these ideas to larger sites?

Now I've never done any major earth-moving projects. It's all been spade and wheelbarrow here. It takes ages, hahah. We would probably hire someone with a bobcat type machine to do the earthworks like berms, swales, dams etc - but what sort of incline would make that prohibitive, I don't know. Hopefully you folks can tell me!

I'm sure there are practicalities to all this that I haven't foreseen, so any tips are very much appreciated!
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1947
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
84
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Mid slope is supposed to work well for gravity fed water/housing.

You can have a tank/dam higher up the slope that gravity feeds the house, and the waste water from the house can be used to trickle irrigate a garden in Zone 1 down hill. Think about your veggies growing just down hill of your kitchen sink and using mulch pits for water infiltration for washing machines and the like.

Depending on time and scale you might decide you need mechanical assistance with your gardening. While hugelcultures, food forests and the like work great, when you need to provide large quantities of staples for your family you might decide that a small tiller is needed to get your plot going. There is a reason farmer like monocrops and bare - soil they can be processed mechanically and quickly. Now I'm not advocating conventional ag, but I think there is a happy middle ground where permaculture needs to scale up efficiently.

If you are looking at the sloping property - what is the upstream water catchment like? Is it extensive? Do you have neighbours who might be interested in a joint project to make your seasonal stream more reliable? Swales on the slopes and trees to increase water infiltration, gabions and simple works in the stream to slow water even if you can't make proper dams etc...

A few likeminded neighbours could make a big difference to the water retention properties of a small water catchment.

With regards your sheep - Allan Savory's work on grazing systems might be of interest to you. I don't know how many sheep you could run on 10 acres where you are, but rather than invest in animals yourself could you borrow a largish flock to mob graze through your land occasionally? Forage in exchange for some lamb?
 
Marie van Houtte
Posts: 35
Location: Australia
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Thankyou Michael for your excellent suggestions. I looked up some of Allan Savory's work - very interesting.

We're still only in the thinking and looking stages, but it's really helpful to me to have something that vaguely resembles a practical implementation plan. I know plans have to change if things don't work or you think of something better, but I just don't want to go into it totally blind.

So I think probably a practical earthworks course is in order before I take this any further.
 
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