My family and I are traveling across the country this weekend, to spend our holidays in Kentucky - which also happens to be where we plan to move next Spring. There, we plan to buy about 10+ acres to start a food forest.
I'd like to pick some wise brains to find out what I should look for. Yes, I know this is a huge topic - but I want to make sure I at least check for all the fundamentals. I plan to dig a few small holes in the properties we've identified, to check for soil quality and depth. I also want to inspect their dried up pond to see how I can reasonably do some improvements with water retention to get the pond active again, not to mention how and where I'd drop in some swales.
I have heard about checking "soil maps" but I'm not familiar with those. Where and how would I do that? What else should I check for before, during, or after my inspection?
FYI - most of the land I've been looking into is mostly open pastures that appear to previously be used for horses or other livestock. My plan it to use up most of that land for a food forest or a Mark Shepard style food savanna using keyline design or swales. We also plan to continue to have plenty of pastured land for small livestock to range and eat freely (chickens and goats to start, pigs hopefully in the future).
Thanks for any advice guys. My search starts Monday, and I'll have 2 weeks to learn as much as possible before returning to Colorado and waiting to sell our house here.
First, one of the things that I think would be useful is to complete a permaculture designer's client questionnaire for each site. At the beginning of the document is a section about "Client Needs". This is a good way to get all of your thoughts and ideas of what you want to be able to do on paper. The questionnaire addresses many different aspects of a site to consider.
Soil In the USA, the Web Soil Survey is a great tool for finding soil data and water table depth when you are not on the site.
Elevation/Contours The USA National Map Viewer and MyTopo are good sources of general topographic data. On the National Map Viewer, it automatically opens in topographic view, but MyTopo does not. I advise using the regular setting first and then activating the topographic filter once you have honed in on the site.
Plants and Animals The LadyBird Johnson Database will give you an idea of what native plants may exist in your area. More specific information can be found from a local expert, college, or local Wildlife, Parks, and Recreation website or center. After choosing a site, the Plants For a Future Database may come in handy for finding what will grow in your area.