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Starting a homestead - looking for general advice  RSS feed

 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Hi everyone--

My fiancee and I have recently purchased a 6 acre property on the northern edge of the Catskills in Eastern NY state. Since the purchase in Sept. we've become very interested in permaculture and hope to develop/restore the land gradually as we go. We do not live hear full time--we live NYC and plan to offset some of our costs through short term rentals of the property when we are not there. One day we do hope to live on the property for half the year or more.

I've done an initial read of a number of Permaculture books--Holzer's PC, gaia's garden, PC Handbook, The Resilient Farm... So I have a decent grasp of PC ideas but no practical experience and no real idea of how to adapt them to our particular property. I'm hoping some of you will be able to guide my thinking a bit. In particular, right now I'm trying to develop a vision for the future of the site and could use help determining what might succeed there. And then some advice on what could be done this spring/summer as a foundation for future work.

So some site details (see attached map):
Size: 5.8 acres
Location: Eastern NY State, North edge of the Catskills near Margaretville
Elevation: 1840'
Zone: 5a I think
Exposure: ESE to SE
Slope: Slopes from the top of the property at the NW to the bottom at the SE. Extreme (>10% slope maybe) at top. Level in center around pond. More gradual slope from pond to lower road.
Soil: Have not tested the soil yet. Very rocky in places. USDA soil survey says: NW quad (above pond)--Onteora/Ontusia soils, very stony; SW quad (above pond)--Willowemoc channery silt loam; NE quad (including pond)--Willowemoc channery silt loam; SE quad--Lordstown channery silt loam.
Rain: 40in annual
Water: spring fed pond with additional possible springs/seeps as indicated on map. Pond seems healthy with many frogs/tadpoles and limited number of both young and old Koi. House is on well/septic. The pond has an overflow that sends water down the property in numerous small rivulets.
Historical use: I think this area was pasture land

The attached map should give you some sense for the property. Gold arrows roughly indicate direction and degree of slope (more arrows=greater slope; 3 arrows together indicates a slope that would be intimidating to walk down under wet/snowy conditions, maybe over 10% grade). From the top of the property to the end of the pond, there is dense tree cover. So far I've only been able to identify what I think are Red Spruce and Honey Locust. Below the pond the land is mostly overgrown shrubs/grasses and some young trees.

Our initial thoughts:
- Clearing area N of pond for fruit/nut trees w/ guilds (but will the seep area cause water problems?)
- Eventually developing hugelkulture beds on the south-facing slope beneath the southern edge of the pond (or terraces? how to utilize pond overflow through beds? on contour or not?)
- Find an area or two to sheet mulch and try planting something
- Try a mushroom log

Our big questions:
- Is our soil bad for growing (or do we not know enough)?
- We probably need to do a good deal of tree thinning/clearing--any advice for going about this?
- Obviously we need to do a lot of observation before making any big decisions, but is there anything we should consider doing now?
- How to deal with the lower half of the property which we likely won't have much time to tend to immediately. Just let it grow? Periodically chop and drop? Broadcast some beneficial seeds?

Is there anything I've forgotten?

Any/all help appreciated!!!
616-Rough.jpg
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Rough sketch of current site
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Oh, and how will our ESE/SE orientation effect our growing potential? We lose sun by late afternoon because of the slope behind us. Thanks!
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 4060
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Howdy Ian, welcome to permies!
Just some random thoughts.

Try not to cut down to many trees untill you have them identified. Many trees are good nurse trees or add nitrogen etc.

The thing to do now is take time to observe and document what you already have. Develop a plan.

It looks like your road to the house is already functioning as a sort of swale. Might be able to use that latter for tree planting. It also looks like the main road has water catchment or a ditch that could be used.

How deep is the pond? That is a really nice asset!

Do you have any pictures from ground level that you could share?
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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books fungi hugelkultur solar wofati woodworking
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Ian Douglas : Welcome to permies.com, and our sister site richsoil.com, A little paperwork to help you find your Permies Near Neighbors !

look at the space around your name and L@@K at mine! The attached link will help 'bring you up to speed' and help you navigate Permies where you
and your fiancé will find lots of Forum thread of interest to you. Link below :

http://www.permies.com/t/43625/introductions/Universal

This was posted by a fellow member , not a moderator or administrator, or staff, there is virtually no Trolling, and the only rule is ''be nice''

Also, and this will be great practice to learn the system- on the forums page scroll down and find the Regional forums and click on Eastern(u.s.) from there
you will find the Forum Thread ''Upstate New York'' stop-in and say hi!

For the good of the Crafts! Big AL
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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allen lumley wrote:look at the space around your name and L@@K at mine!


Thanks, Al. Done!
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Miles Flansburg wrote:
Try not to cut down to many trees untill you have them identified. Many trees are good nurse trees or add nitrogen etc.
The thing to do now is take time to observe and document what you already have. Develop a plan.
It looks like your road to the house is already functioning as a sort of swale. Might be able to use that latter for tree planting. It also looks like the main road has water catchment or a ditch that could be used.
How deep is the pond? That is a really nice asset!
Do you have any pictures from ground level that you could share?


Thanks, Miles! Will post more pics next. Pond is maybe 8' deep and 70' diameter. We love it...
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Here's an aerial of the full property showing road at SE end and creek alongside.
616-Aerial.PNG
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Full property
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Here are a few photos of parts of the upper half of the property.

Photo 1: Shot of the house from driveway
Photo 2: Shot of pond from west side looking to the east: note seep area (yellow flowers at left); spring (yellow flowers at center); outlet (yellow flowers at right)
Photo 3: Shot of the driveway
_DSF2726.jpg
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Shot of the house from driveway
_DSF2733.jpg
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Shot of pond from west side looking to the east
_DSF2734.jpg
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Shot of the driveway
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 655
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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trees
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Ian Douglas wrote:Our big questions:
- Is our soil bad for growing (or do we not know enough)?

Getting your soil tested is dirt cheap (hehe) so I'd suggest collecting samples from a few locations the next time you are out at your property. At the UMass soil testing lab, they only charge $15 per sample for a routine soil analysis and they will email you your results within about 2 weeks.
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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John Wolfram wrote:
Getting your soil tested is dirt cheap (hehe) so I'd suggest collecting samples from a few locations the next time you are out at your property. At the UMass soil testing lab, they only charge $15 per sample for a routine soil analysis and they will email you your results within about 2 weeks.


Awesome...will definitely do that. Thanks!
 
Gary Lewis
Posts: 132
Location: Maine, USA
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Wow...a sweet place to start with. Congrats!

If you like Google Earth (or never used it)...here is a link on how to use it to plan permaculture zones.....so you can dream away while in NYC

http://www.almostafarmer.com/using-google-earth-to-zone-your-farm/

I am really looking forward to seeing you progress. Good luck and most of all...have fun.

Gaz
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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A couple of thoughts: If I understand correctly, above the pond is the northerly, elevated and most stony part of your property? It is also the area where you have the densest current population of trees.
You are contemplating clearing this area that already has established trees, in order to plant trees? It would seem to me that it might not be the most efficient approach to remove established trees in order to start morre trees, especially where those trees are growing in challenging ground.

I would definitely inventory the existing trees and determine what useful varieties you already have in place - and remember that useful encompasses much more than producing food for humans

I would plan out at least one swale on contour below the pond, to assure an even distribution of the overflow from the pond and the runoff down the slope in general.

My initial thoughts also include planning for food forest running more or less down the hill below the house and between the pond and the property line. I am thinking in terms of using the area below the pond and toward the roads as the "broadacre" garden, so to speak, an area for perennial vegetables, berries, annual veggies, flowers, herbs - an area not focused around "forest" design.
 
Ian Douglas
Posts: 8
Location: Northern Catskills, NY - Zone 5a, precip. 40"
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Peter Ellis wrote:A couple of thoughts: If I understand correctly, above the pond is the northerly, elevated and most stony part of your property? It is also the area where you have the densest current population of trees.
You are contemplating clearing this area that already has established trees, in order to plant trees? It would seem to me that it might not be the most efficient approach to remove established trees in order to start morre trees, especially where those trees are growing in challenging ground.

I would definitely inventory the existing trees and determine what useful varieties you already have in place - and remember that useful encompasses much more than producing food for humans


Point taken--would definitely make sure to ID first. I just had the impression that thinning of forested areas would likely be needed. Also I was thinking that the area directly north of the pond is prime for food-producing trees/other plants and non-food-producing trees might have to be sacrificed at some point. But feel free to change my mind.

Also, to be clear: the property slopes from NW to SE, with the steepest areas just above the house, just below the drive, and just below the pond (see yellow arrows). As for the rockiest terrain--I haven't established that yet.

Peter Ellis wrote:I would plan out at least one swale on contour below the pond, to assure an even distribution of the overflow from the pond and the runoff down the slope in general.


Yes, this is what I also envisioned. I am confused though as to whether it should be exactly on contour or slightly sloped to distribute the water from what is a fairly constant point source along the entire swale. Does anyone have thoughts on this?

Peter Ellis wrote:My initial thoughts also include planning for food forest running more or less down the hill below the house and between the pond and the property line. I am thinking in terms of using the area below the pond and toward the roads as the "broadacre" garden, so to speak, an area for perennial vegetables, berries, annual veggies, flowers, herbs - an area not focused around "forest" design.


Yeah, I like this idea. I guess I need to read up a little more specifically on forest gardening. Also, much of what I've read seems to have had more of an emphasis on starting with fairly empty, open land. I haven't come across much that talks about converting semi-forested/overgrown land. That's a little bewildering. But again, maybe some forest garden reading is in order.

Thanks!
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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Thing about swales on contour is they are exactly the way to distribute water evenly across a slope. Water will move along the level swale, filling it all to the same level.
A sloped swale is for moving water to another location, rather than evenly distributing.
 
Jayden Thompson
Posts: 120
Location: Danville, KY (Zone 6b)
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For the sloped swale, the benefit I've seen is if you want to move water from a valley to a ridge. Valleys will tend to have more water naturally, as you would expect. But you can move water from a high point on a valley to a low point on a ridge, then as the water drips into the soil it will even out the distribution more equally between the valley and ridge. This is something I plan to do on my own land next year, since the valleys are noticeably more luscious and wet than the ridges, even though it's all pretty moderate rolling hills.

If you don't see a need to redistribute, there probably isn't a benefit to a sloped swale.

* I'm not an expert on this, so please don't make any earthwork decisions based on what I said without further research.
 
D Stark
Posts: 9
Location: NYC and Catskills
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Nice place, Ian. You can do a lot with the pond and slope. I know you still have a bit of observing to do in the spring. I am in a similar situation. Living in NYC with land in the catskills. What are your goals for the site? Agrotourism? Nursery?
 
Colin Dunphy
Posts: 13
Location: Clinton, Maryland Zone 6b; 40" precip
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Great looking place. Thought about using rocks and reflective surfaces to capture as much afternoon light as possible when needed. Pond would aid in that, focusing light back to dark slope. Maybe a shiny metal chicken coop to the east of the pond would work.

have you considered an arbor system for your sewage? lots of wet grasses can help purify water.

wish i could provide more advice, just starting myself.

good luck!
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