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35 acre NorCal food forest

 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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I am on 35 acres with massive potentials! The MASTER (nature) has already done its work and has basically created pond systems and lush bio-diversity, but its time to integrate conscious human beings into the equation:

The Property/Situation: Land is in the sierra foothills (Northern California [zone 9b]) with a seasonal creek that runs 1/4 mile through the property, smaller, shorter season creek also runs 1/4 mile through the property, beginning on the opposite side. Basically imagine a square property with an upside down V (the creeks) running from the bottom of the square, around our current dwelling on a large hill in the center of the square (the property). Land has 20% "flat lands", rest is diversely sloped. already a crude swale established around the entire large hill about half-way down it (from chinese miners back in the day). But its not so much a swale because they built it to move water, but it can be easily fixed, its close to contour. mild clay soils. 75% closed canopy. No past grazing, or current livestock. Foot/vehicle traffic limited to 0.1% of the land. ecosystem is mainly pines and oak trees with a few wild roses/figs/mulberries/cottonwoods/manzanita/. I have been stockpiling thousands of dollars in genetics, full spectrum diversity: N fixing trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, accumulators, pioneer species, loads of the most highly prized edibles for my area, and relatively similar environments, as well as intensively harvesting seed from about a dozen of the local N fixers/accumulators for support species throughout the earthworks features, and more importantly to close up the entire properties canopy and get as much biomass going and water pathways established (roots). Our summers reach 100+ for a few days, quite mild winters (no freezes, about a dozens frosts in our worst winters, two frosts this past winter), huge growing season.

The Current Plan:
clean out and nurture the larger of the creeks to be year round, with a spillway leading into piping taking the water from early in the creek, slightly downhill of contour to pond systems. I feel it is best to have several hand dug swales around the property alongside the currently existing large fixable swale. But my main emphasis will be on sunken hugel beds, and terraces.

Main Question: I am very curious as to the most effective priorities that should be taken to kick things off, like which earth works have priority over other in my specific environment, and things of that sort.

Thank you for your consideration, and even more for your potential help!
Austin.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1010
Location: Northern Italy
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Sounds like a wonderful little place you have there.

I can give you a few first impressions, just by looking at what you've written.

1. A lot of what makes things happen on a given piece of land has very little to do with nature but more with your ability to interact with it positively. Your ability to interact leads to questions of your personal economy, the time you have available, your physical abilities, what kind of machinery you can or want to bring on the land, your interaction with other people who might influence the land positively or negatively, the legal and bureaucratic situation of the land. A good plan will address all those variables and have them in mind from the beginning. Otherwise you begin to throw yourself into something, only to find out later it wasn't worth the effort. This has to do with the "invisible structures" that effect our ability to act effectively in the landscape.

2. When you say that it is mostly pines and oak, what I'm seeing is that oaks have high-value products such as acorn coffee substitute or as feed for pigs. Pines have pine straw, but harvesting it has to be moderated (the book Forest Farming talks about it, farmingthewoods.com). This is to say that capitalizing on what is already present in the landscape might allow you an initial income as you build the rest. Pines and cottonwoods also make good hugelculture wood.

3. As for deciding what to do, geoff lawton suggests that when you don't know where to begin, just design the edge. The middle is easy to work with (esp. for you since your 'center' is zone 1). Also, you might look at the best way to create ways for the different elements in the landscape to work together. The number of interactions is what makes thing sing.

Good luck.
William
 
Tim Nam
Posts: 74
Location: Arcata, CA zone 9b
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forest garden solar woodworking
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Hi Austin,
Tim here in Arcata. Sounds like you're a ways inland from us. Not sure I can offer an answer to your question so I'll ask what I would think given your description and what I know about the drought and that is simply how to spread and soak as much water as reasonably possible and get roots into the ground asap.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1010
Location: Northern Italy
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Had a thought about this this morning.
3) The rivers are vectors for wild animals. If you want wild animals on your site, great. If you want to have domesticated animals you might need to be careful of how you insert them and what protection you give them.

4) Have you thought of having a small nursery? We have found ours extremely useful, even if we're doing it in a sort of haphazard manner. Pots, potting soil, rain cover/water impound, and plants to reproduce can make the ongoing task of plant reproduction much easier. Having somewhere to put the odd wild plant you want to reproduce is really helpful.

5) I get the feeling you're looking for an answer but you already have a pretty good idea of what to do and how to go about it.

6) Start with water. Balancing out the excesses and scarcities will help get the site under control and give you a situation to work with in which water will be for the long run.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1331
Location: northern California
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Look into acorns as human and livestock feed. If your oaks are anything like mine, there is a HUGE dump of food/feed nearly every year.....the challenge is processing it and using it. There are threads on here about it, and you can visit our blog at udanwest.blogspot.com to read about how I prepare them for myself and my chickens......
The other hint as a fellow Californian is to have fire danger in your mind as you design from the very beginning. The description you give of your site makes me feel it might be even more fire-prone than mine, with more brush and more pine (my ecosystem is mostly oaks and grass).
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1010
Location: Northern Italy
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Two thoughts:

-Sepp huglekultures pine and substitutes for higher value trees. Pine is like grass of the mountains - when nothing else is going on, pine (and grass) step in and take over. Unless you find serious value in them (pine straw or timber for pines, grazing for grass), you can replace them for a more diverse ecology.

-You might look into keyline design for inserting water features in the landscape for fire protection. There's also Paul's podcast on that which is pretty interesting.

William
 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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These two files i drew up today, hopefully they'll help illustrate my situation. And William, I designed in the keyline concepts, to the best of my understanding, please let me know if there's more efficient designs, or its just utterly wrong.

On both attachments you will find a ghetto little KEY up in the top right corner, signifying within the designs whats current, and my best idea about how to improve the ecosystems water holding capacity.

In the forestry design, you will see throughout the bald areas i list whether i will be doing a native forest, or food forest (and thirdly some tiny spots for annuals/ small perennials). those labels refer to the majority of what will be planted there, there will be natives throughout the food forest, and common edible crops throughout the native forest. And most importantly, i mean: "native" as in; plants that can be planted, and no first year supplemental water will be needed, alongside no intense pruning (chop and droppin) will be done in the native areas, relative to the intensity that will be done in the more cultivated (food forest) areas.

NOTE: Dont mind the un-shaded squares and circles, those are just buildings/greenhouses... etc.
keyline design.jpeg
[Thumbnail for keyline design.jpeg]
crude design for what i understand as keyline concepts.
forrestry design 2.jpeg
[Thumbnail for forrestry design 2.jpeg]
design for illustration my vision and current situation.
 
charlotte anthony
pollinator
Posts: 288
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thank you all for these posts.

Austin, your land sounds magnificent. I am in India or would love to come and immerse myself in its beauty.

I wanted to tell a story about a land I visited here in india several days ago. In seeing this land, I realized that there are a limited number of full grown food forests, that I know of in the world. Especially if I eliminate all the ones in Kerala which are now being fed chemicals. Raghave at Aikanthika calls his farm a natural farm. He learned all his principles from the natural farming community. When he took over the farm there were 20 acres of 20 year old coconut trees which were naked. He interplanted 50 different kinds of fruit trees, green and dried beans as ground cover, lots of medicinals, grew squash plants in his food forest (he planted legume trees quite close together to support the squash plants. He has not fertilized, weeded his food forest in the 20 years since he has taken over.

What brought me to tell you all this is the feeling of awe and connection to all of life that being under that canopy with all those goodies growing there. The canopy covering 75% was similar. Here in India the temperature is over 100 almost all summer and the equatorial light is quite intense, so 75% light will have different effects.
 
Tim Nam
Posts: 74
Location: Arcata, CA zone 9b
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forest garden solar woodworking
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I could be jumping the gun here but I'm not sure why the bulk of your tree plantings arent right on or below the swales. If I'm reading the map right the whole center section around the house is higher in elevation than the swales so where will these trees get their water from? I'm still not totally confident on what keys are what. Well the keyway is for a dam, a keyline...isn't this the highest and longest contour line with the greatest water harvesting potential? I'm not seeing the significance of your keypoint which is way down at the convergence of the two streams but maybe I just don't know what that is. I'm curious about the steepness of the slopes down to the streams.
 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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The steepness near the streams is mostly workable. and the forest areas are just brainstorming, i havent planted anything yet. There "potential" forests. And in the key it shows that the criss-crossed lines are bald spots on the property. and at the highest elevations its shows "native forests" only, of course packed with non-native drought tolerant edible and support varieties, but the concentration of standard fruit trees and shallow rooted perennials will be on or below the swales. So im not trying to just get swales planted out, I'm filling out the canopy 100%, and dont get me wrong, the swales will be packed with the heaviest feeders, that map was simply showing lack of canopy (around the swales there is already a canopy of natives). I have just recently began digesting the keyline principles so i thought the keypoint is where the primary ridge, and primary valley meet, but that is probably not so. Any corrections would be appreciated. Thanks Tim.
 
Tim Nam
Posts: 74
Location: Arcata, CA zone 9b
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forest garden solar woodworking
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lol so many keys! And yes I did see the map keys Austin, it didn't even occur to me until now but just to be clear my comment about not being sure what key is what was referring to the terminology in permaculture not your map keys, which were fine and clear.
I'm pretty sure what William was talking about was probably keyline ripping/plowing with the Yeomans plow thing. Basically micro "swales" on contour "dug" (more like "fluffed" iyam,) in one pass of a tractor to help water infiltrate and relieve compaction, trees and seeds planted into the "furrow". This will definitely improve hydration on the upper sections of the ridge. But I'm still thinking it would be good to have more water storage at the highpoints, maybe a series of small ridgepoint dams kind of like in your first diagram but higher up, closer to the house. Any possibility for a small saddle dam? Or if that other stream is really intermittent, maybe that could be a good place for a dam? way up from the confluence? Will you have large water tanks to pump to and hold roof water?

I think we're close to narrowing down the definition of keypoint. I think you're right about the keypoint being where the valley meets the ridge, but I think it might also be the highest point in elevation where a valley meets the ridge, so the very beginning of a valley...? Again I'm still learning this stuff too, so I could be wrong on this one.



 
Tim Nam
Posts: 74
Location: Arcata, CA zone 9b
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forest garden solar woodworking
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duh... finally decided to click on the "Reading the Landscape" bonus course in G Lawtons PDC and whaddyaknow? #1 Understanding the Keypoint. So if I got it right, the keypoint is the highest point in any valley where water can be held efficiently. It is the beginning/starting point of designing mainframe water harvesting earthworks. To find the keypoint one can walk along the valley from the top down. Because the keypoint will be where the slope of the valley goes from convex to concave one will be able to feel it in their feet as a transition from being on the balls of ones feet to being on the heels. further down the valley from the key point, a suitable location for the first and highest dam can be determined, where the waterline will eventually back up to the keypoint. then the keyline is the contour line extending from the keypoint.

grrr. now i'm left with more questions...I mean this seems to focus strictly on valley dams being the starting point, well what if you have a saddle dam site higher up?

leaving it here for now
 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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Thank you very much, yeah that clears it up a lot. And I was thinking the same thing about damming up the smaller creek way up, and then key line systems from there to feed pond/dam systems downslope.

So the key point is the highest point in the valley? Basically the crotch. If thats the cas then both key points are on my neighbors property. And I'll have to work off an informal key point. (My top-most point of the valleys.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Austin, do you have water rights to that creek water? And is it a certain amount? If you don't, you have to let the water go by. People downstream from you probably do have water rights, and if anything changes on that creek they can send the State to your place to see what's happening. You'll need permits in any case, to dam up any of it, and do any infrastructure like that to code. You are in an area that is quite developed for a rural place.

You might be able to get permission to dam up part of it for fire protection, but it will still have to be to code.
 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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I am the last one on the creek. And im not big on jumping through hoops, so the state can go eat rocks. As long as there is a "state" with the way things are going, all our market bubbles will pop in a few years tops.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Austin, do you mean the last one on the creek before it goes into a bigger body of water? That bigger body of water has water rights that link to your creek. So that doesn't exclude anyone on the creek. The "last one" on a creek is the ocean.

CalFire and the California State Water Board use satellites to keep track of creek and river flow. This is California's biggest drought in recorded history, they are all over creek flow at this point, and they can see any creek diversions and dams built, from the sky. So check out your place on Google Earth, zoom in, and you will see what they can see.

But...you do own the ground water, and there is probably plenty of it. Wherever wild blackberries are growing, poison oak and big mature oak trees (these need 500 gallons a day) there is ground water. You might be able to develop a spring where it seeps out of the side of the hill. You are legally entitled to all that water, and can create whatever low spot in the ground to contain it. With 35 acres you might have several places you could tap into. Check out YouTube on developing springs.

When you look at Google Earth, look at the oak trees or pine trees lined up, they are on an underground water source that you can tap into.

If the Water Board comes there, they don't just look at one thing, they get to look at everything, and the State and County agencies are linked, they all tell each other everything. So try not to trigger one of them, because the rest will come running
 
austin wilkins
Posts: 15
Location: Grass Valley, California (zone 9b)
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Thank you cristo, that is extremely helpful 👍 im going to look into that stuff right now.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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This is a tough year for getting extra water, but swayles will help catch runoff.

One thing that happened to a neighbor of mine, he had 125 ft pine trees in the Sierras, he would water in the summer, thinking he was keeping them healthy, but that made their roots shallow. In a particularly rainy year the ground saturated, there were high winds, even in a forested area, and they fell over, a couple of them onto his house. Native pines need to be stressed in the summer so their roots will go deeper to find water and they can withstand high winds. So extra water from a pond that wasn't there before may change the conditions for pine trees.

They are talking about an El Nino this winter, and if it happens there will be huge amounts of runoff, enough to cause erosion. Swayles will help redirect heavy runoff, and if overflow can be directed into the creek it will keep the rest of the property, possibly the house, from destructive runoff. You can see how the highway department handles runoff at the sides of the larger roads, usually big chunks of broken concrete to slow the water. If the land going into the creek is steep, or if the creek rises enough to come over its banks, the erosion can happen. There are charts that show how the ocean temperatures rise, that indicate an El Nino could happen.
 
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