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seeking inspiration for 1/4 acre of west facing slope  RSS feed

 
raven ranson
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Location: Left Coast Canada
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We have a pasture, just under 1/4 acre, that has been used by chickens for the last five years. About 2 dozen chickens, but they have long since striped the entire thing of anything green. Now we have fewer chickens, so they are moving to a smaller pasture. Can you help brainstorm some ideas of what to do with this pasture next?

It's on a west facing slope with a grade of 7 to 10 % (If I understand how to calculate grade correctly - basically it's quite slanted). It's longer west to east then north to south. The main road is on the West side of the pasture. A few blackberries to the south, but most of it is in full sun from about 7am in the summer and from 11am in the winter. It's well fenced with 8 foot high game fence, so no need to worry about the dear getting at what I plant. The soil is basically a crust of chicken poo overtop of glacial gravel deposit. It's well drained.

We already have a great many fruit trees on the property, so we don't really need to anymore of them. Grapes and/or nut trees are high on our list of possibilities.

Whatever we choose has to be able to withstand 6 months of no rain in the summer, and 6 months of rain in the winter. We are officially zone 9a, but in actuality, I would say our microclime is more like an 8. For summer, it usually starts May 1st, and hovers between 25 to 35 degrees C, daytime high, and 10 or less degrees C nighttime. For winter, usual high is between 8 to 12 C and nighttime lows about 2 to -2, although there is usually a cold spell in Jan or Feb where we have two weeks of freeze. Although it doesn't rain in the summer (usually) there is always a heavy dew overnight. The pasture I'm looking at is probably the hottest and coldest part of the farm, as it's one of the few places with very little tree cover.

Some moving of the land is possible, like a few shallow swells, but whatever we choose needs to be easy to mow.

Requirements for what we put in the pasture
-no irrigation is possible
-something we like to eat/use (very subjective, and probably the most difficult requirement)
-minimal care, ie, maybe maintanance, three or four times a year, plus harvest.
-minimal land maintenance - ie, very little or nil lawn mowing
-possible to put the chickens back there after the plants are established
-maybe possible to put the sheep in there a little bit
-looks good according to urban standards (because city people drive by all the time)
-has good perceived value for when the property goes up for sale
-requires minimal cost of infrastructure
-minimal cost to acquire the plants (aka, I can buy one plant now and take cuttings)
-a crop we can easily sell the excess
-would be nice if it had more than one use, like walnuts are good for wood as well as nuts

If it's a crop to sell, than it needs to be something that people already know, but don't realize grows well locally. Again, another subjective criteria. Like almonds, they (apparently) grow well here, but no one bothers to grow them.

We won't be able to plant anything in the pasture until late Oct, when the rains start, but we can prepare now.


One idea I was thinking was grapes. They are yummy, we can make wine out of them, they apparently grow well. I can buy one good grape vine now and plant it somewhere where I can baby it. In the mean time take cuttings from my other grape plant that is hardy in our weather, and produces excessive amounts of not very pleasant grapes. Graft the good grape onto the established cuttings, and make a little vineyard. Cost for the plants, about $50 for the nice grape.

There are a few problems with growing grapes. One, we have no irrigation, so if they don't establish themselves in the first winter, we are going to have a vineyard of ugly dead vines. Second, the popular opinion is that wine made from locally grown grapes tastes terrible - no one tells me why this is true, but I suspect maybe they aren't growing a grape that is suited to our clime. Third, even if I make my own posts from the woodlot, the price of the wire is still beyond what we can put into this project. And last, vineyards and wineries are a dime a dozen in these parts, which makes us nothing special, which makes it hard to sell our excess.


So, then there are almonds... almonds are tasty and apparently grow well here. I don't know where to source local almond trees or why no one grows them here anymore.

Walnuts are good, the wood is valuable, a few people grow and sell the nuts, but not many. May require better water needs than this pasture provides.

Hazelnuts are nice. Tasty treat, good source of nutrition. Can double as coppiced wood, but not great for selling the property as coppiced trees are very unpopular.


Anyway, that's as far as we've gotten brainstorming for this project.

I think the most important aspect of this project is perception. It has to fit to the idea that urbanites have of farming. People here feel very entitled to the local farmland - so much so that they will call the authorities if they see something that does not prescribe to their ideal. Or like the time when someone decided that 1/4 acre was too small an area for two dozen chickens, so they opened all our gates, and we lost most of our chickens on the highway. So perception is paramount.

Second most important is usefulness. Something we can and will use.


Any ideas or inspiration you could suggest for this pasture?
 
raven ranson
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Posts: 5266
Location: Left Coast Canada
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Is there any chance elderberries would grow in these conditions? For some reason I thought they liked to keep their feet wet, but a lot of books I've read lately say otherwise. Then again, the wild ones here all grow near ponds and ditches...
 
raven ranson
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Location: Left Coast Canada
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Today we went to a few nurseries, looked around and talked to the staff. For the most part, the staff were very well trained in the gardening way of growing things. They told us that we couldn't do anything with the land until we bought and applied at least two feet of well composted sterilized soil (which they would be happy to sell us). I did try to explain that with the conditions we have and a slope this steep, most of the soil would be blown away in the summer drought and the rest, washed away with the first fall rain. I gently planted the seed that we can grow our own soil, by working with the natural processes of plants, &c and so on. The one guy just nodded, made some excuse, turned away, picked up his pesticide pack and kept spraying the trees. The next place I want, the girl scoffed at me when I asked about almonds "they won't grow here", then went on to suggest I was an absolute idiot for growing food crop in those conditions, why don't I think about something more decorative like... good grief. Does anyone else encounter this kind of resistance when shopping?

The final nursery we went to was a bit different. Their trees were healthier for a start. The guy there was aware of different styles of building soil, this revolutionary idea called growing food, and even the far out concepts of organic farming and (gasp) permaculture. He also knew the different microclimates we get around here. We picked up one almond, two different kinds of olives, and a hazelnut (self fertile). He confirmed my suspicion that almonds flourish in our area.

My plans for these trees: Put them in larger pots, then bury the pots in the garden where they can get spoiled (and not eaten by sheep). Research how to make more little baby plants from these starter plants. Make enough baby plants to get things started in the pasture - although most of these will probably be through cuttings, so I will leave room for plants started from seed later on to increase genetic diversity. Read and research which ones should grow well there, and then try all of them - we may be surprised.

Until we can get our tree numbers up, there is still the land that needs seeing to. Should I just level it off, or make swales, and if swales, how to make it easy to maintain/mow the grass/clover/weeds. What can I do now to get the soil ready? Should I still consider grapes? mmm grapes. Should I plant a groundcover like pasture grass and white clover, or would it compete for water with my trees/shrubs/vines/whatevers during the summer?

Would love your ideas and inspiration.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3342
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I love elderberry. Ridiculously easy to propagate. Hard to mow around unless well mulched.

If it were me, I would put in small gentle swales then plant the whole thing to low groundcover that doesn't need mowing.
 
raven ranson
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Low ground cover is interesting. I talked to the family and they want to know how it would be edible and if potential city folk would see value in it? Could you elaborate on the idea?

 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Another gem I got from Elaine Ingham. http://www.soilfoodweb.com/Cover_Plants.html

I am using white clover and assorted wildflowers, herbs and medicinals, could add strawberries or more edibles as well. Stuff that never gets more than a foot high and gets mowed maybe twice a year as a mechanical chop and drop.

 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Have you not thought of doing small swales on the slope?? Or terracing it?? Would greatly help with your erosion and water problems imo.
 
raven ranson
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Location: Left Coast Canada
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elle sagenev wrote:Have you not thought of doing small swales on the slope?? Or terracing it?? Would greatly help with your erosion and water problems imo.


It's definitely possible.

Given our machinery and the location of this pasture, swales are more likely than terracing. I was considering, using the ploug to make a ditch across the face of the slope, fill it in with straw and manure, then plough another ditch just slightly uphill so that the soil from the second ditch covers the manure. But we can't do any major dirt moving until we get some rain, as it's already turned to dust and will just blow away.

The biggest resistance in the family to swales and terracing is the maintenance. We can use the lawn mower if the land is fairly level, but the uneven nature of the swales or the slopes of the terraces, mean that we have to get in there by hand to make the place appear tidy. However, I bet there are solutions that would overcome the families objection to swales, as they definitely see the advantage of capturing the water in the soil.

I am using white clover and assorted wildflowers, herbs and medicinals, could add strawberries or more edibles as well. Stuff that never gets more than a foot high and gets mowed maybe twice a year as a mechanical chop and drop.


Thanks for the link. It is definitely worth looking into. The family wants to know if it would survive the summer drought. In the summer, just about everything turns brown by the end of July, the only things that stay green are things with deep tap roots and plants under tree cover (at the edge of the forests). Clover, wild flowers, small bushes, all die or go dormant for the last few months of summer, which don't look 'proper' to urban folk who call the fire department on us for having a dry brush (which is a huge no-no fire risk, big fine thing).

But I'm not going to toss out the idea just yet. Even if we don't do the entire area in low plants, we may be able to utilize plants like this in whatever we choose in the end.


Good ideas, keep them coming.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 428
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Sounds you ought to have great soil if the chickens have been on it for 6 years.

Those trees you've chosen have the potential to be huge, and need large areas for their roots. Picture a mirror image of a large tree under the ground, and you can see how much space they will need. So give them lots of extra room, spaced very far apart, planted directly in the ground. If you need to protect them from sheep you can put tall chicken wire cages around stakes around them.

Those trees will need irrigation twice a week in the summer to get established. Thick mulch will help conserve moisture.
 
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