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Greetings from the Pioneer Valley (western Massachusetts, on the Connecticut River)

Posts: 233
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Hi! I'm writing from a town in western MA and would love any advice I could get, especially from those familiar with our climate. For those not familiar, it's wet here, and ranges from -15 F in the coldest part of February to over 100 F during heat waves (usually not more than in the 90s during the summer, though). We used to have spring and fall, but now seem to be a two-season region, with a long snowy winter and a hot steamy summer.

My goals:
I don't expect to be able to live off our small bit of land, but I'm hoping to grow a fair amount of vegetables, herbs, and fruit for my family. I'd like to be able to grow food year-round (or at least harvest it year-round) somewhat in the style of the Four Season Harvest book but using perennials instead of annuals where possible. Right now the family is myself, my wife, and our toddler. I'm the main permaculture enthusiast, but my wife is on board. We also need to keep water out of the basement, and would like to minimize or eliminate our fossil fuel use over time. Right now we have no plans to have any chickens or other domestic animals - we have no time right now to take that on, and doubt we have enough land to make it worthwhile. We would like to add a bat house (possibly mounted to our attic dormer) to control mosquitos, and maybe a small pond near the street to attract amphibians.

Resources and skills:
Our main resource is probably the determination to do what we can. I and my wife have no real gardening experience, and little time due to work and family, but we intend to make this work.

The house and land:
We've got a century-old American Foursquare home on about 0.15 acre - half or more of which is dominated by the house, walkways, garage, and driveway. The latter two may be taken down at some point, or the garage turned into a greenhouse, but for now we are operating on a small urban plot. The plot itself slopes downhill to the street on the east side. The land to the south of the house is where the driveway is, so our best sun isn't very usable right now. Most of the usable soil is in partial shade. A plot plan is attached, with north more or less to the right; as time allows I'll update that with notes on plants and other features.

Drainage is a major issue, as this area gets a lot of rain and snow, and is forecast to get more precipitation, in more violent storms, in the future. The water table is VERY high. The soil is pretty good - deficient in P and K, and slightly acid (pH of 6), but the valley is known for having generally very fertile soil. Kale planted directly into the soil with no amendments (and no watering after the first couple of weeks) did really well, growing about 30" high, which is encouraging.

The neighbor on the south (colored Green on the plot plan) is friendly but sprays their monoculture lawn, and the fringe of our property is overshadowed by other people's trees (especially a hornbeam over the garage coming from neighbor Blue) and invaded by Bishop's Weed (aka goutweed or goat weed). We don't plan to plant any trees, but hope to kill off the Bishop's Weed (any suggestions as to how to do that?) and replace it with a fringe of berry bushes or other food bushes under the neighbors' upper canopy. The rest of the back yard is mostly grass, so that's easy enough to deal with. The front yard, such as it is, is compacted and filled with half-dead sod, and the soil is more depleted there. Lead levels are low but not zero. Along the street there are two city trees, both healthy: a red maple and a linden. Neighbor Purple is friendly and interested in cutting down some trees, possibly some of those that shade our yard. Though she was unfamiliar with permaculture, she liked the general idea when I explained it, so perhaps over time our gardens will grow together. Neighbor Red is unfriendly and the part of their property that abuts ours is trees (unsure of the species) and Bishop's weed. Neighbor Orange is friendly and has a tiny yard, so we don't want to plant anything that will steal what little sun they get. Gray indicates the driveway and concrete walkways.

In terms of energy, the house has cast-iron baseboard radiators using hot water from a high-efficiency gas boiler. The hot water is another high-efficiency on-demand gas system. Both were installed recently by the people we bought the house from. I love the idea of solar hot water, but am not sure it will make sense economically. We are having the house insulation and ventilation improved, though, thanks to MA's superb home energy program. Energy improvements beyond insulation are probably not going to happen this year, due to other things being higher priority, but I'm open to suggestions. Solar PV is probably not a great option, since the hipped (pyramidal) roof has a small southern surface, and that side also has a dormer. So far we've gotten by cooling the house with fans - shutting it up during the day, then letting the cooler night air in and blowing it up the stairs to cool the bedrooms. That works OK but during stretches where the nights are warm, it isn't ideal. We've contemplated putting trellises with deciduous vines on the south side to shade the house some. The house itself is white, so there's nothing more we can do with paint to help it stay cool. The roof is asphalt shingle; light-colored metal would be great but may not be in our budget and might not work well with the valleys where the roof of the two-story porch meets the main roof.

Thanks, and I look forward to participating in the community!
[Thumbnail for house.png]
plot plan
Posts: 4675
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Steven, welcome to permies ! Gotta run right now but this will bump you back to the top, and maybe we can get some replies!
Posts: 25
Location: New England
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I am from Central Ma and this is my first year of kicking in self sufficiency gears.

High water tables, would building a raised garden area using logs or rocks then building raised beds on top of that help? Many plants can be vertical. Maybe grow an heirloom and desirable tomato, a sweet corn or something different from other locals that could be used for bartering. Trying to make everything is a lost cause and I assume in most cases leads to frustration.
You can also build up when growing potatoes. Some do this with wood panels and fill in with dirt as it grows taller. Others will actually do this in a large bucket that is separate from the garden.
From what I read a lot of herbs can be done inside the home or maybe on a window planter hanging on the outside of the window. There is no reason to take up garden space when you can use a window.
I personally have arugula, lettuce, potato, tomato, green peppers, yellow beans, cilantro, and I think that sums it up for my garden. I use hay as a mulch to retain moisture.

Chickens- Far too easy to say no to! I have 2 hens and I throw in food in the morning, before work and after work. I dump and fill their water every few days and grab 2 fresh eggs every day. All of this takes an average of 15 minutes of the day unless I run around collecting clover for them. I use sweet feed and corn mixed in with their layer feed to cut down on costs.
I also have rabbits. They take maybe 1 hour per day to water and feed since I have 8. I did have 12 but sold 2 and harvested 2 over the past few weeks.
The rabbits are amazing, their brown gold powers my garden and other areas of my property where I grow clover for them to eat. I also sprout wheat inside the house to cut down on costs for their feed.
Tilapia- I have 14 tilapia that are just about to hit maturity. They will soon make babies and within 9 months I will have an everlasting supply of fish right inside my home. Powered by a small filter on a timer, a plastic bin with rocks as a filter, and a 120 gallon tank. This sits right in my living room on the floor and I do enjoy watching them so they are dual purpose!

Other than that I am on grid, non sustainable. I have hopes for the future but I am years away from wood stove with copper tubing to heat the water and candles for light. One step at a time!
Good luck with your projects!
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