Hi Permies, first post here so forgive me if I'm missing some standard etiquette or such!
I'm 21 and wanted to move rural and get back to the land and all that with my 46 year old mum. It'd be just us, with our host of pets and my younger sister and friends popping up and helping now and then. We plotted and planned and spoke of growing all our food, preserving, raising and slaughtering animals and so on. Lots and lots of idle plans that were fun to think about but which weren't immediate reality.
All of a sudden it feels like, we've bought our new property. 19 acres in Bullarto near the wombat state forest, cold cold cold. I feel like I'm being silly freaking out about the cold when I see Americans posting pictures of their snow, I think this area only gets snow every few years, but all the locals complaining about frost and the tiny growing season is a little unsettling. Diggers says heat zone 4, cold zone 9. People in the area keep telling me I won't be able to grow things like tomatoes or lemons (not that that's likely to stop me trying). Lovely rich ferrosol I think, reddish chocolately coloured stuff that's super friable (and a bit acidic). The whole area is largely dedicated to potato farming with a decent amount of cattle thrown in here and there. The property itself is fenced for horses, with recently built shelters and a stable.
As idle 'someday' plans have suddenly become 'in about two months' plans I've started to panic. I'm increasingly aware of the fact that neither mum or I have any hands on farm experience, and I'm worried that I'm going to mess things up entirely. The neighbourhood is lovely, everyone seems willing to lend a hand and check in on two confused city chicks, but I still fret we're going to plant things in all the wrong spots, or ruin the soil, or whatever else my anxious little brain throws out for me to fuss about. We have bore water along with a slightly pathetic dam that we may look into having redone in future if we have the funds.
I love animals, and would like to have chickens/ducks/bees/steer/lambs/pigs/goats(aka blackberry destroyers) and my ultimate dream was to one day have a beautiful jersey house cow and milk her and make cheeses and such, although given my current complete lack of livestock/dairy experience that may be a while off. Running gardens to feed ourselves and animals is a goal. The area is quite typical flattish/no extraneous vegetation farmland but I love the idea of mixed species native/food forest hedges to attract wildlife/make food etc, as well as some sort of silvopasture-y set up in the fields. We intend to have some kind of market business/blog etc etc which isn't specifically planned but I'm not too worried about, mum worked as a graphic designer before this and between us we have plenty of web design/social media/small business/branding etc knowledge, though we intend to dabble in different areas and work out what we can do well and enjoy before planning a specific business around it.
List of things I want:
-plenty of varied gardens and food production
-fruit trees aplenty (I adore apples and cherries and fully intend to go overboard with them)
-experiment with different forms of livestock
-rotational grazing systems
-convert land to more visually interesting/wildlife harbouring/varied ecosystem, hedgerows along boundaries and spots of trees/varied flora
-fair amount of self sufficiency. we're looking into solarenergy and such. doesnt need to be 100% but a feeling of being capable and having a backup in case of emergency would be nice.
-future dairy cow?
I'm not even sure exactly what I'm asking for help-wise.
-recommendations for setting out the land, where to place things and/or how to work out the best locations to place things such as orchards, trees, hedges, any earthworks etc?
-priorities for the first year/few years there?
-help me refine plans/reassure me that I'm probably not going to somehow bring ruin down upon the whole thing?
-although not terribly slopey, should I think about keyline/swales etc design?
-how can I go about converting fairly widely spaced (electric) horse fencing to something that will contain calves and sheep?
-is it possible to have fruit trees with minimum intervention? people keep bringing up sprays and such that I really don't want to use if it can be avoided. can I select lower yielding but hardier heritage varieties or plant them in certain ways to discourage pests?
Big thanks to anyone who can lend a hand, bounce ideas or give suggestions for anything! I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by everything right now.
Congrats on getting some land! Your visions is exciting
Some intitial thoughts:
From what I've been hearing from across the ditch, Australia experienced some pretty unusual snow events this winter. That is likely to be due to climate change and you are likely to experience more extreme events and more often. It would be wise to factor that into your observation and planning processes.
19 acres is quite a lot of land for two adults to manage. Consider as a first step setting up systems for getting help eg woofer accommodation.
Do a rainfall audit. Look at the local rainfall mm per year, and the biggest gaps between rainfalls historically. If you can create structures that make optimal use of rain it lessens the amount of work you need to do in setting up and ongoing (eg swales, building catchment, storage etc). Also look at wind and whether that is a factor in drying things out.
Given frost and a short growing season is an issue, learn about microclimates (and how to create more), and how to extend growing seasons in cold climates. Lots of good resources out there on both, although I think creating microclimates is a skill that needs to be learned directly from where you are. It's important to do this before you start doing long term things like planting trees.
What's your experience with permaculture? Getting some permaculturedesign skills will increase your resiliency. Designing over the whole means making less mistakes for placement etc over time. Design also increases efficiency. There's lots available online now, but you can probably access direct training where you are too. Because you are an all female household, you might want to consider learning permaculture from some of the women permies in Oz, who will have a better understanding of your situation and challenges and needs.
Start small and don't extend yourself too much at the beginning. If you are already feeling overwhelmed, it's good to go slow and take time to build things that are going to sustain themselves.
There's a permaculture practice where you live on the land and observe for a year before doing an major works. You can put in annual vege beds, but don't plant trees or dig swales or build permanent buildings. That year will teach you alot about your land, what goes on there, what works, what doesn't, what the weather does etc.
I recommend Rosemary Morrow's Earth User's Guide to Permaculture (get the 2nd Edition) as a great primer that covers alot of this, plus she's Australian and has written the book there.
At some point, check out what your local planning laws are, esp regarding boundaries and plant species allowed. I wouldn't start with that though, sometimes it's too negative and restrictive when you are still at the start.
Thank you Rose! You've given really great advice, thanks so much.
You're right about the weather. Much as I am itching to get things like apple trees in as soon as possible to reduce the wait until they mature, I should take a step back and observe so I can plan around the (changing) weather, rainfall, wind etc.
I'm hoping we can start up slowly and it won't be too much for us to manage at least at first. The next door neighbour has hay-baling gear and will do everyone in the area's paddocks in return for half the hay made, and the property has been using it's two biggest paddocks just for hay for a while. Plus I'm hoping I can speak to him and offer to agist some of his cattle, or get advice on getting a few of my own and play at cell grazing them or something.
I have little in the way of solid skills I'm afraid! Other than attending a talk by Joel Salatin and reading a bunch (Salatin, John Seymour, Fortier and a pile more to work through... I'll add your book recommendation to my growing pile) I'm subscribed to both Milkwood and Diggers which often have courses and such running which I'm keeping an eye out for.
Planning laws I keep getting excited about something I see and then learning that it's going to be impossible, such as living willow fences, given that willow is a noxious weed here.
I realise your post is from 6 years ago and I was just wondering how it was all going? I’m in Vic Oz too, and returning to live at my folks place where I’m trying to get some permie systems off the ground (although it’s a much smaller patch of land). It was nice to see a post from another woman out this way, and your project sounded super exciting (and daunting!).
I’d love to know how it’s gone for you and your mum these past years and what you’re up to now.