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Michelle Schurko
Posts: 17
Location: Saskatchewan
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I'm getting close to closing the deal on a small piece of land. I've been dreaming, studying and planning for years and now with a purchase potentially a matter of days away, I feel totally stuck at the beginning! Where do you start a permaculture design? The lot is 5 or 6 acres, pretty much bare, square and flat. I have a very, VERY small budget so I can't be too ambitious with my goals. What are the best things to start right away? I'd really like to produce some food this year at least.
 
Radine Star
Posts: 18
Location: southern part of Western New York
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If I remember correctly, the very first thing you are going to want to do is become intimately familiar with your land. Take a year and watch how the season's play out through it. Try not to do much, just observe.
You might want to go through and catalog what grows where, as the native plants tell you alot about the conditions of the soil and the microclimate they are growing in.
You are also going to want to give it some time ,to get to know your neighbors. If there's potential for problems, your going to want to know, before you spend money on improvments. Case in point, most of the people who own the land around my property are friendly and we get along fine. The one guy to my east, is alittle more stand offish , but for a couple of years, no one was under contract for my lots, and he was using them as he saw fit. The previous guy, who had the land contract, pissed everyone off. Ive heard stories of how they banded together to drive him away. Glad no ones shooting over my head. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
In the mean time, you can start to gather some of the plants and trees your going to want to use in your design. Seedlings you can grow in small containers that you can transplant once you know where you want to put them. HTH Ray
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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My advice is to start right around the house, Zone 1. Put your food gardens as close to the house as you can. Don't immediately "animal up" - if you want animals, start with a few chickens in a mobile house and paddock system. They can help clear garden areas. Start small, try intensive practices such as Biointensive for growing food http://www.growbiointensive.org/

It was helpful for me to look at other people's designs http://www.permies.com/t/55751/permaculture-design/Permaculture-design-basics
 
John Weiland
Posts: 919
Location: RRV of da Nort
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Michelle, If you wish to produce food this year, are there habitable buildings on the property or would you be visiting the property only a few times per week or month? Are you thinking of moving a trailer to the property as an interim abode?
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2711
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
222
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Michelle Schurko wrote:I'm getting close to closing the deal on a small piece of land. I've been dreaming, studying and planning for years and now with a purchase potentially a matter of days away, I feel totally stuck at the beginning! Where do you start a permaculture design? The lot is 5 or 6 acres, pretty much bare, square and flat. I have a very, VERY small budget so I can't be too ambitious with my goals. What are the best things to start right away? I'd really like to produce some food this year at least.


The first thing to do is walk the land with pencil and paper in hand, make drawings and notes. You will want to know exactly where your house will go, any other structures that need to be present ASAP also need to be placed on paper.
The second part of this walk of the land is to know the high spots, low spots, flat spots, rolling topography. All need to be noted on you drawing(s)
Now you are at the point of being able to lay out your zones. 1 is for easy access (we put most used things here, such as, herbs (medicinal and culinary with culinary closest to house).
2 is where we put our vegetables since we eat a lot of them, this zone is fairly good sized, this is the "Eat fresh" zone for the two of us. Zone 3 is where we grow more vegetables for canning, the orchard and vineyard are also in zone 3.
our zone 4 is where we have the hogs and their pastures.
our zone 5 is wild land, reserved for deer, turkey, there are feed plots and this is the area where I hunt these animals for some of our meat.

Knowing the lay of your land is very key to being able to come up with the best design possible.
features you need to think about during the whole process:
water (collection, storage, dispersal, etc.)
sewage (always a need for some type, even if you are going composting toilet)
and on and on, Lists will become one of your best "keeping on track" tools.



Luta Ceta
(Redhawk)
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Just FYI, in Mollisonian permaculture, Zone 5 is not for hunting, it is for observing. Hunting is in Zone 4.

See Chapter 3, the Designers Manual.

 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2711
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
222
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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I don't follow the manual, I do what works best for me on my land. Rigidly following some "grand plan manual" is for the military.
 
Michelle Schurko
Posts: 17
Location: Saskatchewan
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Thank you for all the responses so far. I feel less pressure to get it all going as soon as possible. There's nothing there now and I'd be driving about an hour and a half for visits until I build something.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2711
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
222
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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When we started out on our place we were only able to get to our land on weekends.
We plugged along that way for two years before we just bit the bullet and moved onto Asnikiye Heca full time.
Since we both still work full time, we still have working weekends but at least we can do some work after we get home before and after supper.

We bought our land with a five year plan in place. Now that my wife is sick the five year plan has extended to a six year plan, such is life.
You do what you can, when you can and realize that time is a relative thing that will change like the weather.

We are about half way through now, the house was going to get started this year but now it will be next year before that happens.
This farm is for our retirement (2 years to go) so we stay busy and have a purpose. The Elders keep telling me I will always have purpose since I am one of the spirit walkers but we like our little farm that will provide most of our food.

Just plug along, being able to step back on occasion is the best way to make sure you won't be needing to re-do what you thought you already finished.
 
John Weiland
Posts: 919
Location: RRV of da Nort
40
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@Michelle S: "There's nothing there now and I'd be driving about an hour and a half for visits until I build something."

I was concerned about this and will let others weigh in on what to try to grow if you will not be present to keep an eye on things. Certainly getting trees and other perennials started is a good option, but I've never tried gardening from a distance. Seems there are always some critters, two- or four-legged, interested in any unattended food. Sounds like a good investment, though, and I'm glad to hear your found this piece of land.

@Bryant R: "The Elders keep telling me I will always have purpose since I am one of the spirit walkers but we like our little farm that will provide most of our food."

Just curious as to why you use the word "but": Why would what you are doing not be consistent with the Elders' notion of you being a spirit walker? Would what you are doing and helping others along the same path, especially if you find yourself to be more connected to the spiritual world, not be considered spiritual purpose?
 
alex Keenan
Posts: 487
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1) Go online and get a topographic map of your property.
2) Go online and get a soil map for your property.
3) Go online and find a hydrological (ground water) map of your area.
4) " " and get the soil temperatures this should show average soil temperatures by some type of date or season. This will help you with planting.
5) " " and get the weather data for your area. Big one here is freezing or low temps and high temps.
6) " " and get rainfall data looking for average amounts and when you get it.
7) " " and get sun angles by time of year. You will need this to understand shading issues and amount of direct light per day during growing season.

Once you have all the above you can start with a plastic sheet over your topographic map and put in hard features not in the map such as buildings, etc.
This will allow you to start identifying growing zones.

Protected, shaded, open, wet areas, good drainage, etc.

Get to this point and you will see what plants you need to look for and how much area you have for each growing area.

You can now work with what you have or identify areas you wish to change.

 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2711
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
222
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Hau John, The elders of my nation think that we should reside on the Rosebud Reservation, instead of only being available to the people at pow wow and rituals.
We like the way we live now, even though it means we aren't available to the people all the time. My wife is a healer, when we go to a pow wow or ritual time, many seek us for help, which we give freely as we are supposed to do.
The elders think my place is to replace my mentor when the proper time arrives. I disagree on the grounds of my vision (which is what put me on this path in the first place and it is my mentor who guides me on my path)
I do not intend on going against or trying to change what Wakan Tanka set before me as my task, to do so would be to disrespect Wakan Tanka's design.
 
John Weiland
Posts: 919
Location: RRV of da Nort
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@Bryant R: "I do not intend on going against or trying to change what Wakan Tanka set before me as my task, to do so would be to disrespect Wakan Tanka's design."

I can understand your Elders' concerns and desires in this regard, but they must also be quite sensitive and understanding, possibly having received visions of their own, of your own visions that you've received, yes?

@Alex K: "2) Go online and get a soil map for your property. "

That's a good idea....will have to remember that regarding plots of land not already in use. I suspect your Saskatchewan land at "bare, square, and flat" would be very amenable to this, Michelle. As an aside, was dismayed lately to find that either all or some areas of South Dakota were starting to levy property tax based on the "potential/perceive" productivity of the soil. Higher the organic matter, higher the tax!..... Doh!
 
Shawn Jadrnicek
Author
Posts: 28
Location: South Carolina
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lots of good advice in this forum. I find you can do a lot online with web soil survey and county GIS for elevation data to see the landforms and soil types. First step for me is to create a base map and do a design. Here's a good fact sheet on making base maps: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep427 Next, I write down all of my needs and things I might potentially want even if I can't build them right away. I try to figure out a size for each component then make paper cutouts of each component that are to scale. I then place the cutouts on the base map and move things around until I maximize integration. Think about things for a long time and move them on paper first as it's much easier than moving it once it's built.

Limit the amount of road you have to build and try to enter the property towards the middle so you have access to as much land as possible from a single point (don't back yourself into a corner). Place the house and garden in a good microclimate and face the house south. Keep all roads and paths on the ridges if possible. If not, slope them at a shallow angle across the landscape (0.25%) and incorporate diversion channels above or below to harvest rainwater.

Once the building site and main entrance/road is located try to find the highest point on the landscape to store rainwater and use the building and diversions above or below the roads to harvest water into the storage. From this point determine how water will flow through the property and make the path long with storage throughout. Start thinking about how animals will connect with the landscape and building site.

Next, to flush out the details I use Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language." I start with pattern number 95 "Building Complex" and work through them until I have the appropriate detail needed for all the design components. Finally, the design is drawn onto the base map and the project is divided into small chunks. Start with the roads, building and earthworks and finish with plants and animals.

 
Marco Banks
Posts: 548
Location: Los Angeles, CA
44
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
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Michelle,

1. You are getting some great advise here. Where do you start? You start right here and read a bunch. There are a couple of these same kinds of threads every month or two: "help, I just bought 2 acres and I'm overwhelmed -- what should I do first?" So do a bit of research and find some of these similar threads. Read through them. Get knowledge. If you haven't got a copy of Toby Hemenway's "gaia's garden", it's a great place to start for beginners.

2. I agree with several people above who advise you to not do too much the first year. Observe the land, walk it multiple times, sketch out different ideas . . . just take a year to see how the sun moves across the land, where the water pools and flows, and the gentle topography. You'll be surprised how non-flat your land actually is. Where is it dry? Where does the soil stay moist longest? Where does the grass grow well (future pasture land), and where will you need to think about building soil?

3. Even if you are not doing anything on the land this year, you can start to accumulate carbon and begin mulching future garden areas. If you've got access to wood chips, you could spend the year getting tree trimmers to dump those on your property so when you are ready to go, they will have begun breaking down and giving you great mulch to work with. Get your composting system rolling.

4. You need to think both big and small. In terms of big: what are the major earthworks that you'll eventually want to put in? Swales? Perhaps a pond? A road to get access to the farthest reaches of your land? OK -- if you'll eventually be doing those things, then you'll want to have a big picture map of how they will all tie into one another. The road and swales will serve to capture water and move it toward your pond.

One of the most important permaculture principles to remember with a new piece of property is to work in order of greatest permanence. In other words, your road, swale and pond system will last the longest --- start there. Don't start planting trees until you've got the permanent stuff done. So start with the big picture.

HOWEVER -- you also need to start small. That can be your zone 1 stuff: a little kitchen garden, a little greenhouse or hoop house, your herb garden, your nursery where you get 100 comfrey plants started . . . this is all close to the house and requires minimal investment. Just build as much as you feel you can maintain. Finish your raised beds, plant them, and enjoy them. Build an herb spiral, and enjoy it. Bit by bit, starting in zone 1, slowly build out the system.

I'd strongly encourage you to NOT start 10 projects all at once. Maybe add one new thing a year. If this year, you build your kitchen garden and your compost bin system, that's great. Next year, perhaps you do some preliminary earthworks as well as a chicken tractor. Pipe the rainwater from your roof to the garden. That's enough. The third year, begin to plant your orchard below those swales you dug last year. Fourth year, extend your swales, and add bees. Fifth year, you'll have the money to dig your pond, and extend your orchard. Bit by bit, add to your system. In 10 years, you'll be amazed at how much you've accomplished, but you won't be overwhelmed trying to maintain everything. I've always got the next thing on my list that I look forward to adding. It's fun to have a new project to look forward to.

If you haven't taken a PDC, consider doing so.

Best of luck with your new project! Don't be overwhelmed -- just enjoy it!
 
Michelle Schurko
Posts: 17
Location: Saskatchewan
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@RedHawk: I'm very grateful for your perspective. As a settler/occupier of Indigenous land now known as Canada, it is really important to me to establish a strong connection to those who rightly own and belong to the land I wish to steward. I've struggled a lot trying to learn how to best move forward - learning from my heart, from Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers, and from the land Herself. I hope your wife is better soon. Maybe some of the people you and your wife have helped might be able to lend you a hand on your little homestead!

@John Weiland: Do you think some chicken netting would help? I'm planning on a heavily mulched garden. It's on the edge of a town so it's definitely not wilderness but far enough on the edge that it's more rural. There seems to be some birds who live in the spot and I'm trying to find out if they're insect eaters that I would love to befriend!

I've been thinking about some soil conditioners as well. Some daikon radish, alfalfa and clover.
 
Michelle Schurko
Posts: 17
Location: Saskatchewan
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@ Marco B: What a fantastic outline of goals! I'm already feeling so much more confident and not just anxious. It's hard to block out the parts of my brain that keep yelling "do it! do it! now now now!" But it sure is helpful to hear so many other people saying just relax and take it easy. I have a LOT of data to collect!
 
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