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Starting our farm and food forest in western Oregon

 
Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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Hello all!

I'm new here, although I first became interested in and began researching permaculture around 2 years ago. I have had a small scale "organic" garden for 3 years, but a large site to work with was always a thing to dream of in the future, not a reality, until now.

My partner and I have decided to take the plunge and move to my grandmother's old farm in Oregon's central Willamette valley. It's  roughly 23 acres, mostly hay fields, along with the old house, a chunk of forest, a (mostly dead/dying) orchard, and a forested cemetery, among other things. I've taken a screenshot in google earth and labeled some of the features, as well as making a hasty attempt at overlaying a rough topographic map, attached below. I'll try to get more photos soon.

We (mostly me) would very much like to put some permaculture principles into practice to help improve the soil, biodiversity, and the water table, which I'm confident has dropped in recent years.

There are some limiting factors, especially in the short term, as to what we can do with the property. One is finances, we are both still paying for school, and generally prefer to be frugal whenever possible. Secondly, the farm is owned by my parents, who live not too far away, and while they are tentatively supportive of my plans, they don't exactly get it, and would certainly be scared of any large earthworks. My dad is an old school farmer, he believes most solutions should involve a tractor, and has really been meaning to get around to spraying the hay fields for weeds again for the last decade but hasn't done it, etc. I believe he will continue to come around as he sees the principles working on the land. Anyway, most of the hay fields must remain undisrupted for the first few years, at least. That leaves 7+ acres of brushy old fields, yard, orchard and perimeter to get started on.

This autumn/winter, our main focus is on getting the house livable and weatherproofed, though I will be able to tackle certain outdoor projects here and there. Starting next spring I plan to get started on a kitchen garden near the house as well as starting a food forest, beginning with the areas I've outlined in white on the picture... Basically anything that's not hay field is fair game, except for the square of cemetery at the top of the hill. That's not open for much other than "maintenance" but I would like to be a good steward of it too, clearing out ivy and perhaps adding some wild edibles for the critter and us to glean from.

The property is on the north facing slope of a hill with some flats at the bottom, and there is a natural drainage and then drain ditch to the west, on the neighbor's side of the line, which drains into another ditch which runs along the north/front of the property. The water in these is seasonal, especially in recent years, however the field in the northwest corner gets pretty soggy every winter . I'm pretty certain that the water table is dropping, and my first efforts will probably involve making hugels and a few pocket ponds to help keep everything from draining away so efficiently.  Then if we do decide to do larger earthworks later, the hugels can easily be spread out and incorporated into the soil.

The old orchard sits where the hill meets the flats further away from the drainage, and I think it has been done in mostly by thirst, neglect, and a few hard freezes. There are two large walnut trees (one black and one English) that are doing very well, as well as a bunch of fruit trees that still produce some fruit but have a majority of dead wood on them, or are totally dead. I want to take branches from the surviving trees to preserve them as clones, because they are obviously tougher than the others. I know very little about grafting, so if anyone has advice or resources, please share them!

I'm sure I will have many more questions, but right now I am also keen to know of edible plant varieties, native or not, that others have found to do well here, preferably with little irrigation. And of course, any other advice in general would be very appreciated.
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Farmhouse + topo
 
Josiah Miller
Posts: 14
Location: Willamette Valley-Marion County
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Sounds exciting!

I'm also in Marion county (Silverton) so it'll be interesting to hear what you do to the place.
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3782
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
145
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Howdy Rebecca welcome to permies !
Looks like you have a great place and some good ideas to start with. Keep us updated on your progress!
 
Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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Thanks for the welcome! I plan to share updates here when I can. I'm sure I'll have a lot more questions to ask and things to share.

And hello Josiah! It's nice to meet another person nearby-ish   We are outside of Turner, probably at a little lower elevation than you, maybe a bit warmer. What kind of stuff do you have going on on your site, if you have one and don't mind me asking.

As far as updates, we will be moving in this week. I tore some ligaments in my ankle at work, so I can't be of much help moving or getting the house in shape right now. What great timing, I know. Instead I have been doing little tasks, taking some pictures, and simply observing. I find the time when I am observing things in their "natural" state to be the most valuable time I spend planning and studying.

I found some grape vines struggling to compete in the old, overgrown garden area. Hopefully I will be able to spare them when we clear that area or start some elsewhere. We're seriously considering a trio of goats to help with brush management, but not for a while yet.

I also took a look at a row of hazelnuts that we have on the property. Unfortunately most of the trees have been cut down by previous residents, leaving a thick bushy stand of shoots, tall as a tree, in their place. There's at least one tree still intact which we trimmed the suckered from, and judging by the shells around it, it's way more productive than the clumps. These will be interesting to work with.

I figured out where the shower drain pipes out into the yard to drain, and also where the septic sank (cement) sits and seeps down through a line to the hay field. We also have an old outhouse on the property... I plan to plant all these areas for filtration and purification, but I don't know yet what plants I'll be using there, I must do some more research and see what I have available to me.
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Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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My last post was in the fall, so I thought I should do an update of our progress so far. I wish we had more to show for these months, but this winter has been a bit crazy for us, between both my partner and I being sick/injured, family events, and unstable job situations. Doing this thing requires both hard work and some source of funding, even if I try to find everything I can for cheap/free. We do what we can with what we've got, and luckily we've been able to set a little aside from each paycheck we get for the "farm fund". I'm looking forward to my tax refund and hoping spring shows itself soon!

While the weather outside was frightful, we were able to spend a lot of time working on things indoors. This house was previously rented out to various people who absolutely trashed it for a number of years, and undoing all that is a gargantuan task on its own. We've patched so many holes in walls, torn out zillions of screws and nails from places they never should have been in the first place, put new glass in old broken windows, reinstalled lighting and fixtures that were stolen for scrap metal, and painted over more graffiti indoors than you'd see on a freight train. It's only the beginning, but it is starting to feel more like a loved home instead of an abused house. When two guys from the local phone co-op came to install our internet, they were shocked at the changes we've made so far and kept telling us what the house had looked like before - among other things, they said their had been a wood stove sticking out one kitchen window and a dishwasher sticking out the other, so that they could be used without need of the chimney or being hooked up to a drain. The electrical supply had been amateurishly re-wired around the meter box so that power could be stolen from the company. There were massive amounts of trash and broken glass piled around, inside and out. While fixing, cleaning up and repairing most of this is not directly related to permaculture, it's still an important step to making this our home, and its where I feel like we've had the biggest payoffs for our work so far. The psycological effect of having your living space clean, orderly, and cozy is huge for me... it's hard to describe how much better it feels once you've painted over the racist remarks on your bedroom wall and hung up a painting instead.

When we do get a break from the rain, we've been clearing massive amounts of himilayan blackberries, english ivy, and english hawthorne. We've been doing this mostly by hand, with pruners and a shovel, and concentrating on the area around the spring/summer garden and the buildings where it has grown up over the last 15 years. The ground is so wet that the roots are relatively easy to pull up, and this time of year, before everything leafs out, it's easy to spot the evergreen berries and ivy. I do plan to leave a patch or two of blackberries and one rather nice looking hawthorne tree because of the food they can provide for us and the local wildlife, but right now these plants take up far too much space and mercilessly choke out everything else, including our large trees. These species are considered invasive here, and although I like to judge each plant on it's merits for my situation instead of just listening to the conventional wisdom, in this case the label is well deserved.

This week, I brought home six chicks from our local feed store. They're gold and silver laced wyandottes (three of each) and from what I've read, they're good free rangers and good mothers. We're converting the old "donkey shed" that's attached to the end of our barn into a chicken coop, which means closing off the side that had previously been open, and closing any gaps where predators might be tempted to squeeze through. I think it's pretty secure, though I still need to bury some rocks and wire around the perimeter... I guess the real test of that will be when we move the chickens out there and the predators get wind of them. We have feral cats, foxes, coyotes, skunks, opossum, and at least one mountain lion in the neighborhood, so I've been trying to make the coop into a chicken's fort knox. Our intention with these chickens is to let them out during in the day so that they can free range around the property, and lock them in at night. I hope to be able to feed them mostly from kitchen scraps/sprouts and free ranging, and I've been collecting and starting some "chicken food forest" plants around their yard. We plan to get a rooster once these girls are old enough to start laying.  While we got them mostly for the eggs, pest control and compost-generating capabilities, if they begin reproducing on their own (which we're hoping for) then they'll also be a nice, if irregular, source of meat for us. A roo should also help to decrease losses from predation, at least that's the hope. We also make sure to take our dog on frequent perimeter walks and scatter his used bedding on the trails leading on and off of our property, so although he can't be trusted unsupervised around birds, he can still help to keep other predators at bay. At the moment, as the chicks are only about a week old, we're keeping them in a makeshift brooder in our hallway closet. They're just starting to get little wing and tail feathers, and I can actually tell them all apart from their markings already. I sit by their brooder and talk to them or hum to them from time to time, and pet them and feed them out of my hand. Only a couple are brave enough to eat chick starter mix from my hand, but when I offered them a bug, they all crowded around trying to get in on the action. I don't want them to become pets, but I do want them to bond with me and not fear me, and perhaps be a little easier to herd in at night when they're adults. Still, I do really enjoy interacting with them in their cute chick phase.

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Week old chicks
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"before" shot of our gaming/den room
 
Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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I was unable to add this picture to the last post so I'm going to try adding it to this one.
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Our den after some TLC
 
Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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Here are a few more pictures from our first fall and winter here. The first was taken overlooking the old orchard at sunrise one morning last October. Although many of the trees in the old orchard are dead, the black and English walnuts seem to be quite happy, and both can be seen in this shot. These grow all over the place around here, and we have quite a few of them on the property.

The second picture shows one of the only intentionally planted apple trees that's still alive. It produced quite a few smaller, greenish yellow apples with a slight blush to them, despite having been neglected for at least the last thirty years. They were slightly crisp, very sweet, and the ones that hadn't been pecked by birds were really nice eating. They don't seem to keep well at all. There are a lot of tangled branches and dead wood on this tree, but I'm going to do a bit of studying and see if I can revitalize it. I'm also going to grab some cuttings off of it soon and stick them in the refrigerator. Any advice anyone can offer on taking cuttings, and rehabing the tree would be really appreciated!

And last but not least, this fun guy that I found growing in a big saw cut on one of our oak trees. I want to say it's chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) but this one wasn't quite as orange as others I have seen in the past, and I haven't seen it in this part of the valley before. As for the color, it may have just been because it was a little past its prime. I'm hoping to see this fungi fruit again this fall, and hopefully I'll notice it at an early stage so I can see what it looks like then.
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Rebecca Wooldridge
Posts: 15
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
chicken forest garden hugelkultur
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Continuing with some more pictures of the last few months, moving on from fall to winter. First is another shot overlooking the old orchard, this time under a few inches of snow.

The snow definitely makes the barnyard look pretty, too, but I think I would rather have it be full of critters than looking so empty and serene.

And lastly, some tracks in the snow. I think these in particular were from a deer, which we have in abundance here, but we had a lot of fun identifying all the other tracks we found, which included cats, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits, smaller rodents, lots of birds and a LOT of grey squirrels.
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Maureen Atsali
Posts: 144
Location: Western Kenya
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What a gorgeous property! You are blessed!  You won't have to worry about 'herding' your chickens in at night.  Once they know the coop is home, they will automatically go inside every evening at dusk.  And it only takes about 3 days for them to feel at home in their coop, so its just a matter of going out at sunset, poking your head in to make sure everyone is accounted for, and locking them up for the night. (Ducks, on the other hand, not so easy.)
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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