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.
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.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
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.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
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.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
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.
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.)
Hey Rebecca! I just moved to Newberg, OR and am looking for a property to start a mini farm and tiny house community permie style. It's awesome to see your progress and the successful rehab of your new farmhouse I have spent some time last year woofing both in Corvallis, OR and Bothell, WA to familiarize myself with the climate and plants. I've completely fallen in love with the PNW and beautiful ever present greenery!
I'm taking a lot of time now to meet the community and other like minded folks, visit farms, and familiarize myself with the area. I'm surprised by how many people and small farms have already embraced permaculture!
Just wanted to throw a line as a possible connection. I'd love to hear more about your place and your vision!
oh and your mushroom does look like it might be a chicken, though the light doesn't seem to make it look very orange. pores should be yellow.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
Thank you, Maureen! It is a wonderful place, I know I'm fortunate to get to live here and work towards making it sing.
And as far as the chickens go, my family kept chickens while I was growing up, and I remember that while they would voluntarily go to the coop most evenings, they were also very tricky to catch if you needed to for any reason, and we didn't handle or interact with them very much. I want these to be more comfortable with me, and a little easier to work with. These chicks love treats, so far so good. I do want to get ducks in a year or two, so I guess I'll have that to look forward to!
Hello, Eliza! Welcome to Oregon! It's always awesome to meet someone who is like-minded, and nearby, too. I hope you find a good spot for your farm and community, and I would love to hear more about your plans and progress. I think there are a lot of people around here that are doing some sort of permaculture, and many others homesteading, gardening without -cides, foraging, living in tiny houses, etc. without ever hearing of the word.
There is a long way to go before I would call my farmhouse successfully rehabbed, but we are moving along toward that goal and it helps to recognize the smaller accomplishments along the way. I intend to make my updates to this thread kind of like of the journal of my permaculture journey with this land, although my 'vision' is a bit nebulous at the moment ~
And yes, the mushroom is a bit overexposed in that picture but it did look like a pale chicken. I'll look at the pores if/when I see it growing again - thanks!
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
Hi, Rebecca! I somehow missed this thread until now! I love that you're taking over family property and working so hard to transform it. It's crazy the amount of destruction those renters did!
My mom's side of the family lives in the foothills to the west of Willamette Valley--Forest Grove area--and seeing your pictures reminds me of "home." Hazelnuts seem to be a really common thing to grow there, too (many in my extended family grow them). Coppicing and pollarding (cutting them down to the stump or to a specific spot on the trunk every few years) is a common way of extending their lives (here's one thread on it: https://permies.com/t/55157/heads-Keeping-big-trees-short). Also, you might have so many squirrels because of those hazelnuts. Joseph Lofthouse talks about getting the squirrels to harvest his hazelnuts for him, in this thread: https://permies.com/t/45993/Nut-Trees-Squirrels#371137.
As for ducks, I love mine! I find them pretty easy to manage after they get trained, and once you have a few trained, they kind of train the others. Your chickens might actually help train the ducks, too, though I can't say that for certain. I got my ducks first, and then my chicken. I also found it really useful to keep new fowl cooped up in their house for a few days, so that they know it's home. Here's two threads that might be useful in training and herding your ducks: https://permies.com/t/56924/critters/starting-ducks and https://permies.com/t/22366/critters/Herding-ducks-geese.
Oh! And, we've also got a lot of predators here, and I've had ducks taken at NOON, most likely by a bobcat. If you do lose one, make sure to keep the rest well secured for a few weeks, so that the predator realizes that you don't have easy dinner. I made the mistake of not being proactive when I lost my first duck. I then lost, in quick succession, a good 10 ducks and a chicken during the daytime, even with me being outside while they were, or with them in their electrified fence. It wasn't fun, but I ended up having to coop them up all day, for about a month, letting them out only while I was avidly watching them in their enclosure. I finally was able to let them out more, but I still lose one every so often, and have to go full-security for a while to make sure that the next time the bobcat/coyote/owl come by, they aren't "rewarded" with another tasty dinner.
I also wanted to say that, if you have questions about something, like how to prune and save your apple tree, please feel free to start a new thread about it. I've had a lot of really good help from people on here when I needed to know how to prune something, or why my plant was dying, etc. Not everyone notices a question in a journal! Also, if you don't get an answer on a question, please feel free to BUMP it. Sometimes the people who would know how to answer the question aren't online or don't notice it before it falls off the "Recent Posts" page.
Thank you so much for sharing your lovely homestead and all your hard work with us!
Hello Nicole! Thank you for those links, seems like a lot of good information!
Most of the hazelnuts have basically been coppiced so that may not be too bad... I do wonder if they were grafted onto root stock and if that's what has grown up now but I'll wait to see if they're productive. I'd be really pleased to get a good harvest of hazelnuts, I really prefer them to walnuts. And that is genius with the squirrels, I will definitely have to try that out this year! In addition to the hazels and walnuts we have oaks that drop plenty of acorns so our squirrels eat very well. It would be nice to capture a bit of what they take and eliminate the work of harvesting whatever we can before they get to it.
The current plan is to get ducks within the next year or two, so I've been reading about them. Working with them sound like it will be a lot of fun. I hope to prevent birds being lost to predators however I can, but if I'm going to let them truly free range then it's probably only a matter of time. Your advice on minimizing further loss is really useful, thank you! The coop we will be using has plenty of room if we should need to coop them up (heh) if we need to for any reason. If there's too much pressure I always have room to add a nice large run for them but I would prefer to let them have the run of the place so they and I can get all the extra benefits of that.
And you're right, some questions like how to rehab the apple tree, do probably deserve their own thread. I do like to put the things I'm curious about down here both because people might see it and offer awesome advice, but also as a reminder to myself. Once I have done enough observing, reading, and thinking to properly formulate my questions I will throw them out there.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
I'm reading your posts with interest as I'm currently researching the Willamette Valley as a location for a new TV series about homesteading for the History Channel. I'm also quite envious as I live in London in the UK and miss undulating greenery.
Could I ask you for some more general insights about the area to help me build a better sense of the place. If anyone else reading this has any advice I'd really appreciate it.
I want to know about the topography of the area and what sort of farming is possible, what the climate is like - what is tough and what is easy to achieve there? Are there lots of properties available to buy or is it rare to find land and incredibly expensive?
We are probably looking for a plot 30 acres-100 acres - where a completely sustainable life is possible, so water source, timber, potential to build, farm and the biggest request is that it'd be as remote as possible - the less infrastructure and road access the better. I think of the West Coast as being more populated than the East, and having much better resources so do you still get these pockets of solitude there?
If you have any insights at all, I'd be glad for the help and especially your local knowledge.
Rebecca Wooldridge wrote: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.
Hi Rebecca, my permaculture friends in Oregon absolutely rave about Don Tipping's Siskiyou Seeds: https://www.siskiyouseeds.com/ Check out his awesome permaculture farm:
I can't believe it's been 7 months since I posted here. Where has the time gone??
Aside from working a lot of hours at our paying jobs this summer, we actually managed to get quite a lot done. It was not as much as I had hoped, but now that we are coming up on the one-year mark of having lived here, I can appreciate how much we have accomplished, too.
I will do a more detailed post - or a couple - about some of the things we have done this year and what we've got in store. For now, I'll try to respond to those who've commented here since the last time I checked on this thread. I really should try to post more regular updates!
Jo, what an interesting project! The Willamette valley is a large, fertile, open river valley with lots of stands of timber in the foothills and open meadows as well as oak Savannah and wetland/riparian floodplains. It's been known historically for rich volcanic soil that's good for agriculture, and our region is famous for christmas trees, wine grapes and hazelnuts. Those seem to be the main cash crops I see in large number here, although quite a lot of things grow well. There are also large commercial farms for berries, squash, corn, cabbage, mint, grass seed, hay, and other crops as well as livestock, but many things seem to grow well here. Properties are up for sale pretty often and the real estate market is decent for buying or selling, and the more rural you are, the cheaper prices for buying tend to be. The Willamette Valley is the most densely populated side of Oregon, but there is isolation to be found, lots of smaller towns with lots of space between them, especially if you go up into the mountain foothills. On the whole it is much less populated than the East Coast, if that is what you meant? But the western half of the state is more verdant and more populated than the eastern half, which suffers from the rain shadow effect of our mountains and has a much more midwestern climate and sparse population. Take a look at this picture of North America by night, it gives you a pretty good idea of where people are concentrated - NASA North America 2016
Christian, our place isn't really open or ready for outside visitors yet, outside of family and friends. My parents and partner are more adamant on this, and I respect their feelings about it. I don't know if it will be in the near future but I hope you and your cat are enjoying Portland!
Loxley, thank you for the link to Siskiyou Seeds! I have stumbled upon them in my own research and seed hunting, but it is always good to hear an endorsement, and I had not seen that video before. His pond system and stream restoration work is inspiring!
Autumn, I hope you have had luck finding good homes for your goats! If you're still looking, I am interested. I'll drop you a PM.
Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
This year, in many ways, I bit off more than I can chew. It was a learning experience for sure.
Our garden was small, consisting of two beds in sort of a squarish parenthesis shape  with a narrow path in between and a wider area in the middle for maneuvering a wheelbarrow. I want my gardens to be of a size and scale that's manageable for harvesting. I like the idea of interesting shapes woven into the landscape, incorporating paths, hugel mounds and swales, to create lots of little micro-climates in a visually interesting, tapestry sort of effect. This shape worked nicely for my intended purposes.
We made one of the two beds a buried wood bed, and the other was a more traditional double-dug bed. Both got equal helpings of compost. The traditional bed was more productive than the buried wood bed this year, but I'm hoping to see what it can do once it really gets going in a year or two. We put a lot of old oak logs in there along with some brush trimmings and the ancient stuff we dug out of the old donkey/chicken pen.
Both beds got zero protection from deer, chickens, and other critters. This was another experiment - we plan on a fenced garden area area, but other things demanded our time/resources first and we do not yet have a deer fence. I'm hoping to get one in before next spring if all goes well. So this year allowed me to see at least what kinds of things can thrive outside the deer fence in the future.
My most successful plants were Joseph Lofthouses' Sprawling Groundcherries, which I will be saving the seeds from and planting more again next year. We only grew a couple of plants this year, but they did so well and were a novelty to everyone so we are really keen to get enough of the berries next year to make a batch of jam or jelly. My zinnias from Baker Creek were outstanding and are still growing strong. I got a bunch of herbs for free from my mom's garden, or cheaply from discount racks at the farm store, most of which are doing very well and I'm hoping will overwinter. The munstead lavender has grown almost twice as large as anything else, which surprised me, as I am used to thinking of it as a fairly slow going plant. My squash were growing really well until deer ate them one night, leaves, vines and all. Tomatoes struggled to grow and put on a crop all season and I only got a few small fruit, but my mom reported a lot of success with some extra seedlings I gave her, as did my co-worker. I know my mom planted hers against an east facing wall in a very well-nurtured bed. To be honest I didn't expect much from these in a first year garden made in what used to be a grass field, and our long wet spring didn't help matters much. Yellow onions did pretty well until the chickens discovered that if they scratched the bulbs up out of the soil, the patch was a great place to find bugs. Peppers were devoured by the deer, aside from the jalapenos, which still struggled somewhat. I got a small harvest from those. Hopefully this year is a benchmark to be surpassed rather easily in future years, as far as the garden goes. I especially want to investigate some of those things that supposedly repel deer, for plantings around and outside our fences.
There were no apples on the old apple trees this year, and no "wild" plums on any of our perimeter fence trees or any around this area from what I can tell. This neighborhood used to be a plum orchard back in the early part of the century and there are many, many seedling plums lining the ditches and roadsides here, but I never spotted any fruit this year. Our neighbor told me that last summer he saw a guy pull a truck in to the edge of our field and fill buckets of plums from one tree. I wonder if he is talking out of his ass, if we had a really off year, or if it's a bit of both. Maybe our wet, cold spring and/or droughtish summer affected them. I saw plenty of blossoms but not very many bees, if I can recall. Increasing the number of pollinator-friendly beneficial plants around our property is something I want to do anyway, but this makes me wonder if it is more necessary than I first thought. Our trees also look rather strange and are certainly old, neglected and overcrowded. My plum tree questions probably deserve their own thread.
We managed to get a half-basket full of hazeulnuts - maybe a pund and a half in shell - from both the standing filbert tree and the coppiced clumps. Leaving out vessels for the squirrels to store them like Joseph Lofthouse's method didn't work for us, our squirrels seem to prefer burying the nuts in our fluffy leafy mould to anywhere else and the scrub jays are also very industrious at pecking holes in the nuts, dropping them onto boulders from trees and getting the meat out. It took us practice to figure out which nuts were good and which were empty, withered hollow shells but by the end of the season I'd say we were pretty skilled at grabbing up about 80% good nuts and 20% duds. Our nut meats were not as impressive as some that were gathered from some trees growing alongside a local park, but those were in a wetter spot. I would like to propagate some seedlings of those trees to increase my plantings. I think if the trees were scattered in mixed guilds, or far from the house, or where the nuts can fall into tall/thick ground cover, like some of the hazels on our property, we would be far less efficient at gathering them, so I would like to extend the row near our house and mulch around them, and then introduce perhaps some very specific other plants so that gathering the nuts is still easy for us.
The walnut English and black walnuts gave a good crop, but I can't eat more than one or two without my mouth starting to hurt, so I don't gather them.
Right now is all about mulch. I'm gathering as many fallen leaves as I can for the garden, and layering with rabbit manure, chicken coop sweepings and chop and drop.
Our chickens working the garden.
Always look on the bright side of life. At least this ad is really tiny: