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aggressive, unsupportive neighbors and reclaiming land

 
E Cochran
Posts: 28
Location: Central Oklahoma, zone 7
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So, first this isn't meant to be a whine post of horrible neighbors but I can't ask my question without explaining the situation. Really, we've accepted the issue and just need to know how to go forward from here.

After 20+ years of saving money and working in our tiny backyard to learn and practice permaculture, dreaming of the day we could buy more land, we finally bought a piece of fully wooded land in August. 5 1/2 acres with a creek that cuts diagonally across the middle of it, a house and a barn on the north edge, and huge old trees of multiple species interlaced with downed trees in various states of decay and all kinds of wonderful foraging foods for both us and our goats. Since we aren't living there yet (my mom has alzheimer's and I'm the sole caretaker for her ... we are only 4 miles up the road) we didn't want our goats just left to roam wherever so we started to build a fence for them around almost 2 acres of land. The fence bordered our neighbors property on the north and west so we were careful to run a string line down the property line and put in fence posts 8 inches inside the line.

2 weeks into building the fence our neighbor shows up, tells us he builds fences for a living and was getting ready to build a fence between our properties. We were going the "use what you have from your land" route to build a sturdy fence we knew (hoped) the goats wouldn't knock down or get through. Our neighbor, on the other hand, wanted to build a fence from steel piping ... one that would last "forever" and be a "calling card" for his business. So his offer was if we paid for half the materials he would provide the labor for free. He quoted us that he had built a similar fence 2 years ago for $1200.

We were thinking we didn't want that kind of fence but half of $1200 or even $1400 since it was 2 years ago wasn't going to break the bank and we wanted to be neighborly ... so we talked about what was going to happen and agreed to it. We expressed our concerns that he not remove any more vegetation or trees than he absolutely had to to build the fence and he assured us that he only needed 4 to 5 feet on our side of the fence and he could do all the work from his side. We weren't thrilled but then ... who wants an antagonistic neighbor? Then he quoted us $1400 for our half of the fence stating that goat fencing costs a LOT more than anything else. We hemmed and hawed a bit and again restated our desire not to remove any more trees than necessary to build the fence. Again he assured us only 4-5 feet of space would be cleared. He also told us the work would be done in 3 weeks time.

3 weeks went by and he never even attempted to start the project. We again started working on our own fence. 2 months later he contacted us, apologized for the delay and Then he came up with that we needed to provide another $400 for fuel for the back hoe he was borrowing to clear the fence line. He had a big song and dance about his delay and how much more it would cost us if he hadn't been able to borrow the equipment ... equipment we weren't going to use in the first place for a fence we never wanted to build, mind you. But once again, since we'd already agreed to the project, we again voiced our concerns about the loss of trees, etc and again the same terms as had been talked about previously were stated by him.

So we went out this week to find him tearing out our trees willy nilly, in some places 25-30 feet inside our property line and that he had torn out trees on the north fence line that weren't even in the path of the fence (he had cleared that side before we bought the property). We stopped him and reminded him of our agreement. Another song and dance ensued about ice storms and falling branches and destroying our investment, etc etc etc.

But he didn't stop. He kept going. Took out a thicket of elderberry and blackberry. Delimbed multiple cedar trees that were over 20 feet inside the line and facing the opposite way of the fence even.

We insisted he stop and reminded him again of our terms for the fence.

He then knocked over a tree into the creek completely blocking the course of the creek (which is in a Zone A floodplain managed by FEMA) and refused to move it. First he stated that it would wash away with the first big rain. Then he insisted that it was there before he started and not his problem.

At that point we told him we'd pay for the fuel he'd used to date and we wanted nothing more to do with HIS project. We posted Private property signs and made it clear he was not to enter our land again.

Throughout this discourse he's called us names, cussed at us, thrown things at us, and been incredibly nasty. He started fires with all of the downed wood in big piles and built wind breaks to make sure the smoke blew through our goat yard. We had to remove our goats to another part of the property to keep them alive.

There are other bits ... like him wanting us to move our electric pole so he could "smooth out" a pile of dirt to make nicer looking fence ... but moving the power pole would have required us to hire an electrician to come out and rewire the house before we would have had electricity again and without electricity we can't use any power tools to actually work on the property. It would have taken us at least 6 months to have our electric back on in the house all the while paying for service we couldn't use. And him dumping a pile of trash on our drive. And shooting guns towards us. And and and ...

So, we don't have the energy to fight with him and don't want the stress that entails to ruin our lives or invade our thoughts daily. We decided the damage is done and he's going to do what he wants to do no matter what we do or say so we aren't speaking to him at all and are just going to let him build his fence. Then we are going to build our fence inside his, like we always planned anyway. But we want to know how to recover the area of land he has basically plowed up and removed all of the vegetation from.

Where do we start? What can we plant that will grow quickly and keep the soil from washing away? How do we recover from this?
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1138
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I am sorry buoy have such a pain as a neighbor.
Normally I wouldn't suggest running bamboo,but the fact you have goats means you can control it.
It will control erosion, provide biomass,fodder,windbreak, fuel,etc.
It will spread under both fences requiring a little grazing from your goats in your side, and a lot of work on his side.
He might resort to poisons, but it sounds like he probably already does.

Sunchokes might be a less invasive alternative.
Poplar or willow are good trees for swift growth, willows will be great in any wet ground.
Any single dominating species such as these will not replace what you have lost.

I suggest you invest in a trail camera to guard any tempting infrastructure or plantings.
The property line is too probably too long to guess with cameras, but catching him trespassing is a way to put him in check. One might not want to get government involved in private matters,but ultimately government is just men with guns.
He has already brought things to that point,so maybe he needs to hear from some entity that speaks his language.
 
Michelle Bisson
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William Bronson wrote:
...bamboo...
It will control erosion, provide biomass,fodder,windbreak, fuel,etc.
It will spread under both fences requiring a little grazing from your goats in your side, and a lot of work on his side.


I personally would not use bamboo that can run into the neighbours property.  I would not want to add fuel to the fire.


Choosing trees to plant will depend on your objectives.  If is simply to replace the trees with fast growing, then choose trees that are native to your region that are fast growing.  You'll want to protect your young trees from the goats.

If it is for fodder for your goats, then choose trees that are good fodder but grows well in your region.


Where are you located?  What is your climate? Soil type?

===

When we first bought our acreage, our ditch in front collapse and the developer decided to bulldoze the complete front of our property without telling us.  He thought that he was doing us a favour.  He had bulldozed all the dirt, rocks & stumps into one large pile 10 feet high, thus killing a beautiful white birch tree. It died a slow death over the years but we have no equipment to move the pile except by hand.

We were at first very shocked and looked on our barren stretch and could not even imagine what we could do with this. For us, it looked disasterous.  I was convinced nothing would grow as there was no topsoil left. It was got us researching how to restore the barren dirt and that is how we learnt about permaculture.  

Now, 4.5 years later, we have transformed this front land with our sea buckthorn hedgerow orchard food forest.    Fortunately for us, the developer turned out to be good guy.  He thought that he was doing us a favour.  We never told him otherwise that we were upset, but focused on developing a healthy relationship with him.

Your case is different.  With time, you will find some suitable trees that will regrow that you will be very happy with.  This is much easier to do than to restore a poisoned neighbour.  I would just keep away from him and don't talk about him with the neighbours as it might backfire on you.  They probably already know what kind of character he is. 

You will want to find a way that this extremely negative experience don't take your joy for your land.

You'll find some pictures here:
Go Permaculture Food Forest - our suburban permaculture journey



 
Joseph Lofthouse
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E Cochran wrote:But we want to know how to recover the area of land he has basically plowed up and removed all of the vegetation from.

Where do we start? What can we plant that will grow quickly and keep the soil from washing away? How do we recover from this?


The beautiful thing about mother nature, is that she will recover the land all by herself. You don't have to do nothing at all. Propagules are already in place to heal the land. More are arriving all the time.
 
Michelle Bisson
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In the beginning we sowed a cover crop of clover, alfalfa and grass.  Unless you are on a steep slope, something like this could work till your trees grow.



 
Roberto pokachinni
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If it's really ripped up, especially near your creek, then I would do a bit of landscaping by hand tools, and laying waste logs to keep any of your soil from entering your creek.  Go out there in the rain with rubber boots and a mattock to see how well your work held up to water flow patterns and re-work if necessary.
What can we plant that will grow quickly and keep the soil from washing away?
Plant grass seed, and make sure you get some nitrogen fixers in there like clover too.  This will stabilize your soil structure.  Trees and shrubs can go in anytime, but getting the ground solid with plants so that you reduce the impact of rain and erosion in general is really in your best interest.  On top of this, it's best to fence your goats out of the area until you get the area stable enough that the goats aren't damaging it further.  Mulch if you can with bark/wood chips, or whatever to reduce rain impact and sun from drying out your microbial community.  Shitty that this happened.  Hard to heal the wound that is a bad neighbor, but work on the land and try not to think about him.  

I dropped out of a property because two of my three neighbors ended up being confrontational people that figured that since my land had been vacant, they had some rights on it even after I owned it.  I was like, wow, this is not my community.  It was hard to leave it, but I did.  I'm not saying that you should leave there, just wanted to share that sometimes that is best.   

I hope that others in your community treat you better. 

...Anyway, I would follow the advice of not bad-mouthing this idiot, or even dwelling on it in your general neighbor relations with others in any way, as tempting as it might be to blow off steam... it could come back to you with further backlash from him, which you don't need.    

And him dumping a pile of trash on our drive. And shooting guns towards us. And and and ... 
  Ok, so this guy is run rampant on a project that you sort of agreed to... whatever.  Not trying to belittle that catastrophe, but just getting to this last quote... because the first 'project' in the first part of your intial post in this thread was... weird... but this is behavior on the part of this guy is sociopathic and bordering on psychotic.  I would get the authorities involved in any further actions that this character takes that impede on you or your land.

While not really dwelling on it, it might be good to have some ammo if it comes to involving the law.  Document your interactions with this guy, including everything that has already happened.  Write it all down and if it comes down to it, then you can explain in detail what happened and when. 
 
Emily Smith
Posts: 55
Location: West Central Georgia
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
And him dumping a pile of trash on our drive. And shooting guns towards us. And and and ... 
  Ok, so this guy is run rampant on a project that you sort of agreed to... whatever.  Not trying to belittle that catastrophe, but just getting to this last quote... because the first 'project' in the first part of your intial post in this thread was... weird... but this is behavior on the part of this guy is sociopathic and bordering on psychotic.  I would get the authorities involved in any further actions that this character takes that impede on you or your land.

While not really dwelling on it, it might be good to have some ammo if it comes to involving the law.  Document your interactions with this guy, including everything that has already happened.  Write it all down and if it comes down to it, then you can explain in detail what happened and when. 


This.  The authorities need to be involved.  I agree about the behavior: crazy.
 
Anne Miller
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E Cochran wrote:Throughout this discourse he's called us names, cussed at us, thrown things at us, ...  And shooting guns towards us. And and and ...  But we want to know how to recover the area of land he has basically plowed up and removed all of the vegetation from.

Where do we start? What can we plant that will grow quickly and keep the soil from washing away? How do we recover from this?


Emily Smith wrote:The authorities need to be involved.


Once the neighbor change the price I would have said "Its off".  If he is doing all the work from his side of the fence then he would only need to take out what was within a foot or two.

I would write out what your discussion involved, like you have done here, then contact the Sheriff's Deportment to file a report that he has damaged your property and not done what he agreed to do.  If you do not do this, he might send you a bill for all the work he has done.

I understand your question was about how to repair the land.  Until this is resolved he may keep damaging it.

 
E Cochran
Posts: 28
Location: Central Oklahoma, zone 7
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Thanks everyone!

Yeah, this guy is out there. Not sure what his issues are but we are avoiding any contact with him now. If he does anything else to our property we will involve the sheriff's office. One of our family members is a deputy for them. I'm sure, in the beginning, he thought what he was doing was the right thing and was "helping" us out but after we repeatedly told him to stop and he didn't, he was no longer "helping" and he knew it. Whatever. Damage is done now.

We have a regional river cane that grows wild around here. Not quite as invasive as bamboo but native, fast growing, usable for building and firewood. It seems appropriate to use some near the creek to help stabilize the bank and control erosion. We also have a place on the north that he opened up that removed our privacy from his view from his house so we are considering growing it there too. I'm thinking a combination approach of first grass and clover to immediately control erosion and then plant trees. We already have sycamore, birch, and maples. We are thinking about hickory (which is native to our zone) and filberts (because they are fast growing, provide food, and give wind/visual break). Sycamores would provide shade reasonably fast too (since this is the west side of our goat acreage and it can get HOT in the summer).

Other than filberts, any suggestions for low growing shrubs/bushes to help block view? Goats won't typically try to go through an area they can't see through and we have no desire to be "seen" by this neighbor.

Maybe we could put in a pond in part of the cleared area since we don't have one for the goats yet. They aren't crazy about drinking pond water but since we don't have catchments set up yet, and you can never have enough ponds in our dry ecosystem, a pond might be helpful??
 
Michelle Bisson
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Do you have any native willow?  They are easy to grow from stick cuttings.  If your cleared area does not have much sun, maples will grow in the shade and will reach for the sky.  Other trees & scrubs will not grow in the shade.
If you in a cold zone where sugar maple or red maple grows you'll get maple syrup.

The beauty about permaculture is that you can take abused land and restore it ways even better that gives you the food, wood, privacy, beauty that you desire etc...

It is a lot easier to restore the land than human relationships.  Unless you live in the desert, the land wants to restore itself.

For your creek, rocks may help controlling erosion allowing your herbaceous plants, grasses and young trees a chance to grow.

Before you put a pond in this area, make sure that it makes sense.  You might have a better location on your property that is more useful.

 
E Cochran
Posts: 28
Location: Central Oklahoma, zone 7
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Michelle Bisson wrote:Do you have any native willow?  They are easy to grow from stick cuttings. 


Before you put a pond in this area, make sure that it makes sense.  You might have a better location on your property that is more useful.



We do have a few small willows that we found. Pretty sure they're native because they are too small to have been planted by the last people who lived there 20 years ago. They're still skinny ... about 12 feet high. I'll have to look up how to do stick cuttings. I've been wanting to learn some new propagation techniques anyway.

I'll think about the pond for a bit. We have two others already planned. I was just thinking that a pond in the goat area would be a good thing. They will drink from it (even if not preferred) which gives us more freedom from lugging water buckets around. Since this piece is along the fence with the neighbor who has stripped his land of everything, a small pond could be a vital environmental element. Our state's red clay soil gets HOT in the summer when it's barren from field plantings which raises the temperature horribly. This past summer just after we bought the place (and well before he removed our trees) we were experiencing up to 8 degrees cooler temps in our wooded acres than in his empty field. The difference between 98 and 90 is significant to both animals and plants so if a pond would help keep the temps down, it might be one element to add.

Thanks for your help.

It is much easier to reclaim land than relationships with people, sadly, but I'm not eager to maintain an abusive relationship with anyone.

 
Michelle Bisson
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The willows of 12 foot height would be perfect. 
You could simply transplant them.  If you have a lot of them, you could weave them together and they will make a fence that is solid visually and structurally.

We just transplanted 2 maple trees that were about 8 feet high and about 1 inch diameter.  We are expecting them to live.  We have transplanted pine and cedar from the wild.


If you take cuttings they can be as short as 1 foot, but it you take a 6 foot cane, you'll have a head start.  I planted about 80 willow like this, but I took even shorter cuttings of about 6 inches.  98% rooted and are healthy.

A one foot cutting should be planted about 3 to 6 inches deep.  6 inches give you more branch to root on.  If you have a 6 foot cane, then plant at least 6 inches or more.  You can even use a rebar to create your holes quickly.

Willow trees are excellent by the creek.  Their roots will prevent erosion and they love growing in wetter areas or where they have access to water.

--
If you have to haul up water for the goats, then you'll want to create at least a small pond for water. 

--

I do believe that goats like willow, in the beginning, you'll have to protect the willow from their browsing.  I do not have goats, but I heard that they browse on almost everything within reach.  That will give you another challenge.

Since you have a forest area.  Look for other young trees that you can transplant.  A variety of trees is always good for the ecosystem and will give you a natural look.

You can use all the cut down trees for firewood or in hugel culture beds, mounts, berms etc....  they can be laid to help prevent erosion too.  That is what we did with our logs from the forest.  The cut branches can also be laid on the ground as mulch and will help prevent erosion.  They can be piled too to make a fence like barrier, but if you are in a dry climate, it might be better to let them decompose naturally on the ground.

What region are you located? what climate zone?

Please share any photos you have including your restoration photos in the future.













 
E Cochran
Posts: 28
Location: Central Oklahoma, zone 7
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Thanks Michelle!! Lots of great ideas.

I would have loved to use the cut down wood ... but alas, even though our neighbor was told we wanted the material, he chose to burn it. He left me 2 cedar trees I asked for specifically and 2 small elms that my husband dragged out of his pile. We plan to build hugelculture beds and have started on one with some of the more rotten wood we've found.

Moving the willows is a perfect idea. They are right on the edge of the planned garden space so putting them closer to the creek would help. We have some other small trees I'll have to do a search for. Some oak on the south side of the creek which is completely wild still. We haven't even cut a path yet but I wandered through there this weekend and saw some 18 inch oaks and a couple of maples.

The neighbor is at least building his fence on his side of the property line and leaving our land alone now. We'll see if that lasts. Hopefully with the fence he won't be driving his 4wheeler through our yard any more and his cows will stay in his field instead of my chicken yard.
 
Michelle Bisson
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It could be helpful to draw out the area on paper or on the computer and map out different scenarios
 
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