Hi Permies, my partner Genevieve and I have been hanging out on the site for a while now and we are finally ready for our first post!
First off we have some good Horticulture background as well as conventional stick-frame construction experience. I worked as a carpenter in my early 20's and we now run our own small landscaping venture. I have had some experience with passive solar designs as well as tiny house building. We are avid gardeners and we help my father raise and slaughter chickens and pigs on his small hobby farm. We were sure many years ago that the off-grid homesteading life was right for us!
Anyways what I came here to discuss was our quarter section (160 acres) of aspen forest and native range pasture that we purchased last summer. Fell in love with the wild property and it became ours after some hard work. The property consists of 130+ acres of large and small stands of aspen woodland, with one large native grass pasture of about 12 acres and another 10+ acres of grassland spread throughout some small open areas. In late October we had about 5-7 moose hanging around our woodland, what an experience! The property has an old well with livestock quality water and good water levels (10-20 ft down), although the old well is not anywhere near where we want to build. Locals in the area speak of a constant spring of water under the area. We have not found any above ground water yet, the rain soaks into the soil quite efficiently.
The soil is a dark loam with good organic matter accumulation in the woodland. We have sandy loam soil throughout property, some parts more loam some parts more sand. Top soil ranges from 8"-20" in depth. Not too much clay around but my mason jar soil tests do confirm the presence of some clay.
We are located in the Canadian Prairies (not Alaska),in the province of Saskatchewan near the city of Saskatoon. In the area our annual precipitation is around 16 inches a year, Most of our rain comes between April-Sept. Our average temp in January is -16c (-3f) and average temp in July is 18c (64f). We experience dry Humid Continental climates (Köppen Dfb).
The property is full Saskatoon berries, chokecherries, wild rose, wild strawberry, yarrow, small milkweed, June grass, alfalfa, wild rye, bearberry, twinning honeysuckle, false hairy aster, pasture sage, wolf willow, dogwood, maple, wild raspberry, and so much more.
Our many goals include: building a food forest, testing out some unique building styles like cord-wood masonry, earth sheltered and timber-framing, raising a menagerie of animals as food and friends, market gardening, wild crafting, drilling our own well, erecting fences of all shapes and sizes, building a root cellar, digging ponds and swales, building hugelkultures, and most likely much more as the years go on!
We first of all want to dig an affordable well, followed by a passive solar shop with a loft(maybe cord-wood masonry, open to all ideas at this point). The area marked future homestead site has amazing solar exposure and decent shelter from the weather. We are in the middle of our design process and any advice would be amazing! Below is a google map image of our property with some notes to make sense of it all.
To simplify things here are some questions we have.
1. where would be a good spot to plop down our zone 1 and other zones?
2.Shop/first shelter building ideas?
3.Which other ways in which to use land (its a big plot)?
4. Any homesteading starter advice would be great!
5. How should we go about collecting rain water and building ponds?
Looks like a wonderful place you have there (and plenty of fun work to come).
My first thoughts always lean towards locating the house in a logical place. Then build the plan with that in mind. If the plan can't work based on the ideal house location, then move the house. For instance, will you be on the grid? If so, being close to the road would be nice for running power and for limiting the amount of driveway you have to plow. Might you have a business that people would drive to? Access for them may be worth considering as well.
My only other thought at this point is to verify that you truly have good solar exposure at your current home site. It's hard to tell from the scale of the satellite view but the trees to the south of your home site may cast pretty long shadows this time of year.
Congrats on purchasing the property! I have relatives in Saskatoon and my grandparents were farmers near Humboldt. Beautiful area, I am surprised to see that it is actually that dry. I thought there was much more precipitation.
Do you have access to a topographic map? I agree with Tyler that the order of priority should be water, access, structures. You have a ton of potential there and it's great to see permaculture spreading to Saskatchewan!
Re: Structures: Look at underground houses. There are a TON of sites out there, and they can be built from anything from wood to concrete.
Formworksbuilding.com is a great site for dome shaped underground houses, I've built one, and have permits to do another.
calearth.org is good for sandbag homes, which can also be earth-berm or sunken partway. Once you go underground, you'll never want to live above again...
you end up with a structure that is easy to heat, cool, uses 80% less energy for heating and cooling, is virtually indestructible, fireproof, earthquake proof, tornado and hurricane proof, has a 80-90% reduction in annual maintenance, and more.
Wow we are very grateful for the awesome feedback!
Mike Jay: We are looking at home site options right now, our current site idea (marked on the google map) has full solar exposure all the way through the winter equinox. the shadows of the trees coming close to the north bush line but not creating any shade as long as we stay west enough. We also like the spot because it is sheltered from most sides and gives us a great view of the main pasture. We plan on being off-grid, either than maybe some propane when we get started but no power/natural gas hook-ups will be happening. As for driveway, the path we have been using is nice and sheltered. about 200+ meters. although long I think it could be manageable if we do pick that spot. thanks mike
Eddie Conna: We love what Paul and the ants are doing with Wofati's and such! Genevieve is really set on us having our house partial or fully sheltered by the earth. I have many ideas right now but I need to eventually decide what I can accomplish with the skill set. I will for sure check out the links you sent us, thanks a bunch!
Rick Hatch: Great to hear from someone who knows about the Saskatoon area haha! Our property is NW of Saskatoon and gets a couple inches more rain a year being out that direction. Not a lot of rain but we will manage in our forest. I am not sure how to get a hold of a topography map, any suggestions? Thanks Rick, permaculture is spreading and we are doing our best to help it!
Lots to decide but thank you all this has already been a valuable experience sharing our project here. I will have to post some pictures soon, we are just so damn excited about this all!
Market gardening...check out the SPIN gardening website. Directed to urban farmers who make a living from small city plots, it still can be used for rural areas. Using square-foot gardening and 1000 sq ft sections it is possible to run a market garden on less than an acre—using mostly hand tools. Read “The Market Gardener” by JM Fortier on how he makes over $100,000 on 1.5 acres in Quebec.
No need to buy the book either—borrow it through the mail—they give you a month to read it before you have to mail it back....and they pay postage both ways at Canadian Organic Growers
https://www.cog.ca/our-services/library They have an extensive list of books, including permaculture, that can be borrowed.
On the family ¼ section where my son lives, 60 acres is leased in hay which helps offset some expenses. Because the spruce beetle is becoming a PITA as bad as the pine beetle had been, we are setting up to log off the central 60 acres and use the funds to turn into pasture—leaving almost 10 acres of marsh in the SW corner and a couple acres around the pond as zone 5. Plus a zone 5 strip around most of the perimeter of the property of about 100 feet and another strip separating hay field from pasture. Don't see the need to get too concerned about the other zones.....after all, does rotational grazing moving animals every few days make the area zone 2 or zone 3...and in the scheme of things...does it really matter? Or putting pigs or chicken tractors on a garden area to clean up after harvest? Zone 1 or zone 2? A person could get hung up about decisions about zoning
Finding true south and tracing the arc and angle of both the summer and winter sun is a different matter. There are web
sites that will show that for your area.
I think you've got a beautiful piece of land with enormous potential May you have many years of enjoyment and success building your dreams upon it.
In terms of approaching the design, water is always a first priority, since everything else relies upon it. With only 16 inches of rain in a year, you'll want to look at keeping what you get, soaking it in, holding it as high as possible - all those permaculture things to do with water Perhaps swales for food forest areas and keyline plowing for pastures. I might recommend looking at Mark Shepard's work for design ideas for your climate.
I'm a little thrown by the expression of "plopping down zones", since zones, like sectors, are much more a product of observation than something imposed. I do agree that zones aren't rigid - Zone 1 is your most frequented areas and probably closest to the house, but it's possible that you might have zone 2 coming right up against the house, and zone 1 might link directly to zone 5, even though zone 5 is your wild area. Zones get laid out based on function and activity, so, as I see it, permaculture design calls for figuring out optimal utilization, balancing that against things like how much attention the utilization needs and optimized placement for housing and working out the best balanced compromise.
If you aren't familiar with John Hait's Passive Annual Heat Storage, I suggest it is worth looking into. Good stuff for integrating with insulated earth sheltered houses.
You've got a lifetime of work ahead of you Wonderful!
One inch =1/12 foot times 43650 = 3630 cubic feet of water per acre
12 in by 12 in by 12 in = 1 cubic foot =1728 cubic inches
1 US gallon = 231 cubic inches
3630 times 1728 = 6272640 cubic inches per acre
This gives 27,154.3 gallons per inch per acre.
So...in a year....16 inches x 27154.3gal/acre x 160 acres
equals 69,515,008 gallons a year from just the property...doesn't include the square miles of
69.5 Million gallons of water....and it has to go somewhere....
Checking the levels of the old well in the corner at different times of the year
will give you an indication of where the "water table" is and a possible indication
of how far down you may have to go if you decide to dig a well closer to your home
Ya I totally understand why you guys say to let the zones happen organically as time goes on! Been reading lots of permaculture design books and sometimes they get pretty set on a person figuring out zones right off the start. I like the idea of having the zones happen as they should.
R Jay: I will have to look into the Highland cattle, we are very interested in exotic hardy breeds for our place one day. We have seen what Geoffrey Lawton has done with goats in wooded areas and I am impressed with his results!
We do have small market garden plots in the city where we are living, we actually got our inspiration from the Market Gardener what a great resource Jean is. We may just move our tiny house or build another one out there to get started, my goal is to have a house to live in one day that is naturally built. I do love the cord wood masonry approach but I need to get some serious cord wood curing. In time I will be ready for some natural build but I want to get out there next year living half the year on my land.
Anyways your map links worked great thank you! Finding true north is on my list of priorities, will have to do before I start any build. Seeing as you have figured out we have plenty of water to work with if we use permaculture methods, that is what we shall Do! I will make note to check on the old well next time I take a day out there.
Peter Ellis: thanks Peter we think so too! We will be doing so,e well tests and hopefuly have water through hand pump this spring, we plan on doing earthworks soon into our design schedule. A pond or two will be a high priority for us.
I will take a look a John haits work for sure, thanks!
Design is best approached by going in order of greatest permanence. So earthworks, dams, swales, ponds, and roads take first priority.
With that much evidence of animals, fencing will be critical if you ever plan to enjoy a cabbage for yourself. I've got friends who live north of Edmonton who scream at the local moose who makes himself at home in their yard and garden. He only eats what you buy at the store, but leaves anything native alone. A full-grown moose will trim your apple tree to nothing in 2 minutes. So after your earthworks and roads, I'd think through garden fencing and wildlife management. But you'll be able to fill your freezer every fall.
If you are going to practice rotational grazing, you'll need to think through your paddocks. Electric fencing is inexpensive and a great way to go. Your animals will need shelter to get through those brutal January days.
Soil building won't be a problem for you, as you've already got fantastic soil. Everything looks so lush and wonderful in your pictures.
Can you park a motorhome out there for a year and move it around every so often to get a feel for various spots on the property? Obviously you'll want to consider how to catch as much sun as possible in the winter months. With those cold winters, and prevailing winds coming out of the north and usually blowing to the southeast, I'd double wall the back of your house (north side), with a dead space between the two walls. That's the side that will bear the brunt of those cold winds, yes? Is there a natural wind break that you could back up to? Most American's can't even begin to fathom -50 below, but it gets that cold there.
I've got great memories to Saskatchewan. I have an aunt and uncle that lived in Eyebrow, if you know where that is. They're retired now, living in Edmonton. My mom was born in Springside. I had an old college buddy from Rayburn. I know small-town and rural Saskatchewan well, and while Saskatchewan is often the butt of a lot of people's jokes, it's absolutely beautiful to me, and your pictures are certainly evidence of that.
In celebration of your purchase, here's my favorite Canadian artist singing about his life out on his piece of land and the life he enjoys out there. Bruce Cockburn: Great Big Love.
Best of luck.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Fencing is on my mind haha, we love our wildlife out here but I will surely build a moose proof fence eventually! Based on the Joel Salatin and abundant permacultures books and vids I am really excited about solar powered electric fencing.
After working in organic horticulture the last couple years I have enjoyed good soil more then ever, when we found our place I really appreciated the soil quality! I really did.
We have camped out many many weekends and we do have a camper, we have paid pretty close attention to the sun's patterns. If we do chose to plant down in the northern treeline we would have great solar exposure and a wind barrier from our cold northern side. With these pros and a great view of the pasture it is hard to not chose it. I am now waiting to test for water in that area and make a decision from there. Our north winds here are of arctic quality.. very nasty sometimes around this time of year. I will get the RMH going one day.
Great to hear you like the area, we of course like it very well too! Cant wait for the green to come back right about now!
From looking at your map, if I understand it correctly, you've got your future homestead in the lowest portion of the property, so all the water from any higher part of it will drain there. That could be complicated. Frank Lloyd Wright said to build just down from the highest point so it's out of the wind and the majority of water collects below. It could really save you to pay a couple hundred dollars to a soils engineer to come and give you some opinions on the best building sites.
If you are wanting to develop a gravity flow water system, you don't have to be on the lowest part of the property.
I would highly recommend living there a year, or trying to be there as much out of a part of a year as you can, and watch where the ground saturates, where the water flows. I watched the water on my place, but I kept making excuses for why the water was collecting in one place, or shooting out of gopher holes in another, "Oh, this is an odd year. Normally it won't do this." And I made some exhausting mistakes. Building for the odd year, for the excessive rain becomes crucial. The norm is easy to live with, but in the long term your foundation and all the piping involved with your foundation, will be affected by extremes.
As an example, I've been dealing with drought conditions, and wanted to develop a spring where I saw berries growing. They had always been thick and healthy in a rather large area so I thought anywhere in that area would be a good spot to start. It wasn't until the drought continued and the berries backed off a lot to the primary zone where the water was even in the worst conditions, did I realize that reading that hillside involved seeing where the water seeped out during the rain Below the berry patch. It was about 200 feet below the berry patch. Then I had to face reality, and move the driveway over, redo a shed foundation, and know that Mother Nature isn't going to give an inch.
As soon as I got my hopes and dreams out of the way and read the land correctly, did I manage to do things that have stood up well to extreme conditions. The locations of things now are still good spots to put things. It's not like I had to settle for less. But more than anything I love to see water sailing down the hillside 50 feet away from the driveway or the shed, and not underneath it.
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
Hi Cristo! We certainly have to spend more time at our place before making any final decisions. We have so far seen the property from high summer up until now, high winter. We are excited to experience a spring and summer transition and observe the weather/climate patterns for those seasons. So far the soil is very absorptive. The water level in the old well, which is at one of the lowest spots on the property, is between 5-8 feet down so far this winter. The tentative sight we have chosen is low compared to the open pasture but it is also the top of a ridge that is hidden to the north in the tree line. To the south east of our chosen spot we have a lower area which might be a good place for our first pond.
Be Fearless! Fake it till you make it!
Location: Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Hardiness transition between zone 2 and 3
We are going to try and keep this post open as our journal/log book for some of our first projects on the property. Currently we are clearing our potential home-base of all brush and dead standing trees (avoiding snags). We have thus far left most of the mature aspen in place until we know exactly where we will plant down. All cleared materials are separated into two piles: green brush and dead logs.
Dead Stand Logs
Both Piles on Forest Edge
Hopefully by spring we will have large enough material piles to efficiently build some large hugelkultures. We like the idea of building hugelkultures to trap moisture for trees,. We've been looking at Sepp's Shock method with the trees planted in between hugel beds. We have no running water on site so we will be relying on rain water for the first little while. We have applied for about 250 trees through a local program that provides them for free. Hoping to receive: Sea Buckthorns, Bur Oak, Jack Pine, Larch, Scots Pine, Blue Spruce, White Spruce, Lilac, Siberian Crab, Sandcherry. Right now we plan to use these trees to fill in all areas that are open to the roads.
I just got 40 acres of raw land last year, and am working to develop it and build myself a permiculture homestead.
with you having 160 acres, my biggest and best advice. Don't bite off more than you can work on right away. Take your time to locate your home, and develop the local area around your home. What is happening 10 or 20 acres away from your home is not going to be that important in the beginning.
However use this beginning stage to do a lot of observation of the natural cycles in those further reaches of your property. Watch the interactions of plants, animals, seasonal changes, water movement, sun paths, etc...
The one amendment to not working the entire 160 acres and sticking to your local home area, is earth works. Sooner you can get your earthworks in easier it is to plan around them. Your swales, ponds, terraces, hugles, and any other major earth works can really alter a lot of your other planning and development. Even if you can't put the earth works in over the entire 160 acres. Marking them out on the ground can be a huge benefit for further planning in the future.
"Where will you drive your own picket stake? Where will you choose to make your stand? Give me a threshold, a specific point at which you will finally stop running, at which you will finally fight back." (Derrick Jensen)
On top of spaghetti all covered in cheese, there was this tiny ad: