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A New Southeast Texas Homestead (Hopefully)  RSS feed

 
Riley Walker
Posts: 18
Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
3
bee fish forest garden
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I've lurked these forums for a while, absorbing the permaculture concepts and getting all kinds of funny ideas in my head about what I would do with a little bit of land. Well, I dove in and became a landowner, so I figured it's time to fully join the community and share my experiences as I go forward. I'm also hoping there are some local homesteaders that can help guide me through those Texas peculiarities that crop up!

So, I bought 10 acres in S.E. Texas, between Houston and College Station. A creek runs E-W right through the middle in an eroding ravine that needs some serious TLC to prevent further damage. I estimate 5 acres to be either heavily wooded or creek/floodplain, and 4-5 acres to be on sloping land either side of the creek; there's a 1/4-1/2 acre stocked pond on the slope too. I tried to diagram it out to scale, we'll see if I can upload correctly:

Anyway, this used to be someone's hunting/fishing spot, but I have a long-term plan to convert it over to permaculture so that my wife and I can move there full-time after our kids go to college. I'm looking at a one-year evaluation/observation period, then a ten-year improvement plan. Initially I will be working on the land weekends and holidays, but I have career plans in motion that should allow me to devote more time in the future. If you are expecting any finer details...sorry, that's it so far! With that being said, here's my "next-step" list:

  • Meet with the local county agriculture extension office rep and discuss my options
  • Select a "home base" campsite and prepare for use
  • Install brush dams in the eroded creek
  • Thoroughly survey the land and build a detailed contour map (for runoff)


  • One of the things to discuss with the county extension office is tax exemptions. The land is currently non-agricultural, and something my wife and I really want to do is maintain habitat for local wildlife. There's a tax classification for this in Texas, but to get it, your land has to already be classified as agricultural. If it''s not, you must work it as agricultural land for five (5) years before you can convert to wildlife. What a chore! And of course, the county definition of agriculture is pretty brutally strict.

    I intend to post my progress across the projects, homestead, and oklahoma/texas forums as appropriate, so that others may take my misadventures as warning against rash actions. I look forward to feedback!
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    Miles Flansburg
    steward
    Posts: 4023
    Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
    172
    bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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    Howdy Riley, welcome to permies!  I am looking forward to seeing, and reading about, your progress!
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    Hi Miles, thanks for the welcome!

    I'm still going through the closing process on the land, but I don't think it's worth posting on the fine details of real estate law - instead, I started planning out my first steps in more detail, and I think the month of March is going to be stressful...

    I'm all about getting 2017 counted as my first year of ag use. I believe that I have to start activity by April for that to happen (will clarify with the county extension office later), and so I have had to evaluate our planned developments to decide what to roll out early. I've decide that bees would be the best first-year investment, and have a thread going over on the beekeeping forum to try and get a plan shaped up:

    Is It Possible - New 8-hive Apiary in Texas, During March

    I need something that I can handle on weekends and holidays only, which rules out most livestock activity, and the land is not suitable for the county's definition of timber or hay production. I'm waiting to get the comprehensive list of use definitions, but need to take pre-emptive actions. I will update with any developments!
     
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator
    Posts: 9741
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    180
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    Make sure that bees will be sufficient to obtain ag status- there's usually a minimum number of animals to qualify, so there may be a minimum number of hives required.  Some ag practices, such as leasing land to graze horses, do not qualify in some counties.  We learned this the hard way.

    Is that a permanent pond?  You might also want to look into fish as a possible future ag activity.
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    The property is officially ours, and I have updates, but first of all it's only polite to respond to previous questions.

    Tyler, after much digging around online, I was able to determine that our county has an 8-hive minimum for beekeeping activities to qualify as agriculture; based on that, I've started a separate thread to cover all the questions and hurdles I'm going to face getting that venture off the ground! Our pond seems to be permanent as it has a healthy population of bass and bluegill - in fact, on my first day as landowner I hooked into a monstrous bass that must have been growing in there for a few years, so that is a great sign of the health of the pond.

    After closing the deal last week, I went out to do a survey and prioritize my work items. I brought a chainsaw and hand pruners with the intent of cutting back some juniper branches and saplings that were taking over a section of the access road, but there was a steady light rain all day that eventually changed my plans. When I went to relocate to the other side of the land, I got my car stuck in a mud puddle that had developed on the access road while I was working. A lot of runoff drains into my pond directly over the access road, and that section just turned into a sucking clay pit that would not afford my tires any traction at all. After calling triple-A for a rescue, I resolved to install a culvert and fix that ten-foot section of road for good.

    So now I'm tractor-shopping in earnest, so that I have a front-loader capable of tackling my new project to defeat the car-trap. I have my eye on a 2003 Farmtrac 60 that's a little beaten up, but is the right price at $5k. If I can get that, it opens up all kinds of large-scale improvements for me to tackle on the land. The drainage problem with the road has put swales high on the list so that we can redirect water; my personal survey found lots of felled trees that could be dragged together for hugelkultur; and so much of the "open" land is getting taken over by long grass and brambles that I need to brush hog the lot for access.

    Part of me is worried that I bit off more than I can chew, but then I decide to see it all as a challenge and look forward to seeing what I can do with a bit of time, planning, and horsepower!
     
    Rodd Ramon
    Posts: 8
    Location: Zone 9A
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    Howdy, I'm in Lavaca County near Schulenburg. Currently we have a guy who keeps cattle on our property to help us keep our Ag exemption until I can afford my own livestock. I know there are plenty of small farmer that are more than happy to "lease" land for their cattle. We don't actually charge our guy to lease the land as his cows keep everything mowed and fertilized, and he helps take care of my fences. You could probably find someone local who would be happy to put a few head on your property. On your tractor if your on a budget I got a good deal from a couple of Irish guys who repair and resale a lot of tractors. They post a lot on Houston craigslist, their out near Hockley/Waller/ Magnolia.
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    Hi there Rodd, thanks for your advice - I do have neighbors with goats and cattle, so I'll definitely look into the possibility of leasing out for the minimum head of livestock to qualify! I think I found your tractor guys on Craigslist, and they have an incredible selection of makes and models - I'm going to keep my eye on their postings and see if that perfect deal pops up.

    I was hoping to edit the original post and update my diagram with a better one I worked one, but I'll just have to do it here - looks like posts over a certain age can't be edited.

    I did a bit of research looking for LIDAR images of my area after reading about how to improve your contour maps over at another thread (Contour Maps For Cheap) and was disappointed to find that none existed. But, I persevered, and found a dataset from TNRIS (Texas Natural Resources Information System) that had 5ft contour data in downloadable .shp shapefiles for use with GIS mapping tools. I downloaded the free ArcGIS Explorer tool from ESRI (ArcGIS Explorer Desktop) and imported the .shp file. Once I figured out how the tool worked, I was able to play around and map out my land pretty well!

    I've attached the current status map, and it shows the issues I'm dealing with on the northern half of the property. We have a campsite near the pond on flat, drain-free land, but three main runoffs drain directly over the only access road, right at the eastern end of the pond. That section of road is an impassable clay mud pit, and I need to bridge it so that we don't have to lug everything to camp by hand. I'm still researching that, and will either do a proper culvert with fill material, or build a low bridge about a foot over the water level, spanning the 8ft section.

    The rest of my priority work is to clear the drainage ditches and place brush in eroded gullies to act as baffles for heavy flows - I'm losing a lot of soil in those waterways. Later I'll look at installing swales and harvesting the water efficiently.
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    Rodd Ramon
    Posts: 8
    Location: Zone 9A
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    Don't be afraid to call the tractor guys and go take a look. They buy farms around the country and repair and resale the equipment, most of it here because they have better sales here and they live here. I decided to get a different tractor then I originally went to look at. They usually list the tractors they've fully repaired and repainted. I'm mechanically inclined and don't care about paint, so I got a tractor they hadn't done much to plus some implements at a good price, they even delivered it, When they start talking fast they can be a bit hard to understand sometimes, the irish accent gets thick when they speak fast, but they are great guys, can't suggest them enough.
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    Well, I'm still tractor-less. I'm also still unable to drive my car to the campsite due to the mud puddle - I'm hoping a tractor with a box blade will let me deal with that problem, though...

    I got a family-sized tent set up as our base camp, and it's doing well as storage and overnight shelter. I need to make a cinderblock-and-plywood foundation for it to sit on, so that we get a little elevation off the clay soil and a base to put some padding down onto.

    We're still trying to get a hold of enough bees to establish our tax exemption, but I have no idea what I'm doing in that area yet.

    I wrote in the original post that brush dam erosion control was one of my priority items - pending a tractor, the plan is to uproot a few of the mid-sized juniper (red cedar?) evergreens that we have on-site, and secure them in the erosion channels. I want to make some baffles out of stakes and woven brush on the drainage channels to slow and redirect water, as we have a few straight-down channels developing.

    I'll get some fresh pictures this weekend. I'm thinking of starting a new projects thread for this development, so this one might only last until I fix the road and fell some junipers; I'll link to any new threads as they're made.
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    The Jetta Trap
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    Camp
     
    Anne Sony
    Posts: 11
    books forest garden urban
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    I have nothing particularly useful to say, just good luck. I live in Spring and will be watching this thread with much interest!
     
    Miles Flansburg
    steward
    Posts: 4023
    Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
    172
    bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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    Howdy Riley, congratulations on getting your place . I am looking forward to seeing what you do with it.

    Instead of starting a new projects thread I will just add this one to that forum. The magic of the forum will make it show up in both places. That way you can keep your story in one place . Will that work for you?
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    Thanks Miles, we're pretty pleased about closing the deal, and really enjoyed our first experiences camping out! Hopefully our laundry list of fixes and upgrades translates into some useful posts here. I trust your stewardship of the forum to place this thread where it is best-suited; I'll be happy to continue adding my projects here as I work through them! If I undertake something that warrants a more detailed explanation in a separate thread, I may post a dedicated thread and link to it from here.

    Anne, thanks for your interest - we're from Spring too (Klein area) and commute to the property on weekends. I'm hoping to spend more and more time there as we go through the improvements, though!
     
    Riley Walker
    Posts: 18
    Location: Grimes County, Texas | Zone 8b
    3
    bee fish forest garden
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    I didn't want to post until I had some real progress to report - while the family has enjoyed a few fun weekend camping trips (and I've enjoyed catching some big fish) since my last post, none of them seemed post-worthy. However, I have now got a few things checked off my list:

  • Picked up a john Deere 1020 tractor with brush mower, grader, and loader - oh, the things we will do!
  • Installed 6 beehives with starter packages (discussed in more detail HERE)
  • Conquered the Jetta Trap puddle by upgrading to an AWD VW Touareg - off-road mode, but comfortable
  • Got a 2000-lb capacity single axle trailer for supply runs and equipment moves
  • Cleaned up the campsite and expanded it a bit


  • The bees were an essential part of my long-term tax strategy for the property, so I made them top priority and reluctantly sunk 2.5k into getting them established this month. I also just about killed myself working in the Texas afternoon sun in a full-body bee suit getting the hive site constructed; I'm thinking I need to switch my land working hours to mornings only.

    The tractor now opens up the next wave of improvements I have in mind:

  • Grade the road to camp
  • Mow the areas I want to develop and reveal the lay of the land
  • Start carving small swales with the tractor blade to control drainage paths in key areas (campsite!)
  • Dead tree removal and hauling - potential hugelkultur fodder


  • I still want to lay some brush dams, but I need to observe a rainfall event to figure out the best places to start doing that.
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    The Tractor
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    Home Improvements
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    The Apiary
     
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