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Getting Started on the Gulf Coast

 
Posts: 7
Location: Mississippi Gulf Coast (USA) Zone 9
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I'm new to the whole permaculture thing, and this is my first post here. I love what I'm reading about food forests, regenerative agriculture, etc. I'd like to implement some of these ideas on some property I just purchased. I'm trying to wrap my brain around the earthworks part of things. I figured someone here might could help with advice, or at least point me in the right direction.

The undeveloped portion of my land is 425'X250'. Its attached to my existing little 125'X130' lot where I have a tiny house. Here is a Google Earth shot of the property. The undeveloped part is below the red line. In the top right corner is my existing house. The top left is my neighbor.



I'm on the Mississippi gulf coast (USA), about 1 mile from the beach, zone 9. The property is very low. We are about 8' above sea level. About 300' east is marsh. The water table is very high. If I dig a 1' hole, it usually has water in the bottom, Most of the ground is this mucky grey clay but sometimes I'll hit some spots with sand in it.

County roads are on three sides of the property, with drainage ditches, but It doesn't seem like it drains very well. It hasn't rained in a week and there is still an inch or so of standing water in some places.

Two homes were destroyed back in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. The land was cleared with a bulldozer, leaving a couple of 100+ year old  live oaks (green circle). Now the property has about 10 years of thick wild growth on it.

The blue dot is an old artesian well. It was just a pipe sticking out of the ground back in 2005, but now a tree has grown up around it and at some point, it started flowing again. Its pretty funny because it is just a metal pipe sticking out of a tree and water pouring out. My son calls it "My Dad's Magic Tree." I capped it for now and that area is drying up a bit. I should note that the well is not what keeps the property wet, everything is always wet around here.

It seems all the permiculture stuff I'm reading talks about conserving water, holding water, collecting water, in areas that have little water. I have the opposite situation. I'm just trying to figure out what to do with all this water and how to best utilize it.

Big picture, I'm thinking of re-clearing the land, except for the Live Oaks of course, and planting citrus trees, figs, pears, persimmons, bananas, mayhaw,  blueberries, mulberries, and other things; basically a food forest. I already have a small kitchen garden and would like to expand that. I use raised beds with heavy mulch. I also have chickens, and I'm looking into ducks and / or geese.

So my big question here is in regards to typography. If I bring some big equipment in here to clear the land, what would you do in the category of earth works? Most people around here simply grade to slope toward the ditches. I'm wondering if I should do something different. Mounds? Swales? Ditches? I'd hate to plant a ton of trees and then discover later I started out on the wrong foot.

Any help and discussion would be appreciated.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2392
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No big equipment.  Leave that to the overgrown 4-year olds who like to go "VROOM-VROOM!" and splash lots of mud around.  What you want to do is build a chinampa out of the whole place by crushing and mashing down the vegetation that is in place.  If you can slash and burn, do that.  If the local authorities won't let you burn, then just slash and let it rot down.  Are there tree trimming services in your area?  Tell them you have a place they can dump their trucks, and they will be happy to come and pile up 3-4' of biomass.

So what do you do when you have a pile that is 3' higher than the streets on 3 sides? Take a bag of topsoil, spread it to about 2" thick, and plant vines that will take off and ramble into it:  Seminole pumpkin, Lagenaria type gourds, watermelons, anything that people complain about it taking over their garden.  

Another thing you could do is to plant swamp trees along the property lines to help stabilize the soil.  The two best types for this are water tupelo, and my favorite, bald cypress.  Willow is also a good tree to consider.  It is a good biomass generator, and it will transpire a lot of water out of the soil and up into the air.

It may be too cold where you are for citrus.  Zone 9 is iffy, because if you get a couple of 25 degree nights, that can do major damage to the citrus that will take a long time to recover from.  Look for the more cold hardy citrus varieties like kumquats and mandarins.  Loquat should do great there, it will fruit as long as it doesn't have to put up with too many <25 degree nights.

Blueberries like a good bit of shade, so you can plant them under trees that you want to keep. All the others that you mentioned are reasonable to try.  Don't be afraid to experiment, to put something in, and then to rip it out if it is disappointing.  Soon you will hit upon what works well.
 
gardener
Posts: 2571
Location: Central Texas zone 8a
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I've got a property on the texas coast. Im 12 ft from a canal and have the same issue with water a foot or 2 down depending on tide.

I planted a lemon, kumquat, and orange tree today. I am told oranges don't like wet feet and will die in a couple years.

As far as gardening, I could see a chinampa. Sort of a hugel bed dug in the ground into the water table so it wicks up and keeps the raised growing area constantly moist. This would be good for annual veggies. Maybe change locations every year until a very large area is full of rich humus. Because of settling that will happen, long term perennials may not work until a season or 2 passes and the area settles.
 
gardener
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I don't know that I would demonize the use of all large equipment. If you have a substantial amount of land shaping planned, a little bit can go a long way. But there are also serious potential drawbacks including how much easier it is to make the big mistakes when making big changes and how much that heavy weight can compact your soils. Don't be afraid to let your inner four year old out to play if your research supports their use.

If you bury the brush, remember that trees don't do well in constantly settling soil. That's why they aren't recommended for hugelbeds and I suspect the same would apply to chinampas. On the other hand, one way to extend the life of peach trees here (where we sometimes have heavy clay soils and long rainy periods) is to plant them in a low raised bed. If you just reshape your soil to lift your trees at least 6 inches (preferably 12 or more) then you will create enough drainage for most traditional fruit trees. Just go easy on incorporating plant matter that can decay and cause settling in the soil.

If I remember properly the cold hardiness of citrus runs (from most tolerant to least) kumquates, satsuma/mandarin style oranges, sour oranges, sweet oranges, lemon, grape fruit, limes. I'm in 8B and though my satsuma didn't survive last winter, my neighbors three trees did. I've already replanted to make another attempt.

You know your own limits best, but remember to respect them. Better to get a few trees off to a strong start than to plant everything under the sun and lose half of them to neglect. If you work in stages then you have more time to observe the impact of your actions and tweak them to best effect. Even when it feels like you're moving at a snails pace, you'll look back in a few years and be amazed how how different things already look.

I am going insert my opinion here about the idea of slash and burn to clear your brush. That seems to be a horrible waste of on site organic matter. Every bit of smoke that burns off carries away valuable carbon that could be added to your soil. Every bit of organic matter you incorporate into your soil (rather than turning to ash and smoke) feeds the soil web. That soil web has as much to do with developing good drainage as it does with retaining water during droughts. Without a healthy soil biome, your clay will quickly turn to pottery materials. There is an product called biochar, which is a popular way of using fire to turn wood into a more long lasting soil amendment, but that's not the same as slash and burn clearing. Okay, that's my thoughts on the subject.

edit: I hope that wasn't an accurate prediction. I accidentally wrote my satsumas don't survive next winter, instead of didn't survive last winter.
 
Don Elbourne
Posts: 7
Location: Mississippi Gulf Coast (USA) Zone 9
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Thank you so much for all this great feedback.

I was not familiar with chinampa. It sounds very interesting. I'm going to look into that further.

I really love the wood chip idea. I've seen the Back to Eden documentary and it is very compelling. I already heavy mulch my raised beds, and I'd love to do a much larger area. I'd need a few hundred dump trucks full to do the whole thing. lol I sure wish I knew about all this about 12 years ago. I pastor a church here on the gulf coast. After Hurricane Katrina, a church in California donated us a saw mill.  We salvaged hundreds of downed trees from the storm and converted them to dimensional lumber. We built two houses for widows in the community before the code office kicked in and required store bought stamped lumber. We also built a few hundred sheds and gave them to folks living in FEMA campers. We built a bunch of other things too. I just hated to see all those trees go to waste. The slash pile was about an acre 16' tall. We eventually burned it. I look back now and wish I would have chipped it all. That would have been cool.

When I said "big equipment" I just meant a skid steer. I'm not that great with a chain saw and 12 years of growth has produced some pretty significant growth. I don't know how I could reclaim it without a gas powered something, short of a fire. I have considered just thinning things a bit and planting some of my preferred things in and about the existing growth. But then another part of me would like to just clear cut the whole thing and start with a clean design. Perhaps I'll start with just clearing about 1/3 of it and go from there.

I love the bald cypress idea. I did plant 7 bald cypress at the church office, next door, about 7 years ago. One has grown much faster than the others. They are beautiful and the shade is wonderful on our hot summer days. I know they like wet places, but I never thought of using them to dry things out a bit for the sake of other things.

Citrus actually does do pretty well here. Several folks grow citrus pretty successfully. The trick is getting them established.  We do not have hard freezes very often, but I did lose a Myer lemon a few years ago when we hit our all time record low of 17. I planted a satsuma, Myer improved lemon, and blood orange on the church property last month. I'd love to do a whole grove of them on my place.

My dream is to turn this place into a food forest that will feed our food pantry. As of now we rely on bulk canned goods. Its frustrating  to be surrounded by unused land and then truck in canned goods to feed the hungry. but I digress...

I'm sure I'm going to be full of questions during this project. I'm glad I found this site. Thank y'all so much.
 
Posts: 75
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Hey Don!  Welcome to permies.  

I am from the Jackson area zone 8. It is my understanding also that citrus does well there.  There are some tricks to use that will push your zone one way or the other. I would recommend you read some of David The Good's books.  One is Compost Everything. Another is Push the Zone. Both are well worth the price of admission.  He was in zone 8/9 in Florida when he wrote those.

Finding info for the sub tropics zone 8/9 is difficult.  We are in a "humid subtopic climate" and you may be bordering on "rainforest".  We get 54" of rain here and I would guess you get more than that.  I think a rainforest is 6.5 feet.  

I can tell you for certain that you do NOT need to chip those trees.  Just get them in contact with the soil and our overactive bacteria will do the rest.  Where in other climates decomposition slows to a crawl in the winter, ours stays steady year round as long as it stays damp.  Wood chips almost breakdown too fast.  I put 16" down over my garden area two years ago and is is nearly dirt.  Even firewood sized chunks are soft!

Because of our intense sun and your constant wind off the Gulf I would looks at thinning the heavy brush and planting into those trees as wind breaks and overhead shade during our intense summer heat.  Over story is also good for frost protection of those citrus trees.

I was recently told there is someone on the Mississippi coast that grows and sells jackfruit trees.  I want one so bad but just a little too far north for me.  

I would like to suggest a local Facebook group if you are not familiar with it already.  Self Sustainability in Mississippi. Once you get on there send me a friend request.  I am on there frequently.  You will find quite a few locals to you on there.  

Good luck and if you are in the Jackson area give me a shout.  I will introduce you to some permies.
 
Posts: 7
Location: 8b; Coastal Mississippi
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Hey there Don,

I am also on the Gulf Coast, the eastern side of MS. Have yet to purchase land of my own but I  have great enthusiasm to create a more sustainable GCMS, w/ food forest and community gardens as just a couple ways to promote sustainability and foster the human connection. If you need a hand dont hesitate to ask!
 
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