I'm totally new to all this, and I'm a long ways away from most of you (middle of Ireland),
but I'm hoping someone out there in cyberspace-land might be able to point me in the right direction (or at least help me in avoiding the wrong one!)
I recently purchased a cottage on a small piece of land (one acre) which I will only be able to visit periodically until I can fully escape the rat-race in October, meaning that soon after taking up full-time residence Winter will be arriving. The land comprises of an undulating rectangle of good fertile soil, bordered by (mainly) hawthorn bushes and brambles (haven't got the ph yet).
I'll have a lot of cutting back of trees, and hedgerows during the Winter months together with working on the cottage, and seeing how there's only one of me, unless I n train the dogs to use a saw the labour force will be stretched pretty thin!
The major problem is the field itself. At the moment it's a field of tufts of grass, thistles and nettles. Reading up the suggestion for dealing with this seems to be to sheet mulch, but the idea of sheet mulching an acre and leaving it for a year or so seems laborious.
My (possible) Solution?: (Warning: I'm going to use the 'P' word now!)
1. Talk nicely to the locals and pay one of them to plough the entire acre.
2. Allow the Winter frosts to help break up the soil.
3. Get the nice local back to harrow the land.
4. Dig a winding path three or four yards in from the perimeter, and some linking paths to the centre.
5. Install some drainage and a pond.
6. Sow the entire remainder with white clover.
7. Hopefully start the tree, bush, shrub and groundcover layers, but not feel I'm constantly racing against the clock to outrun the grass and weeds which I hope will be subdued by the clover.
So am I totally wrong in my plans?
Oh just as an aside...I have zero background in gardening!
I'm doing this almost entirely from reading up on same (but...I've operated this way before in other areas successfully, and "if you don't try, you don't learn" is my outlook.
I plan on keeping bees and chickens, and having a smallish section for annual crops, but most of the acre will (I hope!) be a forest garden...eventually.
Any advice, suggestions, or psychiatric help would be greatly appreciated.
If you are looking at a lot of tree pruning or thinning alongside the need to sheet mulch (plowing would be the best thing you could do for thistle propagation), you are prime for hugelkultur. These nurse log raised beds do take work to start but eliminate at least 3/4 of the work needed to tend a bed without wood in it. I'd give you the whole schpeil but have to go finish leading a class on them in an hour at a kid's garden in town.
Howdy Roger- I don't think you're totally wrong in your plans and I believe you're on the right track and your proposed technique is certainly one way to do it. I agree that sheet mulching an acre seems laborious as a way to deal with the field, perhaps there are locals who have goats and/or sheep. Maybe they will let them browse/graze for free instead of hiring the animals, but maybe hiring them is an option too. You'll get different results from the two animals, goats walking around browsing eating just about everything, sheep being more selective and nibbling anything green down to the surface of the soil. And they'll both poop everywhere fertilizing the field benefiting next years whatever you choose to grow. Clover is a great idea for a cover instead of leaving the soil fallow, which can allow erosion to promptly take place. If you're cutting down trees too, those logs, limbs and twigs are gold and can be used to build hugelkulturs to grow awesome crops in. Maybe you can rent or borrow a chipper/shredder and turn some of those tree limbs into wood chips as a mulch. Even if you left a large pile of wood chips laying off in the corner somewhere, in 4 or 5 years under the sunbleached surface chips you will find soft fluffy black earthy goodness ready to incorporate into or onto soil where you grow food crops. There are lots of different ways to go about things and I'm sure others will chime in to offer other good ideas on how to approach your new land. Hope this helps!
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
It's so exciting when you get new land. There's a drive in us to make everything perfect instantly. This doesn't always work.
You have the great advantage of not knowing the "one true path" of farming, so you can try many different things to find the one that works for you.
Best advice I've ever come across is to start small and try many things (even things that experts say won't work) - but try them on a small scale first.
Your land is different than any other bit of land on the entire earth. What works other places may not work for you. What doesn't work elsewhere may work for you.
If you start big, then you have a chance of making big mistakes. For example, if I were to sheet mulch on my land, I would kill the life in the soil. It's just the way our weather is. However, I read time and again that sheet mulching is THE thing to do, so I tried it. On a small scale. Everything died and it grew a nasty, anaerobic smell Nothing grew in that place for about three years afterwards. Imagine if I had done that on a large scale. And yet, sheet mulching works wonders in some conditions.
My preference when coming to a new plot of land is to spend 12 months observing it. I build a small-ish kitchen garden and a chicken coop. I walk the land daily to observe the moisture content of the soil, the sun path, the shady spots, the wild crops that I can harvest. I do small experiments to see what works in different spots. Then the following fall, I start on the larger scale items like fencing, chopping trees, whathaveyou. But I start SMALL! About one acre per year, some years only 1/4 acre.
This year, I'm only changing a few hundred square feet that was poisoned when I brought in "organic" straw for mulch (yet another mulch-related problem) a couple of years back. This year, I scratched the surface and planted a cover crop, which I will seed, chop and drop to rebuild the soil in a no-till way. However, this plot of land won't be ready for two or three years. But, when I took a short cut, I poisoned the soil... I should have started small.
This is your land now, you have the rest of your life to improve it.
I have to admit never hearing of hugelkultur (had to look it up)...
On first glance it sounds like something I could do on a small scale, but an acre is an awful lot of land to do basically by hand.
I had thought of the livestock solution, but...
a) by Autumn the grass/weeds are going to be so high the sheep would probably need sat-nav to find their way around, and
b) Having two German Shepherds, their 'shepherding' instincts might prove to be an obstacle to that particular solution
(while livestock would get the grass/weeds cut down, would it not still just leave me with a shortened version of the same thing, ready to shoot forth again in springtime and requiring mulching anyway?)
Any timber I cut can be used (after seasoning) to fuel the solid fuel range for cooking/baking and heating the house.
I plan on planting some trees (willow possibly) in the forest garden for coppicing for future firewood anyway.
To be honest I'm not too concerned about improving the fertility of the soil at this stage. There's a lot of peat locally and a forest up the road has been cut down recently, so sackfull's of decomposed organic matter is readily available. A chicken tractor is another area I'll be looking into to improve the fertility. By the way things are shooting up (grass/weeds/bushes) I think the soil is pretty fertile to begin with anyway.
Thanks for taking the time to reply and I'll take on board any suggestions I receive, and see if I can incorporate them into the plan.
Hi, Roger. I'm a newbie too. I was introduced to permaculture a couple of years ago when I was helping (volunteering-- much like WOOFing) in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I just thought I might point you towards a permaculture instructor with whom I worked. His name is Heiko and he has runs the Portaferry Permaculture Project in Northern Ireland. Not exactly your area, but still, not so far away. Here's his Facebook page. A very likeable and helpful man.