My wife and I recently moved our family to North Central Florida to pursue our dream of homesteading and a movement toward a more sustainable lifestyle. We've found a great 5 acre piece of property in north Gainesville and are set to close at the end of this month. I felt like it would be a good idea to start planning out how we will utilize the land but have been hit with a bit of information overload and could certainly use some informed direction on our first steps.
To provide a little background, we have both lived most of our lives in Florida but come from further south and a more tropical climate. Our knowledge on gardening and agriculture is limited to (HOA friendly) raised bed and container gardening which was productive but also very costly. I am very attracted to the principles of permaculture and agroforestry and prefer to work with the land rather than against it - but really don't know where to begin.
Currently our property is predominantly dominated by oak trees (and a few pine, etc). There are 2 or 3 small 'open' areas that get full sun and the the rest is partial or full shade (about 2 acres in the rear of the property is a completely untouched, conservation type area). The soil is basically sand but because of all the oaks there are a TON of leaves and branches that could be utilized for compost or mulch, etc. I have done a lot of reading over the past few weeks and have come across some great information/ideas but feel overwhelmed with the amount of, often conflicting, guidance on the internet.
Our basic goal is to start to move the landscape from its current state into something resembling a high producing food forest that we can get food from year round. We'd prefer to utilize natural or re-purposed resources as much as possible so as not to incur unnecessary costs. If possible, we'd rather do the work one time and enjoy the rewards rather than constantly having to manage. We would like to start small (fruit/nut trees, perennials, ?) and grow with time as more skills and knowledge are developed.
The questions on the top of my mind so far are:
- I intend to start in a slightly lower lying part to the west of the house (left on the photo), it has good access to water (due to a previous structure), the area is in full sun but probably not considered 'zone 1' on the property, would this be a good choice? The other full sun area is directly over the septic leach field so I would prefer to avoid edibles but will likely use this area to plant vegetation that attracts pollinators.
- Being that I will be starting in the middle of Summer what should I do first? For instance; should I sheet mulch, double dig, or some other method (hugelkultur, chop & drop) to prepare the soil? Should I plant trees, perennials, or nitrogen fixing ground cover first? Suggestions?
- What is the best way to utilize the current oak trees in the landscape, is there such a thing as an oak guild? Can oaks be used to plant more tropical plants that might not otherwise do well in this zone?
- What edible perennials best suit this climate and provide the most caloric value for my family?
- When is a good time to start annuals?
Bonus: We would like to get chickens eventually and already have a structure in place from the previous owner, would getting them sooner rather than later be more beneficial to the homestead?
I have to say I am a big fan of this community and have found it to be one of the most helpful educational resources thus far. We are very excited to get started and realize that this process is built around experimentation but at the same time I don't want to waste a bunch of time making mistakes if I don't have to. I certainly appreciate any help, direction, resources or suggestions you can provide and please let me know if there is any further information that I can offer.
Thanks Casie, David's site has actually been a great help thus far and I have a created a document full of saved articles from it (and others). I will certainly check into the book you recommended - the title sounds spot on! I very much appreciate your time.
I will also add that the photo shows a closed canopy situation at this time.
If you have not spent a little time on the land yet, that is the first step, you want to know how the land behaves so you can develop a good idea of how water will move on this property.
Once you have written down your observations, you can start deciding which of those trees need to go and which need to stay, the back 2 acres should be the last area you would want to disturb, if at all.
The lay of the land will dictate any earth works for water control. This should be one of the first things you address.
That little clearing looks to be a good site for garden beds, When I lived in Florida (Pensacola) I found raised beds to be the best method for vegetables.
Once you have done some stem exclusion (tree removal) to open some areas of the canopy, you can start growing cover crops including grasses to build some organic matter in that sandy soil.
Appreciate your advice Bryant. The canopy has been one of my main quandaries. I am hoping to not have to remove too much as it provides a lot of cool shade which is great here in the summer, however, I'm not opposed if it proves beneficial. I will definitely spend some time observing and interacting with the property right off the bat, the rainy season is coming up so it should be a great time to do so.
I would definitely keep trees that shade the house and other buildings, those reduce heating and cooling costs.
In Florida, sometimes what is termed Zone 1 should be further from the dwelling than usually thought of. This can also go for desert environments, if you can keep shade on the dwelling you are automatically saving energy use.
Hi Chad! I'm down in se Marion county and slowly working at the same goal. It takes time. Take a deep breath. Follow BR's advise, watch how the water flows. (if we ever get any again...) with my to many tree problem I cut one down a year.... I'm more focused on animals and have to many for our dry conditions now but culling slowly... (goats, pigs, chickens, a cow and horse) But always recommend chickens if you have the infrastructure for them. The sand eats up organic matter. Mulch from the power line/tree trimmers is great. Plant bananas on that leach field. Ginger and turmeric have done good here an take shade well... Persimmon, the sour citrus like kumquat an calamondon handle our cold and are greening tolerant... Fig, peaches, guava... All been star producers here with my hit an miss way of doing things. I'm struggling with apples and blueberrys but there still alive... and it's only been a year, a very dry one at that. There's more I'm just not thinking of out there ATM... (I work nights an brain dead the following day) you've found good resources here and in David the good... He was a great inspiration to me... Go forth an plant... An compost....!
Hi Chad! I'm also in N. Florida, in a semi rural part of Jacksonville. We're in the very, very beginning stages of our food forest. An ongoing family situation has delayed us several months in putting in our infrastructure(some swales/hugels, some fencing to help with critters, and a few trellises), so before it got any hotter we decided to put in some cowpeas for a cover crop just to get a little life going in our nasty light gray Florida sand. Since you've already discovered the awesome resource that is David the Good, I would say join a localpermaculture group or two. I believe there is a good one in Gainesville, and I belong to an excellent Facebook group called Permaculture Jax. We have members from all over, and I am sure you would be welcome. I decided to sign up for the Kickstarter that Paul Wheaton currently has for his videotaped PDC course. Click on the link up top if you want to check it out. I think the most important advice this beginner can give you is to alert you to the dangers of using any outside hay, manure or compost not from your property. The only thing I personally feel safe using is wood chips from tree trimming services. If you do a search on thesurvivalgardener.com for aminopyralids, David the Good can explain it much better than I can. Good luck, and maybe I'll see you on Permaculture Jax!
Thanks Effie.. Coincidentally, I just came across Permaculture Jax yesterday after watching a few of Alex Ojeda's videos on YouTube. Great resource! Thanks for your insight and best of luck to you as well. Cheers!
Also in Florida, and it seems the soil can be best helped by Paul Gautschi's method of wood chips, and his video, Back to Eden, is an excellent tutorial. I am still in pots, & raised beds, but hoping to put down chips in summer, for a fall garden. Paul's reliance on the lessons of nature's way seem really grounded, and his results are superb! Glad to see so many interested in sustainable living here in Florida!
I lived in the "occupied Georgia" part of Florida as well, but was not a permie at that time (sadly). I gardened there and learned a lot. I would say it seems to follow the rules, you need sun soil and water. What Bryant is discussing is critical in Florida, because you could be on sugar sand with super high infiltration or clay/coral. You really have to walk around when you are getting a massive rain and see what you are working with.
With the savannah climate you really need soil carbon but if you are on sugar sand it washes out readily. I still had more success there than on clay areas because they tended to get inundated and the bugs ate the weakened plants tout suite. I had really poor success with summer gardening there. I definitely recommend the cowpeas, they do very well even in summer. There were really two growing seasons in spring/fall, each about 85 days for typical annual vegetables. I couldn't keep stuff producing in the summer, the soil temperatures just got too high and I never could keep humus in place.
I will say Annie's suggestions are spot on- those are the most carefree plants. I gave away ginger and turmeric and had several varieties of each. Lovely blooms! All the fruits she mentioned did awesome! Chestnut as well, suprisingly. The hard part for me was keeping nitrogen and humus around, and I suspect there are people who have developed a strategy for that much better than I had. It is challenging because it is not tropical with the brief winter but not cold enough the bugs care one bit. You can grow olives though! Envious...
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
How is the permaculture project going?
We started ours in August of 2017 in South Putnam, half way between Jax and Orlando, and would be curious to see how you are doing. If you want to see our progress, we have a page on Facebook. Hamilton-Hoke Garden of Even.