I've been interested in PC for about a year and organic growing for about two. My friend got wind of this and leased 5 acres for his Christian ministry, asked me to manage it, even though he knows I don't have much experience.
He wants to supply food and money from sales for the ministry. He thinks organic is a good way to make money and I know organic is a great way to eat AND make some money. He wants to do raised beds; one big advantage is it may be easier to get the organic certification that way. He wants to let chickens roam for fertilizer and to eat bugs (stacking functions). Some of it he would like to experiment in the Square Foot and Mittliter methods.
The land is around 5 acres, most of it east-west and already cleared with lots of hay rotting on the surface (perfect!). Slopes (very) slightly to the north-west. Hardiness zone 8.5 (almost 9), though we do have several frosts every winter, and frequently in the 20s at night in the winter. Summers are 70s at night, 90s in the day, high humidity. Approximately 55" of precipitation per year and lots of sunshine. Predictable summer afternoon showers.
I know I want to do variety of plants thanks to the teachings of PC. I have "Gaia's Garden" and Mollison's Design Course book (though haven't read it in-depth). Even with these manuals I still feel somewhat lost how to begin. I have a lot of knowledge swimming around in my head but lack direction how to piece it together cohesively.
I'd think I want to choose the best-selling perennial crops as a foundation and then add a larger guild of companion plants. I want to avoid having to buy huge quantities of compost ($$). He wants to get going very quickly.
My ideal is to create an attractive edible garden that both turns a great profit and feeds the ministry (and our family) with high quality food. Something that would highlight attention like the Durvae's garden, only scaled up. (Though it could not likely be as intense/dense as theirs as we won't live there.)
We should have free labor, seeds and very inexpensive land, so we ought to do well.
Can someone point me in the right direction? Even if it's to say "Read page 45 of Mollison's manual." Maybe some 1-2-3 step articles on Permaculture. I tried looking for that but wasn't satisfied, though perhaps someone knows.
Well one question is what sort of soil are you starting with? is it grassed? Do you have a tiller? 5 acres is a lot to start with, don't get lost and remember Baby steps.
What sort of sun exposure is there throughout the day? and water? are there hills or winter water build up/saturation issues, if so how can you turn them around into providing or being stored in biomass. (I find standing outside in the failing sun is the best time to see the typography in land)
Next is to think about your markets, and how intense farming production you want to get into. Salad and Tomatoes in my minds eye are best cash crop, specially in family/residential hustle zones. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, are the best Return Cash Crop, less labor if done properly too.
I don't know if you've rehearsed your zone's grow charts, but it's always important to focus your energy and day time (Because you will learn you only have so much time in a day) on your cash opportunity but it's also important to provide other varieties of crops and colors to keep customers interested!
I am doing the same thing as you pretty much but have all my factors in play already. for you I would truly consider the longterm preposals if farming is for you, because farming is not boyscout camp for the summer, you start, commit and continue. Do you plan on running these lands for numerous years? if so you should consider just putting 1/2-2/3 of all into instant covercrop, unless you have to do it by hand then you are just going to feed a lot of birds. I personally enjoy growing 2 biomass plants for every palatable plant. You NEED the biomass amendments and can use certain crops to feed your chickens! and RABBITS! I recommend rabbits, they are a cuteness draw to selling veggies, they eat weeds and grass and a single bale of hay per rabbit for a winter, and if you grow food for your animals it will elevate the overall costs and boostPROFIT! both these animals can be enclosed entirely in mobile cages and dragged around for further food eleviation.
But for starting, you need to stand outside. Look at your fields, consider the most efficient and effective approach to EVERYTHING. and then start by figuring out how you are going to loosen the soil, where your paths will go so that you can reach your 2-3' arm in every direction and touch everything (meaning 5' wide beds) I know permaculture talks about 'no till' but you have to start your loose soil by loosening it, then dig out paths around your beds and add that soil to the bed (making the bed raised enough [4-5"] dont raise beds TO high otherwise the peak will be dry, and all plants will grow around the base of the mound) also with good design, no one will even feel like they aught to step on the beds.
At night figure out your general crop rotations, water availability to each sector of your fields (design everything around water) and where the main paths are easiest to reach everything, and where the human walking paths can comfortably be with less bends as possible.
Then start thinking about your customers, What will they want, candy food? (radish, cherry tomato, salad, sweet corn, strawberries) or more bring home organic supporter family food (potatoes, onions, leeks, beans, brassicas, squash) or will you be serving a slave duty to restaurants (salad, cooking turnips, celery, bulk herbs, beats, potato, mass tomato, more salad)
Then start fitting your annuals into the blanks with proper rotation, and considerations for all the other elements of time & energy you want to contribute with your investment returns roughly sketched out. All along while you think about the long term which might want to be filled with fields of perennials like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, orchards, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb, artichokes. if you decide a long term layout, how can you then plant them berries and also plant between them with your 2:1 biomass to food guild set up to help nurse the plants (not overcompete) and feed people.
Try to fit all of this into a budget while considering all of those unseen costs that are going to come when you need a piece to fix your whatits, or 10' of piping to finish the whosits, or seed tray materials, watercans, tools, rent. I recommend learning to scavenge, it's your best survival skill, since you are with a church community it will be wise to connect your community to your actions through a blog or networking tool that you can broadcast material, financial, help needs and engage others, overall growing the organic movement in it's natural way.
That is my rant, accept it. and consider building scrap material broad forks, buying greenhouses (can get 10x30' 6mil for $170ish w/ pvc ribs) write down everything you start and spend and pretend someone you admire is constantly reading it when you do. Get in shape, eat good but also fast your body, don't ware gloves unless it's sharp or shit, in 2 years yuor skin will be leather.
also to cheat, and depending on yuor soil, I buy fertilizers, Kmag is great potassium and sulfur lowers the horseshit wood HIGH ph. sulfur is great for root structure too. Chickenshit pellets, they are a low boost of nitrogen I like to turn into the soil right before I put plugs in. makes your food taste good even in first year of worked soil. Lime is great for Alfalfa and salad, don't over lime phosphorus for cucumbers tomatoes squash, helps with flowers development
GET A WORM BIN make sure it's healthy and producing worm run off, then get a fish tank bubbler, a bucket of gas off the chlorine, add the worm run off, and 2tb molasses per gallon water, let bubble for 32 hours then apply to your soil and well grown plants.
Making your own fish fertilizer is a great way have having fertile soils and tasty food, We get free salmon farm floaters as they call it FOR FREE, most fish emulsion is made of minnows, herrings and mainly bones and waste materials. if you make your own it will have much more broken down protein and if you add Epsom salt you will get a sulfur to your spray (great! right?) which is amazing on roots and PH reduction.