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What would you do first?

 
                                
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Hi everyone --

Let me preface this by saying that I'm brand new to permaculture.  So far, I'm a reader and learner, but not quite a doer...yet.  I initially found out about Permaculture via the survival podcast, and that has led me here...what a great community you all have.  As I learn more and more about permaculture, I'm constantly drawn outside to my property to dream of what could be.

I live in rural Nebraska, about 30 miles south of Lincoln.  My home and land are part of a home owner's association with a 30 acre man-made lake/resevoir in the middle of all of the houses.  (I like to fish, so it was a big reason I moved here.) My lot is bigger than all of the other lots.  When we moved out here, I was excited about that, but soon came to realize that it was zoned out this way because of the big draw that runs through the majority of my land.  No one could really build anything on it so they just tacked it on to my lot.  I thought that doing anything on it would mean a LOT of work and a lot of time and as a new dad, time is precious.  And so, I had resolved to be happy with all of that land simply creating space between my house and the next.

But that was before I learned of permaculture.  I am suddenly re-energized and excited about the possibilities.  My goal is to create something much more interesting that the grass and few trees that are currently there.  I want a diverse food forest.  I want it to draw in the ducks, geese, and deer that frequent the area.  I want it to be a place where I can go walking through...a place where my children and nieces and nephews (and hopefully grandchildren) can go exploring.  And of course, I want it to produce food.

So that brings me to my question...if you were me, where would you start?  What would you do first?

I know this is going to take at least a few years to get really rolling, but I should be able to do a couple of important things this spring and summer.  I've included a satellite view of my place from Google.  It's about 9 acres total...The arrows indicate slope on the land.  The black area in the bottom-right corner is the lake.

I have thought about swales as a starting place, but I don't even know if my land is sloped enough to really benefit from them.  Then again, given the climate here, this is a place that would definitely benefit from storing water that comes in the form of snowfall and using it throughout the hotter, dryer months of summer.  Swales would also create more edges, but I don't even know how far apart they should be.

Another starting place I have considered is planting trees...starting from the draw and moving outward.  The draw is clearly creating an abundant edge that is full of goodness.  The soil is very dark and rich down in there.  Right now, there are just a few trees, but I don't think it would be hard to get more growing.  The main problem with starting trees would be initially protecting them from deer, etc.

Thanks for your time, and I would appreciate any ideas you have.  Thanks!


 
Steven Baxter
Posts: 254
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I could only think of a pond in that somewhat of a crevice. I am not an expert so my idea is as good as yours. But I am excited to see what others have to say about it. Excellent photo of your property.
 
Mekka Pakanohida
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
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cls1973 wrote:


So that brings me to my question...if you were me, where would you start?  What would you do first?



First..
http://forums.permaculture.org.au/showthread.php?10111-Sharing-is-caring.

Go there, the link is to legal copies of permaculture resource materials.

2nd, Bill M. teaches in his huge Permaculture Designers Manual, you should observe your property for a year, and then work on a map and plan.  Almost no does this the first year and is doomed to move things or change things later.

The mapping and design phase is very important & I never realized how important till I started doing it and really looking at my property.  It forced me to ask myself questions like what do I need and want from the property.  Saying, "food & firewood" isn't enough.  How many apples do you want in a year for example?  Can you live with smaller amounts?

3rd, and this is for life.  Be open to your property and really view it because you are never going to stop learning on it. 


Good luck.
 
                                
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Thanks, Mekka!  Wow!  This is awesome info...and it should keep me busy as I observe what is going on in my own back yard

 
                      
Posts: 26
Location: Burbank , Washington (south central)
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First - Get a copy of Edible Forest Gardens by Jacke and Toesmeier.  Great resource.

Second - As Mekka says, observe.  Winds (directions at different times of years).  Water (where it comes from and where it goes).  Sun( where is the shade(if any)).

Third - make a plan then change it ,  then change it again.  Its easier and cheaper to change things on paper.  A tree in the wrong place is hard to move in 4- 5 years (can you pick up a 20+ foot tree ?)


Thoughts on what to put where.
 Swales in the upper end of the gully to catch and hold the wet season waters.   If there is drainage from the north, a series of catchments (ponds) with swales to handle the excess.  This area would be your zones 4 and 5.

 A meadow like area in the southern part , near the lake, which could be watered by drainage from the slope above.  This could be a area that the wild life could use, leaving the gardens near the house alone.

This year you could sow prairie grasses and herbs over the whole area to start soil recovery.

This post on the OTHER permie site shows a method for protecting trees for the first few years, http://permaculture.org.au/2010/11/20/the-methodology-of-tree-planting/



 
                                
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Thank you!  This is great.

One question regarding grasses.  Grass/hay grows quite well in that area now.  For each year that I have lived year, I've allowed a local farmer/rancher to come in and cut the grass and use it for hay.  I figured the cost of putting it up was about equal to the cost of the hay itself.  Last year, he actually paid me a few hundred bucks for the hay he got.

At some point, cutting the grass is going to stop, but for now, while I'm watching and learning, is haying that space once a year a good thing, or is it a permaculture "no no"?
 
duane hennon
gardener
Posts: 706
Location: western pennsylvania zone 5/a
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"At some point, cutting the grass is going to stop, but for now, while I'm watching and learning, is haying that space once a year a good thing, or is it a permaculture "no no"? "

a few cuttings of hay isn't going to make a big difference,  but ask the farmer to return some of the "end result" = manure back to your place. you can start composting this for when your ready to plant stuff.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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I believe I would make a food forest parkline walking area between my house and the lake first..

I would start with the trees and before planting the trees strip off the sod in a small circle around each area where the trees will be planted, put in the tree, and then turn the sod upside down over the bare soil and mulch if you can come up with some mulch..

Don't place your trees in rows but place them randomly, so that they don't shade each other, and put the taller trees on the north side slowing putting in shorter trees toward the south and with the smallest, dwarf trees on the farthest south..

as you are able purchase some ground cover plants, preferably food producing, so that you can have a food forest, your trees should also produce food  of some sort, fruit, nuts or berries..although some purely shade trees are also appropriate if you have the room for them.

it will take a while for the trees to grow tall enough to produce shade..so just mostly keep the areas mulched around the bases of the trees and some perennial food, flower or ground cover plants put in as you are able to buy them.

also to draw in wildlife put in a lot of shrubs..sometimes you can get groups of shrubs from consevation districts that are especially designed for wildlife that is in your area..  my suggestion is to plant the shrubs on the south of each of your trees a little to the east or west..so that they don't shade the trees that are growing but help protect them, and if you can get some that are nitrogen fixing or dynamic accumulators that is best..even putting in some things like comfrey and rhubarb for chop and drop mulching plants that will bring up nutrients..

if you haven't read Gaia's garden get yourself a copoy of it and read it as soon as you can..even if you have to borrow it from the library, it will give you some great advice.
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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What was originally growing on the land?  i.e. before European settlement.
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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I want to second and third what was said above about planning.

We moved to our land last year, and I've been carefully observing it through the four seasons. Very important and if you are not in a huge rush it is definitely worth the time and the wait. Get to know the sun patterns, where rain falls and flows, warm and cold spots, document the types of plant growing on your site, the animals that are drawn to those plants, go to wild areas close by and see what ecosystems are there.

I also got Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens. Volume 2 is especially helpful as it will guide you step by step through the planning and design stage. It is so important to plan and plan again to avoid mistakes that will not only cost money but time. In the meantime read everything you can get your hands on (and hang out here!).

I just learned about permaculture over Xmas and have been intensively studying and planning ever since. We are going to bring in a designer to help us figure out what foods we can grow here and how to group our plantings. We are total newbies when it comes to gardening and don't want to waste time re-inventing that wheel. It's not necessary to bring in a designer, but it can be cheaper than taking a PDC course (depending on how much you want them to do) and, if you can afford the cash layout, will almost certainly save you time and money over the long term.
 
                                
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I am not sure what was originally growing there, but I would guess it was various grasses.  My place is on the north side of the lake and there are very few naturally occurring trees.  On the south side, however, there are lots of big cottonwood trees.  To the east of the lake, (where it is fed by a spring), there are lots of locust trees.  The surrounding area now consists mostly of the typical Nebraska corn and bean fields.

The more I read and the more I walk around out there, the more I see the wisdom of waiting, watching, and planning.  Thanks for all of the advice and ideas, everyone.  And I promise I'll be back with another picture that includes what I've learned and what my plans are before I begin.
 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
Posts: 143
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Waiting and watching and calculated moves is best when you're new to the space.  This has been our pattern and after 7 years we're finally getting somewhere! 

We, also, have been blessed with surface-water management.  We watched where it wanted to go and then encouraged it to go there by creating some diversion channels leading to a larger, yet shallow, cattail swale with grassy over-flow zone.  The cattail swale also receives water coming from our sump-pump year round.  This keeps our bee-hive inhabitants replenished with fresh-water, daily, and the cattails happy.  This system has been running well but still not well enough to keep the water subdued at the wettest times of year.

So, I moved on to the installation of hugelkuturs at strategic points in the waterways.  I am not, yet, completed in this design.  I will complete construction of the hugels in my forest pastures by the end of this year but the impact my exploratory hugels made is impressive!  I have yet to flood this spring despite heavy snow-melt and the heavy Michigan freezing rains (even though everyone around me has!) .  The worst to happen is I've had standing water in my spill-over zones for about 12 hours before percolation.  Slow but that is true progress and healthy ground!

Take your time enjoy, your beautiful space with your children!

 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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As you are studying your land and the physics of water on it, also carefully read the "Homeowner Association's" rules and regs.  They may frown upon any attempt you make to utilize or capture that water on its way to the lake.  Some HOAs are flexible, and some are hard lined.

Water rights laws vary a lot from state to state.  Some make no sense at all (unless you realize that it was probably land barons who wrote them).  Don't tick off the HOA, as they can easily smite the Eden right out of your garden.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Check out Wes Jackson's Land Institute...
May not apply, but that network might connect you to some regionally appropriate thinking.

I think Adunca's question goes beyond species, but has to do with better understanding the nature of the historic ecosystem that your climate and geology naturally supports.  While you can modify you site by tapping into local and household waste, the historic ecosystem provides the template for what happens when you stop doing.  By understanding this tendency, you are better equiped to work with that trajectory.  So branch out and see what you can dredge out the ecosystem restoration community.  Maybe...
http://www.unl.edu/nebnps/NNPSindex.html
or
http://sierranebraska.org/?p=1162
or
http://www.prairielegacyinc.com/about.html
 
                            
Posts: 42
Location: Central Missouri
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Another permie newbie, here.  I'll have to second a few things recommended above:

Planning on paper (or computer) is much easier to change than moving plants you've put in the wrong place. 

And observing the land, plants, climate, etc. for a period of time can give insight; I was too busy working on the house last year to begin working on the land (let's just say the house was a real fixer-upper).  This gave me a year to watch and learn before I began planting, this spring.  I'm glad I waited.  Thanks to PC, I now view "problem" areas as opportunities   
 
                                
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Thanks everyone.  The advice that each of you has provided has been invaluable.  And I must say, it's amazing how much you can learn about a chunk of land if you just walk around on it and look around with an eye for the permaculture principles.

Here is a paragraph from Mollison's "Permaculture in Humid Landscapes" that is driving me toward swales as the first step (there are lots, but this one says it directly):

"Swales greatly decrease the risk of forest fire because they collect a lot of fuel and rot it very quickly. Swales make for a far more moist forest than existed before. It is amazing how few trees you have to remove to run a swale in an existing forest. However, it is a good idea to swale a forest before you plant it as a forest. Some trees can stand in the swales."

I have a clay-based soil and the land slopes, so swales make sense from that standpoint.  I also like the idea of catching compost and moisture naturally in the swale and creating lots of edges on the land as a way of preparing the area for lots and lots of trees.  A few million gallons of water in an "earth tank" below my new forest would be a nice way to start as well.
 
Bucks Brandon
Posts: 44
Location: Bucks County, Pennsylvania [zone 6]
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Greetings.

I'm in a similar position, new-ish to permaculture and in a new [old] home. The biggest thing I think is observing and collecting data about your property. I've been spending LOTS of time reading about permaculture and landscape design. At the same time I'm making a detailed map/ amateur survey of my property on graph paper using an engineers scale. As I'm getting a detailed idea of where everything is on paper, I also take time to use masking tape to [temporarily] attach tracing paper over my "blueprint" and experiment and doodle with different ideas.

Every once in a while I'll run into a block and then suddenly have a blinding flash of obvious with a new idea to create an additional use or function for an area of my property.

After you have a good idea of what you've got, I think the two things you'll want to plan and implement first will be:
-swales
and
-trees

They say the best time to plant a tree is yesterday, that being said - do your planning because nobody wants to move or cut down good trees because of poor placement. I'll second the notion that you should make sure you have a REAL clear idea of what the do's and don't's are in your homeowner assoc.
If I lived under a HOA [which I really hope I never will!] I'd make darn sure that I get involved with it so that you have input on changes and modifications in the future.

Good luck, and keep your powder dry.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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In another vein... I have areas where I wasn't sure what I'd do, so I just pulled and re-planted some Red Alder (our weedy fast growing nitrogen fixing tree).  As I have a plan, I cut them for fuel, Hugelkultur or mushroom logs, and they have left the ground in much better condition.  They don't stump sprout.  Basically a woody cover crop.
 
Bucks Brandon
Posts: 44
Location: Bucks County, Pennsylvania [zone 6]
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Paul Cereghino wrote:
In another vein... I have areas where I wasn't sure what I'd do, so I just pulled and re-planted some Red Alder (our weedy fast growing nitrogen fixing tree).  As I have a plan, I cut them for fuel, Hugelkultur or mushroom logs, and they have left the ground in much better condition.  They don't stump sprout.  Basically a woody cover crop.

now that's a great idea! It's like an advanced infantry of nurse plants!

I also wanted to mention a book that I've found helpful with the landscape design and layout [to an extent]. It's Landscaping your Home, edited by Fine Gardening. I found it at the library, but it's available cheap used on amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1561584711/sr=8-2/qid=1302209708/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1302209708&sr=8-2&seller=

used ones for $4 plus $4 shipping.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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There are lots of good suggestions here already, but I'd like to add two:

Identify as many as possible of the species on/near your property, and read about both that individual species, and relatives that might be introduced into the same niche. A lot of trouble comes from thinking of "weeds" or "pests" in general, rather than encountering specific plants and animals. At the very least, species will be indicators of ecosystem conditions, but quite a few will also be useful in their own right.

Stake out contour lines in places that seem important (Yeomans' Keyline Plan can help identify important parts of the land), perhaps using a plastic hose-based level. Note, and maybe take small measures to arrest, any erosion gullies you find.
 
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