Hi! I've been reading the site for a couple of weeks and love the amount of knowledge that can be found here and I'm hoping to tap into it.
Through marriage I will be living on a 150ish acre farm that has been severely neglected over the last several years. About half of it is wooded and was logged a couple of years ago and the loggers left downed trees everywhere. The fields are insanely overgrown. There are three ponds, two of which are drying up. We have steady rain year round (3-5 in a month) and the soil is mostly red clay.
I'm wanting to turn this place around, but don't know where to start. I would love to have a garden as well as nut and fruit tree's and some animals (beside the coyotes...). We don't have a large income. Where would you start?
We (permies) get this question a lot - in the beginning it can all be a bit overwhelming that's for sure.
You should begin with learning - spend time watching youtube videos on swales, permaculture, intensive grazing, Farm for the Future, zero energy building, etc. one link should lead to 10 more. Search the forms here for free on-line materials such as ebooks, books, free books, lists, guilds, resources, etc. and read read read....
Soon, certain things will begin to really jive with your heart. All will be fascinating, but some information/instruction will stand out to you more than others (pop). You then 'start' with where you are the most inspired to affect a change, and branch out from there. I believe you need to start with what's 'right' for you.
So welcome to the journey and remember there are no beginnings to small.
BTW: for me I started by adding animals and eliminating all chemicals - that was my inspiration.
Study the lay of the land through the seasons, as that will teach you where water pools or runs off, where the sun shines - even in winter. I often recommend planting fruit/nut trees early on, as they will take several years to yield, but they can be expensive to buy, and you do not want to plant them in the wrong place.
A kitchen garden should be only steps away from the door. It will keep you in food while the trees are maturing. Learn to dehydrate and/or can surplus, and you will be eating well, and saving money all year long.
With that much acreage, you should get a good concept for the "zone" principles. Start at zones 0 & 1 (the house and immediate surrounding areas). These zones are where you will be every day, and they should provide the bulk of your foods...seasonal veggies, fruits, eggs, etc. Once these zones are off to a good start, start expanding outward to zones 2, 3 and 4. Zone 5 should be left pretty much as-is. This is where you learn the land, its flora and fauna. It is a good place to just wander around on "days off".
Odd as it sounds, the old "hurry up and wait" does seem most sensible. It takes time to get to know your land through all the seasons. Going slowly and learning what is most needed will be much more helpful to you than to make quick changes you might regret and want to re-do later.
I'm very happy for you, though! It does sound like you have a wonderful opportunity for a lot of good you can do. May I ask what are your main goals in homesteading? Some people just want a nice place to live with nature, or just feed themselves, but others really need their land to be their income and have particular ways they want to do that. What are your needs on this property?
Specifically, though, downed trees says "hugelculture" to me! That's probably where I'd start, because that's what the land seems to be offering you immediately.
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
Nobody wants to wait...it isn't human nature. Obviously you cannot do it all in one season, so start small. An herb bed, and annual veggie plot next to the house will give you food, and a good start on things you will use each and every year. While you are studying the land, and trying to make choices, start a crop of cover crops. Most of your acreage will not be developed until next spring anyway. Depending on where you live, you have time to get in 1-3 quick crops (buckwheat) before a late summer planting of a winter-over cover crop (I suggest a combo of a winter grain/grass with a legume to add cheap nitrogen). These will provide you with 5-10 tons/acre of organic material for your soil next spring. You cannot grow healthy plants on sick soil, and that amount of organic material will improve any soil.
Aside from what has been mentioned I would like to add some advice. 150 acres is a big area to start with but regardless of property size my recomendation is the same. What I recomend is make an overall list of what you would like to acomplish. This gets in your mind and on paper what the goal is. At this point deciding what to raise (plant or animal) is more importiant than where to put them. Once you get a picture of what you want then start breaking it down into sub tasks which corrospond with breaking it into sections of property. For example if you want goats and to raise crops you will need to fence the goats in. Then you need to decide where you want the goats creating a goat section if you will. And then you need to list what needs to be done in that section before you can put goats in it. Of course this is one of many things you will be doing but it breaks things down into a simple tasks to work with rather than looking at a large somewhat overwhelming property thinking I will never get it all done (BTW nothing cures the dreaded feeling of being overwhelmed but having a plan tends to keep it from happening too often). Once you get everything broken down into sections and know what needs to be done you can start doing it. There are lots of ways to approach this. Personally I don't have a lot of money to pour into projects and thankfully it is not needed for the most part. I also am not as young or spry as I once was so I have taken a different more laid back approach. I have found that looking at my property and projects as something that if it gets done now would be nice or if it gets done a couple years down the road it would still be nice as my property is mine for the rest of my life and there is no need to rush works best for me. What this means is I can take my time to do things and aqquire materials as I can either afford or scrounge them. It also means that I don't have to be worried about what is going on with the rest of my property aside from ongoing maintainence of the areas I have finished because eventually I will get there. It is this mindset that will carry you through the years it will take spending time not money to get it all done. Keep in mind the fast way is spending money the slow way is spending time instead and as long as you are doing something from the list things will be done before you realize it and you can then enjoy the fruits of your labor.
start with any perennial food crops like fruit and nut trees, bushes, vines, etc.. as they will be your food and your supplemental income.
get in an area for some annual vegetables and reseeding vegetable..and then you can worry about the rest of the property (if you have your shelter)
your ponds may be drying up because of poor management, find out why they are going dry, maybe they have filled up with silt or cattails or something, or if they aren't natural ponds maybe they have a leak..if you have clay they should be natural ponds...you might have to run some pigs in there to seal them ..and then they should be fine..if they aren't deep they will dry out from evaporation, so dig them at least 3 to 4 feet deep minimum and deeper if you can..a 3' pond will dry out in late summer.
as far as the woods, that will be something you'll have to do a little at a time, as you can't be expected to clear all the mess up at once..myself I had a similar situatin, so I'm trying to pick my way through the clearest spots and put in some trails, so I can get to the more congjested spots later on..i picked up and moved the lightest trees that I could move and cut the smaller ones up with chainsaw and moved them to pick my way through a tril, and tossed the wood off to the side..later going back in and picking up the wood to use in hugel beds, for firewood, kindling, or whatever..or just leaving it along side in the woodsy edges to rot.
you can see a little of what i've done on my blog below
Bloom where you are planted.
Everybody has good ideas, but sometimes they just add to the sense of overwhelm.
I second the recommendation to"
Settle in and wait. Get a feel for where the light, water, wind, and hungry deer come from. If you want to build some long-term benefit, you might set up a 'nursery' to grow some small (cheap) cuttings or starts of perrenials where you can care for them, before planting them in permanent locations once you've observed the best locations. You can also start building up resources like compost, wood chip, palettes, fencing, etc. without paying an arm and a leg to do them all at once. Craigslist and posting notes on local bulletins (like in the feed store, ceramics supply, etc) will get you a lot of things free for the hauling.
Survey for what is already there. When I moved into my grandma's house, I used the chart in the back of 'Gaia's Garden' because it was appropriate to my location in Oregon, to determine what soil-building functions were already there (all of them!) Then I could relax and start adding what made a difference to _me_ instead of feeling like something was missing and it should look different. You also want to consider your own needs - food, water, shelter, fire, future. If there is something missing, or a big problem, you may find it this way and catch it in time.
Start small and close to home. A few successful projects will get you a lot further than big unfinished ones, and what you learn will apply to the next project. Branch outward as time and interest call you to do so. If you take on too big an area all at once, you will just disturb the ground and invite weeds to take over while you struggle, with disappointing results. Natural succession will usually replace the initial weeds with a balanced ecology. It may not be your favorite plants, but you can keep an eye on it and intervene only if a known problem invasive is trying to take over. If you have good native groundcovers in place, like strawberries or ginger, you can let things go while you focus your energy on the most exciting project first.
That said, here's a priority suggestion based on what I've wished I'd done in past years: 1) Food garden (because it's planting time right now) 2) Winter wood supply (or whatever your heating-fire eats) 3) Shelter (for you, your tools, and your wood supply - fix any roofs this summer while it's not raining) 4) Clean water on site (Fixing up the ponds, a spring, or rainwater collection - this will save you money and secure part of your future, and it's higher priority if you don't already have potable water on tap.) 5) Build soil. Start near the house, collect biomass, experiment with biochar, etc.
What a great situation to be in! Like Brenda says, you can convert some of those downed logs to firewood, building timber, fenceposts, or huglecultur, depending on what kind of wood they are. Nothing wrong with leaving logs and 'slash' (branches etc) in place, it helps the soil more than burning it would. And keeps noxious weeds suppressed while you help perrenial / native / food plants re-establish in the logged-off areas. Blueberries and huckleberries love burned-out clearings if you're in the Pacific NW. Fruit trees in those clearings can be good too. Be sure to control any burns and establish good fire lanes so they can't spread to your house or neighbors.
Have fun, and don't forget to take some 'before' pictures so you can show off what you've accomplished!
my advice is always the same with a question like this: Get on the land and start living there, plant the food crops you want, and slowly develop the place into what you want. Fill the security needs of food and a place to live, then use the appropriate techniques to improve the rest of the land. By appropriate I mean what will work for your area.
If the land was farmed in the "normal" way (monocropping, etc.) then all that overgrowth is nature trying to fix the damage done by normal farming practices. One thing that you might consider is to help those areas along by planting nitrogen fixing plants (clovers, etc.) and just let them grow while you slowly improve the place. Start in a small area and expand outward, maybe, try not to get overwhelmed by taking on the whole place at once.
I wonder if your ponds are drying up or filling up with soil? It is hard to say without seeing what is happening but a close look would tell you.
I agree with the others about observing first, but most people want to dive in somewhere, so working a small area gets you started, then while doing that you are able to observe what is happening with the rest of the area and can come up with a plan for that.
Good luck with your project, it sounds like fun.
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