My family owns some land that i want to possibly homestead at some point in the future. At the very least i would like to do some improvements to the place. I'm looking for advice on how to go about it. I'm asking what you would do, what are some options given the condition of the landscape? I would wish to raise a homestead.
I have a few photos to share of the place in Montana (Zone 5) Average rainfall per year: 15.3"
These were taken in August.
It's approximately 167 acres and the main feature is obviously the spring that flows through it and also the patches of sagebrush. Quite suitable for cattle but that is just not my bag. I would like for the land to be developed, looking for advice to go in that direction. What can i do given the climate, is irrigation applicable and would it lower the water table? I would like to dam the spring and create ponds for aquaculture for instance. Can the land be developed and to what degree is what i would like to figure out.
If you can tell me anything at all i would greatly appreciate it!
The pictures are not showing up for me. You can add pictures stored on your computer by using the "Attachment" tab below. Or use the "Img" tab above using "Copy Location". That's all I can offer. If needed I can point you to some threads on "How to".
Those hill sides are perfect for using main line swale. berm and alleys on to hold the water for soaking in.
The stream looks like it would do well with a few connecting ponds via coffer dams for aquaculture too.
First thing to do is list out what all you want the land to provide food wise, then you can start the earthworks for controlling the rains when they fall so you don't have to irrigate any growing garden areas.
Think about what types of food trees you would want too, those go along with the swale, berm, alleyways construction.
If you don't have one, get a copy of Mark Shepard's book Restoration Agriculture, in this book he outlines how to control rain fall water by using the US adapted yeoman's method, which Mark developed on his own farm.
Ditto what Mr. RedHawk has said: the first order of business will be sculpting your land to maximize water capture and retention. The guiding principle is "improve your land in order of greatest permanence." A well-designed swale will still be positively benefiting your land 500 years from now, long after the apple trees have passed away and the barn has outlived its usefulness. Determining your keyline and marking out where your swales will go will determine everything else on the property. Its easy to imagine where you'll site the future house, for instance, or where you might plant a garden and orchard. But earthworks need to take first priority. Once those are established, then roads, buildings, and finally plants and animals will follow.
The first principle of permaculture is observe and interact. To do so, you've got to lace up your walking shoes and get out there on the land as much as possible. Walk the property and make sure you are doing it throughout the year as the seasons change. Get to know it intimately. Dig down and get a sense for the soil around the entire property. What natural features are not evident at first glance? How does the sun move across the land? Wind? Water? What are the unique microclimates? How do animals move across the land? Where are the natural "edges" (as you'll want to maximize the edge effect).
If that were my land, I'd love to see beavers take possession of that creek/spring and do the hard work of water retention for me. Any chance you could either lure or relocate a family of beavers to build water capturing dams for you?
Here are some links about reintroducing beavers in Montana:
1. Begin planting willows, bullrushes, cat tails and other beaver eatables. Establishing the right food sources will be critical to keep beavers on your land once they are introduced. Willows, in particular, are easy to plant (you just jab a fresh willow branch into the muddy ground and it will take off on its own). You could plant hundreds of them along that watercourse and they will quickly established. Other trees common to your area that provide good beaver forage include aspen, birch, aquatic plants, ferns and grasses.
2. Consider building what they call "Beaver Dam Analogs". Google it. They are easy enough to create. These will also serve as a check dam to capture erosion and build up sediment in the creek bottom. Once beaver are re-introduced, they'll quickly take over the work of maintaining these BDA's, turning them into their own dams.
DREAM BIG! Why can't you restore beavers to your land? They probably once existed there and were responsible for much of the landscaping that occurred there over the centuries. If you were able to re-establish beavers, it would raise the water table and transform the entire watershed. It would be amazing.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
The stream bed looks fairly steep. As far as the steepness goes it looks like the area partially hidden from view looks the most promising. Don't forget if you put a dam in to allow for using as a bridge.
You could get this topo mapped on two foot contours. I did it 25 years ago on 40 acres for $2500. I don't know how they price. Would 4 times the area be 4 times as much? With inflation that could be expensive? But then you could take a copy on paper and trace out a two foot contour line around the entire line. Or photoshop a file?? That would be your pond site. You could also do that very roughly on a Coast and Geodetic topographic map but with out the detail. When I did it they gave me a 5 inch floppy and I never looked at it, they also gave it to my surveyor who overlapped his work onto it. On mine you could see the tops of telephone poles which I think the surveyor used to match up on paper and in the field. But if you mark certain areas say with one foot square of plywood painted white you could see your house and/or barn site for instance. Or corner pins.
I ain't putting beavers in there jesus christ. The soil is probably rocky clay, rich in iron oxide but low nitrogen content and The hills already naturally contour its hard to imagine where to put down earthworks like berms and swales or what benefit they may contribute in terms of water retention it is basically a spring at the intersection of moderately steep hills in the plains. I will be taking some more photos in a couple of weeks i really think there is potential.
I think the gravel road running through the property works as a sort of swale and the sage brush growing down slope is indicative of the type of plants that could survive your minimal annual rainfall. 12.5" average is not much. I live in northern colorado and the sage brush landscapes are very similar throughout Colorado and Wyoming, with shrubs/trees growing only in the hillside valleys like your property. Maybe you could use that to your advantage?
Also, aside from the water draining into those valleys, snow also collects in drifts in the valleys and melts slower/stays longer. Tree shade can hold the snow longer. You might see if there are some evergreens that survive in your dry climate to hold more snow in the valley later into the spring. There is probably a Montana University Extension that could help you out.
Also, not sure about Montana water rules, but in Colorado, installing or modifying surface drainage and stream beds to retain water might be illegal since it messes with downstream water supplies and water rights. One thing to check is if the source of the water on your property is part of a mapped stream. If it is, it may be part of the US Army Corp. of Engineers "waterways of the United States" which would be a major headache. This stuff gets complicated quickly.
Also, it is hard to orient the picture to the map. I assume the map has north ttoward the top of the screen. Which direction are you looking at in the picture?
Doody calls. I would really rather that it didn't. Comfort me wise and sterile tiny ad: