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Brand new and would love some help

Posts: 14
Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho
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I always wanted to be self sufficient.  I grew up around some Agriculture and have a long history of being a redneck.  We bought 10 acres and then about 2 weeks ago learned about permaculture.  My wife and I are so excited about permaculture.  So here are the details.

We have 10 acres of Idaho farm ground.  It has been farmed for at least 80 years in a traditional fashion.  It has grown mainly alfalfa, wheat and potatoes at different times.  The land is completely flat and I mean flat.  It is a rectangle shape with the long axis running east/west.  Our house sits right in the middle of the field.  We are in the process of building our house.  There is a 60 by 30 shop we just finished right next to the house.  We have a neighbor who is farming about 6 acres this year in wheat using normal farming methods.  We have the house sitting on about an acre and then I just planted the remaining 3 acres in pasture.  There is nothing else done or on the land.  The house has an attached 10 by 20 greenhouse that we will use to provide some of the heat for the house.  We have about 10 chickens right now and 2 bee hives. 

Here are the questions I would love some help with:

1    The soil is probably in super bad shape at this point from how it has been used.  I did a soil sample this time last year and it has a PH of 7.8.  If you need any other numbers off of that I can provide them.  I don't have a lot of time at this point, evenings and weekends.  What do i need to do to get the soil rich in humis, microbes etc as fast as possible?  A cover crop then till it in ect.  I don't know where to start and it seems pretty daunting. 

2    We haven't decided if we want to use geo-thermal for our house yet.  If we did we could include a pond in the system.  That would be the only water on the property as we don't have any live water.  How big of a benefit would the pond provide to our system, is it worth the cost.

3  I bought some books on permaculture and am working my way through them.  What else do I need to be doing at this point in time to avoid costly mistakes and time delays in getting things set up right?

4  There are no trees at all on this property.  I know that trees are critical to a healthy system.  Is planting an orchard enough, or do I need to dedicate 1/2 acre or something to a woodlot?
Posts: 2482
Location: FL
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Tabula Rasa (blank slate)
You have your work cut out for you.

I moved to this place a year ago: just under 4 acres of pasture, an antiquated trailer, garage, livestock shelter, fences, a few fruit trees, a bit of woods on the west side.  It has been used by a couple with a horse for the last 20 years, kept mowed, treated once with chicken litter a couple years ago. All surrounding property is trees and wildlife, across the street is 75 acres of planted pines.

Its been a busy year at work, keeping me away from the place long enough to make getting things in place difficult, but I keep trying.  The first order of business is keeping the pasture under control, lest it grow into a wild mess.  A lowline Black Angus bull was the solution that fell into my lap.  He's a fine beast although somewhat diminutive, but he mows and fertilizes the entire place, including the front yard when I'm not looking.  I don't have to spend my day off pouring gas into a machine, I get free manure every day (its a minefield out there), I can get him a girlfriend to make more organic mowers, and fill the freezer when I'm done with him.

Chickens were the next part of the puzzle to go into place.  I've kept chickens for several years now, won't be without them.  Their job is to keep the bug population down, act as a line of defense against snakes, and spend the day worrying.  They offer all the eggs I can stand, but are too young to become broody.  I picked up an incubator a couple of months ago.  This has given me some success in increasing my flock.  Another year and I should be self-sufficient in the chicken meat and egg department.

Soil fertility is a problem.  I'm working with a quarzipsamment entisol soil-bottomless sugar sand, combined with a subtropical climate-zone 8b/9a.  It is almost impossible to maintain nutrients.  Organic matter breaks down rapidly and washes away deep into the soil.  The weather has been dry, with D2 drought conditions since I moved in.  The best solution I've come across looks to be hugulkulture and massive amounts of compost.  While these projects are started, I have a big job in front of me.  The inputs I need are free, abundant, and close by, but will take much effort.  Anything worthwhile will take much effort, so I'm not complaining.

Water is a top priority.  I have a single well with clean, clear water.  The soil has the advantage of serving as an excellent filter for ground water.  Still, the pressure is low, and I have an electric bill with each drop.  It is my intention to add gutters and rainwater collection, as well as solar PV to operate the pump

Trees stand along the west side of the back field, and another cluster in the front.  This gives me ample leaf matter to work with, far more than I've been able to gather.  They also provide some branches for the hugulkulture project.  There is so much wood around this area that planting more is not needed, except for fruit trees.  I've added 3 apple trees but 1 failed.  The place already had 3 japanese plums and a lime tree, so its a start.  More will come in time.

Perennial plants are high on the list of projects: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries have gone into the hugulkulture bed, but I need more fence to keep the hens out.  They have laid the area waste.  Rosemary is doing just fine, as are the wild blackberries and grapes. 

Legumes have been planted to start development of the raised beds.  Even with the drought I've been able to at least maintain my seed volume.  With each season I get seed better adapted to this environment.  Conditioning this soil will be an endless endeavor, so the right seed will be needed.  The best way to get seed suited to my methods and climate is to save my own.

That's where I am so far.  Not as much progress as I'd like, but its a start. 

Posts: 2134
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danmcph  You are meant to plant lots of different types of tree in permaculture, it is meant to be a forest type garden, that is goodbye to your pretty, traditional, orchard. A forest garden should have tall trees and medium sized trees in it it should have seven layers of bushes climbers herbaceouse plants and root vegetables.. If you dont live in a desert and need sun for vegetables the excuse for having treeless spaces on your land is that in a wood there are some clearings.
geof lawton says all problems can be solved in a garden and gardeners plant groups of trees of different types. Maybe the smel l of  apine tree wouldl stop insect finding your applple tree and you can think forage for animals and wood to sell valuable wood and wood for logs for you fire. aslo oaks and chestut provide a lot of feed for animals. juniper berries also feed animals domestica and otherwise.
     You are meant to plant a lot of fabeaceas, i have to look up the spelling of that or leguminouse trees, like mimosa or  locust trees or the judas tree that is pretty or ceanothus  tha tis not a fabeacea or lumuminous tree but does fix nitrogen unless my memory fails me. I  have lots of clover but i have planted some of these trees last year just to be extra bill mollison-ey and to see how it works out. It is true that if you do it as well as reading about it you find out more about whatever so i thought well here goes some nitrogen fixing trees for my garden.
     It looks as if sepp holzer even has some of the pines of fir trees he hates, you never know what importance a tree of one type or another might not have for the whole plan.
     Trees put up stores of biomass underground with their roots. That means carbon fixed in ther f¡roots for some time instead of floating around a sa gass.
        Top storey trees shade your lower storey trees. If the top storey trees  are decidouse then they give them shade in the hot summer mounths  and not in winter. agri rose macaskie.
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Idaho can vary from rocky mountain forest to valley bottom to sagebrush!  Which are you?!

1. You might consider cultivating a pasture heavy in nitrogen fixers rather than cover and tillage... the tillage does not particularly increase soil regeneration.  The bees would be happier.

2. A pond should be part of a big picture view of your water system.  Where is water coming from, where is it going.  Is a pond the appropriate tool?

3. Find other weird farmers in your neighborhood and learn what they do and what they grow.  Book learning is useful for expanding your field of theory, but does not replace local knowledge.

4. I thing vegetation structure is driven by design, not the other way around.  In my mind a lot depends on what kind of Idaho you live in (Great basin or rocky mountains) and what the antural endencies of the land are.
I find though that trees are valuable in a variety of ways.
Posts: 106
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Dan, if you haven't already done this, pick yourself up a copy of One Straw Revolution.  The climate it discusses is totally different, but the philosophy is the same from zone to zone.  The author (Masanobu Fukuoka) inherited some traditionally farmed land in bad shape, and worked miracles with it.  You could probably learn a lot from him, as I have, and many others on this site.
Dan Mcpherrow
Posts: 14
Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho
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I live in SE Idaho in the Potato belt.  It is FLAT.  I imagine at some point 80-100 years ago it was sagebrush. 

There is no live water on it.  The rain goes straight into the ground so no run off.  We are deciding if we want to do geo-thermal on the house.  If we did then we could have the system empty into a pond instead of into an injection well or a underground series of loops.  This is what would fill our pond.

You showed up just in time for the waffles! And this tiny ad:
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