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Replacing topsoil new permaculture farm  RSS feed

 
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I’m wanting to buy 100 acres of land and I’m very interested in permaculture principals ive been reading about it constantly for over a year now but never seem to read enough!

I’d just like to start a discussion and hopefully get some of your opinions so that I can get some ideas to point me in the right direction for my goals.

Most land around here that I can get is clay soil. Topsoil usually completely washed away. When I’ve went to see some of this land it’s clear it’s been intensively farmed for wheat for years. On dry days the floor looks like it has massive cracks in it going down a good foot or so. Can only assume that’s due to being mainly solid clay.

My goal is to build large Swales on the contours leading to larger ponds/lakes which I will use to grow out different species of fish.

Bordering all the Swales and elsewhere I’d like to have a vast food forest with several different guilds covering multiple different crops.

Through all my reading I’m struggling to find ways to build topsoil without importing a heck of a lot of compost or mulch. This would be 100 acres I’m not afraid to invest a lot of money into my dream but 30,000 pounds on compost seems to me against permaculture principals and possibly a complete waste of money.

The soil is nearly depleted all of nutrients due to chemical fertilisers being used constantly for 10 years (I assume this, maybe I’m wrong, can clay soil still contain nutrients in this situation?)

So far my plan would be first of all to get the Earth works done, dig the Swales and ponds I want.

After that I was thinking I could possibly let the land go wild for a year? Let the weeds grow then chop and drop for mulch hoping to bring some nutrients up from deeper down

Or
Just start by planting my trees import enough compost to fill planting holes add my cover crops and import compost and mulch as I go?

Maybe there are better ways I know I have a lot more to learn on this subject and I plan to keep reading and learning.

Another unrelated question if you can help is that the land is usually contaminated with reminants of pesticides and herbicides is there ways to naturally break these down?

 
Posts: 151
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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To understate it - that's one hell of an undertaking! If you're set on rehabilitation, then more power to you.

Topsoil cannot be replaced once it's gone, though it can be recreated over a long time. The one good thing in your favour is the clay - it's naturally full of minerals,  has good water holding capacity, and can be transformed to a rich loam with work.

Frankly, because of the size and poor existing condition, I'd use earthmoving equipment to get the ball rolling and to ensure progress continues. Build all the Swales and plant out with deep rooted sacrificial plants that'll hold the soil together and get water down and nutrients up; also build the ponds, and, till the flatter areas and plant lucerne or a similar crop = deep rooted, nitrogen fixing, money crop. It can be slashed for sale, animal feed, or dropped as a mulch, but, leave the stubble so it holds everything together including moisture.

Some pesticides and fungicides can hang around for a long time. Some breakdown by UV and microbial activity, some break down to other chemicals that can be less or more harmful.

A comprehensive soil test should tell you what's there, including contaminates. Being bare clay, you may be lucky and they've washed off elsewhere.

The ponds will take a fair bit of work and time to make them viable for fish.

Avoid planting trees in clay, most will either be stunted or simply die. Though hugel trenches could be dug along the Swales to hasten things.

Gypsum may also help break up the clay.

It'll be a slow process needing a lot of work. You might consider drawing up a plan and Schedule of Works - that'll allow you to keep track of things, timeframes and costs.

Good luck with it.
 
james buttler
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Thanks for your reply.

Would you say that my idea of digging the lakes and Swales first and then possibly sowing asparagus seeds across the land possibly including in the dry ponds to begin with let them grow for a season ( I read that they have extremely deep roots. The roots will be left in the ground break up the clay. Then I’ll get possibly some smaller pig species let them clean up the asparagus and use them to seal up the ponds.

I can move the pigs from pond to pond to allow the asparagus to grow back chop and drop some in rotation.
(I’ll still need a massive amount of imported organic matter for this wouldn’t i?)


When you say about not planting the trees would you say I’d need to wait a couple of years until the top soil has been replenished before planting them?

I thought trees would possibly be the best dynamic accumulators by having extremely deep roots and then dropping lots of leaves.

I am working on a plan but trying to work out the best general way of going about it first.

Any method that doesn’t involve importing 100,000m3 of compost would be ideal but I don’t see how I can create nutrients out of nothing - possibly the only way to do it is to invest in large importing of organic matter?

 
james buttler
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Instead of asparagus you recommend alfalfa that could work for me just the same.

How many seasons of alfalfa chop and drop do you think I should do first and my main concern is planting the seed without other weeds taking over. The conventional approach here with all the chemicals that’s been used is to kill with herbicide which I don’t want to use.

Planting seeds between mulch on 100 acres would be extremely difficult.
 
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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My series of soil threads should give you all the methods you need to build what soil you have into good topsoil.
Alfalfa is one of the best soil building cover crops you can use.
Alfalfa can put roots down 4-8 feet in one growing season, is a prime nitrogen provider, potassium and phosphorus too, as well as other trace minerals that it brings up through those deep roots.
Chopping and letting it rot down will help build the soil microbiology and provide humus creating material all at the same time.

Save the asparagus for once you have built up the soil enough to not loose such a valuable crop plant.

Definitely do the earth works first, this will control the water and you can set up your alleys to accommodate any machinery you have or plan to have in the future.

Redhawk
 
james buttler
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Ok do Earth works - plant alfalfa should I spread alfalfa everywhere even in the ponds that have been dug?

I’m going to read your soil threads tonight when I get in thanks I appreciate all the valuable knowledge you guys bring.

I assume alfalfa grows back next season if I chop and drop?

How many seasons do you recommend I do this for before planting trees?
 
pollinator
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If you are building a pond, this is a must watch. If you pay attention you'll see how a pond should work . It"s a generous video from paul because its straight from his paid permaculture design course. The brilliance is he is catching underground seepage, not just surface runoff. Only the dam is "sealed". This method retains water uphill and around the sides of the pond, creating a green belt.

In your case, with all the clay, not sure why pigs are needed. Past that, the vid may convince you that you dont want it sealed. The method doesnt work in all areas, but since you have clay it should for you.


Watch "Zach Weiss presentation: elemental ecology" on YouTube
 
Posts: 94
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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Your first objective is to "Plant the water". Refer to Brad Lancaster's great references on harvesting rainwater. Using swales to slow, spread, and sink the water is one way to do that. Hugelkulture is another tool available to you. Numerous smaller ponds may be better than fewer large ones. Your clay soil can be a great building material for making cob and adobe structures. See Wayne Fajkus's comment on pond design.

The scale of the project can be daunting, but it is possible to do, especially if you plan it in stages. Work from the highest elevation to the lowest to harvest the rainwater, using the existing contours as much as possible. Avoid scraping everything flat. A "lumpy" landform creates many micro-landforms and ponds that can serve as anchors your eventual food forest installations.

Be "artistic" and use lots of curves instead of industrial-like straight lines. Just sit and view the land as often as possible while the work progresses so you can observe the effects of your changes and nip any mistakes in the bud. Always think, "What does nature want to do here?". If you try to force something against the physics of nature, you will lose.

As you establish the earthwork, and as you've observed how it is working, plant everything with deep-rooted cover crops, that will break up the clay soil. At first, you may only establish food crops in limited, high-intensity areas. Consider using livestock mobbing and electric fences to build up the topsoil as your cover crops build up the soil. There are several posts with YouTube videos about this on permies.com.

You may need to import some supplemental materials (gypsum, compost, etc) but use them only where time is crucial, such as where you need to establish slow-growing canopy species, or to start production of perennial food crops (e.g., fruit trees, grape vines, and wildlife habitats, etc).

Think in terms of establishing a plan for the succession of plants and land use that mimics nature. You may find that there will be a succession of different plants from which to extract yields as your project matures. Coppicing and green manure plants, and plants that can be chopped and dropped on the ground can grow your own compost after only a short time.

You could plan your plant guilds and food forests in select areas and then work on the edges to expand out to fill the property over time.

The first objective for "planting the water" is to stop further loss of topsoil and to begin the process of restoration. Time is your friend. You can not do it all at once. Think in terms of what yields you can develop at each stage, and diversify your techniques to avoid the trap of "a monoculture of structures".

Keep asking questions, and keep returning to your 3 ethics and 12 processes of Permaculture Design as your work progresses. If one technique isn't working, try another technique. Remember your "zones" and "vectors".

May you experience good fortune in all of your endeavors.

 
james buttler
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Just finished watching that video on digging ponds and to be honest maybe it’s because I simply don’t have enough base knowledge yet but I found it extremely difficult to follow and pictures jumping from one piece to the next just didn’t explain it for me. Time lapse beginning to end maybe a map showing where things were other than just a picture but I couldn’t visualise where things were located and lost track.

One piece of land I really like is a very shallow slope drops about 1m for every 100m the contour lines are practically straight.

I have a design idea in mind with lots of interconnecting lakes.

I want more lakes than actually required for water storage  as I want to raise a lot of fish - I really like Fish

I do want to make sure water is stored rather than allow it to leak so that the water level is always near full for the fish - if i restore enough organic matter in the top soil hopefully that should provide enough water storage for the crops right?

I have a general idea of what I want it’s getting my heard around the best order to do things.

I plan to dig all Earth works first and get water storage started is it a good idea to plant alfalfa in the dug pond when it’s dry and chop and drop to get some organic matter on the bottom of the pond or is that not needed?

Can someone correct me if I’m wrong but what I’ve got so far in terms of a plan -

Dig the Earth works
Rotovate all the land that is to be planted
Sow alfalfa seed on all rotovated land
Chop and drop at end of season
In winter dig large holes (0.5m3?) where I want my trees
Import compost and plant the trees in with it
Second season alfalfa grows again chop and drop at end
Third season start replacing the alfalfa with the plants I want in each individual guild.

How’s that looking?

Really appreciate any input you guys give me. I’m off to read all the forum posts on building soil now
 
wayne fajkus
pollinator
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Let me explain the pond as it was brilliant when i saw the video. A typical pond, you dig a hole and form a dam. With enough clay that pond is sealed. Water  that goes in stays there til evaporation, or animals drink it.

His method digs a trench where the dam will be. He trenches down til he finds the underground seepage. This is an area where the clay is ruffly 40%. The rain infiltrates until it hits this layer, then travels down the slope along this layer. He trenches til he finds this layer,  then fills this trench with clay.

By doing this, he catches all the seepage. This seepage can last for weeks after a rain event, whereas the surface runoff only lasts for hours after a rain. If your dam doesnt get down to this layer, the seepage is going under your pond and dam. Its not being captured.  Only surface runoff is filling it. It will lose volume faster.

I misstated when i say he only seals the dam. The pond bottom is sealed  by that clay layer. It may be several feet below the pond, but its there. He didnt make it that way, he just made sure the dam went below ground enough to reach it.

So he didnt just build a pond, he dammed up all the underground seepage thats flowing underground. Stuff you dont see. Once you do this, though, You WILL start seeing it. Not as water, but as a lush green area way before the pond, out past the edges of the pond, around the edges of the dam, and downhill from the dam. Unlike my pond, which only catches surface runoff. Theres brown grass 3 ft from the edge. Its no different than having a bucket of water in the middle of the field. Both are holding water, but what did i really gain?
 
Mark Kissinger
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I strongly recommend that you take a look at the YouTube videos brought up by these search words: "Brad Lancaster Harvesting Rainwater"

When you say dig, be very careful to understand how swales work to spread, slow, and sink rainwater into your soil. The high clay content will cause water to collect and take longer for it to soak into the soil where it becomes available for vegetation. In areas where you want to plant things, consider using hugelkulture to create underground "organic sponges" to absorb the water.

In your case, you will need to develop the idea of a water-based food forest with a balance of aquatic lifeforms that will keep your ponds from becoming stagnant pools of algae. Look into the ideas of "swimming ponds" for their use of biological approaches to filtering the water of excess nitrates.

Here's a commercial site for starters: https://odu-green-roof.com/swimming-ponds/

This site has some more passive designs that might be more useful to meet your needs: https://insteading.com/blog/natural-pools-swimming-ponds/

This site came from a search on the terms, "building a Fish Pond", which may be more to your specific needs: https://insteading.com/blog/natural-pools-swimming-ponds/

The following sites are about the potential of using livestock to build up the soil:

Raincrow Film LLC Occam's Grazer: An In-depth Introduction to Holistic Management

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtQBoMoqc9U


Greg Judy VABF 2011 USING ANIMALS TO HEAL THE LAND

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4522&v=W6HGKSvjk5Q


Ian Mitchell-Innes Interview on Holistic Management Planned Grazing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3r2cqNfkKs


My point is that you should do some calculations for each water-control structure that you intend to "dig". Calculate the square footage of each "watershed" and multiply by the amount of rain that you can expect from any one storm. Make sure to keep track of your units to avoid over or underestimating the volume of water that can be produced by any rain event. Digging may be too strong of a word for water management using swales. The square foot measurement of an area can hold many gallons of water with only a few inches of depth depending on how much slope your land has.
Always plan for how and where the water will go when (not if) your swales fill with water. The whole point of swales is to allow rainwater to soak into the ground, where it will become available for vegetation. Make sure that any ponds that you build are not too small for the potential rainfall that they will be collected, and that you must control any overfows that will occur.

Since the fish ponds seem to be a primary goal, spend a lot of planning time to think through the water cycle that you are creating. Ponds change with the seasons. Plan on introducing a variety of water-based vegetation, like cat tails and water lillies to filter the runoff from the drainage that fills your ponds. You probably do not want a bunch of rotting vegetation in your fish ponds. You are creating an ecosystem of aquatic plants and animals, not a fish farm.


You do not mention where your land is located, and what sort of slopes you are dealing with.These are very importand design elements to consider.

Using a system of paddocks to manage a suitable mix of livestock (cows, pigs, goats, sheep, llamas, horses, and even chickens can all be considered as cattle, aka livestock) can greatly enhance the establishment of the vegetation to control erosion and runoff. The electric fences keep your herd moving and also keep the livestock from getting into your ponds while still being able to have access to the water of the pond.

The method of pasture management is based of the principle that you are using the cattle to mow the perennial grasses of the paddocks, and to manage the lifecycle of the diversity of plants that grow in the paddock. After a while, the seeds of native plants and grasses will find your pasture and self-propagate. A mixture of prairie grasses will not need to be roto-tilled or re-seeded: the animals' hoofs do all of that as they harvest and traample the plants. You never let the cattle overgraze any paddock. Compared with more traditional grazing methods, you may be accused of undergrazing, but remember, one of your primary goals is to build topsoil, which is why you let the herd trample the uneaten forage. This serves two purposes: it shades the bare ground and it leaves much more organic material, which is what ends up as new topsoil.

The basic idea is that you only let the cattle graze in a paddock at the proper time in the lifecycle of the grass, and then you keep the cattle away from that paddock as it recovers. You control the number of animals and the timing of the grazing animals' access to each the paddocks. Depending on the severity of the winter at your location, the raising of cattle is a year-round process.

One thing about a natural pasture is that there ARE no weeds. The animals will eat almost any vegetation, especially if you include goats in your mix of fauna. Over time, the best-adapted native grasses will take over and strangle out the less-desirable species. The only restriction is some animals should not be allowed to eat certain plants. Consult a veterinarian about any potentially dangerous plants for whichever livestock animals you may choose to use.

If you have enough difference in elevation and access to wind and solar power, you could also use pumped water energy storage to supply the energy to have artificially maintained running streams. (The principle of stacking functions). This may be a level of complexity that you may not want to deal with.

If you must dig holes to plant your trees, be sure to allow a means for sub-surface water to drain away from the "pothole", or you risk drowning the tree when the clay prevents the proper sub-soil drainage. Consult further with Bryant RedHawk for better advice on the care planting of trees in clayey soils.

Asparagus is usually propagated by planting root "plugs" on top of a bed of compost buried about a foot below the surface, covered over with topsoil. It usually takes about three years for a root mass to start producing the edible shoots. I have only done this once, and I had to move away from the garden where I planted them, so I didn't get to see how they did. I've never tried to directly plant the seeds.



Good luck with whatever you decide to do.


 
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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1. Dig alots of shallower swales.
2. Select a few of those swales to become your pond
3. Seed the 100acres with 90% nitrogen fixers, don't be afraid to do 25lbs to 50lbs per acres.
4. Import as much waste stream carbon as possible, straw/corn stalk/woodchip/logs/biochar/straw filled manure.
5. Grow as much carbon, then chop and drop
6. Innoculate the soil/carbon with oyster mushroom, winecap mushroom and then with any other wild mushroom that you find.
7. After all that is done, around your house-site, plant out an acre of fruit trees (180trees at 15ft centers), If you have the resources do 2acres.
8. Establish you annual vegetable beds+herbs+bee hive
9. Plant out the rest of your acreage
10. If desired build a 4 season greenhouse(vegetable/wormfarm/aquaponic/mushroom tower/etc)
 
james buttler
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Wayne if I understand you correctly

When rainwater hits the ground it starts to soak into the soil.

It will trickle down until a certain depth and then will collect and pool along a contour at that level?

If I dig down deep enough to find it, and then fill it with clay wouldn’t that just force the water to pool before the clay I’ve just put in instead of at the bottom of the pond?

Am I understanding that correctly I must be wrong somewhere as that doesn’t sound beneficial?

Mark interestingly I have a 30,000 litre pond in my home garden at the moment and it’s built exactly the way that diagram on that webpage shows a natural swimming pool. I just never considered it special I designed it as a bog and the water filters through a massive gravel bog and overflows into a waterfall. In the top of the gravel bog I have a huge selection of pond plants. Several trout live in that pond currently.

I don’t think I’ll have many problems with the actual ecosystem design of the ponds but I am very interested in understanding what Wayne means exactly about the under ground seepage.

If I could somehow capture all the underground seepage aswell as the run off that would be great as I am in north east England we aren’t extremely dry but we don’t get an extreme amount of rain. This summer has been the worst at one point we went 30 days without rain. It has been the worst in 50 years though.

 
james buttler
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S bengi
Thanks for your input I never even considered the mushroom inoculation I’ll add that to my list of things to read up on.

Are you saying 25lb to 50lb of seed per acre? I was pricing up alfalfa seed earlier today and the supplier said 10kg - 22lb per acre. Is more seed better?

Do you think importing the carbon is absolutely neccisary? Could it be done without importing it? I could potentially get horse manure for free constantly going around collecting from free sources slowly over a a couple of years paying for such a large amount if it can be avoided would be ideal however I have no problem going out every single day scooping free manure into the back of my truck if it speeds things up.

 
Mark Kissinger
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Water flows downhill, whether or not it is on the surface or already underground. It can only soak into the soil if it has the time to do so. If there's a slope, it will run off and be lost downstream. Underground, it will sink down until it encounters an impervious layer of clay or rock. Then it will follow the contours of that impervious layer. The primary purpose of a swale is to keep the water from flowing on the surface, which is why you make the swales follow the contour lines of your slope. Flowing water causes erosion, which is bad.
You want the water to spread out and soak down into the ground. There are several patterns of swales that you can use (all of this is covered in Brad Lancaster's excellent books on the subject).
For steeper slopes, or to catch water for specific plants, such as trees or perennial shrubs, you can employ "fish scale swales" which are semi-circular crescent-shaped mounds (like a smile) that hold water in a limited area. When they fill up, the excess water flows around the two points of the crescent (located towards the uphill part of the swale) and into other crescents installed on either side. The combined pattern looks like overlapping off-set fish scales.

It sounds like you already have some experience with aquaculture. Apply what you have learned to designing a self-sustaining pond aquaculture.


If uphill is towards the left, a fish scale swale pattern might look something like this (the points of the crescents overlap, which is hard to show in typewritten text):

        )  )
       )  )  )
      )  )  )
     )  )  )  )   downhill is this way -------->
      )  )  )
       )  )  ) 


Because the water flows downhill under the surface, the plant's roots can access the water stored underground for some distance downhill from where the water is collected.

For swales that follow the contours, you can space them far enough apart to allow access for machinery, and to have the swales act as terraces for your system of paddocks.

As a general rule, you plant on the berms that form the swales on the downhill edges and/or towards the uphill edges of the swales but not directly in the lowest part of the swale where the water actually collects. Over time, the plant species that can tolerate being submerged in water will end up growing in the "bottoms" of your swales.
 
james buttler
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Thanks for the reply mark lots of good information. Ordering the book series you mentioned today for a good read.

Couple of random questions if you don’t mind that have just popped into my head.

For the Swales do they have to be shallow? Can I dig them deep as in 1-1.5m deep?

Do the Swales absolutely need a berm or can they have level sides?

Unrelated question how effective are goats and cows at pruning back hedges?

Would cows / goats completely destroy a hedge if they are left to graze?

Or can I let the cows / goats in after I harvest in the fall to prune back all my hedges? Also is it likely they will completely kill the hedges or will they leave the old wood to resprout in spring?

I don’t actually come from a farming background this is a fresh new start to me, i understand its a massive undertaking but it’s what I’ve wanted for a very long time and I plan to read as much as humanly possible and put in 100% effort.

 
james buttler
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Another question that just popped into my head.. hundreds of things going on in my head all the time lately.

Been thinking about the design of the guilds in the food forest and in regards to legumes I can’t find the answer on google possibly not searching for the correct term.

If I plant clover how far away does the nitrogen fixing spread?

Does the clover have to be literally on top of the tree in order to provide the tree nitrogen or does the nitrogen fixing spread and if so how far away from the clover does it spread? Trying to get an idea for the spacing and how I can utilise legumes best
 
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Legumes make little balls on their roots that are realeased as organic matter thats high in nitrogen. This is only released when the roots die back after being mowed by an animal or herbivore. What makes them special is that they pull this nitrogen out of the atmoshpere if they have the right bacteria assosiated with them.
You can buy legume inoculants to make sure they are getting them.

I think that sweet clover is the hardyest legume it grows on soils with absolutly no organic matter without problem and seems to love that compacted spot right at the edge of roads. But id plant a mix of all the legumes you can get your hands on with a few grasses.

Also look into nitrogen fixing trees they spread nitrogen with leaf drop.
 
james buttler
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Ah right thanks From the way I understood it from what I read I thought they actually created the ammonium nitrogen and fed other plants sort of like mycorrhizal fungi.

Completely misunderstood it
 
Mark Kissinger
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James,

First off, I recommend that you take a permaculture design course, which will give you a better understanding of these techniques as a part of the whole system of Permaculture Design. Also, contact local organic farmers to get an idea about how to manage a working homestead.

About swales: The size (or depth) of a swale is primarily determined by the amount of rainfall that they are designed to control. Think in terms of a level and linear mound that impedes the flow of rainwater runoff down a slope. Because the top of this mound of dirt is level, and it follows a level contour line around a hill, it causes the water to spread out and sink into the land. If you are familiar with USGS maps, your swales would follow those elevation lines. The distance between the contour lines is determined by the steepness of the slope, the steeper the slope, the closer together the contour lines are. Swales are not intended to form permanent ponds because they are only intended to be tall enough to slow the flow of runoff rainwater long enough to allow it to soak into the ground where it can reach those deep roots that are working to create your new topsoil. When visualizing swales, think in terms of gentle slopes, nothing is very tall. It usually only takes a few inches to slow down the flow of water enough to cause it to spread out and soak in.

Your pond designs are a different matter. The swales would be used in conjunction with the ponds to prevent runoff from eroding the slopes above your ponds and filling up your ponds with your topsoil. The water that soaks into the ground will flow underground and raise the water table to keep your pond filled from under the surface.

The roots of the plants grow and die back throughout their growing cycle. The clover and other plants are groundcovers that protect the soil like a blanket. During the soil restoration phase of your land, this groundcover can be grazed by cattle, which actually encourages and initiates a new growth cycle in the lifecycle of your groundcover species. A real pasture ecology will be initially seeded with a mixture of grasses and other pioneer species which perform several functions. One function is to shield the soil and the communities of soil microbes which include both microflorae like fungus and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in the root nodules of plants like clover and alfalfa and microfaunae like dung beetles and earthworms. You can gauge the health of the soil by counting the number of earthworms per square foot.

Check out this website to see pictures of the root system of prairie grasses: https://www.tallgrassprairiecenter.org/prairie-roots-project
Here's another website: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2015/10/15/digging-deep-reveals-the-intricate-world-of-roots/

There is a really good chart showing many species in the greening the deserts thread. I deciphered the list of the names, also on that thread. I can't seem to find the website where you can see the original chart at full scale.

Here's another website that talks about grasses and forbs and the depth and patterns of their roots. This site also sells the seeds: http://www.prairiefrontier.com/pages/families/roots.html
The reason that you use a mixture is that the different species grow at different times (some are early spring, others take off during the hot summer).

Some of the trees that will form the canopy level of your food forest will be nitrogen fixers as well. As I recall, they feed an area that is about the circumference of the tree's canopy.

Goats eat virtually everything. They will even climb trees! If left unattended for too long, they will destroy your hedges. Cows prefer grasses and forbes. You should really get in touch with farmer/ranchers in your area to study the foraging habits of the livestock you intend to use. Livestock are a year-round project. Any herd will overgraze if left too long in any one place. The YouTube videos explain the basic concepts fairly well, but you will want to start small and gain personal experience before investing a lot on a big herd, especially since you have no direct farming experience. You will make mistakes, but everyone does that: keep it small and manageable. Find people with local knowlege to help you.

Using livestock for restoration entails using a mangement plan that moves the herd into separate paddocks (often using movable electric fences) based on the stage of the growth cycles of the grass. The livestock "mows" your cover crop and then is moved to the next paddock. The effect will not look like a mowed field, but that is fine. It's a different aesthetic from your urban experience. It might even look messy and wasteful to leave some plants uneaten or only 1/2 eaten and trampled, but it is all a part of the overall design. Cows, goats, sheep and pigs all have different eating habits and different preferences. The eating habits of cows, for instance, gently pull on the plant, which slightly damages the roots, which actually stimulates root growth. (what doesn't kill a plant makes it stronger because it grows more roots in resopnse to the damage). The hoof prints make micro pits in the surface of the soil which collects moisture and stirs up the soil.

The benefits of using livestock is that their excrement is left in the field as manure where it is processed by dung beetles and birds, etc. Dung beetles deposit balls of dung at the bottom of tunnels (up to a foot deep) that they dig in order to deposit their eggs. You match the size of your herd to the amount of forage that is available at any one time. Using the animals means you don't need a tractor and mowing equipment. The action of the animals will be performing the "chop and drop" actions without a lot of labor from you. The grasses that they don't eat get trampled, and the parts that are left become the carbon that decomposes to become a layer of topsoil. You will have several potential revenue streams if you select animals, such as alpaccas or sheep, which can produce wool for sale, as well as for the meat. Goat and cows produce milk as another revenue stream. Check your local farmers markets and WOOFER organizations for getting help with the labor. http://wwoof.net/ seems to be the national and international organization.

Am I correct to assume that you're planning hedgerows to act as living fences? I like that idea and that works well using any number of shrubs and trees that work well as coppiced source of carbon. All it takes is time, although a living fence uses more space than the usual barbed wire fence. You'll probably need to build the mechanical fence first, and then plant the living fence along the fenceline. As far as I know, cows, pigs, alpaccas, llamas, and sheep will not damage your hedges very much. Goats will probably eat the hedges, but they won't leave them looking like they were trimmed by a landscape gardener. For that aesthetic, you'll need to employ actual human labor.

You haven't mentioned where your farm is located. You will only need shelter your outdoor animals from extreme weather. Consult other local cattle producers, especially if you can find those who are already using these methods.

I have become very long-winded here. You have a steep learning curve. Be sure to study the economic basis for your farm/homestead. It will be tempting to pay for everything with credit, but this is a trap! One of the videos I linked to emphasizes how important it is to pay-as-you-go as much as possible. Many solutions are "nice" but are not justified by the income flows that you can generate. Be very careful about parting with your hard-earned cash.
 
james buttler
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Really appreciate your long post mark I have a lot to learn. I may even consider not buying land this year (there’s always more land for sale) and read up more and get a general plan before I buy so I can get straight to work when I do buy.

I want to have a lot of privacy on my land to eventually live on it with wife and kids.

This is what I’d like to have and I’ll do anything in my power to make it a reality you guys being experienced may think I’m very ambitious and my plans not even possible but I’m willing to experiment and learn.


I was thinking I’d like to have the entire boundary first possibly a Osage orange hedge woven for best security up to 2m tall (or high enough to keep chickens in)  The boundary would then have a Korean pine forest first 2m chopped to just trunk then 2-10m pine for better privacy. (Lots of big pine nuts)
Under the canopy I’d like to have entirely free range chickens then possibly a second hedge on the other side of the pines high enough to keep the chickens in (with access for me to come and go)

I’d then like to have ponds on contour starting at the highest point cascading into each pond. On the lowest slope of the land I’d like to have a pond (as deep as possible to contain high amounts of water in any dry season) with a solar/ wind powered system I could create a stream like system and also keep higher ponds filled.

The ambitious part is that I had the idea that  my food forest guilds could have a low hedge (possibly 2ft to 2.5ft) around the guild the only live stock id like to keep would be heavy weight ducks that can’t jump high possibly runner ducks, miniature pig breed kunekune (max height around 60cm) and mini cow breed that’s for sale here in the UK that maxes out at 60cm. Then the beehives.

By having the hedges around each guild the idea is that I can plant the crops that I want to harvest inside the guild safe from being eaten and in between each guild I’d have paths/pasture filled with clover low ground crops that the pigs cows and ducks will be able to entirely free range and eat to their hearts content.

Never over stock the animals so that they don’t overgraze they would have ample space to explore between all the guilds.

The reason I was asking about using animals to prune hedges was because in the fall it would be ideal to let the animals into the guilds and prune the hedges back on the inside and clean up other leftovers that I’ve left in the guilds. Pruning back the hedges myself would be an insane undertaking and without animals doing it I don’t think my idea would be worth even experimenting with.

I really like the idea of living completely in harmony with the animals allowing them to go wherever they want - I know that’s often seen as crazy talk as animals will eat everything and everything but i thought to myself that if I limit the animals to small breeds that aren’t able to jump solid hedges I could be onto something.

Who knows I may end up reading and realise how absolutely stupid my idea was yet but that’s what I’d love to have.

It does appear not many people in the UK do permaculture or I’m looking in the wrong areas... in our countryside all I see for miles and miles is masses of broadacre crops farmed with pesticides and chemicals

Do you recommend any permaculture courses? Can’t find one locally - checked all the local colleges and universities I’ll probably have to resort to one of the online ones.

Thanks for your input
 
S Bengi
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Swale.
To oversimplify stuff we can think of the soil/acreage above a swale as a catchment area/roof and the swale is the 'tank' holding the water.
The tank/swale can have alot of different profile.
1.wide, shallow swale/tank
2.skinny, deep swale
3.one that is equally deep and wide.
4. But I think that having 500+ regular size one is way better than only having 10 super deep and wide swales even if they can both hold the same 500units of water and eroded topsoil

Goat/cow
I would give the '100 acre pasture' 2+ years for the plant roots to mature, digging deep down (6ft+) and the swales to rejuvenate hydrology of the land before adding animals.
If you are establishing fruit trees, then even more so to no goats, but for cows once the plants are 3ft+ they are mostly safe.

N-Fixer
Dutch clover and alfalfa both add something like 250lbs of N per acre. So it is alot. So as long as you have 90% of soil covered with it you don't have to worry how far it spreads.
In addition to the 250lbs of nitrogen that they add, when sheeps or insect eat the leaves and poop or piss or die you get some more Nitrogen, and when bird that eat the bugs or mountain lion eat the bug/sheep and poop while on the pasture you even more nitrogen. Even the bees that come to forage live a tiny bit of nitrogen. The same also happens underground with the roots and worms, nematodes, mycelium, etc. 

So go ahead and plant up to 90% nitrogen fixers as close as possible, now as a food forest gets more established and succession happens, the amount of N-fixers should be reduced to about 1/3 and if you really want to push it, I would do a 25% the lowest with a super super mature food forest, unless you are adding compost or fertilizer (bone/blood meal/pond scum/artificial fertilizer)
 
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I grow alfalfa, it likes an alkaline soil so be sure to check your Ph first. It can get a bit weedy so be careful where you plant it and don't let it go to seed in the wrong places or you will spend your life keeping it out of vegetable beds. Easily killed though, like comfrey,  if you build a compost heap on it but that can be tricky on 100 acres. Also if you plan to graze cows and sheep on it, it can't be more than 20 % of the mix or they will get sick (too much gas). Your best bet would be to have a look at native perennial grasses and nitrogen fixing trees for the bulk of your grazing.

Other than that alfalfa is a great plant, long lived, fantastic wormfood and mulch, asks for nothing in terms of care and contributes  much of the fertility on my place.
 
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Where in the UK are you?
Im in Cornwall but I know of someone in Hampshire who imports paper waste from the local mill every year and has done for at least a decade. That could be a big organic material source that would be Carbon rich.

Plants for a future (book and website and demonstration site in Cornwall). The book would be worth a read for you to plan and chose your guilds and plants.

 
S Bengi
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My views is that vegetable gardening should mostly be done on the 1-2 acre around the house. The rest of it should be left to weedy nitrogen fixers that just grow with almost no care. I would have more than just 1 type of nitrogen fixers.

You are correct that nature wants to move from 8ft alfalfa to 20ft fruit and nut trees following a logical succession that trying to bring the acreage closer to a desert with shorter vegetables and exposed bare soil is alot of work.
 
james buttler
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I’ve decided not to by my land this year going to keep reading and planning. Got a lot of learning to do.


Instead of Swales is it possible to have long fish ponds along the border than retain water and are sealed. Can rainfall provide trees enough water without a Swale if there is enough organic matter in the soil?

Also if I grow alfalfa I’ve searched around specifically to answer this question but can’t find a permaculture method of eradicating it.

If I grow alfalfa everywhere for 2 years the roots dig down, I then want the roots to die and mix in the the solid clay down there to make some good organic matter deep down and separate the clay. How can I kill off the alfalfa and stop it regrowing? Spreading compost on 100 acres seems extremely difficult to do.

I could seed the entire area in alfalfa leave it two years let it die back in winter all by its self and then start slowly killing it off by hand when I dig holes for my replacement plants when I start adding the fruit trees.

I’m in north east England traveling is difficult at the moment as I have commitments here those courses are too far Away. Going to look into possible online versions of courses.


 
wayne fajkus
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james buttler wrote:Wayne if I understand you correctly

When rainwater hits the ground it starts to soak into the soil.

It will trickle down until a certain depth and then will collect and pool along a contour at that level?

If I dig down deep enough to find it, and then fill it with clay wouldn’t that just force the water to pool before the clay I’ve just put in instead of at the bottom of the pond?

Am I understanding that correctly I must be wrong somewhere as that doesn’t sound beneficial?





I watched the video again and was able to get a screen shot. See the lush green surrounded by brown? This is uphill of the pond. A direct benefit of his type dam.

Yes you are pooling all the water from the ground flow. The pond is several times bigger than the actual pond. If you get 1" of evaporation the pond will only drop 1/2" because of this reserve. A rain event will continue to fill the pond for 3 months because this underground flow continues way past the rain event.  While it is holding back water, its not stopping water below the dam. Its recharging the entire area. He mentioned springs that had not provided water for decades. After this type pond is installed, those springs start flowing again. It helps above, below, and to the sides of the pond. It helps your neighbors below the pond.

On a bigger scale, its helping to fix the lack of infiltration caused by pavement, houses, forest clear cutting. All of this decreases infiltration, the end result is massive surface runoff. Surface runoff is dirty, underground is clean.

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wayne fajkus
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james buttler wrote:

Couple of random questions if you don’t mind that have just popped into my head.

For the Swales do they have to be shallow? Can I dig them deep as in 1-1.5m deep?

Do the Swales absolutely need a berm or can they have level sides?



Mine dont have a berm. It does, but it is slight. The dirt was spread down the hill gradually. From above looking down, you probably dont know it is there. There is a definate green line about 20 paces down from the swale. I will add one more swale so the next 20 paces will be green. Thats my theory. I did no measuring, i just did it. Now that i saw the result, i will add another.

Fyi, the horses LOVE it. Stomping and splashing around when its full.

The deeper, the more water it will hold. The biggest issue imo is access. If a tractor is what you have, make the width such that a tractor can get in. You can get sediment in there and it will need cleaned. So wider is better than deeper for me.
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Mark Kissinger
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James,

The Rainwater Harvesting books from Brad Lancaster will answer your questions in greater detail. You should see the lush vegetation supported in Tucson's desert climate!

Do some research about the water requirements of the trees that you intend to use. You can roughly calculate how much rainwater is captured by your dams and ponds by calculating the area uphill of your pond + the area of your pond and multiplying by the annual rainfall amounts in your area. All dams allow water to seep into the underground areas around them. This is a good thing because this puts the water where the roots can get to it AND it reduces overall losses due to evaporation and surface runoff. While clay slows down the movement of water, it is not completely impermeable, nor would you want it to be because you want the ponds to charge the surface-water table under your entire farm.

As Wayne Fajkus correctly notes, "Surface runoff is dirty, underground water is clean." You can do some simple experiments to observe how this works by digging a small pond, and then observe how far the water (moisture) spreads out in all directions. Gravity operates universally, but capillary action also acts to some extent to wick the water in all directions.

As for vegetation, you seem to be stuck in a mono-culture frame of mind. I really recommend using a mixture of native grasses and legumes and various meadowland plants, including those that flower and provide habitat for various insect pollinators, especially if you will be letting the entire area to lie fallow for a couple of years. However, the key is to plan how to harvest your water by first designing your water collecting landforms that will "sink the water" where you want your plants to end up. Then you simply plant the water: The vegetation will automatically find the water, but you can speed that process by seeding the area with a variety of plants that will perform the nutrient-building services that you want to encourage.

You can self-teach yourself the Permaculture Design methods by getting the text that started the movement: Permaculture: A Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison.

https://www.amazon.com/Permaculture-Designers-Manual-Bill-Mollison/dp/0908228015

Another excellent tome is David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.


There are numerous online websites that explain the 12 Permaculture Design Principles and the three ethical precepts that form the philosophical basis for the design system.

https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/

An integral part of the design process is to observe your property intensely for at least a full year. Reflect on what forces (or vectors) that are happening to the various parts of your land and how these forces interact and change with the seasons.

Catalog and map where the existing vegetation is, and try out your plans on paper starting with a base map and then using tissue-paper overlay maps to plot out how the different ideas will plot out on the ground. Much of the desirable synergies of Permaculture occur at the edges between different elements (eg: the edge between the pond water and the land that borders the pond, or the transition between meadow and forest areas.

You'll want nature to eventually do most of the work for you, so your labor is minimized: Make sure you plan a perfect spot for installing a hammock where you can lay back and watch it all happen around you! If an existing plant is already performing well, do not feel compelled to arbitrarily remove it. Take your time, and "try out" various designs using tissue paper overlays on your base map. It's a lot easier to change a design on paper than it is to do it using expensive and fuel burning earth-moving equipment.


I hope these suggestions do not come off as too dogmatic or overbearing. You are embarking on a complex and challenging adventure. Everything you can do to inform your plans is time well spent.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Think of swales as depressions that control where the rainwater collects. Wayne's comment about making the swale machinery-accessible is important. Also, swales do not have to be ponds: the whole idea is to give the rain time to soak down into your underground "reservoir". The bottom of the swales should be seeded with water-tolerant plants that can stand being flooded at times.

In Colorado, it is illegal for a swale to create ponds that last longer than three days, but that is due to some very odd water laws that were not written with any true understanding of hydrology: the laws were written by businessmen, lawyers, miners, and ranchers. Not a hydrologist or climatologist in the bunch! LOL!
 
wayne fajkus
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Mark Kissinger wrote:James,

you seem to be stuck in a mono-culture frame of mind. I really recommend using a mixture of native grasses and legumes and various meadowland plants, including those that flower and provide habitat for various insect pollinators



Agreed. Paul had a great segment on this in his 2017 pdc (video of entire pdc is available). The title is "animals in the landscape"). The smorgasboard of plants is key to an animals health. Even poisonous plants. The first thing we think is to get rid of them. Keep in mind that animals existed without us. The more we do, the more they need us. Say a horse doesnt feel well, with the vast selection of plants, the horse bites one leaf off that "poisonous plant and he gets better. Without that plant, he is dependant on you, and the result might be death (either natural or you put him down). Many medicines humans take can lead to death if done in excess, but its still medicine and it works. Animals have the instinct to regulate themselves. We've all seen cats eat grass, and its almost universal that when we see that, we think they have a gut issue.  Don't remove their meds. Variety is key.
 
pollinator
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There is so much great information in this thread.  Great job everyone.  Let me add a couple of thoughts.

1.  You don't have to improve the entire property at once.  Take it one bite at a time.  Once you've mapped your property and have established your zones, focus your soil building on zone 1, where you most intensive fruit and veggie growing will take place.  This is where you'll use the bulk of your compost, mulch and manure.  So on a 100 acre property, the first acre you give your attention to is usually zone 1.

2.  Yes, alfalfa is a good soil building plant, but as someone stated above, you really can't graze animals on straight green alfalfa.  They'll bloat and die.  A mixture of grass and forbs is more natural.  If you've never watched any of Joel Salatin or Gabe Brown's videos, you owe it to yourself to see what a healthy grass-based farm looks like.  They mob-graze their land, moving the animals several times a day.  I wouldn't spend a lot of money to seed land that you intend to graze, but I would let nature tell you what grows naturally in your area.  If you wish to add a few seeds to the mix to assure that you get this plant or that into your pasture, OK -- go ahead.  But in general, all the seeds you need are already out there.  They'll grow if you manage your grazing properly.

3.  Clay is wonderful soil.  My soil is almost 90% clay (or was at one time, until I intensively focused on adding carbon).  Trees grow well in clay, but you'd be wise to amend the soil a bit before planting.  Pile the biomass on the surface of the soil and let the worms incorporate it down into the soil profile.  I use truck loads of wood chips, particularly in my orchard.  Trees love eating other (decomposing) trees.

4.  It'll take time.  People tend to over-estimate how much they can get done in a year, but under-estimate how much they'll get done in 10 years.  Year 1, I'd focus on Zone 1 and build healthy soil for your garden and orchard there.  Get a compost operation going.  But don't plant trees until you know where your swales will go.  Did them first, then plant your trees on contour with the swales.  Year 2, earthworks, swales, and perhaps your first fish pond.  By year two, you should have the basic outlines of your grazing pattern.  Let the cows be the primary soil builders.  Year 3 you build structures like chicken tractors, paddocks, hard fencing (as opposed to electric), etc.  Slow and steady wins the race.

5.  Enjoy.  Take it easy and enjoy the journey.
 
james buttler
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Just ordered more books thanks for the suggestions guys got a total of 5 books on order now.

In regards to zones I had never really considered that.

My idea of having pine forests at the border furthest away is the only part of it I consider being in my initial design but I didn’t consider it as a zone - just wanted a pine forest for privacy and the nuts. I’d also have a willow woven hedge/ coppice there to keep the chickens in and to use as firewood.

I can’t seem to consider what would be a priority and needs to be closer. I’d like to have the whole 100 acres setup as tree guilds.

I’d like most of the animals to roam free and not be restricted. I’d do as much as possible to limit their damage - maybe by having short hedges around the guilds.

I may of been missunderstud when people saying I’m stuck in a monoculture when I mentioned alfalfa that is only for the benefit of deep roots to break up the clay and add nitrogen + new topsoil. I do want to end up with a lot of different beneficial plants to attract a lot of wildlife.

I want to do this as a place to live and enjoy with the kids a home to retire in. Not neccisarily to profit from - although Income is a massive bonus but if I only make 30,000 a year and have a massive lush food forest that supplies organic product to me and my family I’d be very happy.

In regards to doing Zone 1 first my hesitation in that is slow growing plants. I was thinking it may be best to do a rotation of alfalfa to get some decent topsoil/mulch going and then start off by planting all the slow growing plants - the trees, the hedges etc and continue building topsoil on the rest. Bit by bit improving the guilds by adding the complimenting plants.

My reasoning behind having the Swales as ponds is because every bit of water I have id like to have producing fish. I love having fish I’d like fish to be the biggest producer.

Am I wrong to think I can have a sustainable food forest with allowing all the animals to roam free? Ducks, miniature pigs and miniature cows?

 
Mark Kissinger
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You might have missed this story, which I posted earlier:

"In 2000, my husband and I turned our 1,400-hectare (3,500-acre) farm in West Sussex over to extensive grazing using free-roaming herds of old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies and red and fallow deer as part of a rewilding project. For 17 years we had struggled to make our conventional arable and dairy business profitable, but on heavy Low Weald clay, we could never compete with farms on lighter soils. The decision turned our fortunes around. Now eco-tourism, rental of post-agricultural buildings, and 75 tonnes a year of organic, pasture-fed meat contribute to a profitable business. And since the animals live outside all year round, with plenty to eat, they do not require supplementary feeding and rarely need to see the vet.

The animals live in natural herds and wander wherever they please. They wallow in streams and water-meadows. They rest where they like (they disdain the open barns left for them as shelter) and eat what they like. The cattle and deer graze on wildflowers and grasses but they also browse among shrubs and trees. The pigs rootle for rhizomes and even dive for swan mussels in ponds. The way they graze, puddle and trample stimulate vegetation in different ways, which in turn creates opportunities for other species, including small mammals and birds."

Here is the link again:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/veganism-intensively-farmed-meat-dairy-soya-maize?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=284265&subid=25348351&CMP=GT_US_collection

If you could contact these folks by phone or e-mail, you might be able to pick their brains... They seem to have already accomplished a lot of what you seem to want to do.

Knowlegable people are your biggest resource.
 
james buttler
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Thanks for that mark I’ll look into contacting them it looks great. Sorry I missed it, thought I had thouroughly read everything but with so many posts I must be missing some, gone back to the beginning and read everything again just now to make sure

It must be possible to do what I want then since they have obviously achieved it
 
wayne fajkus
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I have wild deer and fullsize cows, both are a challenge for new fruit trees which i have also. The deer girdled several trees (rubbing velvet off the horns) and they died. Newly planted apple trees got cut off about 3 ft off the ground. Horses will scratch their belly with the trees.

Creative thinking is needed. Time might be a factor in your decision, like delaying the tree till the hedgerow is adequate.planting, or plant tree seeds while the hedges are growing  temporary fencing, etc.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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Mark Kissinger
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One more post, then I'll shut up!

The Three Ethical Principles:

1. Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
2. Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
3. Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness. The third ethic is sometimes referred to as Fair Share to reflect that each of us should take no more than what we need before we reinvest the surplus.

The 12 design principles:

1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.

3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.

6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Then the book (and the course) go into pattern understanding, climatic factors, trees, water, soils, earthworks, it compares the different climates on earth, explains aquaculture and closes with a strategy for creating a different social and functional structure for settlements and people. In all of this I read suggestions and ideas which can be followed, ignored or altered. There are a lot of observations and explanations. Taken out of context maybe they can be used to define problems with permaculture?
 
I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam - the great philosopher Popeye. Tiny ad:
It's like binging on 7 seasons of your favorite netflix permaculture show
http://permaculture-design-course.com/
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