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please give me your advice on starting a forest garden

 
                              
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Greetings from Croatia.
Since this is my first post, it would be nice if I introduced myself, before asking help.
My name is Jasmin, 25 years old from Zagreb, main capital of Croatia.
Not so long ago I got all crazy and really serious about permaculture so I quit my job so I could
work on my dream and that is making a forest garden, the permaculture way.

This is a piece of land my parents have, about 1 hectare, that hasn't been tilled or used for the last 15 years and i would like to help nature on establishing a food forest there.

If someone has a better idea on how to use this land I would really like to hear it.


Screenshot-1.jpg by Jasmin_Nino, on Flickr

Last couple of weeks all I have been doing was observing and learning, so this is the situation. 

The action is taking place in a temperate climate.
My best friend is keeping about 100 beehives on a small corner of that land, which I think is a great thing for a food forest.
Currently 80% of that land is mainly covered by just 2 plants, Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) and Annual Fleabane (Erigeron annuus).
The rest are shrubs, Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) and Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa), which are real natives in this area.
These shrubs are also growing on that piece of land to the west that is slowly turning into a forest.
In my research i found that Hawthorn and Blackthorn are compatible for grafting many fruit trees, and that really made me happy since they are already there and couple of years old and there are so many of them.

My main concern is water. I don't know what would be the best way to keep it on that land and I know that is really important since we have hot summers without no rain.  For a week now i have been trying to find a way to figure out is there some kind of a slope anywhere, but everything looks so flat. While talking to my neighbour that used to work on that field many years ago I found out that when it rains heavily, water will sit on random places all over the land, because of the clay soil.
Is this an indicator I should make small ponds ?
When I noticed shallow ditches that go from N to S that have been made by the last tilling, my first idea was to convert them to swales, but i don't know the flow of the water, or will it work. Couple of km to the South there is a river Sava, that is flowing from W to E. 
Could this be an indicator that this land is also having that slope ?

I would really appreciate some help and advice, because i'm stuck. I want to get my hands dirty and start working but I know that the key is in good design and I want to start the best way I can.

It's been a long time since I was thinking and writing in english, so sorry if you don't understand me, I will gladly try to explain better.

Thanks in advance
Jasmin
 
Salkeela Bee
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Hi Jasmin,

Welcome  - and I'm sure you'll get loads of advice on here.

Looks like you've got quite a project on your hands!  Personally I would advise you to look for some work in the world at large in order to help you both pay for projects on the land and to give you something to live on.

I'm almost 50.  We've lived on our land for over 20 years through various financial situations.  I've found that:  when you have time you don't have money, and when you have money you don't have time.

Yet for getting things done, I have done best when also working beyond the land.  For the first ten years we were cash poor and so could do little on site.  Lately, now that I work out 4 days a week, we have had more cash flow and we've got lots more projects going.  I still save seed like mad, try to graft, and use every ruse I can to cut the costs..... but I CAN now buy in materials, equipment and plants to make the jobs happen.

Sounds like you have a nice site.  Here the thorns and dog wood also thrive.  I must try grafting onto the blackthorn - I've heard plums do well on them, but not yet tried it.

Clay is a good base I think as it is supposed to be mineral rich.  I imagine a few ponds might work.  We have clay and dug a pond here which filled itself from the water table.    Just it is at the bottom of our land.  Luckily Ireland is fairly wet most of the time. 

We also have some bees - but 100 hives!  WOW... you must have some fairly good sources of flowers locally. I can't imagine managing so many hives.


Anyway best wishes with your field...  you're bound to get loads of ideas on here.... and probably a few disagreeing with my advice on work.... 
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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jasmin wrote:
My main concern is water. I don't know what would be the best way to keep it on that land and I know that is really important since we have hot summers without no rain.  For a week now i have been trying to find a way to figure out is there some kind of a slope anywhere, but everything looks so flat.


1. As for hot summers with no rain, sibearean pea shrub, good for adding nitrogen and is drought resistant.
2. For finding the slope, ME TOO!! How does one "eyeball" a slope to get an idea of where to put swales? I have a piece of land I was hoping to put swales on, and the only thing I can think of is calling in someone with the gear to do slope measurements. Is there any way to do it yourself??
3. On the pond idea. I'm taking a wild guess here, but I think if you just stick a pond in a place where water pools in heavy rains, you'll get a dry pond when the rain goes away. But if you have swales, you'll get something that is constantly being fed water.

http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_7583635_calculate-slope-land.html
http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/pubs/475/PMS475_chap2b.pdf
seems to use topographical maps. your size might be too small for this (??)

http://www.ehow.com/how_2089604_measure-slope-land.html
This seems more promising, two poles and a rope.
 
Salkeela Bee
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A slope can be detected with and A frame structure.  Tie a pendulum weight to the apex of the A.  Hold the A upright on a known level surface and mark where the string crosses the cross bar of the A.  Then when you move this around you can see when there is a slope due to where the string to the pendulum ends up.  The larger the A structure (easiest made from light pieces of timber) the greater the reach of the thing and so the better a judgement can be made. 

Edit.... 2 poles an a rope in your link seems to be the same idea.

On the topic of the swales.  Why would the swales be constantly fed water when the pond goes dry?  I agree they can create a catchment system on a slope, but if the land is flat, and the climate dry, then there may be little run off to catch?

 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Salkeela wrote:Why would the swales be constantly fed water when the pond goes dry?  I agree they can create a catchment system on a slope, but if the land is flat, and the climate dry, then there may be little run off to catch?


Sorry, my idea was that if you have some ponds plus some swales that are directing water to them, the ponds themselves would be constantly fed. No swales, no water moving toward the ponds.
 
William James
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You could always call up your friend the surveyor, and she could help you out in an afternoon of staking and scoping the slope. That is, if you have a surveyor friend.
W
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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you are in a similar temperate zone as I am in Michigan USA..and I have clay soil as well.

Pick a lower spot if you can find it and start digging yourself a pond ..for privacy I would do it nearer the center of the property and somewhat close to the bees as they like water and do it as DEEP as possible with one shallowish end for the critters to get in and out..

Larger is not as important as deeper, so if you can get ahold of a backhoe or dragline to get it deep do it...it will add to the value of your property and if it is deep enough it will give you year around water if there is a good clay bottom.

As you dig this pond put some of the soil in a berm on the North side or West side of the pond or both, and gradually rake it smooth and use it to plant your food forest fruit trees, the pond will reflect light to the trees and frost will drain away into the pond ...remember to put the trees far enough back so the fruit doesn't fall into the pond and so you can get around to harvest the fruit..

on the shallowish side of the pond you can put things like cattails and elderberries

start the rest of your food forest around this water source, and consider putting your bramble berries and any thorny or viney crops along the fencelines if you put in fencelines, or as barriers to people trespassing on your property..there are houses closeby and you don't want people stealing your produce.

Hopefully my blog will be helpful to you as we are in such similar circumstances..see below
 
Salkeela Bee
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William wrote:
Sorry, my idea was that if you have some ponds plus some swales that are directing water to them, the ponds themselves would be constantly fed. No swales, no water moving toward the ponds.


  Okay... indeed much more sensible!
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Dig holes, and look at soil color.  Is it grey?  Does it smell like rotten eggs or have orange or red mottles?  These indicators will tell you if your soil is low in oxygen due to different levels of saturation.

Given your species, some of the site might be seasonally very wet.  10 cm of elevation may affect what can grow.  Look for patterns in the ground cover, even the plants growing between the common species may indicate wetter and drier areas.  Do they correspond to the puddling during heavy rains?  Is there a pattern to the ground vegetation that might tell you something about moisture patterns?

If you create a lower spot, the earth you remove may create a higher spot.  Those higher spots might be as valuable as the lower spots. (ditto Brenda)

You need to define what kind of life you want to live.
 
                            
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One easy way to find the best spot for a pond on the land is to wait for a good rain. The spot where it collects as the largest pond appears to the right one. It would have to be deepened and some of the plot landscaped to direct more water to the pond. It seems like a good idea to first scrape off the top soil and keep it aside. Later as you dig out more that can be used for landscaping. In the end the saved top soil can be spread over the freshly dug one to restore its fertility. You may like to introduce fish in the pond later.

Locating the pond may be the first step to developing a master plan for the rest of you plot to locate areas for trees, bushes, shed etc.
 
Sasa Milicevic
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I would recommend you to observe that land for a whole year so you'll know where it is fooding or drying out sooner. if there are some windy spots, frost pockets, etc. In the meantime read Gaia's Garden and Sepp Holzers Permaculture, trawl these forums and just start planning the general layout.

That's what I did on my small property in Vinkovci

If you need some permaculture certified designers I know there are some in Zagreb. Check out Reciklirano imanje and http://permakultura.org/

 
Salkeela Bee
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I wonder where Jasmin has gone? 

I sometimes wonder about the "observe for a year" thing..... certainly I wouldn't landscape a whole area without some long-term local knowledge, but I think "strike while the iron is hot" is also an important phrase.  There is much that can be done as an early project that may or may not stay in the final plan.  But doing something brings the individual to the area frequently, so observation is happening as a by product of the other projuct not just as an end itself.

In the horsey world there is a good phrase "The eye of the master maketh the horse"... and this is also relevant to permaculture.  Be there and do stuff with your horse/garden often and you cannot fail to observe something.  Actively think about what you are doing and make multiple small decisions towards a desired end.... and you will get there.

Don't do nothing but watch for a year, because you will not be up there often enough, or trying enough things to have the time to make appropriate observations.

So I'd bung a few raised beds in.  Plant a few fruit bushes (that can be either moved or cuttings taken in later years) and make sure you have enough reason to go to the area often.....

 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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