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Former(ish) zombie looking for advice on getting started

 
Posts: 19
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
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Hi there Permies,

I stand here before you, a former(ish) zombie working on change and looking for advice about how to tackle things!
I think once we get started, we should be good - but I'd love to not waste too much time trying to do the wrong things as I think I've done enough of that in my life in general so far!

This turned out to be a long, rambling post - so I appreciate any who read through it :)

Here's some background story for where we are, and how we got here:
Roll back a few years - we were the type that were thinking more of buying a serviced apartment in the middle of the city than anything else.
Both myself and my wife have had.. shall we say.. limited success at growing things when we've tried. For my part, I work as a software engineer and would have been voted least likely to do anything 'outdoorsy'.
The outdoors was a place to be shunned.

You may wonder how someone like I would end up posting here. The short of that is that we started homeschooling for various reasons.
Roll on a few years, and the change of culture that came with homeschooling woke us up a little. We were living in suburbia at the time and we started to see just how generally crappy life was, cooped up in our space and having to listen to the neighbors scream at their children.
A year and a half or so ago, while attending a homeschooling camp and talking to some of the others who had bit more space - we got more and more interested in the idea of getting some space of our own - mainly just to 'get away from people' a bit.

Before long, we'd put in an offer on a block of land an hour out of town and were packing up and arranging for a house to be built. We lived on-site in some portable buildings while that was happening and moved into the new house not more than a few weeks ago.
Primarily - this was for us to get some space, get some "outdoors space" for our 10yo and her friends to be able to have fun in and be able to relax a bit more. The most important thing for us at the time was a view - either of the ocean or the mountains and preferably both.
Ideally, we wanted somewhere that also had a creek of some sort and some mature trees.

Turns out, that's a lot harder to find than we'd realised. We got a good view of the mountains, at least.

In New Zealand, this is the typical "Lifestyler" block where people can play at being a farmer. It's what you'd call a small homestead site from what I can tell. It's about 4.8HA - or 12 acres, give or take.
Everyone would ask us "So what are you going to run?" .. the expectation being sheep or cattle, the NZ standard.. our reply was "Absolutely nothing - just grass and space"

While we were selling our old place.. my wife heard about this so-called "food forest" idea. So I started to look into it... discovered the general idea of permaculture, found a series of articles out there by an Australian horticulturalist who build a food forest in his small urban back yard - including recording yields of plants etc  ( https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/ ) ... it got me hooked. "Why isn't this more common-place?" I had to wonder. We were intrigued.

After reading that - I started to look around for other resources.. but mostly, all I could find was "urban backyard" stuff. Which is great, but not what we were moving to.
Got sidetracked on some other reading (to do with alternative energy - was thinking of tackling maybe solar and wind generation) - ending up stumbling across an article on richsoil.com and discovered the forums.

Usually, I am not much of a forums kinda guy, but found and digested the super series of soil articles by Dr Bryant Redhawk on here.. that alone was a bit of a game changer. I have learnt so much from that series of posts alone that I can't begin to state how valuable it was for me.
The info in those posts was just SO unbelievably sense-making I can't believe that just a year ago, I thought soil was just another name for dirt - and both were just .. minerals and rotted stuff that plants ate. Not ashamed to admit it - but Dr Redhawk single-handedly opened an entire new world for me. That was just a month or two ago.

On top of that - the ongoing saga of climate change has made us begin to wonder: just how secure is the food supply, and how long is it likely to be before perhaps it's more of a struggle to get good fruit and vege.

Which leads me full circle - here we are, with a block of land that we can do something useful with. It might not be ideal - we didn't buy it with that in mind - but we want to make the most of it now we know better!

Our hope is that we can use our land here to build up a decent production of seasonal fruit and veg - ideally so that we don't need to buy any from elsewhere.
We won't eat everything we grow - so in an ideal world - we'd be able to grow and sell enough that we can cut back on our main income a little - we want to supply the community with fruit and veg at a reasonable, fair price. Some fruit/veg can cost a lot, here and people struggle to afford it. We'd like to help fix that while helping ourselves out in the process.

We were thinking: If an urban food forest can produce > 234kg of produce a year from just 64 square meters - surely we should be able to do something decent with just a portion of our 48,000 square meters.
We're not going for full self-sufficiency - we don't really want to raise animals (mainly due to the time commitment and someone needing to look after them if we go on holiday, plus they'd ultimately become pets for the wife/child - so butchering would be out of the question..) .. but I'm starting to think we might need at least a couple of animals to help with the gardening.

I stumbled across the Ridgedale Permaculture course - which sounds like it might be damn near perfect for us - we're fortunate enough that we can afford it, so we're planning to dig into that after Christmas.
I plan to extract lots of useful bulletpoints from the Epic Soil threads and use that to help build our soil.

But beyond that - we're not terribly sure where to begin. Sort of hoping the Ridgedale course will go a long way to filling in some blanks.

There's a lot of individually useful information on the forums and I've been reading through it - but for someone in my situation, it's a bit harder to work out how to pull it all together into some sort of cohesive plan.
Our daughter is already 10 - we'd like to turn this empty field into something great while she's still able to enjoy it too.

Info about our land:
- We're in Canterbury, New Zealand - Zone 9a.
- Summers tend to be hot and dry. Mostly high 20's to low 30's (C.. 82 to 90 F). Some days will get up to 35 C (95 F)
- Winters tend to be cold and wet. There'll be the occasional day of snow (just a few cm). The coldest months will usually freeze (down -7 C / 19 F) overnight - daytime temps on the colder days might struggle to reach 5 C / 41 F.
- Get around 900mm (35 inches) of rain a year (not measured myself; going off other resources)
- There is no water source other than rain and a council supply of 2000 liters a day (528 gallon - it's a flow-restricted service pipe into a holding tank)
- The land is mostly flat - there's a bit of a ripple in it, now that we've spent most of a year just observing. I'd like to make an elevation map to get a good idea and to plan for making a pond etc in the future - but I'd estimate maybe a ~1m (~4 foot) difference in height between the low and high points. Possibly a little bit more in one depression.
- Everything around here either is, or used to be, cow-farm. The only trees for miles are the shelter belts around the edges of some properties. A neighbor tells us our block used to be fairly intensively grazed by cattle and sheep (down to mud).
- Presently nothing growing here but the pasture. From what I can tell, I believe it's mostly cock's foot (Dactylis glomerata) - there's some clover mixed in with it in some places. Growth is uneven - there's several spots around the land where growth seems to be stunted.
- Ground is pretty stoney. I need to use a pick-axe to dig a hole to plant anything big. Have not yet done a mason-jar-type test for soil composition, but it's supposedly a lismore silt loam.
- Water for the most part vanishes into the soil fairly quickly; there's some minor pooling in the depressions and especially where the heavy vehicles have compacted the soil during construction that hang around for maybe a day. The soil itself seems to stay reasonably moist for long periods - but we haven't been here for the full brunt of summer yet (hottest/driest month tends to be Feb). There's no gulleys or other signs of erosion from water movement.

I attached some soil-related imagery..

I'm going to put in a pond if it kills me. I might end up with pigs just to do the whole gleying thing I read on here (no less and not long ago!):)

So! .. With the goal being to grow mostly fruit + veg. Maybe having a pocket of woodland for habitat + interest (we don't need firewood)
My question to you all is.. any advice on how/where to get started?
What would you recommend I look at as our "next steps"?  [after doing the course..]

[Edited to mainly fix spelling mistakes]
[And to add that I'm calling myself a Zombie purely because I was reading this one .. https://permies.com/t/40/53188/Food-forests-climate-change-eat ]
Horizons.jpg
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Soil horizons from 'borrow pit' used to make the driveway
Topsoil.jpg
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Top 6cm or so of topsoil (including a Porina grub)
Topsoil-stones.jpg
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Stoney soil from services trench (also a power cable + my gumboot toe in the corner for scale..)
Winter.jpg
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Excavated driveway - about 30cm deep, middle of winter after lots of heavy trucks and a lot of rain
 
pollinator
Posts: 376
Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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Wow, great story! Wish there where more of you. You don't want to waste time, you say. I take it you are not some-one who is a do-er, but clever and taking in information. Both are equally important. I have been to university, but dropped out, now i'm a builder/gardener hooked on perma-culture with not enough money to just buy things that i need to get on with it, fast enough as i'd like to see. Like LED grow-lamps i could do with, money to obtain some extra land. I work around it, never wait, sitting sobbing and things "happen", someone gave me a plant incubator set, i work together with my farmer neighbor who just started a garden and loves the permaculture mind set. He has all the big material, excavator, tractors access to wood/hay, but he isn't someone with a green thumb or the patience to be fidgeting with plants and more than happy to accommodate me with what i need to get on, if he can.
Another story, i have changed a garden into a natural garden. These folks had been bumping along for years with their garden, very enthusiast, but very unhappy with the result. Nothing grew, but ugly plants where thriving, plants used for a parking lot, they created a wet space where ivy got hold, which she also didn't like. It's a holiday home and she wasn't there many times. When she was there she was replanting plants that didn't "do" it. She told me you can change plants their place as many times as you like. Long story short, i taught her this, get plants that like this climate, put them in the place they like, shade/sun, that don't mind acidic poor soil, made a whole list of that. She went and bought them, we have decided together where to put them, big ones not in front of small ones, like she used to do. All super logical stuff ,basic stuff, also she worked extremely inefficient. Don't use a wheel barrel, it had a flat tire, just walk up and down the hill twenty times with something and then being tired. She is not stupid, just a bit daft, happy to bumble around at her holiday home. She has a very high job back home, these people rule over us, Judges/ psychiatrists , lawyers, city councel.. So i took her by the hand, changed all her ways, praised her when she done something right, she got really proud of herself when she came to her holidayhome, the renters praised the garden with all the beautiful flowers herbs and insects that grew there. She has turned into a garden freak. She doesn't need me any more. and i saw that coming, business wise not a smart thing to do. Other gardeners would have taught her nothing, just cashing in.
But i am just happy i created a garden freak who adopts the natural ways and will spread enthusiasm. I seeded many gardens through her, and would do it again any time.
You call yourself an ex zombie, i guess most of us are on here.
What i want to say is find yourself someone like that, a permie enthusiast, a teacher who shows you to get good results, who works with nature,who wants you to do it yourself ,to be autonomous, who works beside you, shows you, and pay them well if you can. Someone with ideals and feet on the ground, not afraid to sweat and get dirty hands, not someone who likes to talk down at you like if they know it all, and keep you in the place where they are the ever experienced half gods of permaculture. They were there before Sepp Holzer and bezzie mates with Geoff Lawton, took a PDC in 1852 when they invented perma-culture. (Joke)

The course is a great way yo get to know people, they'll point you in the right direction towards a food forest, and maybe they know someone who can work with you to get these handy skills.
 
Nathan Wiles
Posts: 19
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
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Hey Hugo - thanks for the reply. Thanks for sharing your story too. It would be nice to find someone local that could act as a sounding board for this journey, but I don't think there's too many permies here in Canterbury (or possibly even NZ - although I've seen a couple of Kiwi's scattered around the forums).

Hugo Morvan wrote:You don't want to waste time, you say.



Mainly because I wish I'd started this at least five years ago - and a big part of the desire to get underway is my daughter who's 10. I'd like to get this underway before it's "too late" for her formative years, so that she can learn from the process as well. I think there'll be a big difference (with her) between getting a food-forest etc established when she's 14-15 rather than 17-18 and moving on!

Hugo Morvan wrote:I take it you are not some-one who is a do-er, but clever and taking in information. Both are equally important.



I do strive to be both - where I can, I'll always take a crack at doing it myself - and if it wasn't for my desires to get things up and running due to the above, I'd likely just dig in and start experimenting :)
I mainly research online, and while there's a lot of info out there, for the most part - it's quite fragmented. Hence why I'm asking for some guidance on an attack plan. I suspect theres's probably a good book or two I should try and get ahold of as well, but I'll admit that non-digital does tend to be a measure of last resort for me :P
 
pollinator
Posts: 2409
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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I would say zones.

A) Do your zone1 (vegetables, herbs, mushroom, tubers/roots, grain/sunflower/fava bean)
I like the bio-intensive way of doing it. I think 2,500sqft per person.
So 7,500sqft for the 3 of you plus 25% extra for walkway. For a total of 10,000sqft.
I would import some hay/straw + manure to make compost and double dig to get that 7,500sqft up and going.

B) Next I would do 2 bee hive. You can wait years to harvest if life gets hectic.

C) Next I would do 1acre of nut+fruits+berries+vines about 200plants. Get some machinery to dig the holes, do mini earthworks if needed.
Top dress the entire acre with compost, biochar, straw, rockdust, worm tea, mushroom slurries, sea90/minerals.
Digg the 200 holes at 15ft centers and plant away.

D) After that is done, chicken/egg. Import their feed and setup a automatic feeder+water

E) Dig out you pond and setup earthworks/swales to feed water into it.

After that you can then do more intensive animal system where you can never go on vacation, plant out more of the land as food forest, setup a U-Pick farm, etc, etc.
 
Nathan Wiles
Posts: 19
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
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Hey S - good info. I'll digest it - thanks :)

One question - SEA-90 - I've seen it mentioned a few places but as far as I can tell - it's mainly N.America and Europe that can get their hands on it. There's no distributors over here, and they don't ship direct.
I have no idea if it would be practical, legal, or suitable - but if I collected, say, 1000L of seawater from a nearby beach and dehydrated it myself and used the result in the same sort of dosage rate - would it be a waste of time?
 
Hugo Morvan
pollinator
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Many perma culture peeps are not busy on fora, traveling , no internet , no access, no time, busy being happy in their paradise. Sometimes i wonder when i'm reading old posts of 6 years ago, and i see these people having 70 thousand posts and you click on their name and see their last posts, it was a long time ago. They've not all died, so they must be around.
I get the daughter thing completely, get them involved, very important, maybe she can have her own little plot to experiment, and sell her goods to you. Just an idea.
S. Bengi came with an attack plan, great!
 
garden master
Posts: 2122
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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Nathan Wilkes wrote:Hey S - good info. I'll digest it - thanks :)
I have no idea if it would be practical, legal, or suitable - but if I collected, say, 1000L of seawater from a nearby beach and dehydrated it myself and used the result in the same sort of dosage rate - would it be a waste of time?



Somewhere on the forums, using diluted seawater, directly on the planting sites was discussed. I do not remember the dilution rate though. Try a site search, you may find the info you need.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
garden master
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Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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Aha! I found it! This thread includes Redhawk's take on it too. How to use both salt water and sea salt.

https://permies.com/t/63328/idea-sea-salt-minerals-soil

Also, some smart Permie has built a passive saltwater dehydrator. I didn't find that thread.

Gotta go!

Good luck!
 
Nathan Wiles
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Ah! Thank you muchly Joylynn .. I should have thought to search :)
 
Joylynn Hardesty
garden master
Posts: 2122
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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Tada! It was Wayne's solar salt factory: https://permies.com/t/85170/Waynes-solar-salt-factory
 
Nathan Wiles
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Following up .. and this might be better placed in the soil forums - but one of the first things I think we need to do (or feel like I should do) is get some soil improvement underway - I would assume this would be best started with some chop+drop, but I suspect we might be too late to do much of that now we're in summer. I'd like to get a decent microscope to start studying the soil more, but they are pricey here (exchange rate and whatnot .. the more affordable ones Dr Redhawk mentions in his threads are over $1000 here - there's not many I can find that go above 1000x either)

Ideally, I'd like to have the annuals and perennials we end up growing intermingled - my thinking there being that they can benefit from each others activity both above (beneficial critters etc) and below the soil (nutrient transport).
I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not, or something that's usually done - most of the time, it seems people plant their annuals in dedicated vege beds. Is there a reason for this? Is it just for ease of planting/harvesting or is there more to it?

My MAIN question is about the stones.

With our soil being pretty stony  - should I be thinking about screening the top 30cm or so of soil where we want to plant things like root veges to remove the stones, or would I be better advised to just 'start from scratch' and build up on top of the soil instead / do the typical raised vege beds?
Things we would be looking at planting root-wise initially would be potatoes, kumara (sweet potato - but I think sweet potato in the US might be something else), carrots, parsnips, beetroot, onions



 
steward
Posts: 4668
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Some people with small gardens plant into dedicated vegetable beds. That really ramps up costs for materials and labor, but many people find the cost/benefit ratio to be acceptable for small gardens.

Whenever possible, for annual crops, I choose to grow in silty soil, rather than stony soil, because it's much easier. I tend to only remove stones from a field if they are larger than a softball.

 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Nathan Wilkes wrote:
With our soil being pretty stony  - should I be thinking about screening the top 30cm or so of soil where we want to plant things like root veges to remove the stones,



I dug all the stones from my vegetable garden down to about 18 inches to 24 inches and made buried wood beds (suitable for a dry climate but not for a wet climate).  I can strongly recommend digging out the stoney soil and sifting out the stones.  Yes it is a pain, but it makes a big difference in the ability to grow vegs.  The volume of the stones can be replaced by any kind of organic material such as leaves, weeds, or kitchen scraps.

https://permies.com/t/52077/Buried-Wood-Beds
 
Posts: 97
Location: Eastern Great Lakes lowlands, zone 4/5
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Wishing y'all the best from halfway around the world! I was lucky enough to visit NZ when I was younger and it really inspired me to work with nature rather than against or around nature, seeing the dense green hills, wide open spaces and their awe-inspiring beauty. Of course the grass can always seem greener! I've grown fond of my neck of the woods though.

I am slowly gearing up to do some more intensive land-transmutation as you are. So far my efforts have been smaller and suburban for the most part. In any case I think approaching with a zone-based strategy is a good idea. Draw it out, iterate; design is a big part of this, and to the extent you can design for possibilities of adaptive management, backup plans, incremental changes, "slow but steady" as one of the permaculture principles.

One technique you might find useful for your broader spaces, zone 4/5 especially, is the concept "nuclei that merge" as a method of reforestation. I first heard of it from Edible Forest Gardens book 1 by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. The idea is basically planting clusters of companion trees and letting them fill in the gaps naturally over time. Outside the permaculture world in conventional ecosystem restoration I've seen similar methods done, planting pioneer trees and groups of companion plants to help create beneficial microclimates that spread themselves. I imagine an added bonus is you can learn from this semi-wild setup and apply observations to a more intimately managed zone 2/3 forest garden.

Another rough 'plan of attack', though take it with a grain of salt as I haven't tried applying this yet to larger areas.

I'd try to set a goal X years out (maybe 3 or 5 years?) to have "nuclei" scattered in zone 4/5 to create more forest garden/food forest/healthy wild forest for wildlife, foragable medicines and materials, timber, and ecosystem services. Similar time frame for the basics of the zone 3 forest garden, sort of having the 'frame' built within which nature and fine-tuning can bring the system to a 'climax ecosystem' type of state over the next decade or so. In my experience with suburban forest gardens it takes a few years to see what fits and what isn't working out, so it is iterative and by the 10 year mark you'll have probably done 2 or 3 (or more!) major design iterations, but at that point you'll also have a really beautiful setup where the plants can be happy with less intervention.

Some early year 1 priorities would be designing the high-level systems and flows but not locking too much in, lots of observation, some zone 1 and 2 kitchen garden projects with room to change things up in coming years. There's the permaculture advice of "observe for a year before changing the system" and observation is very important, but I'm not sure it makes sense to wait a whole year before any gardening. Just tread lighter that first year and do observe lots, as you'll likely learn lots that can make year 2 designs & efforts much more harmonious with the land.

Listen to the trees!
 
Nathan Wiles
Posts: 19
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
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Hey R - thanks! Those are some good helpful thoughts.

I guess one of the things I might need to do is accept that this is going to perhaps take a little longer than I may have hoped. It was always to be a life long project in some respects, but I might need to be prepared to be a little more patient.. not always my strongest suite.

In terms of observing; we’ve been here for nearly a year in temporary buildings while the main house was being built- and I have observed what I can. The neighbours tell me the weather this last year was far from normal, so my weather observations might not be worth all that much. It does get windy here, though. Frequently over 110 km/hr (68 mph)- not a month goes by without at least one day with strong winds. As there’s nearly nothing here, it’s very exposed. Wind protection will be a must.. thinking tree lucerne as a starter. Water is absorbed very quickly, except for where the soil has been compacted. That said, neighbour tells me he had a mini river form through his back paddock near us the year before! There’s a shallow gulley/depression that runs past the house that could perhaps do the same with enough rain.

When we brought - I had assumed the land to be nearly completely flat. I’ve noticed it has a bit more curve to it than that, which makes me want to do a bit of a survey if I can find a cheap enough option for that.

As far as wildlife goes- a few rats, hares and more birds than we expected. Magpies, plovers, Harrier hawks, and a whole mess of some sort of finches that seem to love eating the insect life.

Since we left the land to “go wild”, I’ve noticed there’s several areas where the grasses aren’t growing very well. Not sure as to why yet.
 
pollinator
Posts: 376
Location: San Diego, California
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Fruit/nut/shade trees - may not necessarily have to be the first thing (water retention earthworks, fencing, irrigation(if you're into that), house repairs can all supersede), but get your trees in the growing and established before or concurrently with annuals/perennial gardens and livestock - might as well get the "average ten years to fruiting/maturity" clock started as soon as is feasible. If the soil is poor and needs attention, start the seedlings in pots, then plant when the soil has been sufficiently improved.
 
Dustin Rhodes
pollinator
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Since we left the land to “go wild”, I’ve noticed there’s several areas where the grasses aren’t growing very well. Not sure as to why yet



Could be soil compaction from the prior grazing activity, maybe a feeding or bedding are that got a lot of traffic, if the patches are only a few meters across; if that's the case, a broadfork could make short work of it.
 
R Spencer
Posts: 97
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Sounds like a great start to getting a lay of the land!

For surveying, if you don't need anything legal/formal, you could get it done cheaper. Two options that come to mind and I've found helpful:

- Using GIS software (QGIS is a good free one) and topographic data (referred to as Digital Elevation Model or DEMs) from your local/state/national government or global organizations to get a general birds-eye perspective of your topography. If you're already decent with computers, GIS can be a useful tool for all kinds of spatial analysis and mapping of natural resources.

- Using an A-frame with a weight/plumb-bob, a level, and string to walk along and mark out contours when you need a ground-truthed local view.

I agree with Dustin about starting the "time til maturity" clock ASAP in pots. I did that and had 2-4 year old trees ready by the time I had built more of my own roots and could get them in the ground. Plant propagation sooner than later can save a lot of money and/or time later on. "Best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, second best time to plant a tree is now!"
 
Nathan Wiles
Posts: 19
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
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Thanks guys - all good advice.

Dustin Rhodes wrote:Could be soil compaction from the prior grazing activity



That was my thinking too, there's quite a few of them, and it's quite patchy and irregularly spaced - mainly around 1/2 the property (one of the original paddocks). They seem to be in weird places for where I'd assume would have made sense for the most part, but the place was overstocked and intensively grazed from what I understand - down to mud. One of the spots is rather suspiciously rectangular too, maybe 20% bigger than a large hay bale. Could be there's a tank of some sort under there, but it'd be a mighty strange place for it. I'll find the time to get out there with a pickaxe and investigate sometime soon! (the ground here is pretty.. firm.)

R Spencer wrote:.. topographic data..



This would be my ideal, but the only topographic data for the region is the topo50 (1:50,000 scale) - so it doesn't give me anything much more useful than the general elevation here. The property here is largely square - a little over 200m each side.
There's enough ripple in the ground that it will influence water flow (which given I want to get a pond in - will be particularly relevant) - so I need(want..) to sort out something. Part of it's just to satisfy my nerdy needs and have it digitally modeled too.
Am thinking I might be able to cobble something together with a cheapy laser level to make a sort of poor-mans dumpy.. measure out some known reference points.. maybe combine that with the a-frame approach to get the contours .. should be able to put a digital model together perhaps. Might take a few days, but that'd be ok.

 
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