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Seeking Advice on New Flat & Wet Appalachia Property  RSS feed

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Hello Designers!

Most of the time when it comes to mainstream permaculture design, the land is water starved, hilly, and has a plethora of problems to work around. While no place is ideal, I found a nice property that fits my goals, was within my budget, has great access, great neighbors, and abundant water...maybe too much water at times? This is why I am reaching out to see if anyone has experience/advice they would like to share with me concerning transforming worn out flat farmland (that potentially floods), into an abundant system for my family as well as the community. My goal is to steward this property by working within it’s characteristics/natural tendencies and shying away from what it is not so great at. Fruit/nut trees, perennial root crops, pond creation and more are all goals I would like to make a reality.  

Overview: 11 acre property located in the Ridge and Valley province region of Virginia near Roanoke. The area is fairly flat (for the mountains), is bordered by a nice size stream on the north side and has easy access from a small one-lane road to the West. Water appears to be a huge blessing here as the stream provides abundant water year round and comes from forested mountains surrounding the land. On the flipside, the fragipan subsoil makes it impossible for water to infiltrate more than 1-5 feet below the surface (varies throughout the property). This creates a challenge when trying to grow anything that does not appreciate water logged soils (fruit trees) in these perpetually wet areas.

Location: Alleghany Mountains of Virginia near Roanoke

Cold Hardiness Zone: 7

Precipitation: 45 inches

Mean Annual Temp: 57 degrees F

Frost Free Period: 160-190 days

First Frost:  Oct 15

Last Frost: May 15

Elevation: 1,080 feet

Terrain: Almost “perfectly” flat (small undulations due to past farming practices)

Along stream (14a) soils is Derroc Cobbly Loam, 0-4% slopes, occasionally flooded. USGS classify these soils as very deep, well-drained, derived from sandstone, shale, and limestone. This area is visually
       identifiable by a terrace below the Ernest Silt Loam (17b).
Rest of the property is Ernest Silt Loam. Ernest Silt Loam, 0-7% slopes, footslope, toeslopes, colluvium derived from sandstone and shale, depth over 65 inches to bedrock, 25-35 inches to fragipan, moderately
       well drained to wet

History: From what I can gather from locals, it has been used as a hay field for many years 10+ and was a cornfield 2 years ago but now fallow

Current Flora: On the east and west border, loblolly pines were planted for privacy 30 years ago. Along the stream on the north side is a mixture of black walnut, red cedar, large sycamores, American persimmon, black cherry, butternut, tree of heaven, catalpa, spicebush, and speckled alder. Johnson grass, numerous sedge species, rushes, grape fern, burdock, dandelion, Japanese honeysuckle, pokeweed, ironweed,

Floodzone: According to the accompanying picture below, you can see the FEMA flood zone map of the property. Notice the southeast corner is the only place outside the floodzone on the map. According to locals, there has been 1 time in the past 40 years that the land has flooded the area and the water was gone within 1.5 days. Depth of flood is unknown but a guestimate would say 1-3 feet deep.

I am confident this property has the ability to be turned into a fantastic homestead that grows an abundance of food, fuel, fiber, medicine, and more. The past two previous properties I grew up on were all on hillsides away from water so this is a new and exciting opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and experience. Although at the forefront, this property has some set backs (high water table in some areas and potential flooding at times), we can work with this land to make something special. I will not be able to afford any sort of housing for at least 5+ years and when I do, it will be a shipping container tiny house (I have built two before and love them) on pillars.

I am putting all of this info in a forum to see if anyone has been in a similar situation – where their land (or land they have worked on) was fairly flat, wet especially in winter due to thick clay subsoil, and could flood in very severe rain events. What strategies did you find helpful? What plants did you use and so on?

I will be renting an excavator come spring and will be creating raised beds on contour in addition to adding several small ponds in the very wet areas. Thanks for your input and I look forward to seeing what has and hasn’t worked for people in similar situations!
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Entrance to property looking due East. Loblolly pines in the back mark the eastern border. Field was planted with corn two years ago.
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Almost exact opposite view, looking west. This is where the winter winds come from. A planting of loblolly pines mark the western and eastern property lines.
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Stream on North boundary line
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Another shot of the stream looking east
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Holes dug to see if they would fill up and they sure did!
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Fragipan 1.5 feet down in wet spots. The water cannot go through this thick clay, hence the "ponding" in the previous pics
Scott Hanna
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I also wanted to share a visual of the USGS soil map. The 14 area is the cobble loam and floods potentially on an annual basis ( I just do not know the frequency since I recently bought the property). 17 is the Ernest silt loam. The other map is from the county website indicating the potential FEMA map flood zone. I will be taking steps to protect plantings and future tiny house buildings by lifting them off the ground several feet. At this time, I have no idea how deep a catastrophic flood like this would be but its good to be safe than sorry. From what I can gather, its not so much the flood waters that are life-threatening, its the velocity of them with carrying debris and so on. Do you find this true or no? I want to be planting thick, deep-rooted trees from the stream outward to the field to help calm the water in case it floods at this level.
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master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I would love to have so much water!  Aquaculture is the most productive use of land.  Raising fish and other water critters is much more efficient than raising land animals.  You can grow plants by raising the soil above the water level (research "chinampas").

Two guys to look into are Ben Falk and Shawn Jadrnicek.  They have accomplished a lot with wet land.

Posts: 337
Location: Southern Illinois
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Absolutely beautiful looking land
Posts: 116
Location: Near Philadelphia, PA
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+1, looks like a gorgeous piece of property!
Scott Hanna
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Tyler- I have not heard of Shawn so I will definitely look into him! Thank you also for reminding me of all the great things Ben has done on wet land. I couldn't agree more with the raised bed/chinampa system. With this amount of water, this would be the only way to try to incorporate fruit trees and chestnuts. Next week when I am on site, I would like to begin finding the contour in order to mark out where to mound the soil up for raised beds.

Eric and Phil- Thank you! It was over a year in searching for the right place to put down roots. Appreciate your kind words :)
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