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Rewilding your homestead to create a wild homestead

 
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What is Rewilding?

How many of you have heard of the term rewilding? Have you thought about what it would be to rewild your homestead? As permaculture enthusiasts you are likely trying to work with nature on a regular basis based on your observations and to build connections between different parts of your various systems (food, animals, wood harvesting, etc.). But have you created habitat within your garden for wildlife? What about in your food forest?

You might point to the plants you planted for food and to attract beneficial insects, the low impact methods you use such as no-till, and the use of organic mulch. But what else? Yup, I'm being picky here

This week's blog post--How to Work With Nature to Rewild your Homestead (And Why You Should Do It.)-- is all about rewilding your homestead, why it is important plus some practical steps you can take.

So what is rewilding?

This is one of those terms that I hear but sometimes it is hard to pin down a definition. I view rewilding as a process where an area of land (though you can also rewild yourself) actively work to bring it back to a wild state that is fully incorporated with the local environment and supports local wildlife. The area should have a "wild feel" to it when all is done despite being built by human hands. Food forests and many permaculture practices result in this.

So if permaculture practices result in rewilding why bother with a different term? Really it comes down to the why you do something. The why behind rewilding is to restore the land to a more wild state. The why behind permaculture is to create a system that works with nature to provide a harvest. A rewild landscape does not have to return a direct harvest but a permaculture system really should in most cases (zone 5 being the exception).

But I do think there is room to combine rewilding and permaculture to create even better permaculture designs and I'm not talking about zone 5. These are techniques that you can use in zone 1 (or 2, 3, and 4).

Going back to my earlier question--what have you done in your garden, food forest, etc. to create habitat for wildlife?

Rewilding Your Homestead to Create Habitat and Harvests for You



This picture shows my in progress front food forest--the grass will all be sheet-mulched hopefully in the next couple months and I will be adding more fruit trees and other edible plants this year and over the next couple years. I have used a number of the techniques I'm advocating for in this food-forest to better work with nature. Here are the methods I'm using to rewild this part of my property:

1. Mulching
2. Planting multiple layers of plants (trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover, roots, etc.)
3. Adding woody debris to the ground
4. Adding snags (dead standing trees)
5. Planting native plants
6. Adding rock piles
7. Adding brush piles
8. Planting dense cover (hedgerows)
9. Planting flowers

Now a lot of these methods are fairly common to permaculture designs. This includes mulching, planting in layers, planting hedgerows, planting flowers, etc. But I don't see a lot of designs out there with snags, woody debris, rock piles, and brush piles. When I do see things like rock piles it is often there to create warm and moist micro-climates which is awesome and is a great thing to do. But what about creating rock piles in the shade for amphibians to overwinter under or get in during the heat of the day?

I want to be clear I'm not trying to say permaculture designs are bad, or even lacking. I think permaculture is awesome--I'm just making the case that these sort of methods be included when possible in permaculture designs. It really is not a big leap--it is not uncommon for mason bee boxes to be added to projects, so why not a snag? You could even drill holes in it for the mason bees or attach a mason bee box to it. It is also not rare for permaculture designs to include plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects--what about mixing in a few native flowers that some local insects depend on to survive such as milkweed for monarchs?

I'm adding snags, rock piles, woody debris, and brush piles to all of my planting areas. I'm currently building a garden that will have snags in the beds with rock piles and some woody debris plus a collection of native perennial vegetables. Basically it will be a "wild garden". But there will also be tomatoes, pole beans, lettuce, Swiss chard, etc.

So what do all these features like snags do? Well make sure to check out my blog post for a lot more info but the next section of this thread highlights the benefits provided by a snag.

Adding Snags - An Example


I got my snags from properties that are going to be developed. I only take snags from forests that are going to be destroyed since they are key habitat for wildlife. Fresh logs can be used too and will last longer.

Snags offer a number of fantastic benefits to your homestead--research has actually shown that snags can have more living biomass in them than a living tree the same size! I found that to be amazing!--here are some of the benefits snags bring:

- Free inoculation of microbes and fungi for your soils.
- Perches for birds.
- Shelter for insects and bugs in general.
- Potentially, shelter for birds and small mammals (if the snag is big enough)
- Landscaping points of interest (I really like the look of snags in the landscape)
- Adding organic material to the soil (slowly, overtime).

In general I find the biggest benefits to be the introduction of microbes and fungi from the forest to my property, and as shelter for wildlife both small (bugs) and larger (birds). Though birds also love to use them as perches. Snags can also create micro-climates around them--bit shady on the north side, etc. Overtime, the snag will breakdown and add organic material to the soil.

I go out and get snags from forests that are going to be destroyed due to development since I don't have much in the way of existing trees. But an easy way to get a snag is when a tree dies to just leave it and not cut it down. If it is too big then you can cut it part way down until it is at a height you feel is safe. My biggest snags are around 7 feet tall when fully in the ground with several feet buried to keep them stable. But when they do fall over they will just be new woody debris that will continue to add benefit to my homestead.

The bigger a snag is the more benefits it will provide but even my small snags are providing some great benefits. I harvested a bunch of turkey tail mushroom from several of my snags just this winter!

But snags are just one of several methods I hope you will consider using to rewild your homestead.

What do you think? Have you added or left snags to your homestead?

Try Using One of These Methods to Start (or continue!) Rewilding Your Homestead


One of my small shady rock piles that is primarily there for wildlife shelter. Lizards, snakes, and amphibians will also use them plus other critters.

Thank you for reading this thread and I hope you have found it useful. Moving forward think about your own homestead or your garden and how you could incorporate one or more of these methods. I will share some pictures of my new "wild garden" once it is built to give some more examples of how these methods can be used. One quick idea is to add a rock pile on the edge of the garden to provide shelter for beneficial critters.

I hope you will consider using some of these methods. Don't forget to check out the blog post and sign up to get a checklist to help you on your rewilding journey. Not all these methods will work for you but if you can find some that will I highly recommend adding them to your homestead.

Please share what you have done to rewild your own homestead/garden. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

I linked to this site up above but if you are interested in rewilding yourself and not just your homestead please check out ReWild University. The couple that run the site are amazing and I have learned a lot from their YouTube videos and podcast. They also have a lot of great information on their site. Here is a quote from their site about who they are:

ReWildU Mission Statement: To help human beings experience their own personal rewilding, thus discovering the passion, curiosity, and abundant joy that is every human’s natural birthright. Through this, we aim to shift our culture into a more meaningful relationship with nature, self and community. ReWild University strives to accomplish this mission through wilderness experience programs, videos, podcasts, and other outreach.



Check them out if that sounds interesting--if you like permies I think you will enjoy their videos/podcast!

Thank you!
 
pollinator
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Amazing post. Snags were a new concept to me and I have a few trees which need to come down that will soon become snags.

As I tend my land, my goal is to create a place of abundance, supporting life for me, mine, and for sharing with neighbors, needy, and with wildlife. A property teaming with life and flowing with water will be how I now I have succeeded.
 
Daron Williams
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J Davis wrote:Amazing post. Snags were a new concept to me and I have a few trees which need to come down that will soon become snags.

As I tend my land, my goal is to create a place of abundance, supporting life for me, mine, and for sharing with neighbors, needy, and with wildlife. A property teaming with life and flowing with water will be how I now I have succeeded.



Thank you! Snags are a fun feature that I just really like beyond the benefits they bring. I really like your goal for your land and I wish you luck with reaching it!
 
Posts: 182
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In the back of my mind I’ve been interested in a ecosystem based permaculture based on wilding. Primary to deal with invasive species, habitat loss, and global warming. I’m going to keep it in the back of my mind simply knowing I can do more harm than good. I’m upset having acres of milkweed, but no monarchs. We are going to lose so much.
I welcome your attempts. Above all we need the diversity nature can provide, and what better way than providing complex habitats. I live in a desert climate so snags are rare, but I have many piles of twigs and rocks. I wish I had more understanding of my local ecosystem, but finding a teachers has been hard.
Just learning which weeds are eatable has added much to the diversity. Dandelion, lambs quarter, mallow, purslane, dock, amaranth....hard to find space to plant stuff.
 
Daron Williams
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Dennis Mitchell wrote:In the back of my mind I’ve been interested in a ecosystem based permaculture based on wilding. Primary to deal with invasive species, habitat loss, and global warming. I’m going to keep it in the back of my mind simply knowing I can do more harm than good. I’m upset having acres of milkweed, but no monarchs. We are going to lose so much.
I welcome your attempts. Above all we need the diversity nature can provide, and what better way than providing complex habitats. I live in a desert climate so snags are rare, but I have many piles of twigs and rocks. I wish I had more understanding of my local ecosystem, but finding a teachers has been hard.
Just learning which weeds are eatable has added much to the diversity. Dandelion, lambs quarter, mallow, purslane, dock, amaranth....hard to find space to plant stuff.



Thank you for your comment! You are right about the challenges -- if you take small steps forward and observe you can minimize the chance to cause more harm than good. But I understand the desire to be cautious. If I did not do restoration work for my day job I would likely be more nervous. But that is also the point of Wild Homesteading. I want this site to be able to help others make positive change on their own properties.

I'm not very familiar with desert climates but rock and twig piles sound good though you might consider placing them in long rows on contour or at the bottom of gullies if you have any to slow runoff and slowly collect organic material. If you have not read Brad Lancaster's books I would recommend them. Here is his site for some more info--he is in Arizona. https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

Good luck and thanks again for your comment!
 
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The former owners of my property installed an artificial pond which is surrounded by rock and is about 3 ft wide by 10 feet long. For years I tried to use benign neglect to "wild" it and it was only about 4 years before the duckweed and frogs moved in. I do harvest some of the duckweed for my ducks, but *never* when there are frog eggs or tadpoles. Some years I've gone out when the tree froglets were too small to leave the pond but were learning to use their new legs and they would pop like popcorn on the top of the duckweed. Unfortunately last year the concrete developed a crack and the pond no longer held water. I've tried to patch it, as frog reproduction habitat is really important, but I won't know for another month or two if my patch was successful. At least there's water in it now (it's a slow leak at least) and the frogs have just decided it's spring. They're being really loud about it too!
 
Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:The former owners of my property installed an artificial pond which is surrounded by rock and is about 3 ft wide by 10 feet long. For years I tried to use benign neglect to "wild" it and it was only about 4 years before the duckweed and frogs moved in. I do harvest some of the duckweed for my ducks, but *never* when there are frog eggs or tadpoles. Some years I've gone out when the tree froglets were too small to leave the pond but were learning to use their new legs and they would pop like popcorn on the top of the duckweed. Unfortunately last year the concrete developed a crack and the pond no longer held water. I've tried to patch it, as frog reproduction habitat is really important, but I won't know for another month or two if my patch was successful. At least there's water in it now (it's a slow leak at least) and the frogs have just decided it's spring. They're being really loud about it too!



Nice! Thanks for sharing! It is great what happens when you just let a pond go wild I'm hoping that frogs find my new pond this year since they are singing from the wetland just downstream from the pond but so far no luck. I wonder how long it will be until the frogs find my pond...

Great comment and I wish you luck with your patch! Hope it holds!
 
Daron Williams
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I just added my largest snag to my new wild garden. It will get buried a bit as I build the raised beds (hugel beds). I will share more about the new garden later but I wanted to share this now as one option to how to use snags. The garden will ultimately have 4 or 5 snags in it but this one is by far the largest.
snag-in-wild-garden.jpg
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Snag in my new wild garden
 
pioneer
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Hi Daron,

It is interesting that you mention snags in your post today as we just cut up two very long ones into logs for the base of the hugel bed we are building.  They will make nice water sponges with lots of bacteria and fungi living in them currently.

As for re-wilding we are still in a de-wilding phase.  We have way more wild than non-wild area.  However, one aspect of keeping it wild is that we feel like we moved into the woods which are replete with wild life.  The animals were here first and we do not feel like we have the right to Willy nilly displace them or kill them.  I have a love hate relationship with an adorable but very hungry ground hog.  As part of re-wilding I am going to plant a garden bed for him to eat and hopefully mostly keep him out of our beds.  Time will tell just how successful it will be.  Meanwhile we are building much better fences around the main gardens which is not precisely re-wilding.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
Ralph Kettell
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Jay Angler wrote:The former owners of my property installed an artificial pond which is surrounded by rock and is about 3 ft wide by 10 feet long. For years I tried to use benign neglect to "wild" it and it was only about 4 years before the duckweed and frogs moved in. I do harvest some of the duckweed for my ducks, but *never* when there are frog eggs or tadpoles.



Last year I had a 22 gal tote sitting around that had filed with water and I noticed a bunch of tadpoles in it.  I went around collecting bugs for them when they ran out of mosquito larva to eat.  When they finally got out of the tadpoles phase and left the water it turned out that they were peepers and we had a wonderful symphony from them.  Some of our neighbors wondered why we had not dumpy dumped then out.  Arrggghh.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
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I was given the book" Gardening for wildlife" , that dragged me into permaculture more than anything. Thinking about the relation of our actions and what animals it will attract. I've done everything you've written about in my small garden, so it's got a crowded look not everybody appreciates, (screw opinions of bourgeois) and added a pond as well. My pond has some frogs, but since i've added small fish that happened to only eat plants when watertemperatures are 18C or 64F the plants keep in check and i never have to feed them. The frogs are older bachelors and silly youngsters, they still will hunt for slugs in my veggie patch at night, but be less noisy about calling females, which my neighbors appreciate, and me.
And the never ending hunt for wild plants that i spot and fail to identify on my way to work which is everywhere in my area since i am a builder. Checking it, identifying and if they look like they have colonized a spot i will bring seeds or do a transplant. Which is succesful in many cases and then they start to colonize my garden until i start to retransplant them in other people's gardens to start wilding their places, or do a guerilla style action throwing seeds out of the car with my daughter on the way to a festival, discussing good habitats.
Wilding is great fun and so beneficial to gardening since it keeps in check many a plague. It even attracts bio farmers, since my neighbor got impressed and invited me to go and we are developing a plot triple the size of my garden to feed ourselves and family using permaculture techniques. And hopefully that plot will inspire other more conventional farmers to check out the wilding ways.
Daron, your contributions are exceptional, thank you for taking the time to help others!
 
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Its great you are mentioning having rocks, logs, sticks and debris for more than hugelculture. The snags and debris break down and are what create the massive biomass in a forest. Such great organic material.

We are creating a ‘pasture’ system for our ducks. One of the important aspects of that is bringing snag and debris material into the pastures. We are planning on orientating them like swales to catch water as the area is sloped. Over time they will break down and slow runoff. More importantly, they will bring insects as a food source for the ducks. Its not just wild animals that can use the diversity - domesticated farm animals can also.  Poultry especially love insects and love having things to turn over and get into. We are going to have debris that doesnt move, as well as logs that we roll over occasionally and move on purpose. When we do that now, the ducks love eating what was unearthed.

Our ‘pasture’ system is also going to include different levels of things as well - trees, shrubs, snags, grasses. Some will be allowed to be shaded, other parts will be left more open. The area isnt huge, so we are carefully planning the layout. Havent decided yet whether to do alley cropping, or more random placement yet.

Nice timely article - perfect to put out in the spring as people are cleaning up debris feon the fall
 
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Creating and nurturing wildlife habitat is the primary activity and purpose of our 20 acres.  In Texas there's even agricultural property tax status for wildlife management, which has cut our taxes in half (or more).  We "officially" manage for Songbirds (birding is a big deal in Texas) and unofficially we manage for Reptiles and Amphibians, and everyone else.  Every year I plant more native seeds, and we have reintroduced a number of plants which had been grazed out of our property over the years.

I'm also very interested in edible native plants, so I include some of those in all my food gardens.

Some wildlife management activities we're doing on our place:

Planting pollinator habitats

Planting food plants for birds

Creating artificial water sources for critters

Making brush piles
 
Daron Williams
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Ralph – Hugel beds are a good use of snags and I salvaged a bunch for that use from a salvage site recently. The ones that looked the best from a landscaping perspective are the ones I’m using as snags on my property 😊
Good luck with your property and the little ground hog! Hopefully, the ground hog will stick to the one garden bed!

Cool to hear about the frogs at your place!

Hugo – Thank you very much and thank you for sharing! 😊 I would love to see some pictures of your garden. Please feel free to share in this thread or leave a link to another thread if you already shared them. Thanks again!

Bryan – Thank you! I agree—sometimes I feel that the non-living structure of the forest gets left out in the conversation about the layers of a food forest. I think there should be the 7 living layers and then the X non-living layers. But that is for a future blog post 😉

Very true about the domesticated farm animals. I don’t have any now but my goal is to get chickens and rabbits one day and potentially ducks too down the road.

Tyler – Great to hear! Sounds like you are doing a lot on those 20 acres. That is cool that Texas has that tax status for wildlife management. I had to get my property removed from agricultural tax status before buying it because it only counted traditional agricultural practices and I could not meet the requirements. Thanks again!

-----------------------------------

Just to add so I put up that snag just yesterday and this morning a robin was already perched on it! It was great to see it from the backdoor. The picture is not great but I had to share.
robin-on-snag.jpg
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Snag in place less than a day and already being used!
 
Jay Angler
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Nice photo Daron - sooo.... my understanding is that in the Pacific NW, birds eat red huckleberries and poop onto stumps and that's why so many natural red huckleberry bushes are growing out of stumps. Are you taking bets whether your artificial snags will start growing?
 
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I've never seen a huckleberry growing out of an old maple log or alder. They seem to predominantly grow on either cedar stumps or soil full of decomposing cedar. I might have seen one growing at the base of a hemlock stump, but there was a cedar stump next to it. There's probably a mix of the birds sitting and pooping on the stumps along with some--maybe microrganism?--in cedar stumps that huckleberries need to germinate?

I LOVE red huckleberries, and since I was a child, I have been fascinated by where they grow and how/why different bushes taste.
 
Hugo Morvan
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Rocks used for raised beds, sempervivum in cracks, groundcover in place between rocky soil/dry climate loving plants.
ROCKWALLSGROUNDCOVERED.jpg
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Hugo Morvan
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Rocks a client didn't want anymore planted in garden, waiting to be used for walls, but serving as a base for my mini pond plant nursery. Amphibians can survive winter in those rocks.
ROCKDEPOSITNURSERY.jpg
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Hugo Morvan
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Water runs off the road into this berm where i dump hedgerow branches and woody debris. It serves as a block if there is a big rain so the whole place behind saturates with water, there are mainly wild plants growing there in summer.
BREAKINGDOWNWOOD.jpg
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Hugo Morvan
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This is a place where i dumped clay i got from a pottery it's being held in place by difficult to split pieces of rock which get saturated by water , because the clay is holding that. A wild flower is covering the surface.
CLAYRESERVOIR.jpg
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Hugo Morvan
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Sorry for the 5 posts, i would like to do it in one go if i can, but it takes an hour to upload if at all.
It's looking very bleak, crappy photos, just taken this morning.
For good measure, this is more festive.
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Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:Nice photo Daron - sooo.... my understanding is that in the Pacific NW, birds eat red huckleberries and poop onto stumps and that's why so many natural red huckleberry bushes are growing out of stumps. Are you taking bets whether your artificial snags will start growing?



lol, I hope so! To respond to Nicole's comment... they do seem to love cedars but I do often see them growing out of old Douglas fir stumps too. Most of my snags are from Douglas firs so here is hoping!
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks for sharing Hugo! I love what you are doing and that pond looks really nice! Great to see the combination of different types of features (rocks, wood, ponds, etc.). Thanks for sharing!
 
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Ralph Kettell wrote:It is interesting that you mention snags in your post today as we just cut up two very long ones into logs for the base of the hugel bed we are building.  They will make nice water sponges with lots of bacteria and fungi living in them currently.

As for re-wilding we are still in a de-wilding phase.  We have way more wild than non-wild area.  However, one aspect of keeping it wild is that we feel like we moved into the woods which are replete with wild life.  The animals were here first and we do not feel like we have the right to Willy nilly displace them or kill them.  I have a love hate relationship with an adorable but very hungry ground hog.  As part of re-wilding I am going to plant a garden bed for him to eat and hopefully mostly keep him out of our beds.  Time will tell just how successful it will be.  Meanwhile we are building much better fences around the main gardens which is not precisely re-wilding.


Hey, I like your post, Ralph.  In my area the homesteads are home to (or at least visited by) ravens, eagles, osprey, hawks, owls, black bears, white-tail & mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, raccoons, skunks, mice, rats, ducks, ferrel turkeys, wiid rabbits, frogs, garter snakes, and many others.  We have 8.5 acres, with about 4 acres fenced to keep out the bears, deer, mountain lions, and stray (neighbors’) dogs.  Lots of snags and mossy ground logs here and there on our land.

A lot of people want to feed themselves & family maximally from what they raise.  Coyotes regularly prey on chickens and pet cats, raccoons fight with cats and will ravenously eat your chickens & fruit & veggies.  A mountain lion will take your goat or dog.

So really, besides a thread on re-wilding (thank you to Daron) we probably need a thread about how you make the balance between the general wildlife (or ecology) of your homestead site and ‘keeping it working’ for the safety and nutrition of your household.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Another thread about wildness and permaculture:  https://permies.com/t/56225/permaculture-projects/Mollison-Permaculture-Zones-happened-Zone

 
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I have a few rock piles, stumps, leaf piles, and lots of naturally wild areas currently on our property, and the amount of animals it's attracted has been amazing!

The other day, I saw a little lizard near one of the large leaf piles, and it took cover in it when I walked by.

Our yard seems to be a bird and pollinator sanctuary too.

It's always fun and fascinating to me, seeing all the beneficial critters enjoying themselves!

The next thing I'd like to do is make a small pond or ponds like those mentioned above. I remember as a little boy going to a really wet area near our home that had lots of big puddles everywhere. We called it the mudhole, and had lots of fun there!
 
Daron Williams
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Steve Thorn wrote:I have a few rock piles, stumps, leaf piles, and lots of naturally wild areas currently on our property, and the amount of animals it's attracted has been amazing!

The other day, I saw a little lizard near one of the large leaf piles, and it took cover in it when I walked by.

Our yard seems to be a bird and pollinator sanctuary too.

It's always fun and fascinating to me, seeing all the beneficial critters enjoying themselves!

The next thing I'd like to do is make a small pond or ponds like those mentioned above. I remember as a little boy going to a really wet area near our home that had lots of big puddles everywhere. We called it the mudhole, and had lots of fun there!



That is great and I love the story about the lizard Thanks for sharing!
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Another thread about wildness and permaculture:  https://permies.com/t/56225/permaculture-projects/Mollison-Permaculture-Zones-happened-Zone


Thanks Tyler.  I posted in that thread.
 
Daron Williams
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I started reading through that thread - interesting discussion. Thanks for sharing!
 
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This thread went a different direction than I expected from the title.  I usually think of 'rewilding' as associated with larger, regional proposals, which I always assume are made by rich folks in big cities who want a 'wild' area that they can visit on vacation and to hell with the locals.  This thread covers a much more sane thought.  'What can I do in my little niche', not dealing with 'poster animals' like bears, bison herds, etc, which require huge ranges, but smaller, more numerous species like insects, amphibians, small reptiles and mammals.  I LOVE IT!!!

I've been aware for decades of rock and brush piles for encouraging small wild life, but I had completely overlooked snags!  GREAT IDEA.  It can also look pretty cool.  When it falls over, the larger, harder parts can go into a hugleculture bed, already bearing their load of wood eating microorganisms and facilitating the breakdown of the rest of the hugleculture bed.  The broken down parts stay in the soil where they add organic matter.

One of the interesting things we are learning about 'untouched wilderness' is that there probably hasn't been any for many thousands of years.  We are a very fertile species and we are good at colonizing new areas.  We are like beavers, we modify our environment to suit us.  Beavers don't ask permission from other species, neither do we.  Our species are more adaptable and hopefully we can adjust our system to be more inclusive.  
The lesson is not 'can we return it to how it was in 1491' or some other arbitrary number.  As a species, we've been influencing our environment (often dramatically, often using fire) as long as we've been around.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, we are also part of nature.  

There is a lot more forest now than there was 120 years ago in the US, mainly because most people have moved away from wood heat.

Look how fast the area around Chernobyl reverted.  The largest wildlife preserve in Asia was unplanned, it's the DMZ between north and south Korea.  

The good news is that if we quit forcing things into our mold,nature will naturally 'rewild', although it may not look like the image we have in our minds.  If we cooperate, it's even faster (snags, rock piles, etc.).

We get to thinking sometimes we are in control, but we still just the fleas on the dog.  An intelligent flea would remember who he was and try to make life easy for the dog lest the dog start scratching.
 
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I'm coming from the opposite direction... re-homesteading a forest.  I still have snags, from trees I've cut high and girdled.  I employ lots of bio-adapted intensive hugulkultur (aka STUMPS with holes drilled in them, which I cover with mulch when I can).  Lots of wildlife brush piles and brush pile fences.  Many of my non food producing trees were pollarded at about 2-8 feet to create big bushes for wildlife cover and open up the canopy to allow for fruit trees and cover crops.  Once my productive trees are flourishing (maybe 4-5 years down the road) I will probably convert some of my maple and tulip poplar pollard-bush-things to snags.  Long-term, I don't think I'll keep any of my maples or tulip poplars as full-grown trees, reserving canopy space for the pre-existing oaks and hickories, as well as fruit trees.  I have a feeling that pollarded poplars (may) create amazing bee habitat/food.

I create "nurse logs" from all the timber to create terraces; noticed squirrels like running along them and hoping bugs and other things live underneath them.

Also made a pile of asphalt and cinder block chunks taken from the land - hoping something enjoys that.
 
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Great post! Never really thought of snags before. I have a handful of dead trees on my property, White Ash that were killed by the Emerald Ash Borer. The big ones I want to use for hugelkultur and now I have some good ideas of things to do with some of the smaller ones! Thanks!
 
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Mick Fisch wrote:This thread went a different direction than I expected from the title.  I usually think of 'rewilding' as associated with larger, regional proposals, which I always assume are made by rich folks in big cities who want a 'wild' area that they can visit on vacation and to hell with the locals.  This thread covers a much more sane thought.  'What can I do in my little niche', not dealing with 'poster animals' like bears, bison herds, etc, which require huge ranges, but smaller, more numerous species like insects, amphibians, small reptiles and mammals.  I LOVE IT!!!

I've been aware for decades of rock and brush piles for encouraging small wild life, but I had completely overlooked snags!  GREAT IDEA.  It can also look pretty cool.  When it falls over, the larger, harder parts can go into a hugleculture bed, already bearing their load of wood eating microorganisms and facilitating the breakdown of the rest of the hugleculture bed.  The broken down parts stay in the soil where they add organic matter.

One of the interesting things we are learning about 'untouched wilderness' is that there probably hasn't been any for many thousands of years.  We are a very fertile species and we are good at colonizing new areas.  We are like beavers, we modify our environment to suit us.  Beavers don't ask permission from other species, neither do we.  Our species are more adaptable and hopefully we can adjust our system to be more inclusive.  
The lesson is not 'can we return it to how it was in 1491' or some other arbitrary number.  As a species, we've been influencing our environment (often dramatically, often using fire) as long as we've been around.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, we are also part of nature.  

There is a lot more forest now than there was 120 years ago in the US, mainly because most people have moved away from wood heat.

Look how fast the area around Chernobyl reverted.  The largest wildlife preserve in Asia was unplanned, it's the DMZ between north and south Korea.  

The good news is that if we quit forcing things into our mold,nature will naturally 'rewild', although it may not look like the image we have in our minds.  If we cooperate, it's even faster (snags, rock piles, etc.).

We get to thinking sometimes we are in control, but we still just the fleas on the dog.  An intelligent flea would remember who he was and try to make life easy for the dog lest the dog start scratching.



Thanks! I wrote the post hoping that it would help people make changes in their own backyard. There is a whole rewild movement that is focused on this local approach--I like it I do restoration work for a living and I'm actually going to a symposium tomorrow that will focus on how we should shift the goals for restoration away from the old pre-settlement norm. I'm curious to see how it goes--there are a lot of us in the restoration community that are arguing that the old goals of restoring the land to pre-settlement conditions just do not work any more.

Have fun with the snags! I just keep adding them to my place

Thanks again for sharing!
 
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Josh Garbo wrote:I'm coming from the opposite direction... re-homesteading a forest.  I still have snags, from trees I've cut high and girdled.  I employ lots of bio-adapted intensive hugulkultur (aka STUMPS with holes drilled in them, which I cover with mulch when I can).  Lots of wildlife brush piles and brush pile fences.  Many of my non food producing trees were pollarded at about 2-8 feet to create big bushes for wildlife cover and open up the canopy to allow for fruit trees and cover crops.  Once my productive trees are flourishing (maybe 4-5 years down the road) I will probably convert some of my maple and tulip poplar pollard-bush-things to snags.  Long-term, I don't think I'll keep any of my maples or tulip poplars as full-grown trees, reserving canopy space for the pre-existing oaks and hickories, as well as fruit trees.  I have a feeling that pollarded poplars (may) create amazing bee habitat/food.

I create "nurse logs" from all the timber to create terraces; noticed squirrels like running along them and hoping bugs and other things live underneath them.

Also made a pile of asphalt and cinder block chunks taken from the land - hoping something enjoys that.



Sounds like you are doing a lot to improve that area. One thing I would note is just because it is a "forest" does not mean it is "wild". A lot of what we call a forest was heavily degraded by past human activities and are not really natural. I tend to think of them as more of tree farms than true forests. By adding more diversity to the forest you are in many ways making it more wild by mimicking the structure that a natural forest would have.

Thanks for sharing!
 
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Adrienne Halbrook wrote:Great post! Never really thought of snags before. I have a handful of dead trees on my property, White Ash that were killed by the Emerald Ash Borer. The big ones I want to use for hugelkultur and now I have some good ideas of things to do with some of the smaller ones! Thanks!



Thank you for your comment! Snags are a great feature to have--if you have a big one you can leave the wood peckers and critters that nest in cavities in dead trees (owls, squirrels, and others) will thank you! Good luck with your hugelkultur project!
 
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I wrote a book about gardening which I called "Ecointegration", never published, but "rewilding" was pretty much what I meant by that term. The cultural analysis of this thinking reveals that Western civilization has had a long-running "war" with nature, which has been seen as hostile, uncivilized, detrimental, and even demonic. I was urging that we see the garden not as something walled off and divided from "nature", but integrated with it. Frogs eat harmful insects, mulch comes from the woods, restoring healthy habitat for birds also brings in insect-eating friends. And so on... I don't need to explain this much as y'all are thinking the same way.

Terence McKenna liked to say, "Culture is not your friend." A re-wilding of the person does require one to transcend the ambient culture, which remains in the Western mode, dualistic and anti-nature. Human culture contains much of value, but nature... cultures which engaged nature, which lived in it, they had some of the sanity we seek. Sometimes culture IS our friend!

I try to approach all this thinking that I'm simply letting nature return from where "our" culture has pushed it back. Of course this does require some human planning, conceptualization, and action, to enhance succession, etc. Always I find out that it's a dialectic process, the 2 of us and nature. It's a dance, and I'm never sure who's leading.

 
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Thanks Daron - yes, it was old degraded plantation land turned into a sub-division.  Some areas have decent leaf-mold soil underneath trees, but much is eroded away.  Interestingly enough, the "front yard" probably has the best soil in the place, just from 40 years of people mowing crab-grass.  The woods were trying to transition to an oak/hickory/poplar canopy, but had a ton of thorns, beech/sweetgum/maple.  It will be interesting to compare my clearings and plantings over time with the woods by my property line.  Then again, just by opening up my canopy I'm sure I will impact that land a lot.

It seems like soil underneath a closed canopy becomes compacted/eroded quite quickly, due to the lack of groundcover protecting/aerating soil.

We also have a huge beaver-constructed wetlands just a mile away - in suburbia!  Maybe I will try to establish more willow for them at some point; the county mows the edge of their pond and hasn't planted a lot near their lodge.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:One thing I would note is just because it is a "forest" does not mean it is "wild". A lot of what we call a forest was heavily degraded by past human activities and are not really natural. I tend to think of them as more of tree farms than true forests. By adding more diversity to the forest you are in many ways making it more wild by mimicking the structure that a natural forest would have.



Yes. I had this disturbing realization after moving to the central VA piedmont, that the "woods" here is probably 8th-growth, it never reaches climax, being logged as soon as the oaks are commercially valuable, and now usually replanted with pine. Species diversity of both flora and fauna is very much degraded, and has been for some time. Add to that the fact that this area was in the past tobacco-growing slave plantations... the soil is red clay anyway, and not very fertile.

We're trying with moderate success to acquire plants of other species than the few present in our woods to introduce.

I think it is true nearly everywhere in the U$A that if we saw the place 300 years ago we would be AMAZED at how bad is the ecological degradation which has occurred.

It is so true that there is no single static "natural" state for a forest. Native people here were burning and manicuring the forests. Nature = change, constant flux. I suppose our goal should be species diversity, rather than attempting to arrive at some approximation of that imagined "natural" state.

It is more difficult to manage the reintroduction of fauna, I think, because they depend often on wide areas of habitat, and with the surrounding properties being repeatedly logged and not managed for any purpose but that, the habitat is not good. On our own 15 acres though we put up birdhouses, leave cut brush and snags, and so on, as well as attempting to introduce plant species. We have one success to report: the frogs are back!!!
 
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For most species, I don't think we need to worry about reintroducing.  

One of things that amazes me is the way animals will start turning up in an area when the environment becomes suitable for them.  No one imported coyotes into the downtown cities.  I live in southern Indiana.  Mountain lions were wiped out in the midwest by the early nineteen hundreds.  A few years ago the guy I buy feed from had a calf killed by one.  A few years ago, one was shot in Homer, Alaska, 800 miles from the nearest confirmed area where mountain lions live.  They have bears in the Chernobyl area (I'm pretty damned sure bears weren't there when the reactor went bad.  People and bears don't get along, at least people with livestock or small children.  

Nature tends to overproduce and lets the weak and unlucky die along the way (mother nature is kind of a heartless old bitch when you think about it).  In most cases, there is no real need to import a species if there is any kind of string of habitat between them and a base population.  When animals reach early adulthood many species 'leave the nest, or are ejected' .  These young ones then embark on a search, sometimes covering a lot of ground, for an area where there is room for them to establish themselves.  (is anyone else seeing a human similarity here?)  Even among species that don't move around a lot, population pressure will quickly push some out into whatever environments are nearby.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Wooly mammoths and passenger pigeons won't be reintroducing anywhere soon (although there is speculative research going on about making an 'almost mammoth'.  I guess they've never seen any of the 'Jurassic Park' movies).  Very large species tend to stand out, require lots of land and may need to be reintroduced, since we tend to kill them off quickly and thoroughly).  

At the risk of offending, do we really want bears or mountain lions wandering around our homeplaces?  There's a very real reason earlier people killed them off.  I knew a guy that had problems with a bear getting into his dogs food.  One day he was looking out the kitchen window with his wife watching their three year old kid playing in the back yard.  A black bear came out of the woods and headed straight for the child.  The man ran for the door, knowing he was going to be too late.  A few feet before the bear got to the child the mans 2 dogs (a rottweiler and an australian shepherd I think) charged and grabbed the bear.  While the bear was fighting them, he stepped out the back door and shot it.  

I am in favor of reintroducing wildlife, intelligently, with limits.  I will admit, though, that I am a speciest.  I will generally favor my species, especially one who I feel kinship to, over other species.  I have pets, but they are not family, others may feel differently, that's their call.  As I pointed out at the start of my ramble, mother nature can be a cold hearted bitch.  Maybe I'm just coming by it honestly.
 
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Victor – Thanks for your comment! I agree with your comment though I’m curious what your thoughts are about restoring the wilds in a very changed world. I just went to a restoration symposium that focused on how our historical baseline for what nature should be may not be valid in our changed world. One view was that we needed to allow for hybrid systems – which seems to be what is happening naturally in a lot of places to various levels.

I do control/remove invasive plants if they are forming a dense monoculture and I try to add native plants where I can but at the same time I have become more accepting of leaving non-native plants even in wild areas as long as they don’t form a monoculture. Really there are only a small number in my area that do that.

Your second comment covers some of this, but I would be interested if you have any other thoughts on this topic.

Thanks for the comments!

Josh – Yeah, that is funny how that can work with lawns. I have noticed a similar thing with some areas on my property. I’m sure getting the canopy opened a bit will change things a lot. In my restoration designs for my day job I’m now planting in clusters so that there will be areas of dense closed canopy and areas of more open canopy. I can get a lot more diversity and support more species when I do that.

I’m sure the beavers would love the willows! 😊

Mick – You are right that finding a balance can be a challenge. I’m not sure what are the best options and if we were going to support the larger predators then that would require a change in how we live our lives. Of course that is not something everyone will want to do and it may not be realistic in certain areas.

There are bears and cougars in my area despite the semi-urban nature of where I live. Both have been seen just down the road from my place. We also have a lot of coyotes which I’m not too worried about though they did take down an adult deer on my property a couple years ago. Though I suspect it might have been hit by a car first…

But I have fenced a “backyard area” of my property as a safe area for my kids to play. Not really for predator concern but more for keeping my kids away from the stream and ponds while they are little. But the fence does have the added benefit of helping to slow down approaching wildlife.

I do want wildlife on my property, so I have also built tunnels through the deer fence around the perimeter of my property for coyotes and other wildlife to go through. So, despite keeping the deer out I still get a number of other animals coming in to my property and I have seen them use the tunnels. I did this so that voles and other critters would be kept in check.

As always, finding a balance is the struggle.

But when it comes to native plants I think there is a lot we can do to diversify our properties without as much worry about negative impacts. For many of these plants there are no longer good seed sources left so it could be a long time before they move back on their own. I’m hoping my property can become a seed source for the surrounding area to help those areas naturally diversify on their own.

Thanks for the comment!
 
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