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!! Cultivating abundance in uncertain times

 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Daron here with Wild Homesteading. I live in Washington and we just found out that the whole state is going under a stay-home order today. I know many of you are in a similar situation—or will be soon. My wife works at the local library and it has been closed now for a bit over a week, and they won’t be reopening anytime soon. The non-profit I work for has also been closed for a bit over a week, but luckily I’m able to work from home or do solo field work on nature preserves.

On top of the health crisis, lots of people are out of work right now. No one knows how long this will go on or what’s going to happen next.

These uncertain times really bring home the importance of being able to grow your own food.

I want to help people get through this time, so I’m going to make myself available to answer questions and provide advice here on Permies until this situation with the COVID-19 improves.

Strangely, this was the week Wild Homesteading was planning to launch our new membership site. We decided to move ahead with it. Because right now, resilience skills like growing your own food is more important than ever. So if you’re able, and you’d like some more help getting started, then check out our membership site over on Patreon and become a member. Membership is a way to get exclusive content, community, and direct help from me, to help you build the wild homestead of your dreams.

It’s also the only way we can keep our blog free—and ad-free—to help more people work with nature to cultivate abundance.

But we know there are a lot of people who can’t become members, who need help right now.

We want to make sure anyone who needs help during these uncertain times can get it regardless of their ability to become a member. So what do you need help with? I’m here on Permies to give you the help you need so that you can learn how to grow more of your own food by working with nature.

These are tough times, and we have to get through them—together.

Send me your questions, and Keep on Growing.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
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How to Start a Food Forest



Starting a food forest is a dream of many wild homesteaders and people familiar with permaculture in general.

But it can really seem overwhelming.

All those layers… all those plants… where do you start?

Luckily, those 7+ layers of a food forest are something to aspire to—not something you have to achieve overnight.

If you want to start a food forest here are the steps I would take.

1. Locate the area you want to start that has room for 3-5 fruit or nut trees.
2. Purchase or propagate 3-5 trees that will grow well in your area and that you want to grow.
3. Pick out some nitrogen fixing plants to add around your trees. These can be nitrogen fixing shrubs like goumi or nitrogen fixing flowers like clovers and lupines. Or beans and peas!
4. Plant your trees and nitrogen fixing plants—keep the nitrogen fixers close to the trees.
5. Mulch around your trees—if the area has a lot of grass or existing vegetation you may want to sheet mulch the area around and between your trees.
6. Add a few logs, or log/rock piles to the area and also a few flowering plants.

That’s it! While this won’t fill in all the common food forest layers it will get you started and you will be much closer to a food forest than an orchard.

By starting small you can observe how the plants you chose grow and see which do the best. Then over the next few years you can expand by adding more trees following the same basic steps.

But you can also add more plants to fill out the remaining layers. You could start with an easy perennial vegetable like Kosmic kale or add a ground cover like strawberries. Try a few plants at a time and see what works for you.

If you have questions about how to implement any of these steps let me know—without knowing details about your own wild homestead and the area you want to start a food forest it can be hard to provide more specific information about what to grow and how to prep the area for planting.

And if the whole concept of a food forest is new to you then check out my blog series all about food forests:

- What is a Food Forest? (And How to Get Started)

- Types of Food Forests – Which is Right for You?

- Food Forest Layers and Why They are Important

The first blog post in the series is similar to this post here on permies but actually starts with a slightly more complex food forest. Since writing that first post I have decided that you can reduce the number of layers you start with which makes it even less overwhelming to move forward with your own food forest.

Please share any questions you have about starting your own food forest.
 
Daron Williams
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How to Start a Fruit Tree Guild



This is very similar to the last question about starting a food forest. All you have to do is combine multiple fruit tree guilds and the result is a food forest!

But a single fruit tree guild is a great way to get started and take an initial step towards cultivating abundance on your wild homestead.

I’m assuming you already have a tree and a spot picked out. If you need help with that step please leave a question.

Step 1 – Mulch the area around your fruit tree

This will create a fungal environment which trees love. It will also help your tree by reducing how much water it needs. While guilds are often considered to be a mix of plants most trees need fungi to thrive. I think of a guild as all the life

That’s why this is my first step to starting a fruit tree guild.

Step 2 – Add nitrogen fixing plants

Nitrogen fixing plants will provide a steady supply of nitrogen for your fruit tree and will help the rest of the guild too.

Some nitrogen fixing plants are edible and others like lupines can be a great source of chop-and-drop mulch.

Step 3 – Control pests

Finally, you will want to help your tree deal with any pests. This can be done by adding habitat for predators through the placement of log/rock piles. Predators like centipedes, ground beetles, snakes, frogs, lizards, etc. will all hide in and under these.

But you will also want to add some flowers to attract beneficial insects. These can be nitrogen fixers, or edible plants, or just nice flowers that you like. I’m a big fan of white alyssum!

Check out my blog post— 3 Steps to Start a Fruit Tree Guild – for more details but also don’t hesitate to ask me any questions you have!
 
Daron Williams
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How to Get Started with Organic Pest Control



Another common question that I get asked is about garden pests without any toxic chemicals or a ton of labor.

A lot of people struggle with this issue when they’re first getting started with organic gardening and feel like it just doesn’t work. But often that is because they’re missing some key elements to solve these issues.

I should note that my advice is meant for someone growing food for themselves and their family—not a farm or market garden that is growing food to sell. While I believe the methods I’m going to outline can work at this scale I don’t have experience growing food for market so I can’t help you there.

The biggest step to take is to recognize that pests should really be thought of as prey. Each pest has something (and likely many) that want to eat it—the predator.

Your task is to create the habitat and space for those predators.

There are several ways to do this but this is what I do on my wild homestead.

- Mulch everything.
- Add habitat features like rock/log piles and snags.
- Plant in polycultures.
- Add perennials to all planting areas including your garden.
- Add native plants to all planting areas.
- Add flowers to all planting areas.
- Leave some dead plant stalks over winter.

And the big one—avoid all toxic chemicals and even organic solutions that don’t discriminate between prey and predators.

Each of those methods will provide habitat for predators. The result will be a wild homestead that has a balance between prey (pests) and predators.

You will still get some insect damage on your plants but it will be low enough that your harvests won’t suffer. Each of these will create habitat for all sorts of critters to hide which includes both predators and prey. But you can’t have 1 without the other.

When you try to eliminate all pests you never let your predator populations build. The result is that you must always do the predator’s job. Personally, I would rather work with nature and invite the predators in so they can do their job and I don’t.

If you have issues with rodents and other small mammals then consider putting up barn owl boxes if they live in your area. Tall trees can also create spots for hawks and other birds of prey to hangout and hunt from.

Water features are also a great option to attract more predators like frogs. Even small ponds can help.

But you don’t have to do all of these things—pick a couple to get started with and then expand each year. I’m just now adding a lot of flowers around my garden. Until this year I had other projects/tasks to focus on—but now I’m adding tons of flowers which I know will result in an explosion of beneficial insects which will greatly reduce my pest issues.

Here are some more posts to help you get started:

- Control Garden Pests without Toxic Chemicals

- How to Create Habitat Features for Pest Control
 
Daron Williams
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I’m off for tonight but please don’t hesitate to post questions about how to get started on your own wild homestead or how to move forward with a project.

I will be back on here each evening to answer your questions and to add more tips on how to get started based on the most common questions I get asked.

Thank you and good night!
 
Daron Williams
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Get Started with Perennial Vegetables



I really love perennial vegetables--I just love that I plant them once and then get harvests each year. But it can be a challenge to get started with perennial vegetables. Here are some basic tips to get started!

- Pick sections of your existing garden beds to plant perennial vegetables in. My kitchen garden has 3 large L shaped beds and in each of the beds I have certain spots picked out for perennial vegetables.

- Mix in perennial vegetables around your existing shrubs and trees.

- Create a bed just for perennial vegetables.

But of course knowing which perennial vegetables to start with can be a challenge even if you have space picked out for them. Here are some of my favorites:

- Kosmic Kale (shown in the picture above)

- Miners Lettuce

- Pacific Waterleaf

- Checkermallow

- French Sorrel

- Wild Sorrel

There are many other types and I try to add more perennial vegetables to my wild homestead each year. This year the big new addition is mountain spinach which is a cold hardy, shade tolerant climbing vine that is supposed to be a great source of spring shoots, and raw and cooked greens. I'm also trying to get good king Henry going from seed but so far no luck. I also planted some more sorrel, miners lettuce, waterleaf, and checkermallows.

I really wanted to add more Kosmic kale to my gardens but with everything being shutdown in my state I don't know if I will be able to get any this year.

My basic strategy is to add at least 1 new type of perennial vegetable each year but also add more of the ones that are already doing well on my land. Overtime the result will be a ton of perennial vegetables that will eventually replace a big chunk of my annual vegetables. This will let me focus on a smaller number of annual vegetables--like tomatoes!

If you want to learn more about perennial vegetables make sure to check out my blog series all about these amazing plants.

- Plant Once With Perennial Vegetables

- 11 Perennial Root Vegetables for Your Garden

- 11 Perennial Greens You Will Love to Grow

- Perennial Brassicas – An Easy First Perennial Vegetable
 
pollinator
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Location: Monticello Florida zone 8a
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Hi Darin, thank you for all the great info you've put out to help people. What are your thoughts about observing a piece of land for a year? In this case,  undeveloped wilderness about ten acres with plans for major earth and water features, with a heavy emphasis on wild foods.       Thanks, Huxley
 
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What I did was work on my zone 1 my first year. I did the intensive garden beds and a few fruit trees where I was sure I'd want them. Garden beds can always be taken apart and moved.  I also worked in the disturbed areas created by cutting down dangerous trees, etc. The areas were already disturbed, so I couldn't mess them up even more.

Your zone one area is going to be more intensive, anyway, so it makes sense to work there first, learning by trial and error, while observing the rest of the land.
 
Daron Williams
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Hey Huxley,

In my view observation is always a good idea. Especially, observation over each season so you can see how things change.

I would start looking for areas that are naturally wet and/or low areas or other natural spots for water features. Figuring out how the water moves through your land will help you plan your earthworks to create water features.

Sometimes that is super obvious but sometimes it can be a bit hidden.

You might want to think about putting in some basic groundwater test wells. I use these for my restoration sites. What you do is get a simple hand powered auger (post hole digger or powered auger could work too) and a pipe (3-4 feet long) that is just a hair bigger than the hole you will be making. Drill some penny size holes in the bottom 6 inches to a foot of the pipe.

You can then make your hole (as your making it if your using a post hole digger or hand auger you can lay the removed soil on a tarp and see how your soil changes with depth—great time to get a good soil profile) and once you get deep enough that only 6 inches of your pipe will be above ground you can then stick the pipe down in the hole.

If you can get some clay from the site use that to seal the area around the pipe on the surface and put an end piece on top of the pipe to close it up. You can now track changes in groundwater level by removing the end piece and measuring down to the surface of the groundwater. Just remember to subtract the distance from the ground to the top of the pipe.

This is a cheap and easy way to track changes in groundwater levels in an area over the course of a year or more.

Say you have an area that on the surface is wet in the winter but dry in the summer. You can use this well to see how much the groundwater level drops over the summer. If it only drops a couple feet then that would be an easy place to install a year-round water feature.

I used this technique to plan a restoration project that should start this summer. The site is dry in the summer but groundwater is only 2 to 3 feet below the surface. We are going to install 24 ponds to create perennial aquatic habitat for endangered Oregon spotted frogs. Since I know the groundwater is only 3 feet below the surface in the summer I know the ponds should retain water all summer if I dig them down to 4 feet.

Just one example of how observation can guide your future work.

But in your case I would also look for existing wild foods and start making a list. Look to see where each type grows, what sort of habitat you find them in, etc. This list would give you a great starting point for moving forward with adding more wild foods.

I would also look at the trees that are growing there and see if any need thinning—often forests that have regrown after human disturbance can be thinned without negatively impacting the area. You might look for ones that can be coppiced or pollarded and focus your thinning on those so you can maintain the existing forest but still get wood for various projects.

I would use the thinned wood for hugelkultur beds, log piles, brush piles, and other similar uses. Most of our forests are starved for woody debris and for snags.

You might also try to find areas that can be thinned more fully to open up sunny areas (whether your site is mostly shrubs or trees this can be a good approach) where you can grow more food crops.

So yeah—taking a year to make observations can really help you move forward. But also make sure to keep observing after that year and don’t try to implement everything at once. You will likely learn a lot if you keep observing as you make changes.

I hope that helps and thanks for the post! I’m going to be here at the end of each day so please let me know if you have any questions—happy to do my part to help!
 
Daron Williams
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Nicole Alderman wrote:What I did was work on my zone 1 my first year. I did the intensive garden beds and a few fruit trees where I was sure I'd want them. Garden beds can always be taken apart and moved.  I also worked in the disturbed areas created by cutting down dangerous trees, etc. The areas were already disturbed, so I couldn't mess them up even more.

Your zone one area is going to be more intensive, anyway, so it makes sense to work there first, learning by trial and error, while observing the rest of the land.



Good suggestions Nicole! If you have a full year to observe the land without starting to do any implementation work then I would watch the hole property and take a ton of notes and start planning things on a large scale. But as you move into the implementation phase of your work as Nicole suggests you might want to focus on Zone 1.

But if you're not living on the land yet and don't plan to soon you might want to start with earthworks and water features and get those fully implemented first. Though I would still focus on small areas at a time and then take time to make observations before moving onto the next area.
 
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A couple of things, simple stuff first. I have set up my small green house in large south facing windows and planted lettuce, arugula, and spinach in shallow pans, not for transplant but because I'm hoping for a few edible greens. I would also like radishes. Will they grow in deeper small pots?

Later I will try to start tomatoes, Mortgage Lifter, Stupice, and some other interesting cold weather varieties. I will put them in large pots and add dirt as they get bigger hoping to keep them from getting too leggy before I can transplant them. We can have a hard frost in June. Or is it better to just keep transplanting them into larger pots as they grow?

Secondly, I have been planting a few fruit trees, apple, plum, and cherry, and a couple of Carpathian walnuts. Because it is predicted that our climate will become drier I have also planted Bur Oak. All are still small, apple are the biggest, and all have made it through the winter here in northwestern Montana. You suggest planting perennial vegetables around them. All are protected from the deer by fencing but there are hoards of ground squirrels that eat anything that they can reach. (Hence all of my gardens, except potatoes, are raised.) I will peruse your articles about perennial vegetables but I wonder if there are any that you think are unappetizing to deer and rodents? I have piles of rock in my garden to encourage snakes and have rock to spare everywhere but have not seen any reptiles in permanent residency. My property boarders Forest Service land and there are many tall trees, Larch and pine. Birds of prey ride the wind currents up our creek's draw but they don't seem to be interested in the ground squirrels.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Bobbi McC

 
gardener
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I would also interested in any advice you could give on mitigation of ground squirrels!
 
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Thank you!
I'm so grateful to have help here.
We just moved to 17 acres of mostly 40+ yr old deciduous forest in zone 5b in PA. lots of small streams, moss, sitting water etc.

a. I'm wondering about living fences for privacy from the road and to protect from deer. I've heard giant miscanthus. Any others?
And where do you purchase these seeds from?

b. I'm also hoping to start Hugel beds in the next few weeks. I have a bunch of fallen tree parts in the forest to drag up. I've heard there is a "right way" to get productivity in year one. Any tips?
I've seen discussion of how to orient the beds. I've got an overgrown grass field (probably a quarter acre or so. the only clear section of the property. If i take out a shovel of dirt it fills with water in about 2 minutes. There's also tons of medium size rocks throughout.) I'm planning to convert it and I want to know how to go about it. I've got loads of cardboard (I know Paul's not a fan. I'd like to be a zealot as well but don't know what else to do this year with limited money/ resources). How can I kill off the grass w/o killing the "good stuff" underneath? (I don't have silage tarp and have only seen pricy options)

c. Is there a way to build these beds without bringing in other topsoil? I want to plant these beds this season and I'm not sure of the methods to cover the mound with enough soil? I have one compost pile that's barely one cubic yard converting to nutrient dense soil (trying Berkeley method but haven't hit the top temps I think).

d. Can I grow anything in hugel beds? carrots, turnips, beets, potatoes, and other roots/tubers? Or do I need separate ideas for some of those?

e. I have a shovel and a manure fork. I'm wondering what other hand tools would be useful to get this job done.

e. Any other tips or resources to keep planning on building a permacultural oasis with limited budget?
 
Daron Williams
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Hey Roberta,

In general the bigger the pots you can use the happier your plants will be. But that being said the biggest downside to small pots is you will need to water them more often. You might also want to make some sort of basic compost tea or just compost to give them a little boost from time to time.

Here is a basic how to guide for making a very simple compost tea (you can get much fancier if you want but this should work): https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/compost-tea-recipe.html

Small pots are limited in nutrients, water and space but sometimes that is all you have to work with. So just go with the biggest you can and just recognize that the smaller the pots are the more time you will have to take to keep them watered and potentially fertilized.

I would transplant the tomatoes into bigger pots as they grow. But one really awesome thing about tomatoes is that when you transplant them you can actually bury them deeper each time and they will send out new roots from the buried stem.

I always do this with my tomatoes and they never seem to mind. This is a great way to get your tomato’s roots down much deeper right from the start when you do plant them in your garden.

You know I don’t have experience directly with ground squirrels – rabbits and voles are the closest I have in my area. What I have learned from both is that if I can grow a lot of alternative foods for them—especially evergreen plants for winter food—that they don’t really go for my food crops. They still eat some of them but with a good number of alternatives they spend most of their time eating those.

You could try growing clovers and other flowering plants around your trees and then mix in some perennial vegetables. The ground squirrels will likely eat from all the plants and at least won’t be focused on your perennial vegetables.

I’m not sure how well that will work but I would try that option. I’m trying to get a lot more flowers and other non-woody plants growing around my trees and shrubs in part to give the rabbits an alternative food source. They really went after my hazelnuts this winter—they liked the young shoots.

Plus if you have more flowers you will attract more beneficial insects which could help deal with insect pests too.

I would also look at perennial vegetables that are a bit sour or have other factors that would make them not taste good. The rabbits and voles have left my sorrels alone. Perennial vegetables that are related to onions might also be a good bet—though the voles liked my onions…

But really you will just need to try different types and see which are left alone and which aren’t.

Has anyone on here had more experience with ground squirrels and perennial vegetables? If so please share what worked for you.

I hope that helps and good luck! Feel free to ask any follow up questions!

PS: Hey Ashley, I hope that above helps in your situation but another thing to try is attracting more predators. If you have barn owls in your area then you could try installing barn owl boxes. Otherwise, making sure you have some tall trees for birds of prey to perch on is a good option but of course that takes time to grow.

For both of you… another option is to let coyotes in. I put up a deer fence around my property (3 acres) but I made sure to leave tunnels of sort (piled up logs) that let coyotes come and go as they want. I often see them using these tunnels to enter my wild homestead to hunt voles.

Anything you can do to encourage predators will help with pest issues.
 
Daron Williams
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Hey Adam,

I’m not familiar with miscanthus but the basic idea of a living fence is sound. Historically hawthorns were often used for this purpose. These sorts of living fences are often called hedgerows.

I have planted hedgerows around a big chunk of my wild homestead with the goal of providing privacy and keeping deer out.

The mistake I made is that while the hedgerows are getting established deer can eat everything down or just push through them. The result is the hedgerows fail at one of their core “jobs”. My solution was to put up cheap temporary deer fences. Not ideal but my hedgerows have taken off since they’re no longer getting eaten.

Eventually I will take the fences down but I’m waiting for the plants to fill out a lot more.

I have also found wild roses and a shrub called snowberry (native types to my area) to be fantastic for hedgerows. Both spread by rhizomes so they pop up and fill in the gaps left between my bigger shrubs and trees that are also planted in my hedgerows.

So I would recommend looking for similar plants for your area—plants that grow quickly and spread by rhizomes. But also include big shrubs (10+ feet tall) and trees. Put the fast growing and spreading plants on the side the deer will be coming from and use them to shelter the taller shrubs and trees.

I have found the key for hugelkultur beds if you want quick productivity is to be very careful to fill in all the gaps between the logs and branches with soil. A lot of people just kind of throw the soil on top of the woody bits which leave a lot of gaps.

This is fine in the long run since everything will settle out but it will likely result in less production and potentially even dry out without irrigation during the first year or 2.

I wrote a blog post on 5 different types of hugelkultur beds that should help you out with this: https://www.wildhomesteading.com/hugelkultur-variations/

As far as using cardboard… yeah Paul doesn’t like it and I can understand why. But both Geoff Lawton and Sepp Holzer use it at times. But the concern over toxins in the glues and/or dyes is understandable.

That being said I use a ton of it on my wild homestead to convert lawn to growing space. I want to shift to using chickens and deep mulching in the future but I’m not there yet.

I would make sure to remove all the tape from the cardboard and also don’t use cardboard with laminated covers or with a lot of colorful prints. I like nice plain cardboard boxes.

Since I’m only using the cardboard over an area once my personal view is that the amount of toxins is minimal and that the fungi and other soil life can take care of them for me.

But some people will disagree with that and I completely understand their view too.

If you build your hugelkultur beds down instead of building them up (see the blog post for more on this) then you won’t need to bring in soil. I built my kitchen garden using this technique. The beds are only 6 inches to a foot above the surrounding mulch but each bed goes down a good 3+ feet underground with a ton of buried wood down there.

If you want to build the beds up high Paul has a suggestion on that—check out this post about that option here: https://permies.com/wiki/98574/PEP-BB-gardening-sand-hugelkultur

There is a picture on the first post that shows how you can do this. But if you have really wet conditions you will likely get a nice big pond next to your hugelkultur bed if you go this route.

But it’s an option that can work great depending on your specific situation.

You can grow anything in a hugelkultur bed assuming you have enough soil over the top of the buried wood. If the soil is too shallow then root crops like carrots may hit the wood and not grow well.

A shovel and manure fork should work good—just make sure you have a good wheelbarrow too. I really like having a no-air tire on mine so I don’t have to worry or deal with flats.

I have done most of my projects without spending much. The key has been to look for free stuff that people are throwing away or willing to let me pickup and haul out. I get cardboard, a ton of wood chips, logs, and fall leaves all for free. I also get a lot of free plants by salvaging native plants from sites that are going to be developed.

I also order my plants from wholesale nurseries when possible. You have to order a larger amount at once but the price per plant is much cheaper.

Also live staking can be a great option for some species of plants: https://www.wildhomesteading.com/intro-live-staking/

Finally, explore the threads on permies and for a selfish plug make sure to check out the blog posts on my site—Wild Homesteading. Lots of good resources on both!

And don’t hesitate to ask any follow up questions.

Thank you and good luck!
 
Daron Williams
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Hey all!

Great questions all and I'm happy to keep answering them so don't hesitate to post any you have! I'm answered them early today because tonight I have plans. But I will be back tomorrow to answer more questions.

I hope to see more questions tomorrow!

Take care all!

Daron
 
Adam Diccicco
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Daron Williams wrote:Hey Adam,

I’m not familiar with miscanthus but the basic idea of a living fence is sound. Historically hawthorns were often used for this purpose. These sorts of living fences are often called hedgerows.

I have planted hedgerows around a big chunk of my wild homestead with the goal of providing privacy and keeping deer out.

The mistake I made is that while the hedgerows are getting established deer can eat everything down or just push through them. The result is the hedgerows fail at one of their core “jobs”. My solution was to put up cheap temporary deer fences. Not ideal but my hedgerows have taken off since they’re no longer getting eaten.

Eventually I will take the fences down but I’m waiting for the plants to fill out a lot more.

I have also found wild roses and a shrub called snowberry (native types to my area) to be fantastic for hedgerows. Both spread by rhizomes so they pop up and fill in the gaps left between my bigger shrubs and trees that are also planted in my hedgerows.

So I would recommend looking for similar plants for your area—plants that grow quickly and spread by rhizomes. But also include big shrubs (10+ feet tall) and trees. Put the fast growing and spreading plants on the side the deer will be coming from and use them to shelter the taller shrubs and trees.

I have found the key for hugelkultur beds if you want quick productivity is to be very careful to fill in all the gaps between the logs and branches with soil. A lot of people just kind of throw the soil on top of the woody bits which leave a lot of gaps.

This is fine in the long run since everything will settle out but it will likely result in less production and potentially even dry out without irrigation during the first year or 2.

I wrote a blog post on 5 different types of hugelkultur beds that should help you out with this: https://www.wildhomesteading.com/hugelkultur-variations/

As far as using cardboard… yeah Paul doesn’t like it and I can understand why. But both Geoff Lawton and Sepp Holzer use it at times. But the concern over toxins in the glues and/or dyes is understandable.

That being said I use a ton of it on my wild homestead to convert lawn to growing space. I want to shift to using chickens and deep mulching in the future but I’m not there yet.

I would make sure to remove all the tape from the cardboard and also don’t use cardboard with laminated covers or with a lot of colorful prints. I like nice plain cardboard boxes.

Since I’m only using the cardboard over an area once my personal view is that the amount of toxins is minimal and that the fungi and other soil life can take care of them for me.

But some people will disagree with that and I completely understand their view too.

If you build your hugelkultur beds down instead of building them up (see the blog post for more on this) then you won’t need to bring in soil. I built my kitchen garden using this technique. The beds are only 6 inches to a foot above the surrounding mulch but each bed goes down a good 3+ feet underground with a ton of buried wood down there.

If you want to build the beds up high Paul has a suggestion on that—check out this post about that option here: https://permies.com/wiki/98574/PEP-BB-gardening-sand-hugelkultur

There is a picture on the first post that shows how you can do this. But if you have really wet conditions you will likely get a nice big pond next to your hugelkultur bed if you go this route.

But it’s an option that can work great depending on your specific situation.

You can grow anything in a hugelkultur bed assuming you have enough soil over the top of the buried wood. If the soil is too shallow then root crops like carrots may hit the wood and not grow well.

A shovel and manure fork should work good—just make sure you have a good wheelbarrow too. I really like having a no-air tire on mine so I don’t have to worry or deal with flats.

I have done most of my projects without spending much. The key has been to look for free stuff that people are throwing away or willing to let me pickup and haul out. I get cardboard, a ton of wood chips, logs, and fall leaves all for free. I also get a lot of free plants by salvaging native plants from sites that are going to be developed.

I also order my plants from wholesale nurseries when possible. You have to order a larger amount at once but the price per plant is much cheaper.

Also live staking can be a great option for some species of plants: https://www.wildhomesteading.com/intro-live-staking/

Finally, explore the threads on permies and for a selfish plug make sure to check out the blog posts on my site—Wild Homesteading. Lots of good resources on both!

And don’t hesitate to ask any follow up questions.

Thank you and good luck!



Wow! THANK YOU! I'm going to take a few hours the coming days to read and research more on these links and I'll follow up with any other q's after that.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:
Your task is to create the habitat and space for those predators.

There are several ways to do this but this is what I do on my wild homestead.

- Mulch everything.
- Add habitat features like rock/log piles and snags.
- Plant in polycultures.
- Add perennials to all planting areas including your garden.
- Add native plants to all planting areas.
- Add flowers to all planting areas.
- Leave some dead plant stalks over winter.

And the big one—avoid all toxic chemicals and even organic solutions that don’t discriminate between prey and predators.

...

Water features are also a great option to attract more predators like frogs. Even small ponds can help.



I want to supplement this really excellent list by talking more about water features, which in my dry/hot summers have proven invaluable.  IMO you cannot have too many.

These can be at any scale from acre-sized ponds (I wish!) down to little four-ounce containers with pebbles or glass beads in them, buried in your garden beds/containers and topped up when you water.  

Last year I had plants in my container garden that had resident frogs/toads and other plants that had resident spiders.  Skinks everywhere.  Dragonflies flying top cover.  Lots of birds around.  It was awesome.  I never saw a blister beetle and I only saw one tomato hornworm.  

The two practical containers I use a lot are the five-gallon bucket and the fifty-five gallon drum.  I put soil in the buckets and plant water chestnuts or canna lilies or Equisetum (horsetail) reeds.  Dragonflies breed on the stems and eat mosquitoes and wasps.  If I don't have my dragonfly airforce, I can't sit comfortably in my swimming pool because of the wasps coming to drink.  Usually every bucket has a frog in it, which means no mosquito larvae.  

The bigger drums I fill with water and keep a couple 19-cent feeder goldfish in to eat mosquito larvae.   Usually I also have floating vegetation in them for insects to land on.  Birds bathe on the rim.  I water my plants with the slightly goldfish-pooped water, then refill with clean.  

Be creative.  There's literally no size that doesn't work as a water feature.  Have lots of them.  More is better.   I also keep lots of little garage sale "decorative" pots and buckets sitting around everywhere, so if I see a plant that looks a little thirsty, I can scoop a quart of warm "live" water out of some nearby feature to spot water that plant.  Then I just habitually refill everything with the hose when I'm doing a more general watering.  
 
Daron Williams
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Hey Dan,

Thanks for adding to the post! That is a really great idea to use small containers to make small ponds. I might have to look into that and give it a try…

Any chance you could share a picture of yours?

Thanks for sharing!

To continue the discussion on water features and making the most of small container ponds…

There is a native plant here (looks like it’s native all over the United States) called Wapato or broadleaf arrowhead – Sagittaria latifolia – that produce tubers that are supposed to taste similar to potatoes and chestnuts. The tubers can be prepared in a variety of ways but unlike some wild foods like camas these only need to be cooked for 15 to 20 minutes and apparently can even be eaten raw.

That plant could be a great option to grow in some small container ponds. I might have to give it a try next year. My large pond doesn’t hold water long enough yet to grow this plant.

Here are some links for it:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagittaria_latifolia
- https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_sala2.pdf
- https://nativefoodsnursery.com/indian-potato/

Apparently, a single plant can yield 40 tubers so it could provide a nice harvest from a relatively small container pond. Something to try!

But water features in general are a great addition to any wild homestead. On Thursday I started digging out a new pond as part of my ongoing project to create a new highly productive wetland area for a variety of plants.

Attached are a picture showing the pond area before I started digging and after about 3.5 hours of digging. This is the third pond I have built this way along my seasonal stream.

All the ponds need more work—especially this new one (I’m waiting for rains to fill it up so I can test the 2 spillways and make sure they’re both at the same level)—but despite that they’re already providing a lot of benefits to my wild homestead.

I’m sharing because I want you all to know what can be done with just a shovel in a few hours. Attached is also a picture of my first pond that is much further along.

Building water features can seem daunting at times but depending on your site conditions you can just use a shovel and simple techniques to build great ponds. My oldest one survived recorded breaking rainfall this year—I just had to widen my spillways but the dam held up with no problems despite the record rainfall.

Whether you build a big pond or make small container ponds like Dan shared these sort of features can really add a lot to your wild homestead and are a great thing to consider building.

Let me know what questions you have! I’m on here each evening so please leave your questions and I will make sure to answer them!

Thanks all and stay healthy!
new-pond-after.jpg
Once some rains come and this pond fills up it will be 2 to 2.5 feet deep at the deepest part. Main goal is to split the seasonal stream into 2 channels to start the process of creating an island.
Once some rains come and this pond fills up it will be 2 to 2.5 feet deep at the deepest part. Main goal is to split the seasonal stream into 2 channels to start the process of creating an island.
new-pond-before.jpg
Just a tinny seasonal stream before I started digging.
Just a tinny seasonal stream before I started digging.
older-pond.jpg
This pond is just over a year old. I have added some smaller ponds downstream and the pond splits the existing stream into 2 channels that both flow through some mini ponds.
This pond is just over a year old. I have added some smaller ponds downstream and the pond splits the existing stream into 2 channels that both flow through some mini ponds.
 
Daron Williams
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What Does Stacking Functions Mean?



There is a basic concept in permaculture called “stacking functions”. But what does this mean?

At its most basic it simply means that a plant or some other element on your wild homestead is providing more than one function. Let’s look at an example from my own garden.

I just built some arched trellises in my kitchen garden to grow snap peas and later climbing beans on. These trellises stretch down several of my beds so that there is a decent size growing area under each of them.

The trellis and the peas together as a single element provide the following functions:
1. Food for my family and me.
2. Fixing of nitrogen (limited amount but still some) into the soils.
3. The peas along with the trellis provide early summer shade to the plants growing under the trellis.
    a. This extends the growing season of plants that would otherwise bolt as the summer heat arrives.
    b. This decreases evaporation from the shaded area.
4. Provide habitat for various insects.
5. Add beauty to the garden and my wild homestead.
6. The dead pea plants provide chop-and-drop material to mulch the garden at the end of the season.
7. The peas release exudates to support soil life.

It’s easy to just think—I’m going to plant peas to get food for my family and me. But as you can see peas can provide a lot of other functions beyond just providing food.

In this case I can see that one of the functions provided by peas growing up a trellis is the creation of a shady area. This could be seen as a bad thing but if you think about the needs of other crops—in this case plants like miners lettuce, corn salad (mache), lettuce and spinach—then this negative becomes a positive (the classic permaculture idea of a problem becomes a solution).

These cool loving plants may bolt if an early heat wave comes in May or June. But the shade provide by the peas can help keep these plants cool and keep them going longer into the summer.

By looking at all the possible functions a plant or other element can provide and doing your best to stack them you can start identifying and creating all sorts of interactions between them.

It’s these interactions that make a permaculture system or wild homestead so resilient. This is also why healthy ecosystems are resilient.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any questions about this part of permaculture design.
 
Daron Williams
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Hey all--Let me know what questions you have! Tonight I just wrote up a quick post talking about stacking functions and what that permaculture term means. But I would love to answer your questions!

I will be back tomorrow night to answer any questions you have.
 
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Hi Daron, thank you for sharing so much of your insights, experiments and experience! I find it all very interesting.

I'm curious about your arched pea trellis, would you be willing to share some more information and perhaps some pictures?

I've been thinking about creating bamboo&wire pea trellis that would also work as a windbreak and afternoon shade at the bottom bed of my (sloped and kind of terraced) garden. It's facing west so it gets a lot of the sun later in the day and we get strong ocean winds blowing right between the buildings, up the garden slope. (my location is a small island off the Maine coast)

I also have a black currant cuttings coming in the mail (fingers crossed, thank you Ben falk!) and I was wondering if it makes sense to plant them in the same area (bottom of slope) to serve as a shade and windbreak in the future, once they're established. They'll probably need some extra love in the beginning though.

Any input greatly appreciated! Sending love to all living creatures out there.
 
Daron Williams
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Hello Ola,

Thank you! 😊

Happy to talk about the trellises—they really are very basic. Other than some rebar I just used material I had lying around that were left over from other projects.

I made them so they’re tall enough to let sunlight in but also provide shade. This is really based on 2 gardens I had back when my wife and I were renting an apartment.

We were lucky and the apartment had a small abandoned 90 square foot area in front of it that I could turn into a garden. The apartment also had a small porch/deck in the back. But the back area only received 3 hours of sunlight.

I was very impatient to grow as much of my own food for my family and I so I built some container beds to grow vegetables in despite the lack of sunlight. I also got the front garden going so I was able to compare the too gardens and see how things grew in both.

What I noticed is that the vegetables in low sunlight grew (lettuce, cilantro, snap peas, chard, and nasturtiums if I remember right) just fine but slower. Soil was generally the same and both were irrigated and grown in the same overall density.

The front garden vegetables also grew fine but the lettuce and cilantro started to bolt as the temperature rose in the summer. But the lettuce and cilantro in the shady garden kept going for a lot longer.

This observation has always made me interested in creating micro-climates that mimic that shady garden by using taller vegetables to create shade for other vegetables that don’t like the heat.

The arched trellises were a way that I thought I could fit in more peas, create shady microclimates and still being able to harvest from both sides of my vegetable beds. Straight up and down trellises can make it more tedious to harvest since you can’t really reach through them to get vegetables behind them.

With arched trellises I can just reach under it and harvest as I would normally. I got the idea from a Pinterest post and I’m excited to see how they work this year.

Attached are some pictures of the trellises—the rebar is hidden by the PVC pipe at the base which helps secure the trellises.

As far as the black currants go… planting a hedgerow of shrubs for shade and/or blocking the wind can be a great option. I’m growing a row of trees along the west side of my property to eventually create some later afternoon shade.

The main thing is to be careful not to create too much shade for the plants you want to grow. But with strong ocean winds a wind block makes a lot of sense. Though evergreen shrubs would be another good addition since they would create shelter all year.

Hope that helps and good luck! Feel free to ask any follow up questions too!

I will be back tomorrow evening to answer more questions! Good night all!
kitchen-garden-with-pea-trellises.jpg
My kitchen garden with the 3 pea trellises.
My kitchen garden with the 3 pea trellises.
pea-trellis.jpg
Close up of the largest of the 3 trellises.
Close up of the largest of the 3 trellises.
 
Daron Williams
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Been a late day here on my Wild Homestead. 7 fruit trees and 10 edible shrubs arrived and I was busy planting until late tonight. Still got some more plants to get in tomorrow.

4 of the shrubs are gooseberries. What I like about gooseberries is they can be planted in the shade and still get you a good edible harvest.

I planted mine in my front food forest. They will get afternoon sun but shade most of the day. But they should still produce a harvest.

Gooseberries can be a great shrub to plant in your shady areas.

Well I need to get some sleep--let me know if you have any questions! I will be back next evening to answer any.
 
Huxley Harter
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Thank you Daron!
 
roberta mccanse
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Gooseberries are sour as swill, as my grandmother used to say. I remember gooseberry pie with a layer of sugar in the bottom of the crust. I wonder how the deer feel about them. Prickly stems?
 
Daron Williams
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roberta mccanse wrote:Gooseberries are sour as swill, as my grandmother used to say. I remember gooseberry pie with a layer of sugar in the bottom of the crust. I wonder how the deer feel about them. Prickly stems?



There are lots of different varieties of gooseberries. Some are sour but some are actually fairly sweet and can just be eaten raw. Kinda like cherries in that regard. The variety I just planted is a sweet type but still has a little tartness. Supposed to be good for fresh snacking but I haven't gotten to try it yet. I got it because I like a little tartness but also because it grows more upright than most gooseberries.

I just did a bit of research and the sites I checked all listed gooseberries as deer resistant. Though I would imagine the less thorny varieties might get munched more often than the really thorny types.

See you all tomorrow!
 
roberta mccanse
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Thanks for the information about gooseberries. I will look for a variety that will tolerate our cold, 5b, climate. April fool's day snow here, about 8 inches.
April-fool-s-day-snow.jpg
April fool's day snow
April fool's day snow
 
Daron Williams
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I sometimes miss the snow but I'm happy to be able to garden this time of year! Looks like a decent amount of snow for this time of year!

A little tip for you all... This year I'm really investing a lot in establishing flowers on my wild homestead. I'm even trying to grow what I'm calling a "food meadow" on my new terrace garden.

I broadcast seeded a bunch of edible low growing plants on each terrace and in mid-May I will be planting corn in several of these terraces. I will clear small areas for each of the corn plants (direct seeded) but all around them will be a mix of edible plants.

It should make a really nice polyculture that will kinda look like a meadow.

Some of the polyculture are annuals (all self-seeding) but a number of them are perennials. Having the polyculture will help improve soil, promote soil life, provide habitat for all sorts of beneficial critters, and provide some great harvests.

I was careful to pick plants that are shade tolerant--they should give a great harvest in the spring through early summer and then after the corn is done and cut down they should provide another harvest in the fall and even through the winter.

This is the first time I have tried this strategy but if it works it should provide a great harvest and a lot of other benefits.

The seeds are coming up now--I will take some pictures once everything is up and then again as the corn comes up and grows.

That's it for me tonight--I will be back here tomorrow to answer any questions!
 
Daron Williams
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Hey all, I thought I would share this video on farmscaping for pollinators and predatory insects. What I love about this video is the point they make that we should try to think of pests and prey. This is because you don't get predators without having prey for them to eat. But when you try to eliminate all the "pests" you end up having no predators which essentially means you always have to do the work the predators would have done for you.

If you want to really support a diversity of life on your wild homestead then finding a balance between prey and predators really is the best approach. You can't eliminate prey if you want to support all the predators that feed on them. But also recognize that prey species show up first and then the predators follow. Sometimes you need to take a long term approach for this to work since it can take time for the predators to arrive if they're not already at your place. This is also why I do all I can to create habitat and shelter for the predators. I want to attract to create space for predators in all my growing areas.

This weeks' blog post -- 3 Ways to Work with Nature to Boost Your Wild Homestead -- talks about 3 simple ways you can start working with nature this spring even if you're stuck at home.
 
Daron Williams
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Hello! Here is a quick tip for tonight. Like many of you I have been trying to increase my food production this year in response to COVID-19. There are starting to be reports of a lack of farm workers. This could mean that fresh produce will be more expensive due to a lack of supply come summer. This makes me even more anxious to grow more food.

One thing I have been doing to quickly expand my food production is to grow greens like arugula that grow quickly and also self-seed easily. The more fast growing and self-seeding vegetables I can grow the better.

I'm getting these self-seeding vegetables established outside of my garden so they can just popup where they want in the future.

The ones I seed now will provide my family and I a harvest this spring and in the summer but once they go to seed and spread I will hopefully have a never ending harvest.

So the tip is really this: Grow fast growing and self-seeding vegetables in growing areas outside of your garden to increase your harvests for years to come.

Enjoy and don't forget to leave your questions! I'm happy to keep sharing some tips each night but I would rather help you with any problems you're having relating to gardening and homesteading!
 
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My asparagus, raspberries, and fruit trees are beginning to pop out and bloom. But so are the weeds around them. I have a pretty large garden. What can I safely spray on these fruits and vegetables that will kill the weeds, but not the good stuff?
 
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Steve Tennant wrote:My asparagus, raspberries, and fruit trees are beginning to pop out and bloom. But so are the weeds around them. I have a pretty large garden. What can I safely spray on these fruits and vegetables that will kill the weeds, but not the good stuff?



Hi Steve, welcome to Permies!

What kind of "weeds"? Many plants that some people identify as weeds are beneficial and provide diversity in an area and support the other plants and trees growing nearby. Clovers, vetch and lespedeza for example may look like a "weed", but are in the family of legumes and they convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that other plants can use in the soil. I love having plants like that on my farm giving me free nitrogen helping other plants and trees grow better.
 
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Steve Tennant wrote:My asparagus, raspberries, and fruit trees are beginning to pop out and bloom. But so are the weeds around them. I have a pretty large garden. What can I safely spray on these fruits and vegetables that will kill the weeds, but not the good stuff?



While selective weedkillers do exist they are not avaliable to home gardeners, I'm afraid for the asparagus you will have to get down and do it all by hand. be very careful not to go to deep as they are shallow rooted plants, raspberries can cope with a few weeds get the lawnmower in next to them if you can. As to fruit trees, if they are big things then again mow round them, if they are young you should clear the weeds for a good meter round each tree and mulch heavily with whatever dead organic matter you have to stop weeds regrowing, but take care not to pile it up around the trunk.
 
Daron Williams
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Steve – Hello and welcome to permies. Here on permies we all avoid spraying to get rid of unwanted plants. James and Skandi gave some great answers but I wanted to add to what they said. Here would be my approach.

1. Try to find out what the weeds actually are. If you post pictures here of any you don’t know someone is likely going to be able to ID it for you. I just created a thread on permies with a picture of a flower growing on one of my hedgerows that I can’t ID. The plants forum is a great place to ID plants.

The reason you want to ID the weeds is that as was already mentioned weeds can be beneficial. I spread red clover seeds all around my plants (including my raspberries) because they’re nitrogen fixers with a deep taproot and they’re perennials. Plus they support local pollinators and other beneficial insects and can serve as a living mulch.

The result is an overall benefit to my other plants like my raspberries.

In other cases the weeds may be edible and you could be missing out on an easy additional harvest.

In general growing a mix of plants together tends to result in better soils, less pests, and an overall increase in abundance.

2. Once you know what the weeds are if you still want to get rid of them then I would try removing them by hand. Either pulling them completely or cutting them at ground level. This may kill them and the roots left in the soil will then decompose and improve your soil.

3. But sometimes they will come back. This is where a nice thick mulch can come in handy. If you cut the weeds back you can add a couple inches of wood chips or other organic mulch to keep any seeds from germinating and slow down or even prevent any regrowth from the cut/pulled weeds.

4. Finally try a living mulch—this will take time but strawberries can be grown around raspberries, asparagus and fruit trees. I’m always adding strawberries around my other perennial plants. But many other plants can make a great groundcover—as I mentioned above I like red clover but I’m adding others plants all the time.

This can support my other plants and also give me additional harvests plus help deal with various pests by attracting their predators.

But I would also add that often weeds aren’t really causing any problems—especially around larger plants like fruit trees. Plus a surprising number of them are actually edible. I feel like every year I’m learning that another plant that I thought of as a weed is actually a potential harvest I have been missing out.

That’s why I have taught myself to first try to ID the weed and then look up what I can about it. A lot of the time I find that it’s actually beneficial to my other plants or provides a harvest. Sometimes I do decide to remove a specific weed but there are very few plants that I always remove. Most of the time it’s very situational and I only remove a weed to make room for new plants that I’m trying to get established.

I know this approach may be different than what you may have heard from gardening sites but in my opinion this approach is better for your plants and for you as the gardener/homesteader.

I hope this helps and good luck! Don’t hesitate to post questions here on permies—there is a great community here that is always happy to help and a lot of awesome threads to learn all about how to grow food by working with nature. You can also check out my site Wild Homesteading for blog posts that dive into many of these topics. New posts come out every Tuesday.
 
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The comments above about water features have me wondering about them from the opposite view. I have natural springs that make half my property a skunk cabbage-growing muck. Would mini-ponds help contain and direct the seepage?  Would thinning the crowded over- and understory trees to allow more sunlight dry out the soil?
I don't want to dig a straight ditch to direct the water off my property but I would love to use that space for fruit tree guilds and chicken paddocks.
 
Daron Williams
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hugelkultur kids forest garden fungi trees books bike homestead
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Jesse Styer wrote:The comments above about water features have me wondering about them from the opposite view. I have natural springs that make half my property a skunk cabbage-growing muck. Would mini-ponds help contain and direct the seepage?  Would thinning the crowded over- and understory trees to allow more sunlight dry out the soil?
I don't want to dig a straight ditch to direct the water off my property but I would love to use that space for fruit tree guilds and chicken paddocks.



Hello Jesse and welcome to permies!

You could dig out some of those wet areas and potentially make ponds. The soil you dig out can be mounded around these ponds to create areas that would stay a bit drier making it easier to grow more plants.

If the forest is over crowded then thinning could help it and you could create open areas for food production. If you go that route I would recommend using the wood to build hugelkultur beds. This is where you put the wood down first and then essentially bury it with soil. If you combined this with the dug out material from the wet areas you could build hugelkultur mounds which would be more well drained but plants grown on them would still have access to the water.

I've written a few blog posts on hugelkultur beds you might find helpful:

1. Hugelkultur Beds: The Best Raised Beds for Your Garden
2. 5 Hugelkultur Variations and What You Need to Know
3. How to Build a Hugelkultur Bed

But I would also leave some of those wet areas as just mucky skunk cabbage areas. Those spots will support a number of wildlife such as amphibians--some don't like open water but prefer the mucky areas except when they're laying eggs. I would strike a balance--create a mosaic pattern with some raised beds in thinned open areas, surrounded by more dense forest, and a scattering of open ponds with mucky skunk cabbage areas mixed in. A complex mosaic of habitat like this will be more productive for you than simply draining the area and clearing it. Plus it will support your local wildlife too which will help keep pests in check.

I hope that helps!
 
Jesse Styer
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Thanks Daron, that is a help. That's an interesting idea about the mosaic.
 
Daron Williams
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Happy to help!
 
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