Tyler Ludens wrote:Study the basics of permaculture design to help decide where to put the house and other features: https://permies.com/t/55751/Permaculture-design-basics
Daron Williams wrote:
1. Observe your place - I would highly recommend taking some time to walk around your place and just observe and watch it. Specifically, look for signs of wet areas - not just streams but areas that get flooded in the winter, etc. Also, make sure you know where the cold winter winds come from and where the winds come from in general. Look for changes in soil type as you move around. Also, try to see if you can see signs of wildlife trails - putting a fruit tree in the middle of a deer trail would not be a great idea unless you really want to fence it off. You will also want to identify where the sunniest areas are in both the winter and summer. There are more things to look for but I hope that gives you a place to start.
For my place I determined that the winds normally come from the south / southwest but on the coldest day the winds come out of the north. There is a seasonal stream flowing through my property - There was not water when I moved in but I could tell by the vegetation and other patterns in the land that water had to be there a fair bit of the time. I also found a couple low points in other areas of my property that are also wet during much of the year. Most of my soils turned out to be mostly clay but some of it is more gravely. In regards to wildlife I found what I call the coyote highway where a pack of them travel through weekly - bad place for a chicken coop! Just a bit of what I observed while walking around my property.
2. Establish your zones - Just encase you need more info on permaculture zones I would check this out: Permaculture Zones. Based on your observations you should establish your general zones. This will help you decide where the garden should go and where the livestock will go and what sort of infrastructure you may need and where to put it.
I'm still figuring out the zones for my place - it is not always black and white in regards to the boundaries. For my place I'm debating what areas will be restored to a natural state and what areas will be kept in full production.
3. Determine your water and soil situation - This may also impact your zone layout. Water and soil will be your biggest limiting factors in regards to gardening and any other production. If your soil is degraded then growing plants that improve soil fertility would be very important. This will also increase the water retention ability of your soil. There are a lot of features that you can install to capture more water - swales, ponds, etc. and other earthworks such as berms that can help. There are a lot of information on these features in these forums. If your soils are poor then building hugelkultur beds could be a great way to improve the soil overtime and increase water retention.
I like to break my water features into two categories - active and passive. Active water features are those like drip systems, sprinklers, etc. Passive water features are swales, ponds, etc. Both have to be installed/constructed but passive water features rely on natural processes instead of me turning on a sprinkler system. I prefer passive systems since they work on their own regardless of if I'm present or not. But passive features can take more thought / time to setup initially than active features. For my place I also determined that my soil is heavily lacking in organic material so I'm trying to do everything I can to improve this and will be relying heavily on mulch and hugelkultur beds.
4. Setup any necessary infrastructure - It can be very hard to do much if you don't have the proper infrastructure to do the work. This might be as simple as a shed or much more complex.
My place does not have a garage and only had a small shed when I moved in. The first thing I did was put in another small shed to hold some of my tools so they would be out of the weather. Next year I hope to build a much larger shed with an attached greenhouse so I can more easily do some DIY projects and grow my own plants from seed. This will save me money in the long run and will enable me to do a lot more projects than I can now. For example, I don't have a place to store scrap wood at the moment but the new shed will have a place for that.
5. Plant your perennials/support species first, annuals second - I would focus on your perennials and support species first since these can have the greatest impact on your property at the start. But a lot of annuals can function as support species and greatly improve your land. Depending on where your land is in regards to soil health you might get more bang for your buck by establishing cover crops of annuals first to steadily improve the soil. Also, if you are planning on providing food for your family and need to do that early than the garden may be a first priority over fruit trees. But if you want to plant fruit trees it is good to get them in early since it will take time for them to be productive - this also applies to other edible perennials.
For myself getting perennial plants in along a busy road that borders my property and along a dirt road that I share with my neighbor so we could have some privacy has been my biggest concern. It is cheaper for me to establish a living fence than to put in a regular fence but it takes a bit more work and a lot more time to get it established. This made it a priority for me to do first. Next on my list is working on improving the soil over the rest of my property. This will be done a bit each year and depending on the long term goal for the area I will use different methods. This is where establishing zones is useful - I know that my main kitchen garden area will need more work to make sure the soils are in top shape than the far northern zone 5 part of my property. In the zone 5 part I'm going to plant native plants and let them slowly improve the soil with less intervention on my part. The kitchen garden will get inputs of mulch and compost each year for at least the first few years.
6. Repeat the above - As you move forward just keep observing and keep going through these steps. While your zones may be mostly defined early on you might decided that you should adjust them based on observation or based on changes in your management decisions. As the soil changes and as you get your water system setup your management tasks will change. Your needed infrastructure might change as you move forward. All in all the key is to keep observing your land and adjust based on what you see.
I went through and did a full design for my property when I moved in. But even though I have only been living here since September I keep modifying my design based on new observations. My water system keeps adjusting as I get a better sense of where the water is going during heavy rains. I just put in a new water catchment feature to get water from a dirt road that I did not plan on doing but I noticed the water was already ponding on my property so it was better for me to control it and move it to a more useful location. I know that my design 5 years from now and 10 years from now will be very different than my design now but that is part of the fun and it is better to adjust to your property than try to force your design on it.
Just some of my thoughts and an overview of the thought process that I have been going through for my place. There are a lot of variation on this process but I hope that helps and good luck with your homestead!