My wife and I recently moved our family to North Central Florida to pursue our dream of homesteading and a movement toward a more sustainable lifestyle. We've found a great 5 acre piece of property in north Gainesville and are set to close at the end of this month. I felt like it would be a good idea to start planning out how we will utilize the land but have been hit with a bit of information overload and could certainly use some informed direction on our first steps.
To provide a little background, we have both lived most of our lives in Florida but come from further south and a more tropical climate. Our knowledge on gardening and agriculture is limited to (HOA friendly) raised bed and container gardening which was productive but also very costly. I am very attracted to the principles of permaculture and agroforestry and prefer to work with the land rather than against it - but really don't know where to begin.
Currently our property is predominantly dominated by oak trees (and a few pine, etc). There are 2 or 3 small 'open' areas that get full sun and the the rest is partial or full shade (about 2 acres in the rear of the property is a completely untouched, conservation type area). The soil is basically sand but because of all the oaks there are a TON of leaves and branches that could be utilized for compost or mulch, etc. I have done a lot of reading over the past few weeks and have come across some great information/ideas but feel overwhelmed with the amount of, often conflicting, guidance on the internet.
Our basic goal is to start to move the landscape from its current state into something resembling a high producing food forest that we can get food from year round. We'd prefer to utilize natural or re-purposed resources as much as possible so as not to incur unnecessary costs. If possible, we'd rather do the work one time and enjoy the rewards rather than constantly having to manage. We would like to start small (fruit/nut trees, perennials, ?) and grow with time as more skills and knowledge are developed.
The questions on the top of my mind so far are:
- I intend to start in a slightly lower lying part to the west of the house (left on the photo), it has good access to water (due to a previous structure), the area is in full sun but probably not considered 'zone 1' on the property, would this be a good choice? The other full sun area is directly over the septic leach field so I would prefer to avoid edibles but will likely use this area to plant vegetation that attracts pollinators.
- Being that I will be starting in the middle of Summer what should I do first? For instance; should I sheet mulch, double dig, or some other method (hugelkultur, chop & drop) to prepare the soil? Should I plant trees, perennials, or nitrogen fixing ground cover first? Suggestions?
- What is the best way to utilize the current oak trees in the landscape, is there such a thing as an oak guild? Can oaks be used to plant more tropical plants that might not otherwise do well in this zone?
- What edible perennials best suit this climate and provide the most caloric value for my family?
- When is a good time to start annuals?
Bonus: We would like to get chickens eventually and already have a structure in place from the previous owner, would getting them sooner rather than later be more beneficial to the homestead?
I have to say I am a big fan of this community and have found it to be one of the most helpful educational resources thus far. We are very excited to get started and realize that this process is built around experimentation but at the same time I don't want to waste a bunch of time making mistakes if I don't have to. I certainly appreciate any help, direction, resources or suggestions you can provide and please let me know if there is any further information that I can offer.