We're just over a year into our farm and homestead development on 38 acres of which more than half was clear-cut (and left in an awful mess) by the former owner about 6 years ago, and having taken photos to document the one-year mark it seemed like a good time to post an update here. 99% of the physical work on-site has been done by my daughter and her boyfriend, using my subcompact tractor (I would have bought a bigger tractor had I known this property was in our future). I commute up when possible and help out for a few hours, but with a fulltime job and the livestock still living at our old place, I can only manage occasional day trips. Looking forward to the time (maybe next year?) when we are fully moved to the new place and are no longer splitting our energies between two properties and spending so much time on the road (we are not too far as the raven flies, but the round trip for humans involves 4 ferry rides and the accompanying long waits in ferry lineups so it's loooong).
Original condition of property:
- approx 15-20 acres clear-cut, full of slash and giant stumps and even stacks of large usable logs (very wasteful! but we're salvaging as much as we can before it rots), badly eroded (we figure from the soil level on the stumps about a foot of soil was lost), regenerating mainly as sparse invasive plants with the occasional seedling of native trees and a few resprouting stumps, provincial soil survey characterized this area as sandy loam coastal Douglas fir forest, currently loamy sand with very low nutrients
- approx 1-2 acres former homestead/farm site, old apple/pear/hawthorn orchard, some bricks (chimney, foundation?) are all that remains of a house that was found inside a massive overgrown invasive holly patch from a mother plant that was probably planted by the old house
- approx 3 acres very overgrown and wet field, remnants of a horse shelter, remnants of a barbed wire fence
- few areas of the property completely escaped the logging, even if it was removing the higher-value trees only. Wet alder areas were not logged.
- logging roads in bad condition criss-cross throughout the property
Accomplishments to date:
- Farm gates installed across the two access roads, and the roads themselves made usable for access with a pickup truck or tractor - ditches and culverts installed (eventually these will connect up to ponds), graded (box blade on tractor has made this a much faster task than the tractor loader bucket), roads surfaced with homemade wood chips where possible, supplemented with one load of purchased gravel in the worst areas. This has succeeded so well that one day this summer when my elderly truck was in the shop I was able to (carefully) drive my small car that has very little road clearance up the (admittedly best) road to reach the RV.
- About 2 acres completely cleaned up (slash piles dismantled; usable lumber salvaged; firewood chopped, split and sold; posts set aside; branches and rotted lumber chipped and/or turned into biochar), invasive species uprooted and biocharred, native species rescued and either moved and replanted on the property or donated to the native plant depot, swales constructed, berms planted with European x Japanese hybrid chestnuts, underplanted with a bunch of different things (peas, potatoes, various squash, perennial bulbs and pollinator support flowers, herbs, strawberries, asparagus, clovers, oats, fruit bushes), irrigation installed (because the swales only got built in the spring after the rains were mostly done, and this is a sandy soil with very little organic matter in a place where there is almost no rain from April to September - we hope to minimize irrigation once the trees are bigger and the soil condition and moisture retention improves). The chestnuts were planted with a sprinkling of a commercially available mycorrhizal inoculant and we have a couple of bathtubs in use to propagate king stropharia on cardboard and burlap, which is being distributed out into the planting berms under woodchips where and as possible
- Another 3 acres fenced and partly cleaned up, continuous with the first 2 acres - cleanup and planting to be finished this fall, hopefully - we may bring some of our goats up to help with clearing brush. The goose house was dismantled and moved up from the old place for the goats to live in, if they come up to help.
- Well installed last fall, pumphouse built, pump put in this spring, presently powered by generator when needed as there is no power to the lot and will be hooked up to off-grid solar, eventually. Latest improvement is a hot-water-on-demand system hooked up to an outdoor shower. To irrigate, start generator and pump water to a 250-gal tote on the back of the truck and haul to top of hill where a big tank is hooked up to the irrigation system...
- Water storage in tanks, totes and barrels catching water off all possible roof systems - the newly built pumphouse, outhouse, small storage shed, and RV - most shed building was done with recycled pallet wood, salvage from the old horse shed, and rough lumber chainsaw-milled on site
- RV parked on site and made more livable and comfortable by addition of solar panels, deck made with chainsaw-milled lumber, bathroom has been removed and installation of wood stove is in progress in former bathroom - bathroom was not in use - built an outhouse with composting toilet with solar powered fan, and the outdoor shower mentioned above. A second RV was donated, needs some work but this might be my home next summer which is my goal to move up/sell the old farm.
- Small car-shelter greenhouse in use inside the fenced 2-acre chestnut polyculture orchard, growing plant starts, some veggies (hot peppers, tomatoes), etc. Nursery holding area for potted trees and fruit bushes that were moved up from the old property but not yet planted is temporarily sited next to this greenhouse as it is the only area deer-fenced
- Bigger Solexx-covered hoophouse (12 x 25 ft) partly built in the middle of the property at the same level as the orchard. We paused construction after a barn swallow decided to build a nest up under the roof - for now, we refer to it as a wind tunnel, the ends are yet to be built. The swallows have moved on so we can finish the ends now. This area is where the nursery operation, most vegetable gardening and future farmstand/nursery sales will be located but the area has to be fenced first. Soil is much better than up on the hill, and I think of it as the Goldilocks zone - neither too dry or too wet for most plants. A few raised beds next to the wind tunnel grew huge garlic, fava beans, some deer-resistant herbs, and an experimental plot of saffron. Most of these were lightly munched by deer later in the summer. Chestnuts were planted up in the dry zone as the drainage is better there and once established they can handle the dry.
- Orchard rehab. A multi-year process of removing broken limbs, cutting back the holly that was smothering the orchard, other invasive plants. Underplanting trees with comfrey, herbs, etc. and spreading wood chips. seaweed and composted manure.
- Two beehives installed on the edge of the orchard are doing well.
- Mushroom logs were prepared from a freshly killed maple tree that blew down in a storm, and installed in the wet alder woods - oyster mushroom, turkey tail, reishi, shiitake. We've also tried seeding morels and chanterelles but that's more of a long shot.
- Starting to clear and level space for buildings - 20 x 20 livestock barn will be made from 2 shipping containers with a roof over the gap; and there's a 46 x 20 steel quonset kit coming in Sept. Much as we would like to build with wood milled from the site, fire risk is a major consideration and we're planning the larger buildings will all be built with fire-resistant materials. Earthquake resistance is also a consideration here.
- Built a mobile chicken coop on an old boat trailer - so far not in use, as the chickens are still at the old place. But will be used with electric poultry netting for silvipasture between the chestnut rows.
- Listed last, but was one of the first activities initiated and is ongoing - observation and discovery. Figuring out the patterns in soil, water and light; developing a native plants list for the property; wildlife cameras; etc. In general the original design for the property is still valid, but some details of building placement were tweaked (adjustments for soil moisture) after a year of observing the site.
Long term plans:
- This will be a multi-generational homestead and farm business. The main 'cash crops' of the farm will be the products of the nut polyculture (mainly chestnuts, but also other nuts, fruits, berries, herbs, etc.) and a nursery operation specializing in perennial food and medicinal plants. Essentially a permaculture/regenerative farm and garden nursery. We're not quite halfway through planting the trees we have on hand at the moment for the polyculture orchards. Got some income already this year from sales of nut trees, fruit bushes, etc., and have pre-orders for garlic, saffron and other bulbs that we'll be selling this fall. It will be a few years before the farm income comes close to matching the farm expenses, although selling the old hobby farm and eliminating that mortgage will help. Until we're closer to breaking even I keep my day job.
- The rest of the clearcut mess needs to be cleaned up (a multi-year job), and as this happens we'll plant out different areas or set them up as pasture for the times we can't have livestock in the tree alleys. We have a few hundred trees and shrubs in pots awaiting planting. Some of these will go into the second chestnut area, but trees that are less drought-resistant than chestnuts (quite a few of the trees, in other words) will need to be planted in the lower and wetter parts of the property.
- Thanks to the deer, all planting areas need to be fenced like Fort Knox. We want eventually to fence the whole perimeter with deer fence but the distance is a full mile and there are higher priorities to do first.
- We'll be building two small houses and a bunch of other outbuildings, off-grid solar-powered, also rainwater storage in lots of ponds as well as the tanks that will eventually be repurposed for domestic-use rainwater storage. We want a bunch of ponds not just for irrigation water storage but also to act as fire breaks around the property, plus have plans for a big one with an island in the middle planted with edible and timber bamboo. The drainage ditches and planting swales and future ponds will eventually all be connected together as one cohesive water management network.
Sorry, this has turned out a lot longer than I intended! But it's been a busy year. Maybe I should start a thread for the farm and probably will do that soon. In the meantime, thanks for reading and I hope this will be useful documentation for someone else starting out.