Last year, I moved from CA to a 4.3 acre property in horse country just outside of Philadelphia. About 2.5 acres (the whole eastern side) are in a wetland forest, while the remainder was nearly all lawn, with a few big pines and crabapple and a dogwood and hawthorn at the northern end. It was a ton of mowing at the end of last summer when we moved in. We didn't get a mower until late in the season, so I did a lot of the lawn with the electric weedwacker to make do--insanity.
The trees, hedges, and front garden area were really overgrown and crawling with brambles and poison ivy and multiflora rose, so some of the first equipment I invested in were a chainsaw, a manual pole saw, and a handheld pruning saw. My dad helped me clear out the back of our fenced in area at the rear of the house, and we put up a half cord of wood in no time.
After clearing out the back, my husband and I fenced in a pretty large area for hogs (Berkshire and Old Spot-Tamworth) and let them clean out the rest of the understory brush. After they did that, we set up an electric fence for the rest of the overgrown fenced-in area, and they happily went to town. My husband built a beautiful shelter for them too, and I painted it an autumn orange color. I miss them, but it's been nice not having to buy any meat from the grocery store.
We also raised our first batch of broiler chickens (Cornish Cross) that summer--built a chicken tractor, moved it every day once we put them out to pasture, and 8 weeks later harvested 28 chickens for the freezer. We did the second batch (Freedom Rangers) this past April/May. Lots of trial-and-error the first run: starting out, we put 3 chickens in the tractor and three days later, they were gone. There were a few holes dug out around the perimeter--so glad we could provide a good meal for our neighborhood foxes. So, we tried again and put heavy-duty hardware cloth under the edges so it surrounded the tractor. Success--the foxes were frustrated, and every morning for a few days afterward I found that they had chewed through the rope I used to move it.
Last fall, we also built a small greenhouse. It ended up collapsing during a heavy snowstorm, but my husband fixed it a few months ago.
This past spring, I started planting my ass off, and I haven't stopped yet. Here is what I’ve planted in the orchard/field/vegetable garden areas so far:
*4 apple trees (Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, Golden Russet, Cox's Orange Pippin)
*Methley plum tree (grew like crazy its first season)
*3 apricot trees
*hardy orange--Poncirus trifoliata
*Empress peach tree
*3 red buckeye trees
*4 false indigo shrubs--Amorpha fruticosa; browsed some by deer
*5 wax myrtle shrubs--Morella cerifera; deer don't eat
*Aronia prunifolia; pretty resilient when nipped at by deer
*2 elderberry bushes; really hold up to deer pressure
*3 bristly locust shrubs--Robinia hispida; 2 died
*2 wisteria vines; deer don't eat
*4 Sweetcrisp blueberry plants--growing on in pots
*hardy banana--Musa basjoo; growing like crazy
*Several different kinds of willow--goat willow, sage willow, weeping willow (several of each)
*3 witch hazel; deer browse
*10 Adam's needle--Yucca filamentosa
*lots of Joe-Pye weed--Eupatorium maculatum; heavy deer pressure
*lots of comfrey--deer like, but grows right back
*3 northern catalpa--plan on pollarding and coppicing; deer usually don't bother
*2 red mulberry--growing like crazy; deer browse but resilient
*several different kinds of grasses
*rose of Sharon
*2 butterfly bush
*4 winterberry--Ilex verticillata
*3 inkberry--Ilex glabra
*2 redbud--Cercis canadensis
*5 red twig dogwood--Cornis alba
*3 buttonbush--Cephalanthus occidentalis
*several different kinds of Viburnum; grows really well here
*day lilies galore; I harvest them wild
*lots of different kinds of iris
*moving new baby hostas to shady fenced-in parts
*3 different kinds of lilac
*several different species of Monarda
*several different kinds of mint
*beach rose--Rosa rugosa
*3 meadowsweet--Spiraea sp.
*trumpet vine--Campsis radicans
*coral honeysuckle vine--Lonicera sempervivens
I'm sure I'm forgetting a few...In the orchard area, I planted in connected guilds I made up, in large curved rows facing south. There will be a few trees that will grow up to 25-30 feet, while most of my fruit trees are semi-dwarf. At the far eastern end of the orchard, the soil starts to become hydric, and the grass and forested area is very, very wet. The willow, elderberry, and winterberry are in heaven. I've also found a lot of spicebush and more winterberry back there. Plants definitely still grow there, even though I think some spots develop anaerobic conditions. There are gigantic colonies of skunk cabbage. I've also been putting grass clippings and pine needles and sticks and leaf litter back there, so a lot more stuff is growing at the edge this season.
Keeping weeds down around the orchard guilds was a challenge, but I finally have a system. After planting, I topped the fruit trees with compost (after inoculating the soil too) and put down a layer of wood chips. I pretty much collect all my grass clippings when I mow and pile them around the growing things. Any dead limbs/sticks/weeds I find I also cut up and scatter them over the clippings. It works really well, since it rains a lot here and the layer of clippings becomes matted and hot and stifles out anything growing beneath them. I do let the weeds grow around a lot of the small shrubs I planted--they hide the small shrubs from the deer. The small winterberry hedge is overcome with tall grass, but I've marked the plants with sticks and keep the weeds away from their base--they are doing really well and are now shielded from heavy browsing that initially had them nipped down to the ground. I find a lot of praying mantises in the long grass.
Also, just a bit of walk into the forest, I found a bat colony up a tree in an old hollow. My girls and I love to watch them come out in the evening and flit around the open spaces.
Also this spring, I made 2 small raised beds for the start of a kitchen garden. I grew a ton of broccoli and kale and pak choi and herbs in them. And I put together a Langstroth hive and got a nukebox of bees--I keep them near the forest and the chicken coop where I let the grass grow long this year.
This summer, my husband and I put up a 7-ft. tall fence around our vegetable garden. Right now, you can only enter it through the greenhouse, but I plan on cutting out and building a door sometime this fall. The garden area measures ~100' x ~40', but I only cultivated about a third of it this season. I made 4 beds that are 4' x ~30' and 2 shorter 4 ft.-wide beds. The footpaths were made using landscape fabric overlaid with wood mulch from several dead ash trees we had removed from the south eastern part of the property this past spring.
We pickled 8 pints of cucumbers, canned 6 pints of tomatoes sauce, 8 half-pints of pizza sauce, and 15 pints of salsa. Unfortunately, all but a few of my Amish past tomatoes died, so not as much canning as I thought. Lots of big and juicy heirloom Brandwines, garlic, eggplant, watermelon, and peppers also--Jimmy Nardello and Ausilio and Wenk's yellow hots. Only a few summer squash--I got a variety that was not so prolific. Also tried sour gherkins this year--my kids loved them. I didn't get a chance to grow any kind of bean this year, hopefully next year so I can freeze and dry a bunch.
I wish I started this journal earlier, because I know I’m forgetting a few things. I’ve been a lurker on Permies for a while but haven’t really had a chance to see what’s been going on here for the past few months. I’ve been so busy, frequently overwhelmed, alternately frustrated and inspired, surprised more times than I can count. I feel like I’m also constantly learning—I never get tired of just observing living, growing things and places. In the past, I’ve been a freelance illustrator and a teacher (biology and earth and space science), but I can honestly say that this—growing my own garden farm and trying as best I can to do so using permaculture principles—is truly my passion. Most people I meet and know are accomplished professionals in a variety of fields; I used to feel shitty and deficient, like I was a failure, for not wanting to climb those ladders. I am so happy I found Permies and get to look at and read about different people from every corner of the earth doing amazing things and growing a better world—I’m getting all sappy, I know. But I don’t feel deficient anymore, just empowered and knowledgeable and creative and purposeful.
The growing season is winding down, and I’m glad for a breather but looking forward to fall work and the beginning of other projects. I’ll be cutting down dead trees and limbs in the weeks to come and clearing out future areas to be fenced in. I am also starting a Master Gardener program in October that I’m really looking forward to.
Some of the books I’ve really been enjoying: William Robinson’s The Wild Garden and Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.