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Shaping 15 acres for food production/home site

Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
My wife are buying some land (~15 acres) in east Texas (zone .  Our plan is to work on improving it for a few years using permaculture methods, and to build a house and move out there within 5-10 years (as finances, telecommuting, etc. allow).

We are in the process of learning more about permaculture, but there is so much to learn!  Right now we are going through an online video course from UNC, and I'm listening to relevant podcasts on TSP.  I've read some of the relevant posts on this forum, but probably not nearly as much as I need to.  I don't think we will be able to get through all the information we want to before it's time to start planting things and distributing seeds.  I'm hoping y'all will be willing to help us figure out the correct intial steps so that we don't miss a key planting date and end up a year behind on some of the long-term major improvements that we want/need to make.

Property overview
-Located in Zone 8
-Average rainfall varies from 28-48 inches.
-Wind is primarily from the west and south, except when a big cold front comes in from the north in the winter.
-High temperatures this year exceeded 100* for almost 2 months straight, and north Texas went without significant rainfall for about 3 months this year.
-Approximately 15 acres
-Current use for most of it is cattle pasture
-Rectangular in shape, about twice as long as it is wide.  The long axis is east to west
-There's a slope running north to south (generally) but it's slight, probably less than 1' in 100.
-Road runs along on the west end of the property.  There's some brush along the fence, but it's not deep.
-Eastern edge of the property is trees, at least 20-30'H
-South edge of the property is cattle pasture.  No significant vegetation along the border line.
-North edge is a hay field(?) with trees along the fenceline.
-Approximately 2/3 of the way into the property, there is a tree-lined seasonal creekbed that runs from south to north.  The creekbed is approximately 3' deep at its deepest, and up to 6-10' wide at its largest.  There is a point near the south border where we can put in a culvert and make a rough vehicle bridge fairly easily.
-Along and about 20' inside of the south property line is another seasonal drainage area that runs west to east into the creekbed.  It's 2-3' deep and approximately 12' wide.
-The soil is sandy, with very little organic material.  Grass roots do not appear to go very deep.  West of the creek area, the grass is scrubby and sparse.  East of the creek, the grass is greener and taller, but there is still not very much organic matter in the soil.
-No water is on-site right now.  We would prefer to wait and drill a well vs. getting treated city/county water on-site and having to run it 800' in from the road.
-There is a power line running north-south approximately 75-125' east of the road.  No trees next to the power line for obvious reasons.

Goals and Questions
In general, we want to improve the soil quality and biodiversity on the land.  We specifically want to plant a large number of food-producing trees, bushes, etc., on the property, both to feed ourselves and to attract and feed deer for protein.  We will probably leave the area east of the creek as "wild" with minimal intervention beyond adding some food producers that will mostly be left alone.  When we move out there, we'll do some type of garden, and have some free-ranging chickens for eggs.  My wife wants to raise rabbits too, so we probably will.

We want to put a hedge around the property (or at least the open areas where there aren't trees) for privacy and to reduce outside noise, light, etc.  Tagasaste is apparently not available in the US, so we have tentatively settled on Elaeagnus Pungens.  It's drought resistant, produces fruit that's semi-edible (birds like it), fixes nitrogen, birds and bees like it, etc.   It grows to a dense bush up to 10'H/10'W.

Growing conditions listed online make it loko like it will grow almost anywhere.

The propagation section at the link makes it look like we'll have to germinate the seeds and plant each seedling individually.  That's a lot of work for 1500-2000' of border area!  Is there a way this could be more efficiently done, such as putting down a lot of seeds and hoping some of them come up, planting the fruit intact for this purpose, etc.?  If so, what would y'all suggest, and how do we keep it from being choked out early by other plants?

It says it prefers well-drained soil.  Does that mean that using a trenching machine (or something like that) to create a small swale and chop up some of the competition would be a bad idea?

Soil quality in the open areas
As mentioned, there is very little organic matter in the soil.  What kind of (very heat/drought tolerant) cover crop can we broadcast seeds for that will help add organic matter and improve soil quality (nutrition, water retention, etc)?

Ground cover under trees
The area around the creek has trees, but the area under the trees is mostly bare soil with some clay exposed underneath in the creekbed.  That bare soil is going to be eroded away over time.  What sort of shade-hardy plant can we put in to help prevent erosion?
We'd prefer to be able to still walk under the trees and use the area, so I am hoping there is some type of grass that can be used, rather than a woody shrub that would turn into semi-impassable underbrush.

Wildlife, ground
We want to attract deer, and will probably put a mineral lick in the back (wild) area farthest from the road and closest to the existing wooded areas.  However, we do not want them to chow down on all the food-bearing trees we hope to plant.  I don't think we can get enough human hair for all of the trees, and we don't want to break the bank on deer fencing.  Any economical suggestions?

There are feral hogs in the area.  If we have yummy fruit and nuts, they will come whether we want them to or not... hopefully the barbed wire fencing will at least make them work to get in.  Same with the coyotes, except that fencing will not keep them out.  Both are considered vermin by the state and can be shot on sight.  Hogs breed too darn fast.  If we kill one and take the meat, or if we take a deer, what's the best way to deal with the intestines?  I am afraid that if we bury them it will just attract coyotes to dig them up.  If we are in the process of planting trees at the time, we could use them as fertilizer, but if not... what can we do so that they will end up composting into the soil rather than attracting animals we don't want?

Wildlife, air
More birds means fewer grasshoppers, mosquitos, etc., and more bird poop improving the soil.  I think I've found a birdhouse design suitable for low-cost mass production ( ).  We'll be scattering as many as I can stand to make over the western 2/3 of the property.  I'll probably experiment with different hole sizes to see if it makes a difference.

Is there anything specific we can do to help keep the birds from destroying any population of ladybugs?

We don't want large predatory birds, because they will probably find chicks and chickens to be nice slow-moving targets.  Probably not much we can do to discourage them from living in the area though, given how large of a territory they cover.

(truncated for length, trees & end to go in reply)
Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
Saving the biggest section for last-
Here are the food-bearing trees we have identified as possibilites:
Almond (iffy based on climate)
Butternut (walnut)?
Chinese Chestnut?
Loquat/Japanese Plum
Mexican Plum
Olive (just may never produce but they are still pretty)

There are a few others that could be on the list, but aren't because we don't want to eat what they produce.  In addition to these, we'll probably want a few oaks, maybe some ash or something for a small wood lot, etc.

This may seem like overkill, especially since we will have multiples of many of these... but it's not (we think).  One peach tree may produce enough to feed a family, but since we won't be doing much irrigation, spraying, etc., we are OK with lowered productivity.  We also expect birds, squirrels, deer, etc. to eat some of our production.

We want to keep the fruit trees closer to a Zone 1-Zone 2 around the house - nobody wants to walk 700' to pick peaches.  Pecans can stay farther away because their produce doesn't go bad as quickly...and they have a much larger shade & root area than most fruit trees.

We are thinking of planting trees on the north and south sides of the east-west drainage area... since water runs through there, it should be an area with more water accessible to the roots, right?  However, since fruit trees tend to be shorter, that would require them to be on the south side so they don't get shaded by taller trees, which makes them farther away from the house.  Any thoughts on this?

Other than that, we'll probably put some trees along the road to back up the hedge, and then scatter the rest here and there over the open field so that we don't create too much shade in any area.  If we plant any that have to pollinate each other (apple, etc), we'll probably do a couple of tree pairs in different locations, so that if one pair fails for some reason, we don't lose our entire production for that type of fruit.

We want to do this with little to no irrigation - does it make sense to create a small swale effect around each tree, with the tree being slightly raised and having a bit of a trench around the base?

Would putting some wood (smaller chunks) down under the roots at the time of planting have a beneficial hugelculture effect, or would it end up sucking up needed nitrogen and being a barrier to root growth?

What else can we do to help the trees succeed without being watered every week or two all summer like most websites recommend?

Planting for seedlings from most of these trees needs to be done around January, so we have about 3 months to get this figured out and perhaps pre-dig some holes.  If we get to put in 20-40 trees we'll be renting something to do the digging for us, as I can only take so much time away from work.

I hope I have made this thorough and easy to read.  If I've left out some key information, please let me know.  Thank you for taking the time to read this, and we are grateful for any help y'all can offer in planning this properly.
Ed Johnson

Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 80
Location: Durham region - Ontario, Canada - Zone 5
Permaculture is all about planning, having a solid design is key to long term ROI.

I just finished watching the 72hr PDC video and if I learned anything iit is that I need a lot of time, experience and study before I'll be ready to design anything 'real'.

You may want to consider hiring an experienced designer, it could save you from some $$$ mistakes, and think of what a learning opportunity it could be.

Just my $0.02. Whatever you decide I wish you success
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6877
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
Ambitious plan.  Sounds good.  Consider planting some nitrogen fixing trees/shrubs, as they will help enrich your soil, and provide high BTU fuel wood.

Rather than offering specifics, I will let some of our members who live in your region chime in to recommend varieties that do/don't work well, as that region has specific issues that demand local knowledge.
Paul Cereghino

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
Wow.  lots of diverse information.  Design from pattern to detail.  Start small.

does it make sense to create a small swale effect around each tree, with the tree being slightly raised and having a bit of a trench around the base?

Capture and design the flow of water at a larger scale, and then organize trees around that.

Would putting some wood (smaller chunks) down under the roots at the time of planting have a beneficial hugelculture effect, or would it end up sucking up needed nitrogen and being a barrier to root growth?

I would avoid planting a tree directly on wood, as the wood will decompose, perhaps causing the crown of the tree to settle, perhaps burying the graft union.  Others may have more practical experience.

what's the best way to deal with the intestines?


don't want to break the bank on deer fencing.  Any economical suggestions?

That's a tall order.  Dogs?  Brush piles can work, but are not economical unless you have lots of brush.  Start with a smaller defensible zone.  Use temporary fencing around trees to get them above the browse line.

Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Kirk Hutchison

Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Well, you could try planting a mesquite hedge to keep out deer. Mesquite should do well in your area, and it has lots of thorns, is nitrogen fixing, and produces edible pods. The trick would be protecting it until it got started.... maybe just some fencing around each tree till it got  big enough to survive on its own.

Paleo Gardener Blog
Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
We don't mind deer eating from the fruit trees once they are established... it's that first couple of years where all the growth is within the reach of a deer that we are concerned about.
Kathleen Sanderson

Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
I've never lived in that climate, so can't help with everything, but there are a few questions I can answer.

Gut piles can be composted.  Build a fenced compost pile with a roof over it to keep pests out if you want to.  Or, go to HomesteadingToday and look up the huge thread on large-scale composting there (I think it's by Forerunner -- someone correct me if I'm wrong).  He composts whole cows and horses in his compost piles, and says that if it's buried deep enough in the compost, the predators never smell it.  I've composted dead chickens and gut piles from goats that I butchered, and had no problems even though my compost pile is smaller.

We have problems with deer here, too, and use circles of fence wire to keep them away from young trees.  They'll eat anything they can reach, of course.  And it's a bit difficult to keep the weeds down inside the circle -- you will need to move it around and cut weeds once or twice a year, probably.  Or mulch inside the circle -- heavy mulch, maybe with cardboard underneath -- if that won't cause too many problems with insects and mice.  Once you have the whole place fenced, you could add a couple of dogs to help keep the critters at bay, but until it's securely fenced it's not a good idea.  You'd just have your dogs running loose all over the place, and they'd either get hit by a car, or get shot for running cattle or deer. 

Sounds like you've got all the protein you'll need there with the wild hogs and the deer!  You can feed coyotes (and gut piles, for that matter) to your chickens....


ETA:  Make the fence circles around the trees about six feet in diameter.  And you don't need one for every single tree -- make enough for the trees you plant this year and next year, then you can start moving the circles to new trees as needed.
Kirk Hutchison

Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
You can feed coyotes to your chickens

Kathleen Sanderson

Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
Kirk Hutchison wrote:


Yes, you can!  Kill the coyotes first, of course, and cut them open, or the flies will get them before the chickens do.  But chickens are omnivorous scavengers and will eat just about anything.  At my house, they've turned down citrus peels and avocado pits, but little else!  They have turned a lot of otherwise waste into good eggs for us to eat!  AND they kept the flies down (can you tell I'm really regretting that I sold all my chickens this summer?!?  And my ducks aren't laying, sigh.).

Erik Lee

Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
I'm working on a similar setup (different zone though...) so I'll just pass on what I'm working on in broad scale to maybe get you some ideas about stacking. I have a rectangular 20-acre property with a little bit of hill to it.  My broad scale strategy is to do an alley-grazing system (might be a made-up term...).  Basically the idea is that I'm going to plant strips of forest garden guilds around my property on contour lines.  I'll put swales in to infiltrate water for the tree alleys, and along the swales where there are good sites I'm going to put small to medium-sized ponds.  These forest strips will be separated by 60-100 feet of open land, where I will run a mob grazing system (holistic planned grazing) with a mixed-species mob of cattle, sheep, goats, and grazing pigs (Tamworth probably).  Chickens will follow behind them to feast on larvae and seeds liberated by the grazing animal movement.

The forest garden strips will have the usual suspects as the primary constituents -- well-adapted or native fruit and nut trees, legumes, shade tolerant shrubs and useful herbs, etc.   One of the purposes of the forest garden is actually to increase wildlife presence on my land as as large part of my goal is not only to increase productivity for me but to increase overall biological activity.  Many of the forest garden plants I'm putting in are specifically for wildlife, with the theory that giving them something to eat in a safe place will help keep them out of my zone 1 gardens and orchard while at the same time increasing the complexity and resilience of the ecosystem in my area.

One thing I'd highly recommend is to get a copy of "sepp holzer's Permaculture".  It's an easy read, and at least in my opinion it is more highly motivating than most of the other stuff out there.  It has less detailed design information but the strategic approach really suited me well.  I've had the problem of getting lost in the details of over-designing because of the strong emphasis it gets in much of the literature.  What I've discovered at least in my own case is that the design will evolve over time as you live with your land and get exposed to new ideas.  I liked Sepp's approach to it, which is more of a broad strategy with opportunistic tactics as opposed to a complete detailed plan from the start.  The strategy is to develop as many micro-climates and functional ecosystems as possible, and to design for maximal cycling of water, energy, and minerals.  As your micro-climates develop, opportunities for new plant and animal combinations will become apparent with observation and you can fill in the details as the system evolves.

That brings me to my last notion, which is that I think it will be hard to try to get everything established before moving out to the property.  It's a lot easier to observe and act effectively if it's in your back yard instead of a (possibly long?) drive to get there.  Proximity and observation have been the keys that allow me to take advantage of opportunities on my property that I would not have seen with any amount of off-site planning and design process.  If it's possible for you to move out there while you're designing, I think it would be a huge help in the process.

Permaculture will save civilization:
Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
You can feed coyotes (and gut piles, for that matter) to your chickens....

One big concern I have with this is bioconcentration.  Coyotes end up eating a disproportionate number of sick and diseased animals (too slow to get away, unable to see them in time, etc), and can end up as carriers for those diseases... even if the disease does not affect them, some of that can remain in their systems.  Maybe the chickens get the disease, or maybe they just carry it too, and then we get it in the eggs or meat.

Books are on the shopping list... we will not be able to move out there until a house is up (several years), and we don't want to wait that long to get productive trees started going.

Joined: Jun 15, 2010
Posts: 55
Location: Savannah, GA
Two comments:
1. Its easy to focus too much on the things YOU can eat in the earliest stages. You may get to your target vegetation sooner if you plant some "nurse" plants first, followed by your target plants once the "nurse" plants are established, rather than just jump in and plant your target plant right away. It sounds like the baby trees will have to fend for themselves - can they do that?? Would they be happier with another tree or two or some bushes to block the wind and fix nitrogen? In the earliest stages the most productive plants to place may be the nitrogen fixers and mineral miners.

2. If your land has been grazed by cattle, they will have eaten a lot of the "weeds" that have come up by themselves. It might be very educational to let the land do its own thing for a season or two and see what comes up. Also, how many different times of the year have you been on the land? Some of the areas that are empty now may have vegetation at other times of the year. Volunteers could be the best answer for your bare ground under the trees.
Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
Good points.  We are planning to try broadcasting seed for some desired ground cover, which is going to include clover.  That should help fix nitrogen over the medium term.  Short term, we will probably take a page from the Indians and stick a few dead fish (or something) under each one as we plant.

The "back" area will be left mostly alone, and that's a good point about seeing what grows up once the cows have gone home.
Jonathan Ander

Joined: Sep 11, 2011
Posts: 18
Am I going to do better starting multiple new topics for different questions?  Current questions:

The sandy soil is compacted (cattle & horses over time) and hard to dig in.  What can I do to soften it?

What tools do I need to put in swales in hard ground?

At what point should I consider introducing earthworms to help aerate and soften the soil?

We just planted clover that should grow 1-2 feet high.  I don't have a tractor. What's my best option for chopping about half of it down next year (chop and drop)?

The treed area around the creek has leaves but little to no actual ground cover, so it seems like it's pretty vulnerable to erosion.  Is this normal, or should I try to find something that grows in the shade (ivy, monkey grass?)?
Julie Carney

Joined: Jun 26, 2012
Posts: 76
Location: Silicon Valley
Jonathan, you said you were interested in planting elaegnus pungens around your property...... we have 15 acres too and are going out at weekends.... We would like to grow a few plants of this too......Do you [or anyone else] have a source for elaegnus pungens seed?
Also, are you planning on drilling a well soon??
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
sounds great, you are smart producing what you like to eat. I would suggest that some of the foods you like to eat go into the hedge (some people call it a fedge or food hedge) around your property rather than a mono crop of one kind of olive tree.. It just makes sense to use the space for food producers as well as a hedge.

there are some olives that produce better fruit than others, we have a Russian olive by our garage that has tasty fruit and there is the Goumi which has even better fruit (they say) but mine haven't grown.

also if you place posts, perches, wires or birdhouses in the hedge area the birds will help to spread your they grow wild under all of the power lines


Bloom where you are planted.
Julie Carney

Joined: Jun 26, 2012
Posts: 76
Location: Silicon Valley
Hi Brenda...What other edibles could I plant in a hedge by my boundaries?? [Zone 8 / 9a -? ] Also, can I start seeds now, or should I wait for fall / Spring? Can I "pop" the seeds in a container and transplant them long before they become root bound and still get the tap root, or must this be done directly?? I have TONS of both gophers and deer........ I'm putting deep cylinders of wire a couple of feet into the soil to deter the gophers as I don't want to inhibit tap root growth with a gopher basket - this is hard work, but I'm hoping it will give the chance for good root development before the little critters start nibbling....... I could make a 2ft tube to place around the sprout to protect it from deer until I see if the tree / bush "takes off", and if it looks like it will "make it", then protect it from the deer with more expensive fencing until it's established enough that the munching will only prune but not destroy Thanks. Julie
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6877
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
Hazelnuts are another common tree/hedge to include in a living fence.
They are one of the quickest producing nuts.
Julie Carney

Joined: Jun 26, 2012
Posts: 76
Location: Silicon Valley
Don't THINK my last reply went through...Please forgive if this is a repeat...
Does anyone know where I can get unprocessed hazelnuts in CA Or inexpensive starter trees?? I do not want to pay $30++ / tree and would rather start from seed, but all the sources I've found on internet do not ship to CA, Thanks.
Marianne Cicala

Joined: Aug 14, 2012
Posts: 579
Location: south central VA 7B
That's huge list of trees. Keep in mind that many of them will perform and produce better with a different/cross pollinator. With the exception of rasp and black berries most fruits will produce more than double if there's a cross pollinator. We concentrated on 6 varieties of fruit trees and barter with other in our area for a full pantry. Also, when exploring your trees & the cross mates, it's great to see maturity time as we pick blueberries for almost 2 months because of the different mature times. You HAVE to make sure that the trees are in bloom at the same time, for example there are apples that mature in May/June and other than mature in October which will not help each other.

I use wild berry bushes as deer borders for our orchard, the thorns are pretty impressive and they are yet to go over/threw the bushes for more goodies once they've eaten the berries.


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