Here's my situation. My grandfather is sitting on 30 acres of land that he's not using at all. And I want to turn it into something amazing. But, I don't know the first thing about farming.
The land is in NY, near buffalo. It consists of a bunch of small, thickly wooded hills (not very steep). I want to start and orchard, possibly appletrees and hazelnut, maybe some potatoes too. But I want to hear your opinions.
my first step would be observe the land for a year, see where water flows, where the sun hits most, where the frost pockets are, where the soil is best, where wildlife travels, etc.... then make a game plan according to your findings. it might take longer but in the end you will be MUCH better off. in the mean time read read read, learn learn learn.
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Joined: Jun 06, 2010
Location: Nova Scotia
I'm in a similar situation. Knowing nothing about anything at all except school, I am attempting to create a permaculture design for my parents' property.
What I found very useful was the approach described in Dave Jacke's and Eric Toensmeier's book Edible Forest Gardens. They not only emphasise evaluating what resources you have on the land but what you want from it.
On 30 acres, the possibilities are endless. Literally. Figuring out what you want and what everyone else with an interest in the property might want is the most important first step.
That being said, I've found the above to be a two-way process. At the beginning of the summer I wrote out a formal plan using suggestions from the book and my own ideas as well as my parents' input. By now, I have dropped quite a few of the original ideas and added many others. I am also starting to realise that planning is not the only thing you need to do to make things happen. Planting is really important too
So I've been searching nursery catalogs online as well as local nurseries for interesting perennials, shrubs and trees. It's all coming together now and we'll probably be getting the first things in the ground next spring which is when most nurseries ship trees.
Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Location: North Central Michigan
several people have suggested that set of books, which i have not yet been able to afford, but am thinking of getting it for myself as a gift soon..real soon
Joined: Jun 06, 2010
Location: Nova Scotia
The books are an investment. I convinced my parents to buy them
It depends what your previous experience is... I found them to be extremely useful. Maybe you can search your library or get an interlibrary loan to get a preview.
Volume 1 is valuable as a reference. It's like a textbook for forest gardening with all the main factors affecting forest health and development explained.
Volume 2 is the nuts and bolts guide to forest gardening from assessment to goals identification to design and implementation.
The quality of the research is top notch. I don't think I really need to buy any other books on forest gardening. The only thing missing is a treatment of the role of domestic animals in a functioning forest garden. I guess adding those in is just beyond the scope of the book. They are huge already at about 1000 pages combined and might be a bit overwhelming for the less bookishly enclined.
Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
I just moved onto a farm last september and here's the basic process I've taken, for better or worse.
-In the fall I did a lot of walking around the land at different times of the day, in different weather, observing and noting plant and animal species I found. I also looked at the land after a rain to see where the puddling happened, where the dry areas were.
-Taking samples from different parts of your land and sending them in for soil tests might be a good option for you. What I did instead was dug some holes in the various areas, and also looked at the plants growing in fields to tell me how fertile the soils were, and/or what state of succession the land was in.
-Observing the land in the early winter is good for getting a more accurate view of the peaks and valleys of the land. The vegetation is mostly gone at this point, so the land is naked and easier to read.
-In the spring I observed the melt, and built vegetable gardens around the house. Then I made some gardens in further fields. I made putting gardens there before I had irrigation set up so watch out for that, and don't spread your gardens too far apart like I did. Think about how many times a week you'll have to visit them, and though it may not be so far, picture yourself having to carry tools, push a wheelbarrow etc.
-I've now got a pretty good idea of what I want to put and where, and will begin planting windbreaks of native trees transplanted from the really shady areas of forest into the fields to shelter my future food forest plantings. I chose the suntrap pattern, which is basically a U shaped windbreak pattern where the open side of the U is on the south end forbest sun exposure.
-I would suggest to look into hugelkultur, Sepp Holzer, and also read up on masanobu fukuoka and his use of white clover as a ground cover for fruit and nut trees/bushes, vegetables, etc.
-When the fields go dormant I'm planning on seeding clover as a ground cover where I plan to do largescale fruit tree planting. I'm hoping that I can stagger the cash crops so that at any given time of year I'm harvesting something different, and not overwhelmed all at once. EG strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb in spring. Raspberries, blackberries, artichokes, cherries, apricots, early pears, mulberries, grapes in summer. Apples, plums, pears, quince, winter squash, nuts, heirloom tomatoes.
-I'd suggest looking at nitrogen fixing trees and bushes such as black locust, honey locust, and alder as companion neighbours to your fruit trees
Regardless whether or not Honey Locust shares it's nitrogen with other plants through it's root nodules, it does fix it's own nitrogen and it makes a TON of bio mass that it drops on the ground every year, so it annoys me that people always say "OH BUT WE DONT KNOW IF IT REALLY SHARES IT'S NITROGEN..." doesn't really matter folks, it can yield as much animal feed a year per acre as oats. It grows on and improves infertile soils.
Depends what the lay of the land is. I would be reluctant to plant early flowering fruit trees in upstate NY unless I owned land with a somewhat steep slope to it.
People seem to overemphasize food forests to me... honestly I am more interested in pasture/tree crop systems for raising animals. 30 acres is a heck ton of land to farm without a lot of know how and machinery to operate. I don't think it's practical to try to set out to make a food forest larger than an acre or two..
So if it were me... I would go Joel Salatin style, use temporary electric fencing to rotate cattle, pigs, chickens and waterfowl, boarder paddocks with nitrogen and biomass producing trees... You don't have to raise them forever, they can help improve your soil and as you gain experience to what grows well in your area, you can eat up your pasture area with orchard, and when the orchard is grown up you can expand the pasture back into the orchard.
Joined: May 17, 2007
Location: woodland, washington
I'm with Emile: start small on the forest garden and big on the critters, supposing critters are something you would enjoy raising. expansion of a forest garden over time will be much more manageable than trying to do it all at once. critters, on the other hand, require much less work at the outset than gardens per acre, at least in my experience. a forest garden gets easier over time, but it's a lot of work in the beginning.
Emile Spore wrote:
People seem to overemphasize food forests to me... honestly I am more interested in pasture/tree crop systems for raising animals.
seems like a false dichotomy to me. I believe those two ideas could blend together quite well, and I'm a few years into trying to find out for sure.
honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), and alder (Alnus spp.) are all great trees with many uses. plant some if you like. quite a few plants in the Elaeagnaceae would also work well planted with more common fruits. some of them can spread very quickly in some conditions, but they're terribly useful plants.
on the honey locust nitrogen issue: jury's probably still out, but like Emile mentioned: there are plenty of other attributes that recommend honey locust, so it really doesn't matter about the nitrogen.
Travis Philp's suggestions are pretty solid on the whole, as far as I can tell.
Edible Forest Gardens is especially appropriate for your region, DougT. the appendices in the back of volume 2 have been most useful to me. they aren't quite exhaustive, but they're good.
with 30 acres, you might be tempted to dabble in all manner of things. that might be a good way to figure out what you want to do long-term, or it might just mean that nothing gets your complete attention and everything ends up half-baked and frustrating.
is your grandfather amenable to the schemes you're hatching for his land?
Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Make a list of the food you like, think about what will grow in your area, and start planting stuff. I agree that forest gardens are best done slowly. Since trees are so expensive, I would recommend buying just enough of each species for pollination, then propagating your own (seed, grafting, etc.) You can seed a perennial pasture and raise whatever animals you prefer in the meantime.
As for books, Robert Hart's Forest Gardening is good. Don't spend more money on books than you have to- you can learn a lot by watching videos and perusing these forums, and experience is the best teacher of all.