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New farm in virginia

 
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Hello!
I'm currently in the SF Bay Area, and in the next month we'll close on our 240 acres in Virginia.  It's currently growing pine, hay, and horses.  We're adding 2 families, 5 kids, and a few houses.  My dream is to add lots of edibles to the forest, fruit trees, boost the (already decent) biodiversity, host lots of pollinators, and generally have fun on the farm.  My 3 kids are unschooled, and I foresee lots of kid-chosen farm projects while I incorporate permaculture concepts in the background.

Since we're far away, we'll only be there for a few weeks at a time at first (the other family will be living there, but busy with other life projects) so I want to carefully consider what to focus on when we have the opportunity.  Our first trip will be in July and we'll get a feel for what's there, what the native plants are, who our neighbors and local resources are, and make some broad plans.  I'm thinking about easy housing solutions, rewilding, getting a bunch of willows growing, starting a tree nursery, figuring out what to do with all the hay pasture...  Where else would you put your energy in these early days?
 
Posts: 71
Location: Southside of Virginia
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Hi Kelly
Native Virginian here-- whereabouts will you be settling? This state has differing growth zones, so keep that in mind as you plan projects. As far as pines go, find out whether or not there is a pine bark beetle problem on your property. They are decimating whole stands of pines. Don't be too eager to do away with the hay fields, especially if you hope to raise any livestock requiring pasture/hay. When you visit, be certain to utilize insect repellent to minimize the risk of tick-borne diseases--there are 5 or 6 in this state. Protect your domestic water source with tenacity; it frequently turns off dry in the summer. If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. Safe travels this summer!
 
pollinator
Posts: 317
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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If Barbara's helpful comment about the ticks holds true on your property, you might want to integrate guinea fowl into your plans. They can really help reduce the tick pressure if you pasture them where the ticks are.

Other than that, I would try to do as much observation of your whole property, preferably across all 4 seasons, as possible, before committing a lot of resources to doing big stuff. Maybe your gradual move will permit this to an extent.

First things to plan would be any earthworks you want to do, to remediate erosion, increase water storage, etc. And also access roads etc. and any new structures including your tree nursery, taking into account how you're going to get water to each structure, sun orientation, etc. Rainwater harvesting for drinking water is nice, especially if as Barbara said water is not always abundant. (Assuming it's legal in Virginia!) Include that in your new structures and see if you can add it to your existing ones.

And of course, as soon as your plans are clear get planting your trees, possibly with the help of swales and water storage systems. You know the saying, right? The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago, and the second best time is today.

I suppose you know that willows like a lot of water? So be looking for the boggy parts of your property.

What kind of housing are you considering? Everyone has their degree of "hippiness" they're comfortable with!

Do animals figure in your plans at all? Didn't ask that before making the guinea hen comment.

Also, what's the landscape/terrain like?
 
pollinator
Posts: 1345
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Kelley,

We moved here  3 years ago and LOVE it! The soil tends to be very degraded. Pine plantation especially. Low calcium, high aluminum. Step one was to do soil samples for tilth and mineral content. We are amending with lots of rock dust, concentrating on areas it will leach to lower areas and not be lost.  Moisture retention is (like almost everywhere) the limiting factor for growth, and we are working on earthworks and silvopasture to optimally use the tremendous growing season. This is a great place for kids, only one poisonous snake (not very), the only major pain is the ticks, which means plan on guineas or turkeys or both. My kids are practically feral at this point.

We have friends who just moved to NC from the Bay Area, and it has been a bit of shock for them. They spent a while trying to figure out how to get some sort of permit and thought it was a runaround. Then they found out nobody cares, just do stuff and don't piss off your neighbors. Most of the time your neighbors are super cool (always a few bad apples). Totally different way of life, just watch for a while and try not to pass judgement, and people will tend to adopt you and help you out.
 
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Posts: 874
Location: Piedmont 7a
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Central VA here. I think TJ and Barb have it about right. Coming from CA,  July in Virginia will be a bit of a shock to the system given the heat and humidity, so that will take some getting used to, but that will pass by the end of September, and the rest of the year is pretty mild. Haven’t had any water issues to date, but i have a lot of watershed and slow peeking clay soils. The springs and creek have never run dry, nor has the well. That said,  I certainly don’t want to jinx myself!  

Am guessing you will be in a very rural area with a property that large - the people tend to be poor but resilient, and will do anything for you - very friendly and helpful in my experience.  A very different way of life than in the big coastal cities!  I love it, and am sure you will too.
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Barbara Martin wrote:Hi Kelly
Native Virginian here-- whereabouts will you be settling? This state has differing growth zones, so keep that in mind as you plan projects. As far as pines go, find out whether or not there is a pine bark beetle problem on your property. They are decimating whole stands of pines. Don't be too eager to do away with the hay fields, especially if you hope to raise any livestock requiring pasture/hay. When you visit, be certain to utilize insect repellent to minimize the risk of tick-borne diseases--there are 5 or 6 in this state. Protect your domestic water source with tenacity; it frequently turns off dry in the summer. If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. Safe travels this summer!



We'll be at the north end of Albemarle Co.  Thanks for the heads up about the pine bark beetle.  We'll definitely check for that.

What do you mean about protecting the domestic water source?  We're on a well.  Are you talking about rationing it so we don't run out of water?
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Dave de Basque wrote:If Barbara's helpful comment about the ticks holds true on your property, you might want to integrate guinea fowl into your plans. They can really help reduce the tick pressure if you pasture them where the ticks are.



Guinea fowl are on our research list already.  We're pretty concerned about ticks, especially with the kids.

First things to plan would be any earthworks you want to do, to remediate erosion, increase water storage, etc. And also access roads etc. and any new structures including your tree nursery, taking into account how you're going to get water to each structure, sun orientation, etc. Rainwater harvesting for drinking water is nice, especially if as Barbara said water is not always abundant. (Assuming it's legal in Virginia!) Include that in your new structures and see if you can add it to your existing ones.

And of course, as soon as your plans are clear get planting your trees, possibly with the help of swales and water storage systems. You know the saying, right? The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago, and the second best time is today.

I suppose you know that willows like a lot of water? So be looking for the boggy parts of your property.


There's a creek that regularly overflows and washes out its banks, so I'm thinking that's where the willows will go.  I want to look into what else will help with erosion there.

Trees are definitely first on the priority list.

What kind of housing are you considering? Everyone has their degree of "hippiness" they're comfortable with!


I would love a passive house, maybe a strawbale.  Husband doesn't want anything too hobbit-y. lol.

Do animals figure in your plans at all? Didn't ask that before making the guinea hen comment.


I'm sure we'll have animals eventually, but likely not any large scale operations.

Also, what's the landscape/terrain like?


There are lots of slopes/hills.  An oak forest near the houses, a creek at the bottom, and pine forest on the other side.  Not a lot of level land that's not in a 100 year floodplain.  Compared to the rock hard dry ground I'm used to here in CA, the ground feels really fertile there, but it might just be moisture, lol.  
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Kelley,

We moved here  3 years ago and LOVE it! The soil tends to be very degraded. Pine plantation especially. Low calcium, high aluminum. Step one was to do soil samples for tilth and mineral content. We are amending with lots of rock dust, concentrating on areas it will leach to lower areas and not be lost.  Moisture retention is (like almost everywhere) the limiting factor for growth, and we are working on earthworks and silvopasture to optimally use the tremendous growing season. This is a great place for kids, only one poisonous snake (not very), the only major pain is the ticks, which means plan on guineas or turkeys or both. My kids are practically feral at this point.

We have friends who just moved to NC from the Bay Area, and it has been a bit of shock for them. They spent a while trying to figure out how to get some sort of permit and thought it was a runaround. Then they found out nobody cares, just do stuff and don't piss off your neighbors. Most of the time your neighbors are super cool (always a few bad apples). Totally different way of life, just watch for a while and try not to pass judgement, and people will tend to adopt you and help you out.



Where did you send your soil samples?  Comprehensive soil and water testing are on the short list.  I'd love to hear more about the rock dust.  I've had it on my radar for years, and am excited to finally have land where it might be useful!

I've spent so many hours trying to see if we can legally put a park model home on the land (yes, we can!).  I'm looking forward to caring less about rules and more about just making things happen.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 1345
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Kelley,

This is so fun!!! I wish we had someone to pass on this stuff, maybe you can learn from my missteps. We are further southeast, flatter, not as interesting, hotter. Generally not as nice. Much cheaper fortunately!

Samples- we use waypoint analytics. They generally can be dropped off at Southern States and you have one north of C-ville. Make sure you ask for the complete micros! Cost is I think $12, so I did four areas. Generally you want one per acre but really who does that? Maybe one per distinct soil type which you will get a handle on quickly. I think they do water as well.

Rock Dust- lucky duck, there is a Luck Stone quarry in C-ville that has basalt (the best bulk dust), and I get the pond tailings for free (generally called pond fines), just pay for delivery (which is more because I'm 45 min from there). If you call the quarry people will not think you are super weird. Or just drop by and talk to a manager, face time matters in VA.

I have a friend with a truck- a good friend to have! On that kind of acreage there is some neighbor that has a dump truck. It's a Virginia thing. Often they have a backhoe and dozer and any number of other equipment, and can do work cheaper than you can if you cut a deal that is not time sensitive. And they will take some serious pride in it because they want a great place near them. Just make sure the terms are clear, people here hate contracts, but the first time be very specific (good fences make good neighbors etc). I work on handshakes now, but not until you know the work quality. There is a strong inclination to take the greenhorns for a ride like the NYC taxis do. Rates for clearing are going to be around $3k/acre. Earthworks I bid by the hour. The guy doing mine is also working on two neighbor's property, we have a permification going on 'round yeah.

Housing- I have been researching construction types around here. I would be concerned about straw bale, it is really really damp some years here- 62" rain last year up there I expect. It just worries me. you are still in a seismic zone, and there are quakes. So that is a factor. If you get serious about it, just understand it is likely a labor of love. Getting an occupancy permit is - sketchy. I haven't found anyone here who has cracked the nut. If you contact the Albemarle county building code people, there are enough hippies up there they may be able to guide you. I'm in a redneck county. they have no idea what I am talking about. If you can get an idea what might be approveable, I would be very interested in helping you out. We have an insulated concrete form house, which is freaking great, but not sustainable at all. I would love to help.
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Artie Scott wrote:Central VA here. I think TJ and Barb have it about right. Coming from CA,  July in Virginia will be a bit of a shock to the system given the heat and humidity, so that will take some getting used to, but that will pass by the end of September, and the rest of the year is pretty mild. Haven’t had any water issues to date, but i have a lot of watershed and slow peeking clay soils. The springs and creek have never run dry, nor has the well. That said,  I certainly don’t want to jinx myself!  

Am guessing you will be in a very rural area with a property that large - the people tend to be poor but resilient, and will do anything for you - very friendly and helpful in my experience.  A very different way of life than in the big coastal cities!  I love it, and am sure you will too.



We’re not too far from C’ville sprawl, but otherwise yeah, it’s rural. Coming from here, we’re ready for seasons and friendly people who actually talk to you and evenings that are warm enough to eat outside.  Good to hear that you haven’t had water issues.  Maybe it’s a good question to ask the previous owner!
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Kelley,

This is so fun!!! I wish we had someone to pass on this stuff, maybe you can learn from my missteps. We are further southeast, flatter, not as interesting, hotter. Generally not as nice. Much cheaper fortunately!

Housing- I have been researching construction types around here. I would be concerned about straw bale, it is really really damp some years here- 62" rain last year up there I expect. It just worries me. you are still in a seismic zone, and there are quakes. So that is a factor. If you get serious about it, just understand it is likely a labor of love. Getting an occupancy permit is - sketchy. I haven't found anyone here who has cracked the nut. If you contact the Albemarle county building code people, there are enough hippies up there they may be able to guide you. I'm in a redneck county. they have no idea what I am talking about. If you can get an idea what might be approveable, I would be very interested in helping you out. We have an insulated concrete form house, which is freaking great, but not sustainable at all. I would love to help.



Thanks for the tips, that’ll be a great starting point.  And for pointing out dampness and strawbale houses.  I’ve looked up a few architects/designers in the area but haven’t reached out yet.  This guy is close and has built a passive house before:  https://www.mayawoodandcompany.com/passivehouse
 
Barbara Martin
Posts: 71
Location: Southside of Virginia
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Hi Kelly!

Albemarle is a lovely area. Regarding water: realize you are completely responsible for your water and wastewater. That's why I said to be very mindful of it. For instance, if the power goes out, and you have no backup, then you don't have water. As you plan, give careful consideration as to how it could affect your water supply. Wastewater is just as important-- you are responsible for the septic system. The Virginia building code does allow certain composting toilets. Septic tanks by their very nature are not meant to handle feminine care products. A wastewater treatment plant has a grinder that pulverizes these products; a septic tank doesn't have a grinder.

As you plan, know that Albemarle County, like most areas uses the Virginia Universal Building Code as the standard. Additionally, be informed about any other development/ earth disturbing activities-- check the county website for info.

Virginia has pretty good homeschooling laws, but you may want to consider joining the Home School Legal Defense Association. I homeschooled in 3 different states, and it was a valuable resource.

The recommendation to observe the seasonal rhythm of your land is an excellent idea. Another consideration is procuring a copy of Virginia hunting laws/seasons. It is free-- around here I get the new one that comes out in July at the local W-M. As a landowner, you need to know your rights and those of the hunters.

But most of all, enjoy your place!
 
Kelley Kennon
Posts: 15
Location: California 10a/9b and Virginia 7a/6b
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Ah, I see re: the water.  We are all set up with a generator so that's covered at least.  Thanks for the tips.  We are definitely concerned with hunting, seeing as the kids will want to roam through the woods!
 
                                          
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I’m starting to homestead 55 acres in Louisa, which is about halfway between richmond and Charlottesville. I grew up out here, but have been a city slicker for years. I’d love to meet up with like minded people in the area, so feel free to drop me a line when you have landed. Welcome!
 
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Heat your home with the twigs that naturally fall of the trees in your yard
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